If you’re in the market for a light bass, you may want to give this one a pluck. In fact, when I first picked this bass up, I was shocked at how light it was. I didn’t really know what to expect when opening the box, but to my surprise, there laid this small-bodied, red-burst, maple-necked, matte-finished body. I, for one, am a sucker for matte finishes, so this caught my eye, right away. The bass at hand is a 4-string, J-style “passive” bass, with a few tweaks, and it is definitely a looker.
I personally know DNA guitars sound awesome, after watching Johnny Hiland shred on one, but I never realized they were making basses until we ran into Ron Stone at the 2015 Summer NAMM Show. Ron provided us with a bit of the company’s history:
DNA Guitar Company started five years ago as the culmination of a lifelong dream began to come to fruition. Friends Tony Kessman, the business mind and marketing genius (a 30-year friend of Dave Johnston, our guitar builder, met in the Air Force) would talk and dream of starting a guitar company. Ron Stone, bass builder and 20-year friend met Dave while Dave was working for a sound production company Ron had hired to provide the PA system for a series of concert productions Ron’s production company was producing. Each having a love for music not only struck up an immediate friendship, but finding out they each played (Dave the guitar and Ron the bass), immediately formed a band and the bond was sealed. As life often does, we were all side-tracked with raising families. We all have families that support our dream 100%.
Over the years, Dave and Ron built guitars for themselves, repaired and modified guitars for friends – creating some very nice playing instruments, all along dreaming of what it would be like to build full-time. Five years ago, Tony and Dave jumped in head-first. It was “on.” The creation of a guitar-building business was started. Fortunately for me, Tony and Dave felt as though they needed to round out the business by adding bass guitars. Dave, having seen the basses I had built (bass picture #6 built over ten years ago), told Tony, ‘I know just the guy.’ Dave brought Tony to my house to show him my personal hand-built bass, and the deal was sealed. I was now part of DNA. By the way, when I say Tony saw my ‘hand-built’ bass, we’re talking hand saws, rasps, files, sand paper and a hand-held router.
Next came the name. The first thought was ‘D-n-A,’ for Dave and Anthony (Tony). But then quite by accident, someone was playing one of the first guitars Dave built for the company, and being thoroughly impressed with the playability, tone and balance the person asked, ‘Wow! How did you get this guitar to play so nice?’ Dave replied, ‘It’s in the DNA’ – meaning the playability was literally born in that creation. That became the company’s mantra. Build very guitar and bass so that its very life is in the DNA of each individual instrument.
With the exception of the Hipshot hardware, everything is hand-made by the guys at DNA. From the hand-shaped bone nut, to the pickups, which are hand-wound Callahan’s. Ron explains, “They are wound with the same wire (thickness and copper composition) and the same winding technique and alnico magnets as pre CBS Fender P and J pickups, to give them a vintage feel. However, we’ve added our own touch to give them a bigger and clearer sound. Jeff Callahan will custom-wind pickups most any type of pickup, or we will put whatever pickups the customer requests into the bass.”
From my point of view, the guitar looks aesthetically pleasing: from the curves up into the neck and headstock. It’s a super-light bass, so getting tired on the gig won’t be an issue; plus, it seems to balance itself fairly nicely. The neck is a little more rounded in the back than I prefer, but it’s similar to a subtle “V” style neck. Since it’s a 4-string, it didn’t bother me too much. String spacing was about 13/16” on the top of the neck pickup. The neck pickup is about 3 ½” from the neck; 4” down from that is the bridge pickup, which is 3” from the bridge. These seem to pick up a lot, but in a very smooth way. I didn’t hear a whole lot of bite until I started messing with the configuration. It appears to be a pretty typical, passive volume/volume/tone setup, but there is a lot more going on.
The middle knob (bridge volume) can be pulled up to change from single-coil to humbucking mode. This definitely lets you change your tone, quickly. There are also a number of dip switches accessible inside the control cavity. One bank of switches lets you choose the value of the capacitor applied to the tone control. [The impact of these dip switches is discussed in the Bass Lab technical review portion of this review.] Ron explained that with the volume pot dip switches, “You are changing the pot value from 250k to 500k, creating more presence, a little more ‘pop,’ if you will, and allowing more signal (highs) through. It’s one more way to provide additional tonal options to the player. I never measured the frequency range, simply because the preferred tone is set by each individual player to their ear – to their personal preferences. It’s a trick I learned years ago. I changed my 250k pots to 500k pots in my older Fenders (‘60, ‘64, ‘66, and ‘72 P-basses). I would always get questioned at gigs by other bass players as to how I was getting ‘more’ out of my basses.” The other dip switches engage the “volume kit” or “treble bleed kit,” for each volume pot. This kit is designed to help eliminate the loss of higher frequencies as you turn down the volume.
For this particular bass, they used gold-and-black hardware, which gives it a nice touch. Hardware is available in gold, black or chrome, or any combination of the three colors. The body is made out of swamp ash for the top and back. According to Ron, it is “colored with a water-based dye and finished with twelve coats of hand-rubbed oil and three coats of wax. We use water-based dyes and Amish milk paint to create our colors.” I really like how the body of the bass looks. It shows off the wood, without being completely bare, and even though its styled like a “burst,” it sets itself apart from other basses.
A good plus on this bass is the precision they use with putting the bridge and neck on the body. Ron explained it the best:
As we all know, the traditional method of using wood screws to attach the bridge to the body leaves gaps under and around the bridge, and wood screws can strip out and loosen over time. The bridge actually loses surface contact with the body. This diminishes vibrational transmission/sustain and causes lackluster tone. The DNA ‘5-point contact’ bridge is a solid brass Hipshot bridge that is inset into a precision-routed pocket, using a mallet to tap it into place (due to the extremely tight tolerances) and securely torqued down via machine screws into metal inserts, creating five points of contact with the wood – not just one, as with a traditional bridge. Our fastening system maximizes strength, contact and string vibration transfer, which equals maximum sustain. Our distinctive-appearing recessed bridge is proprietary and increases surface contact with the body. The metal inserts are snuggly installed into the body and machine screws are used to fasten the neck and bridge to the body, giving such a tight bond, they essentially become one piece. Our fasten system gets significantly tighter than any wood screw could ever attempt to get.
The Bottom Line
This bass initially impresses as a lightweight, modern take on a passive Jazz Bass, with great balance, both physically and tonally. It plays great (very smooth), and while it definitely falls in the category of “vintage J-bass tone,” it does have its own character, and a nicely complex and compelling upper midrange to high end. The various switches give you the ability to dial in a variety of subtle variations on this theme. I had a lot of fun figuring out what it could do. If you’re in the market for something completely hand-made by a bunch of really cool people, you should check out DNA.