I remember the extreme reactions when the PRS Silver Sky was introduced. The mashup (some might say, clash) of two well-known and classic designs was an earthly manifestation of sacrilege to some. The Jackson X Series Concert Bass CBXNT DX IV could be the Silver Sky’s bottom-end equivalent: design elements from two legendary instruments fearlessly thrown together to create something new. The mix already has folks talking. But the real question is whether there is more to this bass than the mix of Fender-style P/J and Rickenbacker visual cues?
What Comes From Where?
The X Series Concert Bass clearly takes inspiration from Rickenbacker’s 4001 and 4003. The pickguard, neck profile, chrome bridge pickup cover, control layout, shark fin fretboard inlays, and Jacksons own “Bass Bacher” through-body bridge all nod heavily to Rick. The poplar body profile and pickups, of course, are a nod to Rickenbacker’s old neighbors, Fender.
That’s the breakdown on the most obvious style moves. But look closer and you’ll find features that make this instrument unique. I immediately noticed that the Jackson seemed slightly longer than some basses in spite of the standard 34″ scale length. One reason is that putting the Rickenbacker-style bridge on a Fender-style body situates the bridge further forward so the eye perceives the neck as a little longer.
The most unique aspect of the instrument’s deign, perhaps, is the pickup placement. The J-style pickup in the bridge position is located further from the bridge than a standard P/J, and the P-pickup in neck position is located much closer to the neck than I am used to. Outwardly, the pickup positions may not seem to represent a huge change, but they make an audible difference.
The Jackson’s departure from the two basses that inspired it become more obvious when you plug in. To start, the Jackson has active electronics and a flexible set of treble, mid, and bass tone controls. But the Jackson doesn’t just thump in the hi-fi voice of a typical active-pickup-equipped instrument. The circuit also does a great job of delivering vintage feel in the top end, as long as the treble EQ stays below the 75-percent mark. Such tone-shaping flexibility is rare, and Jackson deserves kudos for being sensitive to the vintage-loving player via these tone controls. On the other hand, the Jackson could have featured a bypass that enables passive operation. That’s a big plus for me in any active bass—especially one with such clear vintage ambitions—and it is missed here.
For anyone moving over from a Rickenbacker, or looking for a more affordable alternative, the flatter, wider neck will feel like home.
The X Series Concert Bass’ very flat and wide 12″-16″ compound-radius neck took some getting used to. I expect it will be an adjustment for anyone accustomed to slimmer, J-bass-style neck profiles. But for anyone moving over from a Rickenbacker, or looking for a more affordable alternative, the flatter, wider neck will feel like home.
The Old Door
The Jackson’s voice exhibits a prominent and very honky midrange. And in spite of the P/J pickup configuration, the Jackson has much of the midrange of a Rickenbacker. The extra mids are especially noticeable when soloing the bridge P-style pickup. And getting something close to Chris Squire’s tone is surprisingly easy with all that available midrange. The extra mids show up in the neck pickup, too, adding a pleasant woody bark to the output, and at times I could almost hear hints of an old door squeaking, which I mean in the most complimentary way. The laurel fretboard might also contribute something to this pleasant, woody personality.
The Jackson isn’t all about midrange. Carve out a chunk of that midrange with the flexible 3-band EQ, engage both pickups at full volume, and it can confidently enter the sonic territory occupied by a more conventional P/J bass. The warm low end gets more room to speak, and that sound lends itself beautifully to playing with a pick. And even when digging in, the relatively transparent active circuitry never gets overbearing.
After living with this bass for a few weeks, it really grew on me. I love that Jackson green-lighted this fusion of design ideas—especially when some traditionalists on both of sides of the Rickenbacker/Fender aisle are bound to consider it a pretty wacky blend. But looks aside, the diverse sonics created by combining two legendary designs are interesting and fun to explore. I applaud big statements in general. And in the world of bass, this Jackson pronouncement is as loud and proud as they get.
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