Prising a pair of custom-order Bernie Goodfellow basses from the hands of their extremely trusting owners, we set out to discover what this renowned UK builder is up to in 2013. Review by Gareth Morgan
Description: Solidbody bass. Made in the UK
Price: Rumour – £2600 / Spitfire – £2200
Contact: GB Guitars – 01273 220055 – www.gbguitars.co.uk
Bernie Goodfellow began building basses in a shed at the bottom of his garden in Forest Hill in London almost 30 years ago. He set up Goodfellow Basses in partnership with Mike Freston and Phil Harris, and the instruments gained a reputation for top-notch craftsmanship, excellent playability and sound. In 1987 the company was bought by Lowden, and after two years Goodfellow moved on, setting up Nightingale Guitars with the help of Neil McDonald before relocating to Brighton where his latest undertaking, GB Guitars, is flourishing. This month we’re reviewing the traditionally-appointed Spitfire and the more contemporary-looking Rumour.
‘About 20 years ago I saw an image of a woman that inspired me to design a bass guitar with a sleek and sexy shape,’ says Goodfellow. The result was the Rumour, a curvy bass with a narrow waist. This one has a beautifully figured burr walnut top with a maple border and a walnut back. The seven-piece through-neck is made up of upper and lower layers of purpleheart and gloriously marbled flamed maple, with sycamore at the centre.
In playability terms it’s slim and ultra-comfortable. The classily-carved headstock has a strengthening volute, a bone nut and a compact headstock with body-matched veneers on front and back. Black Schaller tuners bear Goodfellow’s own oval rosewood buttons, and the sumptuous macassa ebony fingerboard carries 24 medium jumbo nickel frets and dots on both face and top edge – but these are no ordinary dots.
It’s an LED system, a £1400 optional extra showman-friendly sound-to-light programming or just simple illumination. The bridge is a Hipshot A-Style unit with brass saddles, and a swanky active GB Bass Processor is coupled to a pair of GB Q Factor humbuckers (single coils available on request). There’s a three -band EQ offering 21dB of cut/boost, Balance and Volume controls plus an optional toggle switch to access your own choice of EQ shift. The smaller dial controls the aforementioned LED system.
The Spitfire has width and growl at the bottom, clear, non-honky mids and excellent clarity. It gets a lot more fun when you engage the EQ: max boost is overpowering but about 2/3rds is dub heaven in neck mode and solid and rocky in twin. Hitting maximum with bridge pickup uncorks a tight, rich, fat, funky sound, while with Bass and Treble boosted a little, hiking Mid gives a dark, gnarly rock tone from the neck and a lively, turbo-charged sound with crunching edges in twin mode. A fizzier, more burpy gurgle comes from the single-coil at the bridge, and adding treble sounds pleasingly impolite. There is added snap and cut on offer in twin pickup mode, although a little metallic, and the earthy P-Bassisms of the neck pickup are rendered more audible, accruing a fine, unexpected growl.
The Spitfire is more traditional than the modern Rumour. Though inspired by the Jazz Bass it’s no reproduction, with a stylised, forward-leaning stance, thinner, elongated horns and super-deep cutaway. Beneath the beautifully-applied off-white finish is an ash body, chamfered for ribs and forearm. The scratchplate is a striking black/white/snakeskin item – unusual, but cool.
The birdseye maple neck is connected via six threaded inserts and case-hardened hex-bolts with flush-fitting brass washers (a much-copied Goodfellow innovation). It’s the same depth and contour as the Rumour, and it gives a great playing experience. The colour-matched, single-sided headstock carries a set of chrome Hipshot Ultralite tuners plus a triple-string string tree; the nut is bone and the fingerboard is macassa ebony, bound in ivoroid, with pearloid dots and 24 medium jumbo nickel frets.
The bridge is a chrome Hipshot A-Style item with a string-through-body option. The Spitfire also has the GB Bass Processor preamp and GB Q Factor pickups, in this instance a humbucker in neck position and a single coil unit at the bridge; controls number a three-band EQ, Balance and Volume and preset shape switch.
Beginning with both pickups on, the Spitfire delivers a solid bottom end with a satisfying growl and a zingy edge. Moving to the D and G strings, there’s a decent amount of body to the tone though we do notice a slightly honky, nasal edge creeping in. The highs are a little snappy, but also clean and cutting. Turn to the neck pickup alone and the Spitfire becomes softer and less punchy, but it’s just the ticket for fitting in with a band sound, while the bridge pickup is rich and burpy.
Engaging the EQ in any mode is a lot of fun: crank up the Bass knob and your trouser legs are flapping and pictures are falling off the wall. Adding Treble is less effective than we’d hoped; there’s a nice snap here, but also a choked quality that’s a little synthetic. The Middle control allows a more defined, well-shaped sound, with more low-end growl from the neck pickup, some funky, warmed-up punchiness at the bridge, and extra low-end aggression with both pickups on.
Ordering a GB means you can have your bass built from whatever woods you desire, with options ranging from LEDs to a built-in tuner to the Kick Drum, a programmable metronome with bass drum sound. The choice of humbuckers or single coils is yours as well, and the mini toggle can select your favourite EQ setting. Both of these basses – which are pre-owned, as Goodfellow generally builds to order – are superb examples of the man’s craft. Obviously, buying any handmade instrument involves a big financial commitment, but if you buy a GB you’ll be getting a bass which you’ll treasure and adore. That alone has got to be worth a good sum of money.