Review: BassLab STD-V
The bass from space
It's been said that most
of us are first attracted to our partners by their looks. The first thing
we notice is the appropriate 'equipment'. Only afterwards, once the "Oh
wow!" factor has moved into background noise, do we start selecting information
and impressions from the higher sciences, like intellect, the emotional landscape;
those things that hold us together throughout the years (hopefully).
I have to admit the "Oh wow!" factor for the
BassLab STD-V is very high. When you first open the soft shell case, that
element hits you right away. The model we reviewed had a blue/purple finish
with a subtle metal look to it. In fact, even the fret board and every neck
and body part except the hardware was that color. It was a slightly overwhelming
If you are like most of us, you have spent
the bulk of your experiences in playing bass wrestling with body size and
weight when making considerations as to whether to buy or not to buy. Particularly
if you are a 5 or 6-string player, you can often be literally weighing all
the factors, including the size of the instrument.
With some of the more massive 5 and 6-string
wooden basses you have to ask yourself if you feel you could handle carrying
around something this heavy for a whole evening. Certainly a good wide strap
helps, but even with that taken care of, you still have to consider the act
of physically carrying this bass around the stage for one long time.
With the BassLab STD-V, that factor is moot.
Weighing in at a fraction of its peers (approx. 2.6 - 3.0 kilos depending
on the model), with its thin body and narrow ergonomic wasp-like waist, there
is a strong sense that this instrument was designed not only to be an attention-getter,
but also to be comfortable to play.
The body is not fashioned from wood. In fact,
there is not one piece of wood in or on the instrument. Right about now I
can hear doors slamming all around the world. But, one thing must be whispered
through those door jams: "Sound".
Yes, sound. That all-important factor that
should be your first consideration. At the end of the day, this is not a
beauty contest. This is about music, sound, art.
In this arena, the BassLab excels. To be
completely candid, this thing sounds waaaaay better than one would think
it should. After all, this is not wood! This is not the concept we grew up on.
It has a shape that would inspire most teenagers, but a sound that would bring an adult musician to the sweats.
"Commander, there's a strange space ship approaching!"
Definition in the bottom register is flawless.
The mids are not nasal, so there is no ear fatigue. Tired ears are a sure
sign of poor mid-range. The STD-V will have none of that! The top end is
clear, just pouring out harmonics, subtle fundamental nuances and singing
them out. Like an audiophile's dream of a transparent speaker, not coloring
the sound in any way, this bass achieves the same end result. It simply
sounds good to the ear and leaves you wanting more.
One soon loses any doubt that even though
this instrument may look like it was built for a testosterone driven adolescent,
genuine sound is where its real strength lays.
There is a wide and expressive area for tone
controls, and the powerful set of pickups may add a lot to the cost of this
bass. The fact of the matter is that you could easily spend this much (and
more!) on 3 or 4 other basses, in endless pursuit of the tones this bass
A two-octave neck presents 24 easy to reach
frets with one extra partial fret in the 25th position. When asked its purpose,
we were told simple "Art". To complete and compliment the lines of the instrument.
So if it ain't wood, what is it? The material
is carbon-based 'Mixed Composite' brewed in a special secret recipe. The
creator of the BassLab bass, Heiko, laughingly says, "We let the instrument
grow! No really, we build the instrument from the inside out. When the
last layer is done, we remove the kernel by a chemical treatment. The result
is an instrument that consists of a few millimeters and an absolutely great
resonance for low frequencies."
Another thing to get used to when dealing
with this bass is the fact that there is no truss-rod. It is a fact that
most basses use them, and frankly, need them. It is the nature of an organic
item like wood to react to stress (pressure) by bending. The BassLab does
not come with a truss rod as 'standard equipment' but in speaking with Heiko
Hoepfinger he expressed his firm belief that one was not needed. That even
with changing string gauges, the tension produced was negligable to what
the BassLab could take before reacting. He told us that he has tested this
issue for years since his first prototype was finished, and found that the
neck does not warp out of shape. You can bend the neck when playing
to get the effect, but no matter what strings are on there, the neck is,
according to Heiko, not going to permanently bend.
However he did say that he is considering
the idea of offering a truss-rod as an option, but only with a mind to meeting
the concerns of customers who are sceptical of doing without one. Also it
is difficult to integrate truss rods in this kind of bass, taking into mind
the unusual method of construction. He says that it also interferes with
the strings and transfers the resonance frequency of the neck, because it
is not 100% swing-free. To date BassLab has never had any complaints about
warped necks. Operating under the philosophy that "If it ain't broke, don't
fix it", they felt it to have too many negative aspects to make it part of
the regular production setup.
Compounded with this, Heiko feels that the
whole concept of his basses does not naturally lend to 'foreign objects'
like a truss rod being added to the neck and body.
When we opened up the back of the instrument,
the soldering was clean, the wiring was laid out well, the pots were solidly
seated in the cavity, all seemed in order. It was rather odd to be able to
tilt the bass and look even further up into the hollow body of the bass.
Our only beef with the layout of the controls
lay in the fact that in a seated position one could possibly accidentally
trigger the mute position on the volume knob. If you are out there doing
the obligatory 'acoustic' set, don't move around too much. You may just become
more acoustic than you might like by bumping this potentiometer in error.
A 'pull' to activate knob would solve this, instead of the push knob presently
installed. Easily solved.
One of the many positive aspects of the bass,
an indication of how well he has thought the whole thing out, is the option
of a passive/active knob on the bass. If in the rare case you kill the battery
that runs the active function during a gig, you merely click on over to the
passive role, and business as usual!
Our test model had something called 'Rough
Crystal' Pickups. These provided exceptional clarity and volume, with some
of the nicest midrange we have heard to date. The bottom register seems to
provide an attention to detail not often heard. No matter how much bass tone
we tuned in, it would not waffle or warp the sound wave. This bass oozes
bass! For those who have grown fond of other pickups however we were told
that custom pickups of any sort can be substituted.
A fretless model of the STD-V is also available
The options for these basses cover a large
area, brass, gold, silver hardware, any pickup combination you would like
and tons of other options. You can be involved in the design of your bass
as well. The lead time (build time) is around 8 weeks unless the bass you
want is in stock.
- Active and passive controls. Wide range in sounds with broad-range tone
controls. Installed pickups were some of the most powerful and pleasing to
the ear we have heard.
- Disconcertingly light and easy to handle, narrow neck for a 5-string.
Ideal for the lighter frame and easy on the shoulders for anyone.
- Our testing bassist commented that, "You can just concentrate completely
on playing. You no longer need to even think about managing the bulk or the
mass of the bass."
- Mute button could be engaged accidentally in the sitting position. Perhaps
moving the Mute button to the end of the bottom wing of the bass would solve
this, or changing it to a pull knob instead of a push to engage the effect.
Easily enough resolved.
- Unusual body shape might not be for everybody. The more exotic
shape could look a little silly on a 50+ bassist, but BassLab even has a
traditional P bass to cover that eventuality!
5 Stars out of 5
was very hesitant to give such high marks, not wanting to start the marks
too high and ruin credibility, but the bass deserves such high marks and
so does Heiko. Overall, the positive items on the bass far outshadowed any
hesitation we may have about playing a non-wood intrument. In the end, it
was a bit difficult giving the instrument back, it was that good!
- Make and Model:
BassLab STD-V headless; 5-string fretted headless bass
- Body and neck:
Lightweight hollowbody carbon-based material, body and neck are one piece,
and the neck is also hollow. Neck 34" scale and 24 frets.
2x Rough Crystal Soapbar
active BassXX pre-amp, custom-made to BassLab's specifications, three-band-EQ:
2xVolume (front one with mute push button); double-potentiometer bass/treble
with active/passive switch; mid-gain; mid-frequency.
1 x 9 Volt. Note: Our test model had a little LED between the two pickups that will flash when the battery starts to fade... .
- Power consumption:
approx. 0.4 mA
Black hardware. Bridge and Tuner ABM. As usual for a headless bass, the ABM
tuners are located at the tail of the instrument. Normal (single-ball) strings
are used, with the free end clamped at the head and the excess string trimmed
Custom instruments can be created with any combination of tuners, pickups,
and electronics, and also variable neck profiles, body shapes, and lacquer
colours. Typical options are: 4, 5, or 6 strings, fretted or fretless, headed
or headless, BassXX or DaCapo pre-amp, 2 or 3 pickups, colour.
approx. 2.8 kgs (6.2 pounds). Depending on the model the weight varies from
2.6 to 3 kgs (5.7 to 6.6 pounds). There are actually two versions: light
and heavy. Our test model was 'heavy', which is the standard and more for
the rock-bottom sound, while the light version has a more acoustic and mid-range
- Sales price:
EUR 2'800.00 resp. US-$ 2'800.00, incl. Gigbag
Basslab GmbH, DE-34123 Kassels, Germany
http://www.basslab.de (check out the website for international distribution)