Peerless Retromatic B2 Bass Review
German? A name beginning with ‘D’? No, this is Korean company Peerless’s very heavily-inspired new semi-acoustic bass. Review by Gareth Morgan
Semi-hollowbody bass. Made in South Korea
Price: £999 inc. hard case
Contact Peerless Guitars – 07838 667 630 – www.peerlessguitars.eu
Peerless Guitars were established in 1970 in Busan, South Korea, initially as a subsidiary of Japanese-based conglomerate Fujigen, producing archtop and acoustic guitars for the likes of Gretsch and Epiphone. By the time 1980 and a management buy-out rolled around, Peerless had produced and exported over three million guitars. In 2007 they scaled back production when it became impossible to compete with Chinese manufacturers and relocated to a more sophisticated facility in Gimhae, South Korea, shifting their focus squarely onto Peerless-branded instruments with the emphasis on quality as to opposed to quantity.
In 2008 two semi-hollowbody basses were introduced – the Smoked Bass, a twin-pickup, single-cutaway, 34″ scale model, and the Bassmaster, another full-scale semi but styled after the Les Paul Signature Bass. The new RB2 is based on the Retromatic ‘P’ Series guitar, its genesis, we’re informed, the result of ‘numerous requests from bass players who liked the styling of the guitar’.
Finished in a glossy black, the body is like an oversized LP with a 17th fret neck/body join. Peerless employ laminated maple for the top, back and sides, the top being framed with classy three-ply cream/black/cream binding. Peering through the unbound f-hole you’ll see a block running through the centre of the body, providing a solid mooring for pickups and bridge and splitting the chamber in half.
The lower chamber contains the electrical gubbins, with the controls all mounted on the fighter plane-wing shaped pickguard, which is decorated with a recessed black line detail and an ‘engraved’ logo.
The black-lacquered maple neck is secured using the Gibson-esque set-in method, which isn’t easy to assemble but should give a good warm tone. A fairly chunky profile means that the neck feels solid and playable as opposed to slim and fast. Peerless describe the headstock as ‘New Style’, which translates into a subtly widening oblong with a step-shaped cut-out at the furthest edge. You’ll also find a P-for-Peerless metal badge and a plastic skyscraper-shaped plate which functions as the trussrod access cover. The tuners are chrome closed-gear Peerless GB-100 D51 NI units with T-shaped buttons, and the headstock is back-angled for healthy break-angle over the bone nut.
The rosewood fingerboard carries 22 medium jumbo nickel frets – well, 21.5 frets, as the top of the fingerboard has a diagonal slice. As well as a set of white dot markers on the almost invisible black neck binding there’s a further set on the face comprising a solid block at the 12th fret and various oblongs broken into two or three shards elsewhere. It’s a clever design which links well with the art deco-style angles on the pickguard and headstock.
The bridge is a two-piece affair with a separate section housing the saddles and a tailpiece for ball-end anchoring. The saddles can be adjusted back and forth, and the whole top bridge section moves up or down in Tunomatic style.
For the pickups Peerless turned to Matt Gleason at Monty’s Guitars of London, and he provided the specs for a pair of humbuckers with shiny chrome covers, both wound hotter than normal, the neck unit Ohming out at 7.85k and the bridge at 8.7k. As for the controls, we get a master volume and a master tone and a three-way pickup selector switch, but Peerless has also included a six-position rotary Varitone control offering various pre-shaped tone colours. We couldn’t get hold of any specific EQ information but the options range from a reduced width bottom end and zingier highs (first or ‘neck’ position) to a throatier sound with bottom end thud (fourth).
Six Varitone positions with three possible pickup settings each equals a dizzying 18 different starting points, but we reckon that those who use an RB2 will end up having one favoured notch and maybe employ only a couple more on a regular basis. Hot-wound pickups should equate to more output, and this is very evident with the Varitone in position 1 – so much so, in fact, that you can’t switch to another pickup combination in the middle of a song without recoursing to a level-boosting stompbox or suchlike.
Turn both pickups on and the sound is bright and chimey with zingy, slightly nasal highs, a pleasing snarl from the E string and plenty of harmonic life for detail. The neck pickup is earthier and smoother with a rootsy blues edge, although still throaty on the E string, and the bridge is tight and burpy with good width and sharp, snappy highs, and funkier than you’d expect.
Position 2 on the Varitone is more tonally even with a less aggressive E string, smoother highs and a lighter, tighter midrange – a good blank canvas for contemporary pop – and you get similarly more restrained and slightly bass-light variations from individual pickups. The next stop on the dial is pretty much a duller-sounding version of the above, the midrange being a tad boxy in twin pickup mode, and position 4 is similar again but with a softer, fatter bottom end and a fraction more high-mid and treble for a hint of nasal snap on the thinner strings.
With position 5 we’d have to guess that there’s some form of midrange cut going on as the sound is at its smoothest and most bass-oriented but also the least defined, which will please anyone into a bit of dubby throb. The sixth position is the most bass-light and the weakest-sounding, although you get the impression with the neck setting that careful EQ-ing would get you closest to an upright bass simulation; it’s similar with the bridge pickup, although the tight, even and true-sounding variation with a bit of zing is – with a bit of bass boost on your amplifier – pop/funk heaven in waiting.
Peerless’ Retromatic B2 is a welcome addition to the ever-increasing range of semi-hollowbody basses on the market. Price-wise it’s just outside budget territory, but it’s well put together and extremely handsome. Although you have to question the usefulness some of the Varitone settings, at least half of them give good, practical starting tonal points, although the output level discrepancy between position 1 and all the rest is a bit of an issue. We reckon the RB2 will appeal to guitar-driven pop bands as well as those of a rootsier disposition, but that’s not all it’ll do.
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