This article was publish in #Issue 18 in winter 2016
The Company Line
It all starts with Patrice Vigier back in 1978, when he first went into business as an independent luthier. Like so many luthiers, his decision to build his own instruments came from experiences in repairing production instruments, and deciding he could simply make them better. Ever since those first days, Vigier has been innovating and inventing non-stop. For example, back in 1980 Patrice was using metal reinforcement under the fingerboard (not to be confused with a truss rod, which is something else), a fretless guitar with a metallic fingerboard (which is iconic, even now, for his fretless basses, as well), through-body anchored bridge, and the innovations kept flowing from there. They also claim to be the first ever to implement a full printed-circuit-board-based preamp in an electric bass, back in 1981. While I know of other companies that do this, I have to honestly say, I don’t know any that go back that far. As early as 1983, he was already working with artists, such as Stanley Jordan, but the artist list has grown since then and is far too long to list, here. The bass model line we’re reviewing here was introduced in 1996, but the 90/10 neck (which is probably its most significant feature) was introduced back in 1989 (though the company has also built instruments with full carbon necks, as well). The 4-string version of this bass actually uses “noiseless” single coils, compared to the humbuckers in our review piece.
One thing that also sets Vigier apart from many other luthiers is they do all their manufacturing in their French shop, using only woods found in French forests, except for those woods which aren’t indigenous to the area (such as their rosewood and mahogany). They do this for a sense of material locality, to support local partners, and also because France has a forest with the quantity and diversity of woods to meet all the rest of their needs well. By the time they send an instrument out for sale, the woods in that instrument have been conditioned in their shop for years … in some cases, even after partial assembly. Their manufacturing process is a hybrid of machine and man, to assure both consistency and individual quality.
The body of this bass is made of alder, with a relatively classic double cutaway design, somewhat reminiscent of a P or J-bass, but not exactly. The fingerboard is rosewood. The neck is their famous 90/10 bolt-on neck, with a five-in-line-style headstock. “90/10” means the neck is 90% maple, and 10% carbon. The construction of this neck is unique to Vigier, where the carbon element is not one or more hidden stiffening rods. Instead, it’s a singular carbon bar that is made integral to the meat of the neck and is exposed on the back side – which is shaped along with the maple on either side as one – something like the “skunk stripe” on certain other guitars and basses we’re familiar with, except that’s a decorative cover for the truss rod, where this is both larger and actually obviates the need for a truss rod. This means a few things; the neck will never, ever move, dead and hot spots are pretty much a thing of the past, and relief is set at the factory and is unalterable. The neck is held to the body via five screws with bushings/inserts for each. The frets are stainless steel, and there are 24 of them. This bass incorporates a zero fret, which also means there is no nut. It may still be called a nut, but it’s really just a string spacing guide, since the zero fret is what sets the string height at that end, and it’s made of Teflon. This bass incorporates a flat headstock design with string hold-downs to maintain a good break angle for string tension on the zero fret. The tuners are Schaller, though the bridge is proprietary for Vigier, with full floating (though also locking) individual fully adjustable saddles (no springs and screws). The strap buttons look pretty standard as chrome cones, but what’s unique here is the mounting system. Vigier incorporates an integral anchor system and the buttons are actually held on via machine screw. This means those buttons will never come lose or strip out, but it also means if you want to use a strap locking system, you may have to modify their buttons for the Vigier screws (since you won’t be able to use the strap lock system’s supplied screws).
The controls are volume, blend, bass, middle, and treble. All EQ controls are +/- 20dB, but the EQ center points are not documented on their proprietary preamp, which, by the way, is completely PCB-based. There are no wires in this bass except for to the pickups, to the batteries, and to the jack, from the PCB. The electronics compartment is very clean, and painted with conductive paint for shielding. The preamp is an 18V system, and the batteries are held in two separate plastic compartments with pop-up doors. The pickups are humbucking dual-coils, proprietary to Vigier.
Fit and finish
I looked all over this instrument and could not find a single flaw in the finish consistency, the neck joint, the routes, shaping/contours, etc. The fret work is impeccable and has beautifully rolled edges, as does the fingerboard. The fingerboard shows no visible scrape marks or imperfections, and the glue joints look perfect. The actual finish on this bass is also a bit of a point of humor. It’s technically a tobacco finish, but as Vigier likes to promote the vision of a smoke-free world, they call it an Anti-Tobacco matte finish (released for the first time at NAMM 2015). The controls all work smoothly and noise-free, the tuners are smooth and precise. The relief is pretty modest, which is exactly the way I like it, and in my opinion supports a broad range of setups flawlessly. It doesn’t bother me one bit that it can’t be altered.
On the gig
As a pretty time-tested and well-proven typical double cutaway design, it balances great on a strap and on your leg. It’s comfortable under the arm, and the neck position is very comfortable with respect to the first position. And with regard to their 90/10 neck, I loved the fact that I could take it from my air-conditioned, relatively dry house out to a hot, humid festival gig and not worry at all about the action, tone, intonation, or even tuning, for the most part. I own other instruments with non-wood necks, and this is a very freeing aspect of this design. But Vigier has the most wood involvement that I’m familiar with, so it’s the most organic and natural-sounding of all the basses I’ve played with significant carbon or composite involvement in the neck. The notes ring pure and true, with a great fundamental, and of course, dead/hot spots pretty much don’t exist. Just play the damn thing and don’t worry about it.
The preamp is very natural sounding, though the treble control is super bright to my ears … I used it very sparingly, especially noting how bright the pickups were, natively. The mids did a nice job of boosting the “burp,” which came in handy with the bridge pickup, as it had plenty of punch and bite, but just barely not as much as a more traditional J-style bass, which sets the standard for that, for me. While we’re on the pickups, the neck pickup, was a work of art. It had all the beef of something akin to a P-bass, but with a certain extra rich and round tone, while maintaining that nice, fat midrange at the same time. Back to the EQ, the bass control is huge. I also used that one pretty sparingly, even with the bridge pickup soloed. Good sound, just more range than I’d ever need. The blend control was smooth and predictable, as was the volume control.
The Bottom Line
This bass is pretty straightforward on looks and features, but the tone and playability are superb. If you’re looking for a faithful J-bass or P-bass tone, this is probably not exactly what you’re looking for. But if you’re looking for a bass with its own identity and a very wide spectrum of excellent sounds – and/or, you’re sick of dead/hot spots and love sustain – you owe it to yourself to play one of these and consider a purchase. Patrice makes a bass second to none.