This article published in #Issue 18 in winter 2016.
Andy Brown had a neat idea one day while he was noodling around above the 12th fret – you know, that part of the fingerboard that normally gets you in trouble. He put a capo on the 12th fret, and realized that he had a truncated, but functional, bass fingerboard at his disposal. Andy travels a lot, but still wants to be able to practice bass. Once he realized that he didn’t really need any of the real estate north of his capo, his idea for a compact travel bass took root. Being friends with established luthier Chris Stambaugh, it was a natural progression for Andy to approach Chris with the idea of making his concept a reality. All Wing Bass instruments are made in the Stambaugh Musical Designs’ shop in New Hampshire.
My first exposure to the Wing Bass was on Facebook, and I messaged Andy to see if we could get one sent in for review. Fortunately, he was favorably inclined to do so!
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this “weird new thing,” but knowing that Chris Stambaugh was involved, I felt certain that it would be well put-together. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about what kind of a case or bag it might come with, but when it arrived, I was pleased to see that it shipped with a custom-shaped, padded gig bag. Nice touch!
Unzipping the gig bag, I removed what at first glance appeared reminiscent of a thick, upside-down hatchet of some kind. However, my brain quickly took in what it was looking at and decided that while it was certainly a new thing, it kind of inherently made sense. A new category named “Wing Bass” was created amongst my firing synapses, and I started to take in the details: mahogany body, maple fingerboard, five strings, one thin pickup (turns out it was a Bartolini), two knobs (gotta be volume and tone), Hipshot tuning bridge, no headstock (of course), oh, and look, a zero fret! Really cool stuff, I must say!
The thing is, after that brief moment of “what the heck is this?” the Wing Bass just makes sense, and seems completely natural. I played a few notes and decided that these strings felt like real bass strings. Because, guess what? These are real bass strings! They’re just cut off above where the 12th fret would be (that’s the zero fret on a Wing Bass). You can use any strings you like, in fact. Hmmm… I wonder how this thing sounds plugged in…
A Closer Look
Well, it turns out that I had band practice that night, so I did not have long to wait. Ideally, I probably should have brought along an octave pedal of some kind, but time was short, and I just grabbed the Wing Bass gig bag (along with my usual double gig bag) and zipped off to practice. For this band, we practice in our guitar player’s basement, and the bass rig set up there is a GK 700RB-II pushing a Neo115/Neo210 stack. After playing a couple of tunes with one of my regular basses, I broke out the Wing Bass 5, cranked up the bass knob a bit, and laid into some Ramones (Andy tells me I may be the first player to rock I Wanna Be Sedated on a Wing Bass!). To my surprise, it worked quite well. An octave pedal would have likely been even better, but as it was, the songs still rocked, with more than adequate foundational support. My bandmates all chuckled a bit when I first broke it out, but they all agreed that the Wing Bass did sound pretty darned good.
While the body shape looks at first like it has a “neck” that is too thick, playing the Wing Bass is almost exactly like playing a single-cut bass above the 12th fret. Except that it’s a lot lighter. I was relieved to find that my normal strap (set to its typical length) worked just fine with the Wing Bass 5. Having largish hands/fingers, things did get a little tight when I played further up the fingerboard, but in the first couple positions, things were just fine. Once again, the tone is just what you’d expect from a “regular” bass with a capo placed at the 12th fret. I did get a chance later on to try it with several of my octave pedals, and it tracked really well and sounded quite convincing as a “normal range” bass. The 3Leaf Audio Octabvre, in particular, sounded great with the Wing 5.
There’s really not much to compare this thing to, but I do have a Marleaux Consat Soprano, and I figured that would be an interesting comparison (though the Marleaux clocks in at several times the price of the Wing Bass). With its longer scale length (22.44”), you would think that the Soprano would sound “bigger,” but the thicker strings on the Wing actually give it a bigger tone. The Consat Soprano is more crisp-sounding. Both of them work quite well with octaves, overdrives, and other effects. The Consat Soprano was a bit easier for me to play, with more space between the frets.
This bass is very well-constructed. The hardware, frets, pickup and finish are all top quality. The pots are on the small side, but have great feedback resistance when turning. The ebony knobs are a nice touch. When ordering a Wing Bass, a player can choose between mahogany and black limba for body woods and between maple or rosewood for the fingerboard. For string spacing, you can order either 17.5mm or 18mm. The Wing Bass 5 can be shipped set up either B to G, or E to C, and Wing Bass also offers 4, 6 and 7-string versions, with left-handed options being available at no extra charge. In addition, Andy tells me that a piezo pickup (and a 3-way toggle switch) can be added to the standard magnetic Bartolini pickup.
The Wing Bass 5 is not only a very viable travel instrument, it is more than up to the task of performing live (ideally with some help from an octave pedal and perhaps some other effects). It is a fun, fresh new take on the electric bass guitar, and it may inspire you to approach your lines and music from a different angle. The fit, finish, and overall quality are really quite nice, and it certainly feels like a lot of instrument for the money.
|Manufacture:||Wing Bass and Stambaugh Musical Designs|
|Model:||Wing Bass 5|
|Bridge:||Hipshot 5 String Bass Headless System|
|Pickup:||Bartolini X4 Bass Soapbar|
|Number of Frets/Positions:||17 (plus a zero fret)|
|Options:||Fretless (lined or unlined), lefty, 17.5mm or 18mm spacing, piezo pickup|