Fancy some retro chic? Ian Glasper takes a gander at a Macca-style violin bass
John Hornby Skewes and Trevor Wilkinson have brought us the VVB4SB Violin bass, a throwback to the 60s and the Hofner 500/1 immortalised by Sir Paul McCartney.
It feels like a curio for fans of a specific period in bass guitar history – but will it withstand the rigours brought to bear by the modern touring environment?
By virtue of its hollow body, the Violin weighs in at less than 3kg, and feels rather flimsy as a result. Put it like this: you won’t want to drop it off a stage or throw it into the back of a van.
Yes, the wood is wonder- fully lustrous and finished to perfection, with that antique sunburst colour scheme so evocative of a simpler era, but the hardware lets the side down. The floating pickguard feels a little fragile, and the exposed screwheads are a tad unsightly.
The minimalist bridge with its trapeze tailpiece is another throwback, with the strings supported in a rather vulner- able position. Changing them is not particularly convenient and the adjustment of action is rather crude. Likewise the controls, with their clunky switch selection, and the traditional pearloid tuning knobs with less than substantial spindles. Admittedly there were no issues with tuning during the review trial, but they didn’t inspire confidence.
Lastly – and in keeping with the instrument’s retro vibe – the skinny neck is set- in, presumably to promote a warmer tone, but also adding to the general fragile feel. If you want to adjust the neck at all, you’re going to have some ungluing issues.
Sounds And Playability
Just like its visuals, the playability of the Violin Vintage is very much an acquired taste. Its convex body means that it sits on the player rather than around him or her, and it’s impossible to slap by virtue of its narrow neck and tightly spaced strings. Although McCartney managed it somehow, it’s not much fun to play with a pick either, because its shape and the peculiar bridge placement aren’t particularly conducive to comfortable hand positioning.
If you can’t get on with leaning your wrist on the trapeze tailpiece, you almost have to play around the top corner of the instrument.
That said, if you’re a finger player you can rest your thumb on a pickup and it’s fairly plain sailing. The sym- metrical taper of the body makes the last few frets inac- cessible, which is frustrating on a guitar with only 22 frets anyway.
This would certainly be a great instrument to learn on, and it’s easy and fun to pick up and tinker with, but because of its scrawny neck and miniature fret spacings if you spent too much time with it you would definitely notice the difference when you transition back to a regular-sized piece of kit. That easily-palmed neck is nice and quick under the fingers though, despite the high action of the review model.
Unfortunately the VVB4SB doesn’t perform especially well when hooked up to amplification, and even when tested for review through an absolute blinder of a rig it failed to impress with a diminutive, woolly tone that the very limited controls were nowhere near versatile enough to correct. In the con- text of a polite rock band this bass might hold its own, but anyone requiring more from the bottom end would find it severely lacking. Such is the curse of the passive bass, of course: warm woody textures, but not a lot of punch.
So, if you’re thinking of rocking one of these and want some bite to your sound, expect to add a pedal to boost your signal.
For all its old school and aesthetic merits, playing the VVB4SB is not for everyone. That said, it carries a reason- able price tag and comes in one of those natty machine- gun-style hard cases, which should be fun at airports.
There’s probably still a time and place for a bass like the Vintage Violin – but that time and place may not be your here and now.