The Sandberg Umbo provides J-bass heaven plus a quirky mid vibe for those seeking the Holy Pastorius Grail.
Umbo, the nickname of Austrian session bassist Hans Umschaden, stands for Unidentified Moving Bass Object; you probably didn’t want to know that, but such is life. It’s pretty much an alder-bodied Jazz copy, save for the sweeping Tele Bass-style scratchplate, a deeper lower cutaway and a selector switch that might get in the way if you’re a slapaholic. As with another of their models, the Panther, the standard of workmanship is of the very highest order. Again, the maple/rosewood neck is slim and fast and has 22 frets plus a zero fret, with only side dots to guide you.
The hardware is identical to the Panther, but the electronics are completely different. The Umbo is passive – it’s the first strictly passive bass Sandberg has produced – and they’ve chosen to fit a pair of Häussel J-style single coil pickups with Alnico II magnets. The neck-position unit is angled for more bass thud and the rotary controls are a simple Volume, Balance and Tone.
Umbo‘s personal twist in the California recipe is a three-way filter switch which offers Bypass, Ultra Clean (a touch brighter and thinner) and Dirty Mid (giving a basis for a contemporary high-mid finger-funk sound). We stuck with Bypass, as there’s plenty to be excited about on just this setting alone.
The sound of both Häussel pickups on together is classic Jazz bass: bright without brittleness, with thudding lows and a superbly even clarity across the fingerboard. The highs explode like they should, and fingerstyle enunciation is clean with little fret noise. The individual pickups are well matched in volume, with smooth fundamentals replete with a subtle barking edge from the neck pickup and a tighter, more full-range sound from the bridge. Totally backing off the Tone is sub-aquatic and useless whatever pickup you choose. At about halfway cut the extra bass emphasis turns the bridge pickup into a much more versatile animal – crisp and well-defined, but reassuringly warm. It’s a similar but slightly more full-range story in twin-pickup mode, and the neck pickup’s rubbery core and earthy thud is superb for all retro applications.
Another excellent bass from Sandberg. The Umbo provides J-bass heaven plus a quirky mid vibe for those endlessly seeking the Holy Pastorius Grail. Sandbergs build quality is uniformly magnificent, and although theres been a price hike, in a hand-built context both these basses represent near-unbelievable value.