The Company Line

As mentioned in our prior JB 5 review, as of February 2015, the guitar-building company that started out in 1946 as the L.C. Kiesel Company, later becoming Carvin and expanding product lines into other areas, has returned to its roots and is now called Kiesel Guitars. The company is headed up by Mark and Jeff Kiesel, and all their basses and guitars are made in San Diego, California. Also, just as with the JB 5, the bass we’re reviewing here is a Mark Kiesel design. Mark is always innovating in every aspect of the instrument, including body shapes, finishes, pickups, and even overall design such as this one. I believe this represents the first headless design from Kiesel, or even Carvin before it.

Fender Rumble 600×200
VB5 Bass Guitar

Details

This is a “neck-through” design, meaning the neck runs all the way from the nut end to the strap button end. The “body” is in fact just a pair of “wings” that are glued to the sides of the neck to provide a place for electronics, strap buttons, and a more traditional feel on a strap. For the woods, the neck is eastern hard rock maple, with a tung oil finish (my favorite neck finish). The fingerboard is a beautiful “flamed” ebony on this particular bass, with 24 of the optional Evo Gold vintage-size (smaller) frets (24 medium-jumbo stainless steel frets are standard) and pearl dots. The 34”-scale neck is slender, with what I call a “shallow C” profile and a 14” fingerboard radius. The neck also employs two carbon rods, increasing the neck strength and rigidity, and a dual-action truss rod. The body wings are chambered (to reduce weight) mahogany (alder is standard), and this bass includes a beautiful quilted maple top, giving the Deep Dragonburst (green to blue fade) finish a very three dimensional look. It’s really quite stunning in person and especially under lights.

This bass uses their 18V 3-band preamp with a “sweepable” (semi-parametric) midrange control (a 2-band without the sweepable mids is optionally available). The controls start out as volume and pickup blend (dual volume controls are also optionally available). Then comes the stacked sweepable midrange control, providing 15dB of boost/cut at anywhere from 100Hz to 2.2kHz (the center click position base frequency is 550Hz). The boost/cut is the top of the stack, and the frequency sweep is the ring. Finally, there is a treble/bass stack. The top control is the treble, providing 20dB of boost/cut at 10kHz, and the ring is the bass control, providing 20dB boost/cut at 30Hz. The volume control is also push/pull, where when pulled out, the bass is in passive mode. However, there is no passive tone control on this bass, so in passive mode, you just have volume and blend controls (passive tone control is available as an option, however). A pair of the recently designed Kiesel Radium KRH radiused-top Alnico humbuckers are standard, but this bass has the optional radiused-top single coil Kiesel Radium KRJ pickups. The idea is that the radiused top of the pickup closely follows the radius of the strings, allowing for more consistent output across the entire instrument. In my experience, this does have a positive impact.

VB5 Bass Guitar

The hardware is unique on this bass due to the headless design. The bridge is made by Hipshot, which is also where the tuners are located. At the other end, Keisel uses their own locking headpiece which accepts standard strings (instead of the less widely available “dual-ball” design some headless hardware design types require). Essentially, the strings pass through channels on the headpiece with a heavy duty Allen-key set screw to anchor them down. Then, you just cut off the excess. The strap buttons and knobs are typical widely used button and metal dome, respectively. There are two strap buttons on the back of the bass. One above the center point, and one below. I never needed to use the lower one.

Fit and finish

I’m going to sound like a broken record on this, but this is an area where Kiesel really has their game on. I can find no flaws in the paint, the finish, or the neck joint. The fret work is top notch, the fretboard is smooth and clean, the fret level is excellent, and the nut is great. I cannot find a single flaw worth mentioning in the construction fit or finish of this instrument.

VB5 Bass Guitar
VB5 Bass Guitar

On the gig

This topic boils down to two areas: tone and ergonomics. Under the category of ergonomics, the headless design not only gets into playability, but also portability. This bass definitely has an advantage over traditional designs in that it makes for a much smaller gig bag, and a more compact overall carry to a gig. You can’t fit it in most airplane overheads, especially with more smaller aircraft being used these days, but it’s definitely more compact and easier to carry around or get in and out of your car. However, by removing the headstock, the center of gravity move back towards the bridge. This means you also have to move that top strap button back towards the bridge to offset the balance change. Many basses have that strap button around the 12th fret, but this one sits over the 14th fret. The result is it moves the first position further away from your body (you have to reach farther out for the first fretted notes). While it’s not a huge deal, it is noticeable, and little less comfortable to play, at least for me. Other than that, the setup and action were great right out of the box, and at a comfy 8.2 pounds, it’s easy to shoulder all night.

The optional single-coil pickups were chosen, to favor a bit more of a J-style sound; fat on the neck, burpy on the bridge, and funky when blended. Plus, these newer Radium pickups seem to represent the widest tonal palette yet for their pickups. Very deep lows and very crystalline highs, with a full midrange landscape between. The preamp controls work very smoothly and offer a wide variety of augmentations to tone using the blend control and EQ. The treble and bass are very musical and voiced perfectly for these latest editions of their pickups. The bridge pickup has burp and growl for days, and if you want to fatten it up, add a little bass. To narrow its focus, take some of the treble off. The neck pickup is big and bluesy. No need to add bass to it, but if you want to drop some treble, it goes classic on you real fast (in a good way). One thing I did notice is this bass seemed a bit on the noisy side, even amongst other single-coil setups I’ve played. Not terrible, but noticeable. It was the usual venue-dependent and standing position stuff (some venues weren’t as bad, and the noise would change based on which direction I was facing). So I feel maybe the grounding and shielding might need a bit of work. I’d also personally get one with a passive tone control, because to me, passive mode is not just for backup. It’s a different sound, and one I like to use from time to time.

The action was pretty much perfect right out of the box, and the entire time I had this bass, I never needed to adjust it. That’s a testament to their dual carbon rod neck design, wood selection, and construction. I don’t remember noticing any hot or dead spots across the fingerboard, and the smaller vintage style frets are great for a lighter touch and accuracy of intonation. The frets were smooth, no sharp edges, and the neck shape is very comfortable. Very well done.

VB5 Bass Guitar

The Bottom Line

This bass is Kiesel’s take on a headless design. There are others out there, but Kiesel puts their own special sauce in this one with their custom electronics, headpiece, and other previously mentioned attributes and features. It’s extremely versatile and full of wonderful tones. I’m personally not too keen on the location of the first position (though that’s highly subjective), and the optional single-coil pickups allow for a bit of noise, but other than that, if you’re in the market for a particularly good value on a very high quality headless style bass with a very broad palette of sounds – especially considering a fully USA-made instrument – you need to grab one of these and check it out. It’s worth it!

GENERAL INFO

Manufacture:Kiesel Guitars / Carvin Guitars
Website:www.carvinguitars.com
Model:Vader VB5
Made In: USA
Warranty: 5-Year Limited
Body: Mahogany “wings” with quilted maple top
Neck: Maple
Fingerboard: Ebony
Bridge/color: Hipshot / black
Nut (Guide): Graphite-teflon, with Kiesel headpiece
Tuners/color: Hipshot / black
Knobs/color: Dome / black
Pickguard: N/A
Control cavity cover: Black plastic
Pickups: Kiesel Radium KRJ (single-coil)
Preamp: Kiesel 3-band (18V)
Controls: Volume, Blend, Bass, Mid (sweepable), Treble
Body Finish: Deep Dragonburst
Neck Finish: Tung oil
Scale Length: 34"
Number of Frets/Positions: 24
Strings: Dunlop Super Bright nickel roundwound
Gauge: .040 .060 .080 .100 .120
Fingerboard Radius: 14"
Accessories: Black Ultimate Soft Bass Case
Options: 30” scale, various woods, electronics, frets, etc. Highly customizable, made to order from a very broad spectrum of options via “builder” tool on the website.
Price: $1,399 ($2,099 as tested)
VB5 Bass Guitar
VB5 Bass Guitar
VB5 Bass Guitar