Bass Lab – Brubaker JXB-4 Guitars

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Who doesn’t love an all-black J-style bass? It’s a tuxedo or a leather jacket, depending on how you dress around. Blackened from edge to edge, this 4-string Brubaker has great picks everywhere you look. The unique interchangeable active/passive control modules are an unusual and very clever option from Brubaker. The carbon fiber pickguard with matching electronic cavity cover and all-black hardware is a great way to round it all off.

Being totally black, I had to refer to the supplied documents to discover that it has a poplar body with a maple neck and fingerboard. All woods are painted or stained black. I don’t often see poplar in the bass, but it certainly works here.

The pickups are a great modern pick from Howard Ulyate. These are great sounding pickups and give a very open and clear sound. Control circuits are fascinating. They can be swapped out by removing three machine screws. One is a typical passive Fender Jazz Bass 3-knob setup (volume, volume, tone) and the other is an active 3-band Aguilar preamp.

What fascinates me is that the pickups sound very different with the passive module. Clear and open, but they reveal how disparate their shapes are. The “Precision” coil is short and thick, and the “Jazz” coil is tall and thin. Mixed together passively, the two pickups sound very distinct from each other. However, if you swap out the controls for the Aguilar preamp, the pickups themselves seem to behave differently. Even with everything flat, the two pickups blend better and sound very similar when sweeping through the mix. I don’t know why, but I find it interesting.

As for the armor, there is armor paint in the cavity on the sides and presumably on the bottom, although I couldn’t verify that. There is a strip of foil under the active circuit pots, but this strip does not connect to the sides and back in any way; as such, the shielding is incomplete. There’s nothing under the passive pots, but it’s not really necessary; this is the active side where shielding can make a difference in noise. Other than that, the wiring is very well executed; intentional threads, lots of shrink wrap. Very orderly. In any case, it is a very quiet bass, with one or the other module.

[Manufacturer’s Response: Regarding the shielding in the module, the copper strip that was noted is there to connect the controls to eliminate handling noise and is grounded. The carbon fiber control plate is conductive and highly resistant to EMI, so it forms the shielding to the top of the modules/control cavity. The entire cavity, including the pickup cavities and battery box, is shielded with the nickel-based paint we use. We take great care with the design and implementation of our electronic system and are grateful for the time and attention you gave to this new system.]

Tuners are Hipshot® Ultralite® models with the smallest clover tips; very light and precise. The bridge is another unusual choice. The Ray Ross™ Saddleless Bass Bridge removes the typical tailpiece string ball anchor and a saddle of sorts for the strings to cross to create a take-off point away from the string balls. Here, the ball is located where the bridge saddle would be. The string takes off directly from a pin inserted into a movable anchor area that makes the tailpiece the “bridge” and removes a point of contact and string bend.

A bold and courageous choice of which I admit that I was skeptical. Above all, not because of the manufacturer’s choices, but for the lack of precision that string manufacturers often put in the packaging the portion of string that secures the end of the ball. Usually this area is out of the playing field and therefore has minimal noise impact. But here it’s just in the mix, which means a string maker has to make sure not to kick the construction for this purpose. Of course, they have to stand behind their strings, and if you get a bad string, the manufacturer has to replace it. Even though this bridge is an unusual idea, I’m open-minded enough to consider that it might be a better mousetrap. I don’t have enough experience with known instruments to form an opinion on the differences it brings, but I know it sounds really good here.

The construction is quite good on this bass. The carpentry is great. The bolt-on neck has a closed joint to the cool body which makes the whole thing super strong. My only issue with this bass build is the fret ends. They are not clean and straight. They are inconsistent and seem to have random file marks. This is rather unexpected, given the excellence and attention to detail that I see throughout the rest of the bass. It’s as if the frets were made by another person…

When testing the dead spots, I notice a fundamental decrease on the g chain of A at D, which is the typical “dead zone” associated with Fender-style bolt-on instruments. It’s maybe a little more noticeable due to the piano nature of this bass’ sound everywhere else, but don’t get me wrong with my nit picking; this bass sounds great and plays better than most jazz style basses you will find.

The finish is a solid matte black finish that can be used in a metal band or at a wedding gig. The only clue to its industrial nature are the carbon fiber appointments which, from a distance, are somehow unnoticeable. Design-wise, it’s in the same ballpark as a Jazz Bass, and it rides like one. Very familiar and comfortable with the 12 fret strap button where everyone expects it to be.

This bass sounds clear and clean with slightly truncated bass, but pronounced mids. It’s a great combination when fed by a preamp like the Aguilar, where the mids are cut and the bass can be boosted to deliver rock-solid lows without the mud.

The bass plays really well and the truss rod works as it should. The unusual Ray Ross bridge is surprisingly easy to adjust, given that it is “out of the ordinary”. It’s certainly a well-designed beast.

All in all, it’s a fantastic bass; light and well balanced, and feels great while playing. It sounds great and has plenty of range coupled with the preamp module. With a price under $3,000, it’s a big hit for the bass.

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