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NS Design CR4 Electric Upright Bass

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I had sold my 5 String NS Design CR5M that I’ve had for over 5 years in favor of purchasing a CR4T. I use the NS Design Electric Double Bass very often for rehearsals or certain venues. Around here, cafes want jazz trios, but don’t have the room to spare for the acoustic upright since all three of us are put into tight corners. It’s come in handy for outdoor concerts since I don’t want to risk cracks or varnish damage to the acoustic bass, plus it is not temperamental in this environment. For rehearsals when I have to park my car far from my destination, having a compact bass that is easy to transport can make life as a bassist much easier. When I have to fly, this bass makes for a pleasant and cheaper flight (no oversize fees). It has become an indispensable option for me as a bassist. There’s only so much money I’m willing to spend on an Electric Upright Bass since I’ll never prefer one over an acoustic; so count out the spendy hollow bodied electric upright basses for me. I think that this is one of the better ones out there. It plays great and people really dig how it looks.

It sounds deep and punchy like a good upright bass, but it won’t replace the acoustic bass. Here’s the key; you should change from the provided strings (except the CR4T) to real upright bass strings. The strings that come on the CR and CRM models are terrible and will make your electric upright bass sound like fretless bass guitar. Still, the NS Design basses are definitely not for professional recordings, unless this specific type of sound is what you are looking for. It lacks the deep acoustic resonance, but it has a good quality tone when paired with the right strings. The lack of resonance is a plus where feedback would be a concern for the acoustic.

While I might not agree with a lot of the ideas Ned Steinberg has out there, I respect that he’s always pushing the envelope with creative ideas. The original incarnation, the CR4, was a leap forward in the electric upright bass world. With the collaboration of David Gage, this bass is what I consider the best in terms of an electric upright bass. Here’s what sets him apart from other electric upright bass makers; Ned Steinberg brings his wealth of knowledge of electric guitar and bass guitar construction, and David Gage brings his knowledge of upright bass setup, playability and amplification. The result is a upright bass that’s sounds great, plays wonderful and is as compact and durable as a bass guitar. He does seem to cater to bass guitar players a lot with features such as the magnetic pickup and reference dot markers on the fingerboard, and the fretted bass cello, but he is a successful businessman also so it makes sense for him to cater to a bigger market.

Durability and compactness is part of the design. The fingerboard is mounted flush with the body and the phenolic bridge is recessed, so there is nothing to catch or bump and break. Looking at it, it could probably be knocked onto its bridge without damage.

Playability is where this bass shines. It feels good and solid; the playability is a breeze. It feels natural for an upright bass player with its 41.5″ string length and angles of a regular upright bass are retained. Neck through thumb position it felt solid and easy to play. If you’re at least somewhat serious about the upright, I’d highly recommend this over their WAV series which is NS Design’s entry level product. The difference between the two is worth every penny. The WAV does not feel, play or sound as good, but you get what you pay for.

When I first purchased the CR5M, I just bought what they had in stock. This time I knew what I wanted different on my bass. Grasshopper and Beaver at Bass Central over in Florida and their distributor had assisted me with this new order. Yeah I’ll admit, when I was talking on the phone, I was picturing a grasshopper and beaver on the other end of the phone (too many cartoons growing up). They don’t know much about upright basses since they mainly deal with bass guitars, but their service is great. I ordered my previous CR5M from them years back and after price shopping they are still the lowest in price. I don’t see any benefit in paying more to buy one from an upright bass shop, since electric upright basses are really simple. I would never recommending buying a regular upright bass from anyone other than a upright bass dealer (and I’m selective when it comes to those dealers), but with this bass, it’s okay; save yourself a few hundred dollars.

Since NS Design has different flavors for their CR Basses, there was some confusion on my part about the differences between the models:

The number obviously means how many strings are on the bass. A CR5 has five strings versus a CR4, which has four. The ‘M’ in the CR5M and CR4M denotes that the magnetic pickup option is present in addition to the piezo pickup. If you chose a CR5 over a CR5M, you are getting the same bass, just that you opted not to have the magnetic pickups. The ‘T” model (i.e. CR4t & CR5T) is marketed as the “traditional”. The bass is the same as the regular piezo only model, except that it comes with the endpin stand instead of the tripod, the action is set higher, and there is a button on the back of the neck for reference of D on the G string, and it comes with Helicore Hybrids. Other than that, it’s the same in terms of electronics, appearance, construction, etc.

I chose to go from a 5 string back to 4 so that it is more consistent with my acoustic bass. I suppose I could get a 5 string acoustic, but good ones are hard to come by and the price reflects that. I never utilize that 5th string that much. At most, I went down to the D or Db, but the C and B were too slow and sounded inconsistent with other notes. These notes don’t ring or punch, they rumble with a slow attack rate. This isn’t a problem with the bass, it’s the problem that arises because of the low oscillating frequency of those low notes. The thicker string also means that the overtones are dampened, so the tone doesn’t cut through like it would with other strings. It came in handy for some more avant-garde or eclectic music, but for jazz it was more cumbersome in my mind than beneficial. It should make the transition between the two easier for me.

As far as the magnetic pickups, I always had those dialed out. I’d give them a try, but didn’t like the tone I was hearing. 100% piezo is far truer in tone to what most of us are used to. Even in considering the use of the magnetic for a unique type of tone, I still didn’t want to use it. It sounded like a cheap bass guitar. I doubt it’s a quality of components issue, since they use EMG’s which are reputable. The strings have to sit so far from the pickup, that I think that they are far from the optimum placement of the pickups’ magnetic field. Also, when using strings that are not steel core (gut or synthetic) or when playing arco, the magnetic pickups don’t work anyhow. I did try some Evah’s Pirazzi (synthetic core) strings on the bass and liked that sound and may end up using those instead of the Helicores anyhow. (Slight tangent: I did try Spirocore on it, and while they are perfect on my 100 year old German Upright Bass, they were to bright and harsh for the Electric Upright Bass). It didn’t make sense to spend the extra for the magnetics this time around. It should also make it easier to clean rosin off the bass after playing since the pickups tended to collect rosin and to clean it well you’d have to work at it with a q-tip.

I special ordered my bass without the dot markers, which is why it’s going to take months for me to get the new one. Dot markers along the fingerboard for every half step. Dot markers are a crutch and shouldn’t be used except by grade school students for the first few weeks of playing. It seems odd that NS Design puts dots standard on their bass and cello, but not violin and viola. Apparently there is a belief that bassists need the crutch permanently 😉 but if you accept that, then you’ll only live up to your own expectations. Most bassists I know ignore the dots anyhow, which is what I did, so I figured; why even have them?

There are other options like a zebrawood or burl walnut top which I had considered. I don’t know how the tone is affected, but I realized that I didn’t need a special looking electric upright bass, since and electric upright bass is already a rare sight.

My new electric upright bass is scheduled to arrive in August. There shouldn’t be much difference in quality or tone than I am already used to. I will do a full writeup anyhow when it comes in.

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