Modern single-cut bass designs have a longer body which aims to stiffen the neck and reduce deadspots. How does the new, much more affordable Brubaker stack up? Review by Gareth Morgan
Description: Solidbody bass. Made in China
Contact: Bass Direct – 01926 886433 – www.bassdirect.com
Brubaker Guitars is a newcomer to Guitar & Bass, but this doesn’t mean they’re new to the industry. Based in Reisterstown, Maryland, USA, BG is run by Kevin Brubaker, who as a 17-year-old aspiring bassist in 1982, started messing with the finish of his old Vantage bass. This, in turn, led to re-shaping the body and then to his embarking on various other modifications.
By 1989 he was building and selling his own basses, and three years later Brubaker Guitars was formed. The focus initially was on handbuilt basses residing in the upper price echelons, but in 2010 he was convinced by Andy Papiccio from AP International – a US-based distribution company whose lines include Floyd Rose, Babicz and Schaller – to produce an affordable line of basses, and the Brute series, built in China, was born. This month we’re looking at the newest model in the range, the MJXSC.
The Brute’s most striking design feature relates directly to the ‘SC’ at the end of the model name, which denotes its single cutaway nature. If the basic look seems familiar, you may well have caught a glimpse of a similar design on Anthony Jackson’s Fodera Contrabass from the late ’70s or, more recently, Warwick’s Thumb Bass SC.
Leaving aside the upper bouts, there’s a hint of Jazz Bass here, but the waist section has deep scalloping on top and bottom edge; in front of that a sharply angled cutaway provides excellent good access to the higher registers, while the extended upper bout stretches all the way out to the 13th fret. The finish is a deep reddy-brown colour that Brubaker calls merlot, while the body itself is chambered and made of ash.
The maple neck has a shallow C contour and a matt black finish imbues proceedings with a brooding seriousness, the most interesting detail, initially at least, is the neck joint. Brubaker has employed a ‘bolt thru’ configuration since 1983, initially featuring nine bolts and a plate (the MJXSC has four and no plate).
The neck is fed into a slot or channel which runs over 140mm (just further than the neck pickup) into the heart of the body, it then being secured by the bolts. At the confluence of neck and body, the upper forwards bout has a slanted scallop from about 13mm in down to the level of the back of the neck, which not only looks really interesting but makes the higher frets on the E string reachable without stress.
The headstock has a nut of Graphlon – a synthetic abrasive-resistant material also used in military helmets – and it’s shaped like a cartoon hourglass with a half-moon chunk out of the top edge. The machineheads are chrome Brubaker Closed Gear units in two-a-side configuration. With the rosewood fingerboard, you don’t get position markers on its face; a set of small white dots line the top edge.
The 22 medium jumbo nickel frets are generally well-seated, but there’s just a hint of overhang on the top three frets and at fret 15. Finally, the strings are anchored by a chunky chrome Brubaker High Mass bridge with big, solid saddles.
Kevin Brubaker is a big fan of active electronics and the Brute is fitted with the company’s own 5200 Series preamp, powered by the obligatory 9v battery located in a quick-release (hooray!) compartment around the back. This is hooked up to a pair of Brubaker pickups, a 3200 Series humbucker at the bridge and a single coil from the same series at the neck, linked up to four controls: Volume, Balance, Bass and Treble. There’s also a two-position coil switch, often incorrectly referred to as a coil tap switch when it’s actually a coil lift switch, the enabling of which removes one coil from the wiring and switches bridge pickup to single coil mode.
In the seated position, the Brute feels quite a lot less weird than you’d expect; in fact it’s rather well-balanced. The two basic options, single-coil/humbucker mode (switch down) and single coil mode (switch up), offer two different starting points, the former producing a fine growl at the bottom end, punch and impact from the midrange and highs that speak evenly but choke a bit if you get nasty with them; the latter is less bottom-endy and the midrange is cleaner, brighter and less impactful, with a dryness to the overall tone.
In truth, as with Sandberg’s Electra TT, its basic twin-pickup tone doesn’t carry as much width as we’d like – but, like the Electra, it becomes a completely different animal with a bit of EQ tonic. In SC/H mode, the lower strings still growl but now you get a lot more thud and substance from the midrange and from the higher strings.
Boosting Treble and Bass by about two-thirds produces a souped-up version of the basic sound, although still with plenty of focus and a rockier leaning. There’s also a flavour of the sparkle you normally associate with an MM-type pickup. In single-coil mode, the tone also has serious lift-off, and dialling in more bass gives a bulked-up midrange with A and D strings that sound like they actually want to be fully involved. Pouring some treble into the gumbo creates more aggression with plenty of slap-friendly cut and bite, and this gives a fuller tone suitable for a variety of soul, funk or pop.
Individual pickup settings offer a few more practical variations, the neck pickup being very close to the twin SC offering, but the bridge pick in SC mode emits the familiar finger-funk sound, with well attenuated high-mids. Beware when soloing the neck pickup in Humbucker mode as there’s a bit of a jump in level. This setting is a little over-compressed but the dark, punchy bottom end and the thinner strings’ zingy sheen may well find some practical usage.
If the Brute and Sandberg’s Electra are anything to go by, we need to raise expectations relating to the quality you should expect from midrange basses. The Brute needs the help of its EQ, but with this engaged the tone comes alive and there’s a decent array of practical sounds, guided by the Coil switch, that’ll do the job in a cross-section of styles. Of course, whether you like the slightly bulbous single-cut style is the big question. We say vive la difference… and the Brute definitely merits discarding your fears and prejudices and taking a serious look.