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New Jazz Standard 5-String , Bass Frontiers Magazine, February 1999

New Jazz Standard 5-String 

Hands-on Review:
The Elrick New Jazz Standard (NJS)
by Matthew Lux

I have to admit when I was first approached to review the Elrick New Jazz Standard (NJS), I was skeptical. I’m a Fender man. I’ve had my ’76 Jazz bass for 19 years.

Upon first opening the case, though, I was impressed with the beauty of the instrument. The thin and aggressively sculpted body make this bass look a little more modern than my J. Picking the instrument up, my neck and shoulder muscles were happy to find that Elrick has managed to shave quite a bit of weight from this bass. Eight pounds versus the eleven of my old Fender (and the Elrick is a 5-string!)

The NJS has a swamp ash body with a quilted maple top and matching headstock. The headstock is tilted like that of a classical guitar rather than straight with string retainers like the Fender. The quarter-sawn maple neck is set into the body all the way to the neck pickup and attaches with six bolts in an asymmetrical pattern. The Birdseye maple fingerboard has 21 frets plus a zero fret (a 24 fret model is also available.) The finish is hand rubbed oil and urethane.

The NJS comes equipped with Bartolini pickups and an active/passive 3-band preamp circuit with switchable mid-frequencies. Everything beneath the matching wood control cover was neat and well shielded. The tuning keys and bridge are Hipshot and the strap buttons are Dunlop Dual Design Straplocks, which are great even if you don’t like strap locks.

The neck was perfectly adjusted right out of the box. The frets were all nicely seated and crowned. I would like to take a second to talk about the zero fret. It really makes the open strings sound more musical. Having played a lot of double bass, I tend to use open strings quite often, especially when walking. The balance the zero fret brings to the sound of the open strings really makes a difference.

I plugged into my main amp, a Walter Woods with a Harry Kolbe 1×1 2″ speaker. With the controls on the bass set flat, the sound was even, clear and full. Soloing the bridge pickup achieved a true “Fender” sound. Boosting the bass and cutting the treble shook the room with dub power. Cutting the bass and boosting the treble made a nice tone for chording or tapping. Next, I plugged into an old Ampeg B-18 Portaflex. That sound can only be described as being crushed by 1000 pounds of rich dark chocolate.

This instrument really plays well. The B string speaks well and isn’t flabby. The light resonant body creates a deep warm bass response that is focused and articulate, while the maple/maple neck makes the upper register sing. In addition, the heel-less body design makes reaching for even the highest frets a breeze. The neck is slightly wider at the nut than a Jazz bass, but not so much as to be awkward. The rest of the proportions of the neck and body, though, are very similar. With my eyes closed, I still felt like I was playing a Jazz bass.

All in all the NJS is a great instrument. It is completely handmade by one man, Rob Elrick, and as much as I hate to admit it, that means that the quality and attention to detail is far greater than anything that ever came out of the factories of the 60’s and 70’s. The bass as tested brandishes a list price of $2900 (including a hard-shell case), but with a base price of $1995 for a 4-string and $2295 for a 5, it enters the market well below most other high end Jazz style basses. So, if you are a “Jazz man” in search of a 5-string, or if someone steals your trusty old Fender, don’t shell out a pile of cash on some vintage lumber until you’ve tried an Elrick New Jazz Standard with all the modern conveniences.

Reprinted from Bass Frontiers Magazine,
Volume 6 Number 1, February 1999

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Thru-neck 4-String, Bass Player Magazine, August 1997

Thru-neck 4-String 

Product Profile:
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

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5-String Bolt-on Review, Bass Frontiers Magazine, January 1997

5-String Bolt-on Review 

Hands-on Review:
Elrick 5-String Bass
By John Dahlman

This bolt-on is the latest offering from Rob Elrick of Chicago.

The review bass arrived here at subsonic HQ ready to play. The set-up was perfect right out of the case, and the fit and finish is equally well done. The sides and back are sculpted in such a way as to make standing or sitting very comfortable. No slab o’wood here. The neck is executed in Wengé, inlaid with graphite rods, and topped off with a phenolic fingerboard. The neck is attached with five bolts; truss rod access is at the base of the neck.

Rob is a believer in using a zero fret. When done right, this can provide a uniformity of tone between open strings and fretted notes. He did it right! I do feel this contributes to the solid tone and feel on both finger style and slapping techniques. Frets are medium size c and well finished.

Pickups are custom Bartolini humbuckers. Signal is sent to the complete Bartolini pre-amp and EQ. This includes a mid control with switchable center frequencies. Finally, Rob includes an electronics bypass switch (I really like that). All this is housed in a very neat and well organized, shielded, control cavity. In electronics, neatness counts. With all this tonal firepower, I was never at a loss for that special tone.

The black hardware includes: sealed tuners, inlaid straplocks, and bridge, and gives the bass a sharp, refined look and feel. The quick change bridge has adjustments for intonation, string height and string spacing. The latter being very useful if you don’t happen to agree with Elrick’s choice of string gauges.

Enough already! So how does it sound? I think focused is the most accurate word to use. The Elrick went with me on the road with a country band, into small clubs with a blues and R&B band, and into the studio for a number of projects. It was played through various amps into my two way TAD reference speakers. I discovered quickly that this bass has a very carrying sound—just tight, focused, and full with a well defined center to the notes. On the country and blues gigs it was able to provide a full and supportive bottom end. At the same time it could climb over the guitars when needed and get funky. Slapping styles are a breeze with the instruments tonal character always in evidence. In the studio the Elrick again allowed me to get the job done with no fuss and a happy producer. What else do you want?

On the value scale, this latest bass from the fertile mind of Rob Elrick is hard to beat. If you happen to be looking for that great all around bass and a luthier you can work with, you’d be doing good to call Rob.

Manufacturers suggested list $2900; as tested $2900

Reprinted from Bass Frontiers Magazine,
Volume 4, Number 1, January 1997

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Piccolo Bass Review, Modern Musician Monthly, 1996

Piccolo Bass ReviewModern Musician Monthly, 1996

The Elrick Piccolo Bass:
A Welcome Arrival
By Dan Cooper

The idea of a “piccolo bass” is not a new one. Ron Carter, Stanley Clarke, and others have long since ventured there. The particular instrument we are examining today is an Elrick, handmade by Rob Elrick in Chicago. It’s tuned BEADGC, or BEADF#B, if you prefer. One might describe the instrument as an octave above the Anthony Jackson six-string contrabass, or a perfect fourth below a guitar.

Whatever the perception, this is a most natural evolution in the instrument family. Vocal choirs and other instrument families, such as saxophones or bowed-string instruments, for example, fill out the range of hearing with an assortment of Sopranos, Altos, Tenors, and Basses, whose range overlap a great deal. The construction of the instruments (their different scale lengths, resonators, materials, etc.) give rise to varied palette of colors and sonorities to choose from in the creation of a music composition. As Igor Stravinsky knew the value of bass instruments on high (his modern music masterwork “The Rite of Spring” opens with a bassoon way up on middle C) so does the piccolo bass enrich our sonic palette in a range normally reserved for a guitar.

The Elrick piccolo bass is first-rate craftsmanship, a natural finished, neck-through construction, solid as a good bassist’s time sense. The body is a mahogany core with flame maple faces, and the neck is mahogany, striped with decorative paduk and laurel. The fingerboard is phenolic, a paper and epoxy laminate, and the 21 frets are impeccably cut. As for electronics, we have Bartolini stacked humbucking pickups paired to TC5 preamp: all good circuitry, standard three knobs and no switches. The Wilkinson bridge is an excellent choice, as are the Sperzel locking tuners. I do kind of wish the tuning buttons were a little larger, or the string posts a little less stiff. I also find the strings, gauged 14-25-35-45-55-65, a little stubborn, but these quibbles have nothing to do with the instrument itself. Where great luthiers venture forth, great hardware designers and string makers are sure to follow.

The real questions are about sound and feel. In a sense, luthiers of new instruments must, on the basis of acoustics and ergonomics,invent new standards for things like scale length, string spacing, and neck shape, as well as ever-elusive parameters like headstock angle, string post placement, and fingerboard radius. (Specifically,this bass, bridge-to-nut is about 28” and the string spacing is about 5/8” at the bridge and 5/16” at the nut.) Misjudgment in any area could throw off the whole design. So Elrick’s creation is a real success: the neck feels very comfortable, the right hand can nimbly dance across the strings, but still get-in-there for slap and pop techniques. (Fans of Larry Graham and Bartok String Quartets rejoice!) The seemingly perfect neck heel, body contouring, elegant double cutaway, and zero fret (a personal favorite) all contribute to the joy of playing this baby bass! And by corollary of all these factors, the sound is versatile and clear, lively through a wide dynamic range, with crisp harmonics when you need them. I tested the bass in a variety of styles, and the Elrick holds its own. (whether you want to fantasize chromatically, or get lost in a masquerade, or be sedated, or just be yourself again!) I also believe the piccolo bass would be an ideal candidate for MIDI-minded bassists since the higher range would greatly improve pitch tracking.

Less importantly, the bass does look great: smart laminates, logo, headstock, no top position markers, wooden circuit cover, and black hardware adorn and please the eye. The solid-as-a-brick mahogany-and-flame design clearly draws upon the classic Les Paul, and touch of Wal or Fodera or Carl Thomson aesthetic detail seem to be in evidence. Elrick is no less an innovator, and my other basses are starting to look jealous.

As we enter the dawn of a new era, there are those who say the bass guitar will always be the four-stringed thing that preferably says “Fender” on it. For those with a more evolutionary approach? Check it out!

Reprinted from the Modern Musician Monthly
copyright © Dan Cooper 1996.

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Industry Insider with Rob Elrick – Not Just Another Bass in the Crowd

 

Industry Insider with Rob Elrick 

Industry Insider:
Not Just Another Bass in the Crowd
By P.J. LaMariana

Rob Elrick is not one of the better known luthiers on the scene, but people in the know are touting him as one of the very best. From his background as a potter, Berklee student and professional musician he brings a unique perspective to building basses. Elrick basses are striking in design, playability, craftsmanship, sound and appearance. Elrick is also unique in that he builds each instrument from raw wood by himself without the aid of computer milling or sourced out parts other than electronics and hardware. He manages to do this with ever increasing demand so that people buying an Elrick bass will have a world class instrument. His clients appreciate knowing that Elrick is a fellow bass player who truly understands the demands placed on the player. Rob took the time to speak to us at his Chicago based shop amidst piles of wood and tools.

Does having a BFA in pottery enhance or influence your sense of design and building?

I was a crafts major at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, and although my primary medium was clay I also blew glass and worked with steel. Part of the curriculum included woods, but I never worked much with wood until I started building basses. I do think the fact that I have had many years of working with design in 3 dimensional mediums has had a definite influence on my work, but more so in terms of being very definitive in the choices I make. I haven’t built many prototypes that required significant refinement before I felt that I was satisfied with their final design. I think that playing has had the greatest influence on the design of the basses. In fact, although Elrick basses are my primary choices when I play, I do own several basses from other manufacturers that I play and really like, and like many players, there are some basses that I don’t own and do covet.

It’s interesting that a lot of other luthiers are not really working players, or never were, you’re one of the few. How do you think that translates in your instruments?

One of the things that I really have a problem with is when I pick up a bass and play it and I don’t hear myself. What I mean to say, is that so many times I’ve picked up a bass, plugged it in, and all I can hear is the bass. It’s as if to say I could take 10 of the same model bass and give them to 10 different guys, you could listen to all of them and immediately identify the bass they were playing. Now that may be great for some people, but I would like to think that I could take 1 of my basses, give it to 10 different guys, and have it sound like 10 different guys playing 10 different basses! Sometimes I feel like people forget just how much character comes from touch, your hands, and how much of you comes through when you are playing a bass that has a certain “transparency”. Maybe that’s not the right word for it, but I think you know what I mean. I would rather hear myself when I play, than “some bass!” I think that is what being a player brings to my basses, then again; maybe I’m just a narcissist!

Do you feel that studying at Berklee has impacted the way you approach building basses?

I’m not sure that studying at Berklee impacted my approach to bass building, it sure impacted my wallet! I guess, in a way, the time I was at Berklee (the years, 1988-1990, not the time I spent there) may have had some influence. When I was there I was the only guy I knew playing six string. There were plenty of guys with 5’s and some of the guys on the faculty were playing 5 too, but 4-string was really still the thing, and that was how most of the instruction was approached. I took so much crap from certain nameless members of the faculty (including some in the bass dept.) about playing 6, that it kind of made me feel like I must be heading in the right direction. I studied with several instructors there, including a guy named Danny Mo (Morris) who told me when I first got my 6, “You get a handle on that… and you’ll have something!” He was probably the hippest dude there.

It seems like you were busy gigging when you started Elrick Bass Guitars, why start a bass company?

I originally got the idea to build 2 basses for myself, a fretted and a fretless neck through 6-string. I was gigging full time and wasn’t 100% satisfied with the bass I had been playing. I was only playing 6-string at the time, and the choices were pretty slim. I bought a Ken Smith 6-string neck through in 1989 and had been playing it for several years and I really felt like I needed something different. When I originally bought the Smith the high-end bass market was pretty much the “Big 3,” Smith, Tobias, and Pedulla. If you wanted wide spacing like on a 4-string, you pretty much had to buy a Ken Smith, so there I was. In 1991 I started looking around for something else. I tried everything I could get my hands on, but nothing really grabbed me. I liked this about that bass, I liked that about this bass, but I didn’t really feel like there was anything out there that was exactly what I wanted. So I figured, I’m a pretty smart guy, I can work this out, and I started thinking about my prototype basses, that was around the summer of 1992.

How did you get from building two basses for yourself to being a full time luthier?

The funny thing about that is that I never built myself the two basses! I decided to figure out how much it was going to cost me to build just 2 basses, and the cost of all the tools that I would need on top of the cost of materials, it wasn’t worth it. That was when I decided to start Elrick Bass Guitars. If it wasn’t worth it to build just 2, I figured I would just have to build more, sell them, and then make my 2. It only took 7 years, but I finally got the first of the 2 basses I promised myself. Last fall I gave it to myself as a birthday present, maybe I’ll get the next one for Christmas this year. Up until that time I was getting by on an old prototype and an early bass that became new old stock when the model changed too much for me to sell it as new.

It seems like a lot of builders are going to CNC and sourcing out necks and bodies from big CNC houses while you crank your basses out of a one man shop doing nearly everything by hand. How do you feel your basses differ from the guy who is sourcing out parts?

I think that there are a lot of really good basses out there that are made by CNC mills and assembled either in factories or by smaller “repair shop” manufacturers. I think there are some misconceptions about CNC manufactured basses, though. Just about any CNC bass built today is made to a more exacting standard than just about any old Fender or pre-CNC factory made bass. The reasons are fairly simple, the old factory methods had people doing some basic hand work or guiding work through a machine using templates or jigs. If a template got old, or otherwise worn out, it would show by making cavities oversized and neck pockets ill fitting on the finished product. A CNC milled product is going to be milled to the same exacting specification on the 10,000th as on the 1st. In the CNC world the initial programming is the key, an item programmed to exacting specifications will yield a product with good consistent results. However, that only applies to the machining of the wood. Many CNC milled products look good with their glossy Earl Scheib paint jobs, but what lies beneath may be substandard materials. Cutting costs on material components is the only place left to save a buck when you’ve eliminated all non-essential skilled workers. I don’t mean to demean CNC milled basses, there are some great ones and some turkeys out there. In terms of how a luthier working by hand, one bass at a time, differs, I think the difference is obvious, and I don’t just mean the price you pay. What you are getting is a bass that is made by an individual for an individual. The majority of the basses that leave my shop are sold before they are begun. Much of my work comprises of custom order basses with custom selected wood combinations, electronics, as well as neck dimensions. In fact with the exception of the original Thru-neck model bass, every model I offer was developed as a response to some custom request I’ve had to accommodate. I try to do everything I can to give my customer what they want, and if the CNC computers are anything like mine, you’re not going to get what you want from them unless you already like what they’ve got.

Tell us about your original design and the later refinements.

The Thru-neck model bass I am making now is essentially unchanged from the original prototype with a couple of exceptions. The original prototypes were 36” scale 6-strings with 20mm string to string spacing at the bridge and 10mm string to string spacing at the nut. They were BIG! I really liked them, but they were maybe just a little too big for most of the people who tried them. I did always offer shorter scales and custom spacing as options, but I scaled everything down a little for general consumption. The biggest changes to my basses have been the introduction of new models. I started to offer bolt-on neck basses after being approached by a number of players who preferred bolt-ons, that later led to a less expensive bolt-on model that was more of a basic “no frills in the wood department” type of bass. I also prototyped a Jazz style bass and then decided not to offer it for over three years in an effort to avoid being pigeon holed as just another Jazz bass guy. I’ve recently made some other new additions and refinements, the Thru-neck model basses are now available in a single cutaway version, there is a new Hybrid model, which has a set in neck, and a Hybrid semi-hollow bass with a piezo bridge. I am also going to be making the new Lightwave optical pickup system available to those who want their sound delivered through a beam of light.

You use some incredible woods, what’s your wood philosophy?

I started out with the simple idea that a bass that sounds good acoustically will probably sound better amplified than a bass that sounds bad acoustically. That theory has seemed to hold pretty true. It’s very hard to make a bad sounding bass sound good, even if you use the latest high tech preamp, pickups, amplifier or processing equipment. It will probably start to sound better, but it probably won’t start sounding good! I think it is really the best idea to start simple. Using the idea of having certain woods as building blocks is the simplest way to look at it . From the basic “component woods” you can tune the sound a certain way by adding different combinations of “accessory woods” to the guitar. With a bolt-on neck bass, you can make accessory wood changes to “tune up” the acoustic response of the guitar, or you can keep things very simple with excellent results by simply sticking to your basic component woods. Tuning up a bass with accessory woods is particularly important if you are building a neck-through instrument, as combinations become more important as the accessory woods become a larger percent of the finished guitar. I do always try to use very highly figured examples of the woods I use and I especially like to use burled woods, as they are more unusual, especially in the guitar world. It seems that quilted and flamed maple have become so common that a really nice maple top practically goes unnoticed in the guitar world, and I want all of my basses to attract the attention they deserve.

Do you plan to expand your operation? Where do you see Elrick Bass Guitars going in the next five years?

I want to continue to offer the sort of individual attention to the players who choose to have an instrument custom built by me and that kind of limits my ability to expand in certain directions. I am moving into a bigger shop this summer and will finally be able to bring in an assistant if need be, but I don’t really feel comfortable giving up much control over the finished product just yet. I do, however, want to reach a larger segment of the bass playing community and have considered having a production model manufactured on my behalf under a licensing agreement. If plans for a production model go forward, though, the body design will be different enough to distinguish it from the handmade line, in fact, the prototype has already been completed. As far as the next five years, that’s still a lot of basses away, if you’d asked me that five years ago, I would have said, “Hey man, in five years I’ll be playing so much I won’t have time to build basses!”