Sound the trumpet and bang the drum for the first Gordon-Smith production bass to come along in absolutely ages – stylish, practical, and for a handmade UK bass, an absolute bargain. Review by Gareth Morgan
Description: Solidbody bass. Made in UK
Contact: Manchester Bass Lounge – 07837 011 889 - manchesterbasslounge.com
In 1979 Gordon Whitham and John Smith founded Gordon-Smith Guitars in Partington, near Manchester. Whitham moved on to making his Gordy guitars but Smith kept the name and still produces quality instruments today. Over the years Gordon-Smith has built up something of a cult status. In terms of basses they’ve always been prepared to make custom items, but there hasn’t been a ‘production’ model for some time. But here it is, thanks to the pleading of Drew Dempster from the Manchester Bass Lounge: the new Gryphon.
Actually, the Gryphon template has been around for a number of years, cunningly disguised as the Griffin. The Gryphon, like all G-S instruments, is proudly handbuilt in the UK. Aesthetically its body echoes the Curbow design, with a stubby lower horn plus an elongated upper horn that extends to hover above the 12th fret. It’s an appealing look, and the balance is no better or worse on your lap than 95 per cent of basses. Beneath the expertly-applied black finish you’ll find poplar, although you can order a super-lightweight obeche body and any colour you like, though G-S reckons ‘classic’ colours work best. The edges are sculpted, with extensive forearm and ribcage chamfers. Flipping it over reveals the whole body is also arched, upping the comfort by drawing the bass closer to one’s midriff. A white pearloid scratchplate spotlights the lower horn and enfolds the neck pickup.
The neck is also a combination of the usual and the unusual. It’s secured to the body via four bolts through a neck plate with a reduction in mass at the heel for better playability. The profile is wonderfully slim and fast and plays like a hot knife through soft butter. The neck is made from a single piece of maple, including the fingerboard. How is the trussrod fitted? Unfortunately you’ll have to use your imagination as the pertinent information is in a sealed file at G-S HQ marked ‘top secret’, protected by a crocodile-infested moat and machine gun emplacements.
The recessed headstock has a traditional feel with four-in-a-line chrome Schaller Deluxe Open Gear tuners along the top edge, a string tree and ‘wave’ pattern of the bottom edge. Gordon-Smith has fitted a brass nut, as they always do, and the strings pass over this onto the maple fingerboard where you’ll find 20 medium nickel frets made from hard Dutch fretwire, with black position markers on both face and top edge. Note at this point that future Gryphons will all fly with 21 frets giving a logical three-octave low E to high E range. Strings are anchored to the body via a chunky Gotoh bridge with an aluminium alloy baseplate and three brass saddles, all chrome-plated.
Rather than load the Gryphon with new-fangled active circuitry, G-S have gone for the passive route and kitted it out with a pair of handmade, handwound, high-output Gordon-Smith Custom Gryphon humbuckers with two rows of poles, looking rather like a Music Man pickup. Although visually identical, the front row of poles is longer and thinner than the rear, giving a more bass-oriented tonal response.
Alongside volume and master tone controls and a three-way pickup selector switch there are two three-way mini toggle switches. The central position is humbucking mode, with all four coils switched on; down is the front row of poles; and up gives the rear. You can also pull up the volume: with the neck pickup in humbucker mode and bridge in thinner single coil mode (switch in up position), this is claimed to allow some treble to bleed from bridge to neck pickup. However, it’s difficult to hear any difference in sound; in fact we’d go as far as saying this feature doesn’t work, other than to a super-subtle degree. Maybe it’s more audible at ear-bleeding volumes? Answers on a postcard, please.
With both humbuckers on the Gryphon makes a big, brash, growling noise with an excellent bottom end; with a solid midrange but not too much bite and attack it’s perfect for traditional rock’n’roll. The neck pickup alone is raspy and guttural with a pleasing acoustic feel and a satisfyingly even response across the neck, drawing you to Stax, blues, country… or any rootsy playing with an emphasis on space-filling root notes. Flicking to the bridge reveals a decent volume match between the two pickups with a tone that’s nasal and snarly on the lower strings – a sound which is mostly retained across the neck, providing excellent clarity and some welcome funk. These basic sounds can all be softened by rolling off the tone pot, although you’ll only notice a couple of points of variation between maximum level and backed right off.
You’ll unearth more variations by getting busy with the mini toggle switches i.e. single coil mode, but with switches in up or down position there’s a noticeable reduction in size of tone and output level. Switches down (the bassier setting) gets a clean, even full-range sound, but there’s a growl down low and the D and G strings have more audible top-end spite. Thin this out a little (switches up) and the Gryphon exudes a wiry response on thinner strings and the growling E string looses some impact – it’s not a bad option, just different, and more pop as opposed to rock. Obviously, different combinations of toggle and pickup settings yield a stash of variations, one of our favourites being twin pickup mode, front toggle centre, rear up – a clean, full-range sound with a tight bottom end, clarity across the neck and a sparkle at the top end. There’s a burpier version of this available if you reverse the toggle settings (rear central, front up), and a whole lot more besides.
It’s great to be able to welcome a new bass to the market – especially one that’s made in the UK and which has a real chance of making an impact. There is the odd finishing issue but the build quality is generally exemplary. Within the context of the passive electronics, the options are many and varied; you virtually get two basses for the price of one courtesy of the mini toggles – a raucous, humbucking hooligan and the a refined single-coil Lothario. Given the general shift back to traditionally configured instruments, the Gryphon may have just flown in at the right time to garner a following. Oh, and did we mention that under £1100 is an unbelievable price for a handbuilt, customisable instrument? You’d better get your order in quick-sharp if you want one, as we’re assured this price cannot be held for long. What are you waiting for.
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