While Precision-style basses have been enjoying somewhat of a popular rediscovery over the last several years, Leo Fender’s Jazz Bass design is arguably his most enduring, and a platform that has undoubtedly been the most influential in the bass guitar world since its debut. The ‘80s saw the emergence of a new class of souped-up JBs, so-called “Super Jazz” basses, with builders like Sadowsky taking that basic Fender Jazz inspiration and stretching it ever further into the modern realm, endeavoring to improve upon it in novel and often highly utilitarian ways in terms of improved ergonomics, more onboard tonal control, etc.
Mike Lull Custom Guitars have built an extremely recognizable and successful name for themselves over the last 25 years (even longer if you count the pre-production, repair and modification years) by borrowing not only a page from the Fender design book, but incorporating popular Gibson offerings, as well, adding their own custom touches and expertly-informed modifications to stalwart gigging bassist favorites. In addition to their standard offerings, the company – now run by Mike’s son, Spencer Lull since the untimely and highly lamented passing of Mike earlier this year (yet another in an endless series of strikes against 2020) – crafts a number of more highly modded signature artist models; among them, the Super Jazz-esque TP5, named for Bostonian bassist Tony Puleo.
As I live close to the Mike Lull shop in Bellevue, Washington, I was able to stop by in person and intercept the newest TP5 to come off the bench before it gets to its rightful owner, and it is perhaps the most visually striking iteration of this line yet! It features a chambered, M (modern) shaped ash body, dressed in a Trans Orange finish and sporting Nordstrand Big Blade pickups mated to a Bartolini NTMB preamp; this particular version of the TP5 is the first of its kind. The bass also features 24 Vintage Small frets laid into a gorgeous roasted birdseye maple fretboard, mated to an equally stunning roasted maple neck, a 35” scale length with through-body B string, and lightweight Hipshot tuners and A-style bridge.
The M-style body provides a nice, deep cutaway on the treble side that allows for actual usage and real world access to all those frets, and the 2-piece, chambered ash body, along with the lightweight hardware, conspire to put this fine 5-string at a mere 8.4 pounds. Direct from the shop, the bass came with a setup I found to be a little more conservative than I prefer, with 24th fret-to-string measurements at 2.5mm at the G string, climbing to 3.5 mm at the B; about 1mm higher all around than I typically set; and a slightly higher nut that allowed a bit more deflection of the B string at the 1st and 2nd frets when fretted at the 3rd than I often see. However, a slightly higher nut can be beneficial when setting the action lower, so after some quick adjustments, I had the TP5 feeling fast and familiar under my fingers. Neck relief was set dead-on for me, at around 0.5mm. Tony and I both share a love for GHS Strings, and this bass entered into the world wearing a set of GHS Progressives, which are a great match for the specs and vibe of this bass; not as bright as steel, but with a special lower treble presence derived from their unique alloy construction that sets them apart from more typical nickel strings.
I thought the chrome hardware really complemented the bright and warm hues of the Trans Orange finish and all that velvety roasted maple. Unlike many Fender-inspired basses on the market, the TP5’s headstock features double string trees, creating enough downward pressure on the nut from all but the B string, rather than only the G and D, while the B string tuner’s placement negated the need of any additional help to create a solid witness point across the nut. However, at the other end of the strings, a slightly curious addition – if you flip the bass over, you’ll find a single inset string ferrule directly underneath the B string’s bridge plate location for through-body stringing of that largest of strings, alone. Discussing with Tony, this was a modification made by Mike Lull in an attempt to improve tension, or the sensation of tension along that string. The B string itself was one of GHS’ Contact Core strings, without additional wire wrap layers around the core for the last 2-3” of the string’s length. As the channel for the through-body B appears to be rather narrow, I wondered if it was actually a necessity to use a tapered or exposed core string for use this way, however, a little oddly, the length of travel through the bass’ body eats up the entirety of the exposed core section’s length, leaving the full wrap width over the B string saddle. Recommended reading surrounding the notion of post-saddle string manipulation from our own Phil Maneri can be found here: https://www.bassgearmag.com/philthy-thoughts-string-through-vs-top-loader/
The Nordstrand Big Blade pickups, with their radiused, exposed poles, are set in a special placement for Tony’s signature model, which Puleo calls “Avanti” spacing; the bridge pickup is roughly in the ‘60s era Jazz Bass position, but modified slightly for the 35” scale, while the neck pickup is set further back towards the bridge than usual. From my own experiments with dual pickup spacing and placement, I’ve found this proximity and spacing between pickups to yield some unique comb-filtering results that tend to highlight a certain upper-mid portion of the bass’ frequency response, which can manifest itself as a great, aggressive snarl for those who need to cut through a dense aural onslaught. True to form, the specific resonant peak of the Big Blades, combined with their placement and the acoustic attributes of the bass’ materials and construction, provides a healthy mid presence with a hearty boost in the 1kHz neighborhood. While this isn’t generally a tone I strive to produce when playing alone or in very sparse musical contexts, I recognize it’s all but necessary to cut through and allow your timbre and articulation to be heard when playing with loud, distorted guitarists and spirited (read: hard hitting) drummers. While the realities of the COVID-informed period we’re moving through prevented me gigging with the bass in such a capacity, I did layer it into some denser prog and hard rock arrangements. As expected, that 1kHz bump and the overall impolite (in all the best ways) timbre of the TP5 kept me from feeling buried or blended to an extent I didn’t want to be. The powerful Bartolini NTMB with 3-way selectable mids allowed all the finer-level tone sculpting I needed, with a mercifully effective and useful pickup blend control to attain varied shades of bark and thump.
Perhaps only worthy of mention for a small swath of players, but I do tend to have a hard time with non-enclosed pickups, as I find I all too often make very unpleasant contact between string and pole piece with my preferred low action and sometimes unorthodox right hand technique, and I also enjoy using a wider pickup’s top surface as a ramp – which isn’t an option with the flat-topped, but radiused-bladed Big Blades. However, the vast majority of pick and fingerstyle players are not going to find any issue here, and you have to admit, those exposed, rectangular blades look super cool!
The Bartolini NTMB preamp used here features a push-pull passive switch on the volume control; the neck-most one of the four pots. There was a somewhat notable change in timbre when switching between the two modes with the EQ controls set flat, which felt to me like a slight increase in low-end presence and a simultaneous de-emphasis of upper mids in active mode, compared to passive. But, with the exception of active or buffered pickups, this behavior is par for the course, and I personally play in active mode almost exclusively, so it’s not remotely a concern. Rounding out the three additional controls on the TP5 are pickup blend, mid boost/cut with 3-way selectable center frequency, and stacked bass and treble boost/cut.
As the reader may or may not be aware from previous comments in this forum, unlike perhaps the majority of bassists, I don’t own or play a great number of Fender-inspired instruments, making them less like home to me than many. But perhaps that actually aids my perception of differentiating factors between them when I do get to spend significant time in that arena, not having a strong baseline level of familiarity or expectation that might mask awareness of subtle design touches and player-appeasing features, or put off more of a purist. There are many Super Jazz-styled basses available these days, of course. But in this category of ultra-high end, highly refined, offset double-cutaway bodied bass guitars with two non-dual coil pickups, made from essentially the finest materials available to domestic luthiers and dressed in the lightest yet most durable and reliable hardware, you’d be hard pressed to find a more responsive and joyously playing 5-string than the Mike Lull Custom Guitars Tony Puleo TP5. If the tonal palette and feature spec appeals to you as a player at a core level, there simply isn’t a better bass targeted directly at you.
|Manufacture:||Mike Lull Custom Guitars|
|Model:||Tony Puleo TP5|
|Warranty:||2-year (limited to original owner)|
|Body:||Ash, 2-piece, chambered|
|Fingerboard:||Roasted birdseye maple|
|Bridge/color:||Hipshot Type A / chrome|
|Tuners/color:||Hipshot Ultralite / chrome|
|Knobs/color:||Hipshot / chrome|
|Control cavity cover:||Black plastic main and 9-Volt, mounted with wood screws|
|Pickups:||Nordstrand Big Blade 5|
|Controls:||Master volume (active/passive push/pull), Blend, Mid boost/cut, stacked Bass/Treble boost/cut, Mid frequency 3-way switch|
|Body Finish:||Trans Orange, gloss polyurethane|
|Neck Finish:||Clear, gloss polyurethane|
|Scale Length:||35", string-through low B|
|Number of Frets/Positions:||24, Vintage Small fretwire|
|Gauge:||.040, .060, .080, .101, .126|
|Accessories:||Protec gig bag|
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