Bass Gear Issue 7 : Page 16
TEST! bass gear
Pedulla Nuance 5-String Bass Guitar
The Company Line<br /> <br /> Mike Pedulla originally went to New York’s Clarkson University for Engineering, but after only one year, he transferred to the Crane School of Music for a Music degree. For over 35 years now, Mike Pedulla has been applying his love for both engineering and music towards a passion for building superb bass guitars. Just as with other luthiers, the early years were mostly about guitars, but eventually led to bass building as well.His early basses aren’t that unlike what he builds and sells today. They used maple bodies, quarter-sawn maple for the neck (though it has gone from a slab to multi-piece), and Bartolini electronics. He’s been successful since the first run of basses, so he must have had a sixth sense for what bassists wanted from the very beginning.<br /> <br /> Mike credits much of his early success to Jaco Pastorius’s popularity, since his Buzz model’s focus was to be a top quality fretless bass... a model that remains popular even now (though he also made the fretted version, the MVP, at the time, which also did well). In fact, his fretless basses are known for their “coated” fingerboards, which is basically a refinement of an idea Jaco had. Mike’s very proud of the fact that all his instruments are built completely here in the USA, and insists on a very high level of customer service. Put both of those things behind a product like his, and it’s easy to understand why he’s still around and doing well.<br /> <br /> Mike did a lot of work for Mark Egan and Tim Landers back in the day, which is where a lot of his feedback came from regarding what works and what doesn’t. Mark Egan plays an MVP to this day, and Tim Landers plays a 4-string Buzz. Interestingly, Tim is featured on the Pedulla web site demoing a Nuance 5-string, and the clip is great. You should visit www.pedulla.com and listen to it. It’s fairly rock-ish and does a good job of showing off how fat and aggressive the Nuance can be. Other well-known names also populate that list, including Doug Johns, who is also featured in this issue in our player interview.<br /> <br /> Currently, Mike offers several models of basses based on very different designs, each with its own tonal and aesthetic target in the bass market.Each is a culmination of his own design ideas coupled with feedback from the pros. Today, we’re looking at the Nuance. I think you’ll like what you see here. It’s clear from this model that Mike is continuing to advance his craft.<br /> <br /> Digging Into the Details <br /> <br /> So what makes a Nuance? The formula is deceptively simple. It uses Mike’s signature body wood, maple. It also uses a two-piece quarter-sawn maple neck, ebony fingerboard, and a spalted chestnut top. I had to ask Mike about the chestnut top, because I just don’t see that very often. He gives the usual luthier type response about how individuals all woods are, and quite frankly just tried chestnut because he liked the way it looked, and didn’t even know what to expect. Turns out, he feels the chestnut supports tight low-mids and a crisp, focused high end. He’s also a firm believer that top woods affect tone (except for the very thin ones). This is often debated amongst luthiers, builders, and players, but I happen to agree with it.As for the body, he uses soft maple on all his designs. He feels that it imparts a clean and bright yet warm top end with lots of attack and sustain, with no mud.<br /> <br /> The ebony board was selected for both its tonal characteristics, but also aesthetics, just like the top wood. I’ve typically found that ebony is great for a crisp high end as well, which would fit right in with this bass. The particular piece of ebony on this bass has some beautiful “blistering” in it which goes great with the aesthetic theme of the bass. Other nice touches are the matching spalted chestnut veneer on the headstock and even a wood truss rod cover with the Nuance name on it, also made from the same spalted chestnut. The contours of the body are smooth and supple, and the heel where the neck attaches is sloped on the back for added comfort. The neck profile is also a thing of beauty, at least for my tastes. It’s a shallow “C” profile, which means it generally feels slim in your hands from front to back, but with a gentle arc due to the large radius.<br /> <br /> The hardware is a mixture of custom Gotoh tuners and a Hipshot style A bridge (their high-end model, with lots of adjustment options). Interestingly, the stainless steel strings he’s used exclusively on fretted basses for over 15 years now, are unique to him. They are not simply a relabeled popular set you can get anywhere else. The strap buttons are standard style, and while they function just fine, I personally prefer locks. My favorites are the Dunlop dual function model. If this were my bass, the first thing I would do is put a set of gold locks on it. I’m not the craziest guy on stage, but I insist on their added security. The other thing hardware-related I should probably comment on is the truss rod.It is a bit different than most I’ve seen, in that it does not take a standard Allen key. It takes a square drive socket, and is also reverse threaded (in other words, you turn it counter-clockwise to tighten it against string tension). I Didn’t have any problem adjusting the neck, but it did seem “backwards” to me, and I also thought the requirement for a special tool to adjust it might present a potential inconvenience to an owner if the tool was misplaced, since Allen keys are readily available almost anywhere for very little money, but these tools are not.<br /> <br /> The electronics are all custom Bartolini. The preamp is a custom flavor of the NTMB preamp, and Mike is keeping details close to the vest on it. I was unable to get the specific EQ points, but it does seem like it’s relatively close to the standard NTMB voicing, just tweaked a little to best compliment his custom pickups.Probably the most interesting feature of the Nuance, and what sets it apart electronically from most other basses I’ve played, is the custom midrange circuit. It’s a two-position switch that goes from a mid boost to a mid cut mode. It’s internally adjustable, though again, treated as secret sauce (so I couldn’t get any specific details on the voicing), but it’s easy to tweak via a couple internal trim pots. The idea is, you have quick access to both a sweeter, deeper slap tone and a midforward finger-style mode with the flick of a switch.<br /> <br /> He took a grass roots approach to getting the pickups voiced. He told Bartolini his tonal goals using subjective “plain English” language, and they went through iterations of pickups until they got it right. For the overall voicing of not only the pickups, but also their placement, Mike went for “a full soap bar bottom, strong low-mids, with a sweet high end that was clear and distinct without being dry.” He describes the tone of the bass in the context of playing chords and being able to clearly define each component of the chord with very little “overtone interference.” I do find that sometimes wide aperture pickups – such as wide soapbars, like these – can sometimes lack tonal focus, but I don’t really hear any of that with these pickups.<br /> <br /> Finally, I asked Mike about his overall design goals for this model. I can’t improve on his response by paraphrasing it, so I’ll simply quote him here:<br /> <br /> “The inspiration for the Nuance was two-fold; my love of all the various woods I was not using, and to complement the existing line with visually and acoustically different basses from the rest. I was looking for a good “all around” working bass that could cover the demands of the various music genres a gigging bassist needs, while maintaining a characteristic Pedulla sound that musicians can make their own.”<br /> <br /> At the Gig <br /> <br /> The ergonomics on this bass are just superb. Despite the fact that it doesn’t have a forearm contour, the body is very comfortable. It’s a little bit heavier than I typically like, but it balances well on a strap, so I really didn’t notice it. And the very shallow neck profile makes it easy to get around on – even for someone with smaller hands, such as myself. His fretwork is impeccable, so I had the action nicely lowered, with no “gank” spots at all. His custom-wound pickups seem perfectly voiced for the EQ in the preamp, and when you kick in the mid boost, watch out!<br /> <br /> Interestingly, in the mid-cut position, it doesn’t sound overly scooped. It’s more of a sweetened, balanced sound.So it works well for both slap and fingerstyle. In mid-boost mode, I didn’t like the slap tone as much, but it really worked magic for fingerstyle. I found it most useful as a “solo boost,” or if I was playing in a particularly busy mix, it was a great way to just change the bass to a more aggressive overall tonal profile. I have to admit, I was skeptical about having the mids on a dual-profile switch, instead of simply adding a more normal third band to the preamp, but I found this feature especially usable... especially if you mess with the adjustments inside to fine tune it to your preferences.Mike chooses not to release too much information on this feature, but a little bit of trial and error is all that’s needed to set things where you want. I really feel like the magic of this instrument lies in that mid circuit. It’s almost like having two basses at your disposal with the flick of a switch.<br /> <br /> Other than that, it’s the usual thing with boosting the bass a bit when favoring or soloing the bridge pickup, but I really felt like the neck pickup needed nothing at all if it was being favored or soloed. All the hardware worked great. The nut didn’t bite the strings when tuning, and the bass held its tune very well going in and out of the case. The neck also didn’t need further tweaking once the truss rod was set. It’s highly stable.<br /> <br /> The Bottom Line <br /> <br /> This is a typical Pedulla bass. It’s extremely well made, very tonally versatile, and a pleasure to play.Between the deep, cutting fundamentals and the added mid control circuit, it’s hard to imagine a style of music this bass wouldn’t do well with. It’s simply a joy to play, hear, and look at.<br /> <br /> Pedulla has been making great basses for a long, long time. The Buzz and Pentabuzz basses would be inducted into the hall of fame of great basses, if there was one. Over the years, they have worked many other designs, some having better results than others.This one is clearly a winner. It is a top contender in the $3,000-$5,000 price range.<br /> <br /> As it should be in this price range, there is very little to nit pick about this bass. Every detail has been considered and addressed in an elegant and simple fashion. All the choices add up to a great sounding, great playing bass.Sometimes, in an attempt to set oneself apart from the competition, builders will add some stylistic cues that push them into “love it or hate it” turf. This has none of that. It is great looking and solid without drawing too much attention to itself. Everything works.<br /> <br /> Ok, one tiny thing. The nut doesn’t fit quite right. It’s not carved into the space it sits in as well as I would expect for the rest of the detail of the bass.Somehow, it seems out of place, and is not seated well in the groove it’s supposed to live in. It’s not polished up near as well as the gleaming frets. Granted, it’s hardly noticeable, works fine, and on lower-dollar instruments I wouldn’t point it out, but here it deserves mentioning. Ok, well one more thing.The shielding paint is not as neat as I’d like to see. Connections and continuity seem fine, but there are gaps here and there. This doesn’t seem to affect the sound or noise, though. [Editor’s note: Pedulla reports that since this bass was made, they have made changes with regard to both the seating of the nut and the shielding process.]<br /> <br /> The custom Bartolini NTMB circuit is installed in an interesting fashion, forgoing external gain control for the switched midrange circuit for user presets with trim pots on the inside. I thought it was weird at first, but it makes things simpler for the driver when working on the fly. Less stuff adds to less confusion and quicker adjustments. I’ve never liked the EQ points on the NTMB for the treble pot, though. In my opinion, it’s too high for a useful adjustment in the mix. Your mileage may vary, though.<br /> <br /> Regardless of my nit picking, I really love this bass. It reminds me of a Jazz Bass, with its midrange punch and sturdy but clean tone. Every note rings as it should and is balanced across the bass. There are no real idiosyncrasies one has to put up with or play around.Pull it out of the case and start making money with it.<br /> <br /> Setup factors are easy to address and require no weird hoops to jump through. The dual acting truss rod works well; the Hipshot bridge is perfect. The bolt-on maple neck adds to that classic J-Bass sound. It’s great to look at, and nobody will throw you out the door when you pull this out on any gig. This is not an ornament, it’s made to be played and traveled with and used as a tool night after night without complaint.
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