Ellen O’Reilly tackles a bass built to rock earth from the bowels of hell
When it comes to the craft of bass-making, the Germans do it well. Having recently won a ‘Gear of the Year’ award for its exquisite basses, Sandberg is enjoying some well-earned attention at the moment. Sandbergs come in all shapes and sizes from the P- and J-Bass style of the California T and V series, to the more modern Custom and Classic series, but it was the hard-rocking shape of the Forty Eight that I got my hands on. Its style is reminiscent of a classic American muscle car: I can just picture it propped up against the chrome table-top of a 1950s American diner. This model comes with Sandberg’s aged finish, but underneath that well-worn exterior is an ultramodern active circuit, and that low B string should make it shake, rattle and, quite possibly, roar. If the Fonz was going to play bass, this would be his weapon of choice.
Stylistically the Forty Eight is an unusual hybrid of old meets metal, but it completely works. The light yet incredibly chunky body is slightly raised to the middle: this gives the body a graduated, pot-bellied look. Its finish is aptly titled as ‘metallic red hardcore aged’ and wouldn’t go amiss in a psychobilly band. It’s built like an old bass too, with the headstock a classic Fender Precision shape, complete with lightweight chrome Schaller machine-heads. The 22-fret rosewood fingerboard is lined with medium fret markers and is a sturdy build with a bolt-on neck. The neck itself is quite wide set, so it’s a bass well suited to solid, keep-it-simple playing styles.
A lot of own-brand Sandberg electronics and hardware is used: the neck pickup is a P-style split coil while the bridge pickup is one of Sandberg’s Power Humbuckers. These are then both cleverly hidden away inside individual split metal humbucker-style covers. In place of the usual string tree you have an even more reliable string bar on the headstock and there is an added zero fret. The bridge is a beefy chunk of steel with sturdy string saddles.
Sounds and Playability
Let’s get one niggle out of the way. The Forty Eight is a beauty to behold but less comfortable to play. The body of the bass is deceptively light, but unfortunately there’s a significant neck dip due to the heavier neck. I found the balance off-putting while standing up, and when I sat with the bass I found it very difficult to play due to its unusual shape. Plus, playing seated didn’t do much to improve the balance either.
On the upside, there is the addition of the fret at zero, just below the nut, which I think is a stroke of genius. This is also a feature of many gypsy jazz guitars and clearly has its uses. When playing open strings you can hear and feel the obvious difference between a fretted note and an open one: the zero fret eliminates this issue and brings an overall sonic balance to the bass. I could immediately hear and feel the benefits of the zero fret (bass builders take note!) and the tonal uniformity was perfect thanks to this simple yet logical added extra.
Sandberg’s two-band EQ has two simple functions: treble and bass. There are also controls for volume and pickup blend. The Volume knob itself has a Push/Pull function where you can bypass the active circuitry and play in passive mode if you wish. Thanks to the split coil and humbucker placement, you can blend between the two to get a tone ranging from a fat-bottomed boom to a Rickenbacker-esque growl as you blend towards the neck pickup and cut the bass. Soundwise, this bass is designed with rock music in mind: if it’s Lemmy-style crunch you’re after, this bass will certainly do the job.
This is a good-looking instrument, with seriously big bass tones and edgy tops. I fell in love with the zero fret and found it to be a big improvement to the sound and feel. It’s great for those of us too lazy to mute our open strings! I found that I had more control over note lengths due to this extra fret. I admit I was a little disappointed by the weight balance and playability of this bass: its unusual styling made it difficult to play comfortably. It’s definitely a rocker’s bass, though, so if you’re not bothered by a bit of neck dive and want to make some unsociably loud noises, give the Forty Eight some serious consideration.
Price | From £1215: review model is £1719 featuring ‘Hard Core’ ageing and matched headstock with metallic finish
Made in | Germany
Body | Alder
Neck | Canadian Hardrock maple, 34”scale
Neck joint | Bolt-on
Nut width | 65mm
Fingerboard | Rosewood
Frets | 22 medium frets
Pickups | Sandberg split coil humbucker and power humbucker, wound in-house
Electronics | Sandberg two-band active EQ
Controls | Volume (push/pull active-passive), blend, treble, bass
Hardware | Sandberg nickel aged bridge and lightweight open gear tuners
Weight | 4.2kg
Case/gig bag included? | Sandberg gig bag
Left-hand option available? | Yes
What We Think
Plus | Inspired idea having a zero fret. Stylish, yet sounds like Beelzebub
Minus | Balance may be an issue
Overall | Neck-heavy but beautiful bass with innovative build ideas