This Article Was Originally Published On: June 3rd, 2015 #Issue 16.
The Company Line
For those of you unfamiliar with the D’Angelico name, let’s set the WABAC time machine to 1932 and get you acquainted with D’Angelico Guitars. From 1932 to 1964, John D’Angelico was a well-known archtop guitar builder, hand-making 35 guitars a year (at their peak in the ’30s) with the help of two to three additional builders. D’Angelico Guitars reigned as the premier archtop guitar builder for several years, until owner/founder, John D’Angelico, passed away in 1964. To this day, a D’Angelico is considered one of the finest archtop guitars in the industry. It wasn’t until approximately 17 years ago that John Ferolito, Sr. purchased the company with the intent of continuing the brand name. But it never took off, and slowly faded away as times changed in the music industry.
Head back to the future (to 2011), when John Ferolito, Jr., Gene Baker and Brenden Cohen resurrected the D’Angelico guitar brand name by not only re-introducing the famous, sought-after archtop guitar, but by building them as close to the original specifications as technologically possible. It is their intent to expand the line by introducing more guitar models. In February, 2013, D’Angelico stepped outside of their guitar comfort zone and introduced their first-ever archtop bass to join the Standard Series product line. Ohhhhh yeah, you read that right! Who would’ve thought that a well-known, highly regarded electric archtop guitar builder would be entering the bass guitar market? The Standard Series EX-Bass is designed in New York, manufactured in South Korea, returned to NYC for the final check, and then sent out to the dealer network. The introduction of D’Angelico’s three-quarter scale hollow bass guitar is a most-welcomed addition to the D’Angelico family of guitars. Now, bass players can join the D’Angelico family.
The EX-Bass Present and Future
2013 was the introductory year of the EX-Bass, a 32.25” scale electric archtop bass guitar available in fretted or fretless and right or left-handed. Lefties are limited to two finishes and right-handed models are available in five finishes. Fretless models are only available in one finish, Black. In 2014, the EX-Bass remained unchanged, save for a new Cherry finish color for the right-handed player. For 2015, the current model line remains unchanged, according to D’Angelico’s President, Steve Pisani.
It’s always a pleasure to get info straight from the builder, so I asked about the future of the Standard Series bass guitar line beyond 2015. For those of you who demand more strings to play with, the plan is to add a 5-string model in the not-too-distant future. “How about an Artist model?” Per Steve Pisani, there are no Artist model basses on the horizon. However, there will be additional colors, such as Grey Black, Blue Burst, and Cherry Sunburst. If you ask me, either a vivid, deep purple burst or tobacco sunburst would be sublime. “Slurp! Where’s the drool bucket?”
D’Angelico Future Projects
While I had Steve on the phone, I took the opportunity to inquire about the future of the EX-Bass and other future projects. He could barely contain his enthusiasm for the new EX-SD Bass and an entirely new Acoustic Guitar line [both of which were recently introduced at the 2015 Winter NAMM Show – see our online gallery or the Bass Gear Magazine Facebook page for pics!].
EX-SD Bass – The EX-SD Bass is a solid body instrument, and will be available in three colors: Cherry Sunburst, Natural, and Black. The EX-SD Solid Body Bass is the same body size and shape as the EX-SD guitar (similar to a Les Paul), otherwise sharing the same specifications/features as the current model of the EX-Bass.
Mott Acoustic Bass – The Mott acoustic bass is a cutaway shape with a solid Sitka spruce top with flame maple back and sides. The top features scalloped X-bracing and a rosette with concentric rings of black and abalone inlay. The bridge is made of rosewood with brass pins. The maple neck features a slim C-shape profile with a bone nut and a rosewood fingerboard with mother of pearl block inlays.
First Impressions, Specs/Fit/Finish:
Getting back to the EX-Bass, the workmanship is better than expected for a non-USA model. The Vintage Sunburst finish on the laminated flamed maple body is gorgeous, and the neck joint is solid. The medium jumbo nickel frets are set well, and the stop-tail bridge, dual humbucker pickups, 3-way switch and ebony knobs are seated firmly. The standard neck shape, mother of pearl inlays and 12” radius on the Indian rosewood fingerboard feel great for small or large hands. The nut is bone and provides a sure fit for the strings at the base of the headstock.
On top of the headstock is a gold pin, and, emblematic of the company’s New York legacy, the truss rod cover (called the “Skyscraper Truss Rod Cover”) is in the shape of – you guessed it – a skyscraper. What’s really cool about the aluminum truss rod cover’s 3-dimensional cut-shape is when the unique feature of the Hotel’s high-points catch the gig lights and create a strikingly unique accent on the headstock. Very cool!
The bass arrived strung up with GHS Boomers (.45 to .105). D’Angelico does not recommend any light-gauge strings, due to the shorter scale length. The passive, dual-coil humbucker pickups are a proprietary size and brand. The placement of the D’Angelico logo, model & serial number label is visible through the upper f-hole – a very nice touch. D’Angelico stated that the three-quarter scale is a better fit for the EX-Bass body size and makes it easier for guitar players to adapt to this scale.
The particular instrument sent in for review had a couple of minor issues. The wiring for the 3-way switch rests unattached under the body, just below the lower f-hole, and is slightly visible – most likely due to the lack of adhesive to secure it to the underside of the top inside the body. The input jack was very loose, but a quick adjustment was all it needed to be snug again.
Case and Candy
Not all bass guitars in this price point come with a hard shell case that is as classy as the guitar itself. The textured, tolex black case is formed to the exact shape of the bass and is accented with gold trim on the five-point latches along with the legendary D’Angelico New York City logo in gold lettering atop the case, right about where the controls are located on the lower body of the bass. The case interior is lined with a light gray furry plush to protect the finish of the bass while in transit or storage. In a nutshell, the case looks exquisite and is well built. The D’Angelico case will certainly protect its contents for the standard trip to the local gig or last minute get-together. In the case’s storage compartment, you’ll discover a standard ¼” plug cable, an Allen wrench, and two keys to lock the guitar case.
The Basement Gig
Rather than take this bass out on the town, I opted for a friend’s basement, which basically resembles a small club venue – just need to add the tables, chairs and people! A variety of classic blues/rock tunes were played, and there really wasn’t anything the EX-Bass could not handle. For amplification, I used a GK MB Fusion 500, pushing an Ampeg 410HLF. Being a hollow-body, lightweight bass (approx. 7.1 lbs), paired with the location of the strap pins, the balance on the strap is a bit uneven. The neck tends to drop downward, which is the only shortcoming feature of this bass. A good, wide suede strap should solve this in a flash. Once the bass is over the shoulder and stable, you hardly notice it, due to the lightweight hollow body. A lightweight bass over your shoulder is definitely a welcome feeling for most gigging players. Being a small-bodied female, I had no issue strapping on the EX-Bass and feeling right at home and ready to play. To get a few more reference points – and to just share in the fun! – the EX-Bass was played by a couple of additional male guitarists with different playing styles. Both agreed on the lighter weight being such a pleasure, in contrast to a heavier body.
I was hoping to compare the EX to an original Fender ’70s Precision, but due to unforeseen electrical issues (never loan out your bass without checking it out upon return), the Fender had to sit out the night. To provide a known point of reference, I brought along my Sadowsky MV4HPJ. The Ex-Bass delivered a warmer, rounded tone, while the Sadowsky had the tighter, modern punch with the P/J pickups blended. Both delivered equally in the tone department, but the EX-Bass has a different feel/vibe, as one would expect from a hollow-bass guitar.
Go ahead and plug in a 90-degree instrument cable, since this bass does not have a recessed input jack. For controls, you have a single volume and a tone knob, as well as the 3-way pickup selector switch to dial in the various hollow-body resonant flavorings of the EX-Bass. You can choose to solo the neck or the bridge, or flip the switch to the center position to bring in the full flavor of the EX-Bass with both pickups. With the 3-way switch in the neck position, it provides very full and warm tones of a classic, vintage bass. In the bridge position, the tone is noticeably brighter, yet still exhibits that vintagey, feel-good, warm tone. Too bright? Just roll the highs off with the tone knob until the desired tone is achieved. Flip that 3-way switch to the middle spot and be ready for a full, evenly balanced tone that will beg you to dig in and play this bass relatively loud and with authority. The EX-Bass has this solid “phat” warm tone that simply fits in the band setting. At higher volumes, you need to be aware of your position relative to the speakers in order to avoid feedback from the hollow body that can muddy up the sound. The GHS Boomers brought out the ultimate color and warmth without getting lost in the mix. Oh yeah, and be prepared for gobs of sustain with this bass! The notes gloriously ring for days. Love that! Playing with a pick emphasized the hollow tone and raised the highs enough to dampen the naturally warm tone. The deep cutaway allowed for easy access to the higher registers without any hindrance. Unplugged, the EX-Bass has that same full, warm tone and resonance similar to an acoustic bass. I like it! The overall vibe of the EX-Bass kind of reminds me of a cross between an upright and an EB-0, with a little Hofner thrown in, as well.
The EX-Bass simply feels like you can crank out a “phat” bass lick on command. The shorter scale length makes the EX-Bass a comfortable, easy-to-play bass, though not so short that it would be problematic for bass players who are used to playing standard scale. I always thought of myself as more of a chambered or solid-body person, but this hollow, laminated bass has me considering the expansion of my stable.