9 strings - go on, count them! Freddy's first request on this order was for a headed 8 string (he already has 5,6 and 7 string basses from me) but then he decided to bypass 8 and went straight for the headless big one. And, if you are going to go big, why not go complex as well? He did. To get suitable tension on the huge variation of string sizes it required different scale lengths for each string and so needed fan frets. So why not MIDI too? The RMC saddles are not compatible with the tuner/bridges so lets invent new bits to make this work!
The design is loosely based on the Reacter bass with a bit of adjustment to allow all the components to fit. You have strings from 0.145 (35" scale) to 0.010 (32"scale) both piezo and magnetic enabled with MIDI (via the RMC Polydrive 1) on the top 6. With so much circuitry already on-board there was no room for an active EQ as well so I built a custom bassxx 3 band into a walnut box as an external active unit. This beautiful circuit has input and output sockets, bass and treble stacked, mid boost and cut/parametric stacked and a passive tone. Active or passive is possible by pulling the bass pot. There is a 9v battery inside the fully screened box. This external EQ has the advantage that it can be used with this or any other passive bass if required and I think it would be a useful device for studio or stage use and I might offer this as a separate product.
Some construction details.
The tapered through neck is a laminate of hard maples with sapele and has a lot of carbon fibre in it with two truss rods. It needed to be stiff and it is. The fingerboard is ebony and very wide! The 'wings' are creamy Irish sycamore. Top wood is cocobolo and quite spectacular. In order to allow access to the modified ABM tuners the tail end is 'stepped'.
Freddy wanted a vestigial (good word that!) headstock with string anchors. These were hard to source but eventually Heiko from Basslabs came up with the goods. The layout may look haphazard but it was the only way I could fit them to ensure straight pull on the strings at the correct angle and with no strings touching any of the anchors. Anyway, it works well!
How does it sound? Well it does everything it should. I am very impressed with the sound of the custom made Delano pickups (humbucking at the bridge and single coil at the neck). They offer a full range of tones which blend well with the legendary sound of the RMC piezo saddles. So full marks for passive sound. The bassxx EQ is very musical and quiet so the active putput gives another layer of possibilities. The MIDI sounds are determined by the guitar to MIDI converter and the quality of the soundcard. Tracking with the RMC Polydrive is never an issue and it works with my Axon. Playability? The width of the fingerboard would take some getting used to and I have to say that in the short time I had it between finishing and before shipping I could not fully play the beast. I think it would take me a year to get to grips with it.
As you can imagine an instrument like this cannot be built from stock parts so I am very grateful to the people who supplied custom made hardware for me to use. Heiko at Basslabs for the string anchors, Andreas at bassxx for the active circuit that I boxed up and Reinhard at Delano for the pickups. Big, big, thanks to the Stardust Kiddie for ordering the Beast. This was one of the most complex things I have ever made and I learned a lot while doing it. Bring on the next one - maybe an 11 string???/ Well probably not judging by what Freddy wrote to me after having the bass for a while.
"The bass works like a dream, and it is the best sounding bass I´ve ever had. The pre amp is very good, but I like to go passive with it so at the moment that´s what I do. I am going to buy the Axon now, so that will be fun. If I was going to change anything on the bass it would be to have a contour on the bass side on the back of the body as it would make it more comfortable. Still the bass is is good to wear, and is easy to play. I think most bass players that get a bass with this kind of range will start using the upper register more and fiddle around in the guitar area, but for me it´s gone the opposite way. The B string is more articulate and the F# is very useful. I don´t know, but maybe the added mass to the neck, the different placement of the B string or the pickups is "to blame". (Or maybe you did get lucky!) BTW I might try to add a lower string, I`ve got a 195 C#... Speaking about the pickups, I don´t think I´ll get a bass without piezos again, they are very useful and add a lot to the tone. I`ve also tried to play with the magnetics off and the piezos full on, and the RMCs sounds good enough to equip a bass with those only. I can feel the urge for a fretless 8 string coming over me... (Maybe a more basic bass...)"