Acoustic bass guitars have never been exceptionally popular, as they don't always offer an attractive alternative to going full electric. Indeed, fretted electroacoustic basses often don't sound radically different from their electric counterparts, especially when amplified — and though the capacity for unamplified playing is a bonus, you'll need to plug in for most ensemble playing.
Folk and jazz sages would always argue that if you want an acoustic bass that sounds acoustic, get an upright. But there is another alternative, presented by a host of custom guitar makers turning their attention to the acoustic bass. American luthier Joe Veillette is one such luminary, who, with his Flyer bass, has set out to create a compact, electro-acoustic bass guitar that offers genuine acoustic tonality with a giggable spec. The outcome isn't cheap, but if he's pulled it off, it will be a significant coup for the world of the ABG.
Our review model is a five-string fretless, strung with a top C rather than the low B found on most five-strings. The string themselves are tapewound black nylons, something of an unknown quantity for many bassists. The tuners are Veillette's own, with an almost heart-shaped design and central pleat for assured finger and thumb placement. Painted on the back of the headstock in a handwritten style are the words "Joe Veillette, Woodstock, NY, 869" — the luthier's location which, combined with the custom hardware on offer, lets you know that this hand-made instrument is one of a kind.
The design is visually elegant, and the build quality near-faultless (as you'd expect for £3000), though it has an individual personality that might not be everyone's cup of tea. As with all niche instruments, it's not going to appeal to everyone.
Sounds and Playability
Sitting down to play, the lack of bulk is satisfying and comfortable, though the instrument doesn't sit particularly easily on the knee, due to the tiny bottom cutaway. It's also notably neck-heavy — but then it is a hollow-bodied instrument, and playing stood up with a strap is perfectly comfortable. The slim, D-shaped profile of the neck allows for slick and smooth fingering, enabling the player to move around with ease.
Unplugged and acoustic, the Flyer is a joy to listen to. As a fretless, slides and intonation are often indicators of quality, and this Veillette really rises to the occasion. Each note positively sings with a gruff, earthy vibrato, and sliding between them further accentuates the woody, breathy voice. In terms of note placement and intonation, the Flyer is very approachable and user friendly. Regular fretless players or upright bassists will be right at home, while newcomers to the format will settle in quickly. One note of warning, though: the note liners on the fingerboard are actually so pale against the dark ebony wood as to be practically invisible! They certainly aren't clear enough to offer a particularly useful guide at a glance — but then, that won't unsettle the kind of players this bass will appeal to. After all, you probably won't be picking up a fretless to begin with unless you're confident about note placement and your own musical ear.
For those out there looking for an idiosyncratic and elegant acoustic instrument that will excel in folk, jazz and world music settings, I seriously suggest you place an order with Mr Veillette.Stylistically, jazz and folk playing is the Veillette Flyer's raison d'etre. Walking lines sound wonderfully resonant and characterful, that vibrato recalling the great upright players of the jazz era. And once you.re done emulating Paul Chambers and Ron Carter, you can throw in some slides and aggressive pizzicato and suddenly the Flyer enters Danny Thompson territory with aplomb. The nylon on wood delivers an interesting, complex and smooth tonal quality. Made from softer material than typical metal, the strings really allow you to feel the wood vibrating beneath your fingertips.
The top-C format of this five-string, meanwhile, is a real triumph. It offers more soloing range and opportunities for flamenco-style runs at the top, without suffering for the lack of a low B, which, let's face it, isn't always a particularly attractive feature in acoustic jazz and folk music.
Once you've sampled the unplugged delights of the Flyer, there's the small matter of 18V active electronics thrown into the mix. The batteries slide into a pop-out unit at the base of the bodywork — and while having two 9Vs on board at any one time might seem a bit of a nuisance, such feelings will disperse once you've heard the sounds on offer.
Acoustically the Flyer has a traditional, organic beauty, that is surprisingly loud given the small sound hole, and plugging in just enhances all these qualities while adding a booming, resonant depth that will excel in a live setting.
The pickup used is a D-Tar Wavelength piezo, while the preamp controls are located on a small module just inside the soundhole. There are controls for volume and tone, with the latter offering the chance to roll between deep bass and a more high-mid sound. The tone knob is a welcome touch, adding a bit of diversity to the mix, but the beautiful thing about the Flyer is its natural, acoustic tonality. This is what Joe Veillette was striving for while carefully selecting those woods and sculpting the body shape, and this is where the bass shines. The electric capacity takes the wonderful acoustic sounds, and projects them at a level that will operate in live bands — with a reassuring lack of feedback, even when pushing high volumes.
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