Affordable and properly good five-strings are rare, but this Godin comes with great woods and Canadian build quality. Review by Gareth Morgan
Solidbody bass. Made in North America
Price: £649 inc. gig bag
Contact: 440 Distribution – 01132 589 599 – www.440distribution.com
You may be familiar with Godin Guitars via the picture of Roger Waters playing one of their Multiac acoustic/electrics, but this Canadian company makes a wide variety of instruments, including basses. In 1970 Robert Godin (pronounced ‘Go-dan’) bought into a fledgling guitar building business run by carpenter Norman Boucher, selling guitars literally from the back of a van, but Godin left in 1978, establishing LaSiDo, the parent company producing guitars under his name, initially from a small factory in La Patrie, Quebec, Canada.After struggling through the ’80s and early ’90s, their guitars gradually acquired wider popularity and LaSiDo became the largest manufacturer of acoustic instruments in North America.
Today, Godin swims against the current wave of outsourcing production to cheaper global locations, maintaining their manufacturing base in North America via five different locations in Quebec and one in New Hampshire, USA. As well as the Multiac and other acoustic models, they produce a variety of solidbody electrics including the single-cutaway Icon Series and the Strat-influenced Passion. They also make solidbody basses, their home being the Performance Series, from which comes the Shifter Classic five-string we have for review this month.
Most Godin instruments are based on familiar shapes, and the company has stuck to it’s principles with the Shifter Classic. It offers a different take on its sister Shifter (a model notable for combining classic looks with no less than three soapbar single-coil alnico pickups), but does it without altering its very successful character.
The body is a chunky slab of Canadian Laurentian basswood with a cool black burst finish; a rather appealing crème brulee option is also available for an extra hundred quid. The shape tracks the Precision form but there’s a tiny touch of Mustang Bass around the horns, and it comes with a generous ribcage chamfer and a very subtle slope for the forearm. The pickguard is Mustang-like along the top edge too, but it’s cut away at the point where the Fender’s scratchplate might morph into a chrome control plate.
The result ends up a bit like the guard on an old Music Man Sabre bass. The body is about 2mm thicker than a P-Bass or Jazz, but the weight is manageable for a five-string at just over 10lbs.
Check out the flip side and you’ll find the rock maple neck is secured via six bolts through a neck plate divided into two sections. We’re not sure why, but we say ‘vive le difference’. The neck itself is a slim, shallow ‘C’ contour that feels really comfy under the hand and plays with extreme ease; you could thrash away on this bass for hours and not feel any fatigue. At the far end you’ll find a headstock, well-recessed for the requisite string break-angle over the white Graph Tech nut, with a design that’s a nice variation on the classic slanted-straight-edge/wavy-edge melange.
It carries a set of five chrome Godin Classic Style high-ratio tuners organised in the popular four up/one down configuration, with a chrome string tree to improve the angle of the A, D and G strings. The neck is all-maple and houses 20 medium jumbo nickel frets and a set of black dot markers on both face and top edge.
Godin’s Double Function bridge lets you choose between stringing the Shifter in through-body or toploader style, while the pickups comprise a pair of the company’s Passive J pickups. Godin feels this layout is a better option for the five-string (the four-string Shifter Bass has a P/J combination) as it should help focus the sound if the B string – and the quality of the B string response is generally the difference between an okay five-string and a merely good one. Two knurled chrome dials control volume and tone, and a chrome four-way switch allows you to solo individual pickups via position 1 (neck) and 4 (bridge), or run both in series (2) or parallel (3).
Whether sitting or standing there are no issues when it comes to balance, although it’s amazing how noticeable an extra 2mm of mass is after a little time. Still, the Shifter is plenty comfortable on lap or strap, the neck is beautiful to play, and when you plug in, the sounds are definitely good.
All four pickup-selection starting points are decently volume-matched.
In position 2 (both pickups in series) the sound is cloaked in darker low mids, giving plenty of solid, punchy impact; at the business end, the B string speaks cleanly and clearly with an earthy edge, and the low strings sound wide enough with a dark, growling definition. In the highs the clarity is excellent with just enough cut and bite, but the G string won’t really spank when you attack it – it has that slightly choked response we’ve come to know from a P-type bass. Backing off Tone provides two or three variations, all based on a gradual re-orientation to low frequencies – a softer and ultimately woolly tone that’ll work where filling space is important.
Position 3 gives both pickups in parallel and it’s a far brighter, more modern-sounding setting with bags more harmonics. There’s more high mid-zing across the D and G strings, but it’s controlled, so it really helps with the definition.
There’s also quite a lot less bottom end weight and colour – the B-string is pleasantly crisp and raspy – which, together with the high-mid, leaning, gives a tone heavy on aggressive snarl from the low strings and bright and snappy in the midrange, and a slap assault on the G string makes an acceptably nasty noise. Where Series mode puts us in the mood for traditional pop, rock and blues, we’re on a far more contemporary footing here.
With individual pickup settings there’s a pleasing earthy tone from the neck pickup with a hint of acoustic quality, conservative highs and a sense of darkness in the midrange which pulls you inexorably in an old-school blues and soul direction. The bridge pickup is the thinnest setting with reduced treble response, more of a burpy gurgle, and a rubbery centre to the core of the note.
The combination of excellent playability and a straightforward roster of decent sounds, combined with an unbelievable price for a bass made in North America, make the Shifter Classic an enticing option. The B string isn’t quite top-notch, but it’s certainly heading in that direction. It’s well put-together and the classic template has been sensibly tweaked in certain places but, equally sensibly, left alone in others. All in all, this is an excellent option for anyone wanting to dive into the murky world of the low B on a budget.