Fret-King Black Label Espirit 1 Bass

Looks can often be deceiving; as is the case with initial impressions of this snazzy number from trusty UK guitar makers FretKing, which appears more metal-throwing rock beast than subtle and sophisticated jazz-inclined instrument.

Happily it’s a bit of both, the Espirit 1 bass being something of a sneaky amalgam of Gibson’s lightning bolt-styled classic Explorer or Firebird – with a hint of Gibson Jaguar on the upper boy horn too – and a smidge of Musicman under the hood. But this is also a bass with a character, and look, all of its own – matching retro chic with modern upgrades. Our review model was something of an exclusive, literally the very first playable prototype instrument of its kind, constructed – according to Fret-King design guru Trev Wilkinson, who we spoke to about the bass – in their Korean factory in time for its first public appearance at the US winter NAMM show in January. So the fact that it played wonderfully straight out of its custom-fitted FretKing luxury padded gig bag, with the same set of 45-105 gauge D’Addario strings on, is testimony to just how ‘right’ Wilkinson and the factory boys have got this bass from the get-go. Lightweight and comfortable to play the bolt-on maple neck is fast and superbly crafted, the subtle satin finish on its C-shape rear offering a smooth resting place for one’s thumb. The rosewood board produces warmth and punch while the medium jumbo frets make for easy playability from the first to its 22nd fret. Its secret weapon though is Wilkinson’s unique Platinum Series WJM pickup, which benefits from his clever vari-coli control. Combining a Musicman-style pickup and a traditional Jazz pickup in the same housing, the knob closest to the custom Wilkinson bridge allows the Musicman-style coils to be dialed-in to the sound mix – which, while not increasing the volume level, adds in a shed-load more heft in the tone department. This is all the more impressive from a passive instrument, the Espirit’s only other controls being tone and volume – hence we easily achieved a thumping great P-Bass thud, spiky Jaco-esque jazz punchiness and some mighty Marcus Miller slap sounds. If there could be one minor improvement we’d like some ergonomic contouring on the back of the body for extra comfort. Yet with an RRP of £699 the Espirit should be a serious consideration for jazzers, jazz-rockers, and prog bassists everywhere.

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