If the Array Limited with its swoopy body and crazed bridgeplate was a little extreme for you, then the more normal active-powered Standard might be just the ticket. Review by Gareth Morg.
Description: Solidbody bass. Made in Korea
Contact: Rosetti – 01376 550033 – www.rosetti.co.uk
We first encountered basses made by Tracy Hoeft and Ben Chafin’s company – the Traben name being a composite of the founders’ Christian names – with the Array Limited model we reviewed in our October 2009 issue (Vol 20 No 11). Traben have a business affiliation with BC Rich and there’s definitely a stylistic connection between the two brands that’s reflected in their artist roll-call, which features bassists from bands like Killola, Sanctity and Saint Diablo, although Bootsy Collins and Tonight Show house band bassist Derrick Murdock are also endorsers.
While Traben are still plotting world domination from their base in Clearwater, Florida, the Array Standard is made in Korea as opposed to Vietnam and represents their first foray into proper budget territory. At only a touch over £400 the Limited model was not really that expensive, but anything below the magic £300 mark is more likely to attract first-time buyers. The Standard model is also a different proposition as Traben have eschewed the fitting of the massively oversized bridge unit (the sustain-enhancing ‘bigger bridge’) and have also done away with the excessive chrome detail found on most other models.
In fact, the AS is rather conservative by Traben standards, although the basic construction is the same. Below the sparkling metallic orange lies a basswood body that’s been altered for a more traditional look with subtly bevelled edges, a ribcage chamfer, subtle forearm provision and more normal-looking horns. It looks sleek, contemporary and businesslike. Traben use four bolts to secure the neck to the body, although there’s no plate in sight, and unlike the Array Limited – where the heel is chamfered for high register access – we’re left with the full depth.
The neck, a five-piece item with walnut stringers between three chunks of maple, is comfortable under the hand without being very slim and fast. It’s set deeply into the body, and this – combined with an unforgiving lower cutaway and the blocky heel – makes accessing the high frets a bit awkward.
The headstock has a strengthening bulge below the black synthetic nut and it’s finished in metallic orange to match the body. The logo is a medieval ‘T’ and an anvil-shaped black plastic trussrod cover carries the model name, while a set of diecast tuners in brushed chrome is arrayed in a two up/two down configuration. The subtly cambered fingerboard is rosewood, and the markers are dark dots that become almost invisible if you look at the ’board from certain angles. Unfortunately, one such angle is from above the E string on a strap or in seated position. Thankfully, visible white dots lie along the top edge, and there are no fitting blemishes to report with the 24 jumbo nickel frets.
One interesting detail is a 16mm fretboard ‘overhang’ on a thin slice of maple at the body end. It looks nice, but in the past we’ve seen vintage instruments – such as Gibson’s early ’70s EB-3 – where this feature can lead to problems with neck relief and set-up.
As we’ve mentioned, the Limited model came fitted with the bigger Tribal Flame bridge, but the entry-level AS Traben has the smaller Tech-4 bridge with a brushed chrome finish and sophisticated-looking saddles. While slots in the base of the bridge make it look as if it’s designed for string-through ferrules, it’s a top-loader only.
One of the pleasing things about the AS is that Traben haven’t skimped on the internal workings – it still has active electronics, although it’s a shame that you have to remove the rear cover plate to change the 9v battery. The pickups are a pair of black Traben active soapbar units and they are connected to five controls: Volume, Blend, Bass (outer) and Treble (inner) in stack-knob formation, and Middle.
The uppermost fret sits over a curved fingerboard extension
The Bass Collection Speakeasy taught us that to expect very little from a budget active bass was a mistake, and the early signs with the Array are just as encouraging. The basic sound is evenly loaded with decent bass response, reasonably even midrange and enough treble to bring out some overtones and a pleasing snarl on the lower strings. The G string is a little brittle and chokes if you’re too aggressive with it; if you want an open, Fender Jazz-type slap tone, you really need a Fender Jazz. All the same, the fact that this modern-looking bass doesn’t have modern nasal high mids is rather refreshing.
The neck pickup has an earthy sound with more focus on the bass end, softer note edges and less of a feeling of detail, while the bridge pickup is weaker-sounding with a tight bass end but too much high mids, most likely because it’s sited less than 20mm from the bridge. However, dial in some bass EQ and you get a barky thump in the bass end and less of those high mids. You can bring those highs back in by adding a bit of treble, or tighten it back up with the mid control, but be careful with the amount – too much boost cheapens the sound.
On the neck pickup boosting the bass gets pleasantly seismic, if a little impractical above halfway, but if you add a little middle and treble you get a tight, punchy sound with old-school leanings. The twin pickup setting is also affected by boosting bass and middle EQ, but it’s fat without being too overpowering and the definition is tighter and cleaner with a snappier top end available from a little treble boost.
In some ways it’s a shame that Traben have moderated their styling concept with the Array Standard, but the bottom line effect is a big positive: they’ve produced a cool and businesslike instrument with a well-designed active side. At less than £300, it’s brilliant value for money. In short, with the Array Standard, Traben has added another serious contender to the roster of budget active basses.