Elrick Neck-Through 4-String
By Scott Malandrome
There’s something about a handmade bass. Maybe it’s the specially selected timbers, the custom-tailored electronics, or just the extra attention that adds up to a unique instrument. If you’re one of those bassists who’s into hand-crafted wood, you’ll dig the work of Chicago luthier Robert Elrick. His 35” scale Neck-Through 4-string incorporates several species of fine hardwoods into an extremely well-built bass. The Neck-Through isn’t just another ”butcher’s block,” though—it produces some of the finest tones we’ve ever heard.
The center of the Elrick neck is a 1/4” wide stringer of the African hardwood bubinga. It’s flanked by two 1/8” wide strips of Wengé (favored by luthiers for its stiffness), while the shoulder strips are quartersawn rock maple, which displays nearly vertical grain for extra stability. (The neck is also beefed up with inlayed graphite bars.) A heel block of bubinga and walnut hugs the portion of the neck that runs through the body; the body wings consist of two 1” thick pieces of swamp-ash adorned with a beautifully bookmatched, 1/4” figured-maple top and back. Elrick says wood suppliers often call this type of maple “crazy quilt,” and we can see why: there’s a distinct flame to the top and back, but there are also spots that look a bit quilted and slightly burled. (Especially nice are the bookmatched “angel wings” that surround the bridge area.) All of the laminations on the body are accented with a 1/32” piece of dyed-black ash. A tung-oil-and-urethane finish, which feels smooth to the touch, protects the body and the neck—but as with most oil finishes, the bass is easy to scratch and dent. (Several areas on our test instrument also showed sanding marks.)
At the other end of the bass is a 12 degree angled back headstock; it sports a piece of dyed-black ash sandwiched between a 1/8” “crazy quilt” cap. In the fingerboard department, a 1/4” billet of bubinga holds 24 jumbo frets—nearly all installed flush to the board on our test bass. The fret ends were rounded over nicely, the crowns were round and smooth, and the fret kerfs were filled in. We did find a few high spots with our precision-ground straightedge, but they didn’t cause any string buzzes.
The neck wears a zero fret with a micarta string retainer. Some builders use a zero fret for a more uniform sound between open and fretted notes; that’s because the string sits on the same material as the frets (because it is a fret), rather than lying on a piece of bone or other material. The open strings on our test Elrick did exhibit the same snap as a fretted note. We wish more builders would use this method—although all such basses must have an angled-back headstock for proper string pressure on the zero fret.
Special woods deserve special electronics. The Elrick boasts custom Bartolinis; the single-coil-size pickups are actually humbuckers with a 2 + 2 coil arrangement to cancel out 60-cycle hum. This system works well, as you can solo the bridge or the neck pickup without that annoying J-Bass-like hum. (The copper-foil-shielded cavity also helps.) A Bartolini NTMB-3 active preamp offers three bands of EQ; the midrange control teams with a mini switch for three different mid frequencies. Since there’s no compartments for the preamp’s 9-volt battery, the addition of the active/passive switch is very nice, although it produces a loud “thud” through the amp when switching preamp modes. (Robert Elrick informs us that he’s since fixed the problem by adding a resistor to the switch.) Surprisingly, the Elrick is a very lightweight instrument, especially considering its amount of laminated wood. (Glue adds weight, too.) All of that wood isn’t just for looks, though-the Neck-Through has one of the richest, most organic tones we’ve ever heard. (There’s no denying the Elrick’s sustain.) Playability-wise, the instrument feels a lot like a P-Bass in the lower registers—but it’s much faster past the 12th fret, because there isn’t much neck taper at the higher positions. Our only design complaints is that the lower horn digs into your leg when you play the bass in a sitting position.
Is a 35” scale length necessary for a 4-string? Elrick feels it adds definition to the bottom string while using the instrument’s Hipshots XTender Key, which is standard on all EIrick 4’s. He also feels it makes heavier-gauge strings feel lighter. We can confirm the former; our test bass came strung with standard .045-.105 gauge strings, but the E string sounded unusually clear. The extra inch also adds superb focus when dropping the E to D.
The Elrick sounds great through just about any amp. The bridge pickup is perfect for that throaty Jaco tone, while the neck has shades of Precision-ness. And blending both pickups together effectively combines elements of both worlds while producing a very musical, deep sound. At over three grand, the Elrick Neck-Through certainly isn’t a steal. Besides first-rate tone wood, a lot of what you’re paying for is the attention of one person tailoring an instrument for you. And like most custom-made goods, that kind of special work doesn’t come cheap.
Reprinted from Bass Player Magazine, August 1997