The name may sound French, but the Marleaux is custom-built in Germany and come with a choice of lush woods and the best hardware euros can buy. Review by Gareth Morgan
Gerald Marleaux began building basses aged 15 in 1983, and after studying carpentry and modern design he set up the Marleaux company in northern Germany in 1990. He operates with just one assistant, building around 100 basses a year to custom order with a two- to three-month delivery period. Marleaux offers a small number of basic designs, one of which being the Consat Custom we have for review.
Design-wise, contemporary basses generally head in one of two directions: either the traditional bout and waist proportions are kept and the horns are slimmed down and often elongated (for example, the Peavey Cirrus), or the body size is reduced and the horns have a more sculpted appearance, often with an increase in mass towards the tip. The Consat takes the latter approach. The whole body has been expertly bevelled in a cool and sexy manner. There’s no need for a forearm chamfer, though there’s a substantial ribcage carve around the back for maximum comfort. The bottom half is rather like a Fender Jazz with a slight indentation behind the bridge, while the sculpted horns splay out confidently, a little like a Rickenbacker 4001 that’s been eroded by the sea.
The main ingredient in the Marleaux‘s eye candy is the top – a simply beautiful slab of olive ash with a rich grain pattern that’s all crashing waves and eddies. The core is made from two pieces of South American mahogany, and care has been to taken to match the grain pattern at the glue point. Marleaux chooses to conceal the electronics and house the battery beneath maple plates: this doesn’t make for a great match, and it also makes any kind of handy quick-release system for battery-changing an impossibility. A deeper-coloured timber would have looked better against the mahogany, but then again, black plastic doesn’t usually blend too well either. The other detail of note is the plate-free six-bolt neck retention system.
For the neck itself Marleaux employs hard maple in three sections separated by wenge strips, with a modern C-shaped contour that combines reassuring mass for good comfort and playability. A strengthening bulge beneath the nut introduces a kicked-back headstock with a down-sized hourglass look slightly reminiscent Ibanez. It, too, is faced with olive ash and carries four Schaller tuners specially produced for Marleaux and finished in both matte and shiny gold.
Rather than the usual plastic compound or graphite nut, the Consat has an ebony one – but its function is simply to space the strings correctly, as there’s also a zero fret. Many would argue against the validity of a zero fret but it does mean that the open string sound more closely approximates fretted notes, and some also cite improved clarity and sustain. The fingerboard carries 24 medium nickel frets: it’s a thick chunk of ebony with side-markers only, and the substantial ‘body slot’ section is faced with more olive ash to match the body.
The bridge is made by ETS. It’s a solid chunk of brass, finished in matte gold with a slot rather than pull-through stringing arrangement, and the Allen-key adjustable saddles hold small chrome string-rests. The Consat is active-powered and fitted with a pair of Delano SBC HE/S4 humbuckers with controls numbering Volume, Pan, Marleaux‘s own three-band EQ and a switch to toggle between active and passive modes.
Remember, as this is a custom instrument you can choose the woods, the type of finish and even the electronics, which include Marleaux‘s clever ‘programmable’ EQ which allows you to set the starting-point tonal balance via a flick of two switches.
Let’s begin with the Consat in active mode with the EQ flat – which, of course, is basically what you’d get in passive mode. Both Delanos deliver a clean, wide sound with a sports-car snarl in the lower registers. As we move towards the G string we discover a noticeable high-mid zing which lends a slightly brittle edge to proceedings. Not exactly tonally even, then, and though this kind of clarity might prove useful, we’d prefer to be able to dial it in rather than have it as a given.
The neck pickup alone, however, is full of all the right ingredients: it’s dark, with an earthy bass end that shifts audible air, plus a joyously rabid snarl factor that makes the Consat superb for aggressive rock, old-school soul or funk. Move across the neck and the tone is fat with a natural-sounding rubbery core – until you get to the troublesome G string, that is. Again, it’s a little thin… not impractical, just a little unbalanced.
The soloed bridge pickup is understandably thinner but the output is more than sufficient for practicality. There’s pleasing bottom-end warmth and definition is crisp and funky with enough high-mids for burpy clarity. This carries over all across the fretboard and while the G string is still a little zingy, it sits more comfortably in this scenario.
Next, let’s bring in the three-band EQ. Adding bass really helps, reducing the burpy edge to a more natural level without spoiling clarity. Chopping back middle and treble halfway allows notes to speak with a softer, gentler voice; if you want snap and punch, simply push middle to maximum boost. Treble requires a subtler approach: up to half boost adds zing and bite, but anything further is clanky and brittle. Boosting bass on the neck humbucker has the room shaking, and adding a little middle drags the sound further forwards, enhancing the acoustic element and inducing a more pugnacious snarl. Using both pickups and engaging the EQ is rewarding: boosting the bass fattens the tone and cutting middle and treble reduces the zinginess to a more acceptable level, although we couldn’t find a way of removing it completely, which is a shame.
We like the Marleaux Consat. The craftsmanship is superb, it looks sumptuous, and it begs to be played. Any bass in this price bracket demands close scrutiny and there are a few tonal issues, notably the high-mid bias in twin-pickup mode, which is a little annoying, though this may be down to an issue such as uneven string wear or this particular combination of woods. Still, with Marleaux you can choose from over 40 different timbers, plus various pickup and electronics combinations; the build quality is top-notch and the look is appealing, so if you're prepared to push the budget a bit, check one out.