Phil Maneri’s

This Article was published in Issue 19 in SUMMER 2016.

Breaking new technologies into the guitar industry is a huge challenge. While bass players have been more open to new electronics than guitarists, if you try to move away from traditional Fender-style instruments, you encounter enormous resistance from certain segments of the marketplace. The LightWave transducer system in the Willcox bass is pushing right up against that wall. Who knows if they can break through?

Setting aside electronics for a moment, we have a bass here that is pretty cool-looking. It’s super light and has a great-looking finish. However, the truss rod on this particular instrument is super tight under string tension and can’t adjust the neck completely flat. When you try to adjust it, the rotation cracks and jerks. It does have great-looking wood. The core is a chambered ash body topped with flame maple cap. There is a traditional 3-piece laminated maple neck. The fingerboard appears to be some kind of composite. It plays great and has a great fretless fingerboard groom. It’s exceptionally light, but I find that sometimes very lightweight basses exhibit a bit of neck dive. The build is good and the finish well-done, but outside the electronics, the instrument is fairly average.

The electronics are the star of the show, here. This is the proprietary LightWave system. The concept has been trying to gain traction for over decade. It’s a solid technology, and as implementation becomes more commonplace, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it thrive. At its core is an optical technology that is neither magnetic or piezo, like the usual bass pickup choices. The string rotation is detected by light and transduced without potential interruption in string movement due to magnetics. In this particular adaptation, piezos are added as a compliment to the LightWave system. This adds a more familiar punch to the instrument and could be blended with a fairly subtle effect. There is an EQ switch that also changes the character subtly.

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I’m not an expert with regard to the LightWave technology, so I can’t comment on its implementation in this particular bass. I will say there is zero shielding in the cavity. There is no noise that I can tell on my bench, so maybe it doesn’t need it. This bass does not employ the typical 9v battery approach, but instead, opts for a proprietary rechargeable battery pack. If you lose charge on a gig, it can be operated while plugged into the charger. Speaking of the charger, I would be tempted to purchase a spare, and leave it in the case. The housing around the bridge where the light system lives is rather large and definitely stands out on an otherwise great-looking design.

It’s a struggle to bring new tech to the bass guitar. In this case, they’ve chosen to bring it to relatively affordable, production instrument. One could try to acquaint people with this technology in the over $3,000 range, where risk taking is a little more commonplace, but the market share is significantly smaller. If it doesn’t work here, that’s where I’d go next.

bass test
Kinal Guitar

Saber VL 4 Fretless


Style:Double cutaway
Overall Length:44 ¼"
Body Dimension:20 ¼" long x 12 ½" wide at lower bout
Body Contouring: Moderate
Weight:6.95 lbs


Scale length:34”
Neck width at nut:1.595”
Neck width at 12th fret:2.067”
Neck width at joint:2.358”
Neck thickness at nut:.825”
Neck thickness at 1st fret:.819”
Neck thickness at 12th fret: .885”
Neck thickness at joint:1.2”
String spacing at nut:.389” to .432”
String spacing at saddle:758”
Fingerboard radius:14”
Descriptor for neck shape:narrow C
Peghead break angle:7 deg
Bridge break angle:9 deg
Afterlength at nut:2 3/8” to 4 5/8”
Afterlength at saddle:1 ½”
Pocket gap:.004”
Truss rod type/access:compression rod / peghead
Fret count:N/A (fretless)
Fretwire:N/A (fretless)


Pickups:LightWave System2
Pickup location(s):at bridge (LightWave and piezo)
Controls:Volume, Bass boost/cut, Mids boost/cut, Mid Sweep, iceTone Blend, Warm/Cool switch
Preamp circuit voltage:Rechargeable power cell


Body Woods:Ash, AAA flamed maple top
Neck WoodsMaple, AAA flamed maple face to match top
Fingerboard:Custom composite
Body Finish:Transparent red gloss
Neck Finish:Clear Satin


Strings:D'Addario Chromes (flat wound)
Gauge:.045, .065, .080, .100
Attachment:At bridge
Bridge/color:GraphTech monolithic / Black
Knobs/color:Metal knurled dome / Black
Control cavity cover:Transparent black plastic


Company:Willcox Guitars
6387-A Rose Lane
Carpinteria, CA, 93013 USA
Tel: 805.684.3216
Fax: 805.684.6696
County of origin:Korea (neck and body), USA (electronics), Canada (bridge/nut)
Warranty:3-year limited transferrable
Price:$1,898 (MSRP)
Test Bass Options:Fretless
Options:4 or 5 string, fretted or fretless
Accessories:Gig bag, charger, tools, manual
Available colors:Natural, transparent red, transparent black, transparent amber
Acquired from:Willcox Guitars USA
Dates:Spring 2016
Locals:Illinois, Ohio
Test gear:Gallien-Krueger MB800, Aviom, TecAmp SuperCab, GK MB-112 Neo


1-5 (unacceptable to impeccable)


Features: 4
Tonal Flexibility:4
Ease of Use: 4
Ergonomics: 5
Tone: 4

In-hand Score 4.29average

On-bench Score 3.50average


Overall construction3
Wood choice4
Materials choice4
Fit and Finish of adornments4
Quality of finish work4
Ease of repair 3
Potential range of setup2
Balance on knee3
Balance on strap3
Overall electronic quality4
Solder joints, wire runs3
Quality for Price Range3


Low: Controlled, full, and rich
Mids: Versatile and smooth
Highs: Clear and crystalline, but not brittle


Modern tone, a breakaway from tradition, but with a broad range of available sounds from their base tones, which are full and sweet.