LeDuc U-Bass Semi-Acoustic Reviews 4

Purchased from a local private dealer, incl an SKB molded case, it cost trade-in of a Kramer 8-string plus a big steaming heap of Yankee Greenbacks. I had been advised of these scarce basses, and their suitability for my tastes, about 3 yrs earlier by a friend of the builder. So, when one turned up I had to check it out. Warning: this is a weird ax and it takes a long review to present it.

There's a lot to like: This thing is a monster. It can sound URB-like or do dubh-reggae and just about anything in between and it never needs a battery. It's a headless bass, but does NOT require double-ball strings. At some settings it actually sounds like a piezo PU instead of a JJ setup, with the snap and sizzle riding atop the deeper tones. You can even get a credible "wash tub" bass from it. I am amazed how a magnetic PU system can deliver so much acoustic nuance and wood/air coloration. Controls are on the lower horn, a handier reach than the usual rearward location. Balance is most excellent, being headless with the strap button on the horn over the octave position. It's not very heavy, I'd guess about 8 lb [<4kg]. It's less fragile than many other semi-acoustics because the sides and back are carved-out hardwood body. It's also a bit more compact without any peghead, and the rear tuning knobs are convenient. I like bolt-on necks [less risky] and this has it. I like the lined fingerboard, 18mm string spacing [close enough to the 19mm 4-string std], and I like that there is plenty of fingerboard outboard of the "B" and "G" strings so I don't push those strings off the edge of the board with my left hand. It easily fits in any normal bass bag or case, and some guitar cases also fit well.

Just as there is a lot to like, with an odd duck like this there are also some drawbacks. Some tricky resonances can require some crafty solutions. The "floating top" also requires a bit of caution in how you grab the bass [no problem in playing, just loading, carrying, etc]. The clamping system on the headstock that eliminates need of double-ball strings is rather tedious to use. There seems to be no way to set very low action [I got the "B" at about 3mm and the "G" about 2.5mm], although a really low action tends to defeat the URB-like character of any bass that can do decent URB-mimickery. I also have the neck relief set to almost flat, which makes it harder to lower the bridge without a lot of string rattle. Personal gripe: knobs are VVT [I'd rather have fader than seperate gain knobs: VFT].

Construction is similar in some ways to a Godin A-series semi-hollow ax [a hardwood hollowed-out body with a cedar top sheet], but the top is not attached to the body. It's captive, but not glued in place. String tension holds it against the body which it contacts at only 5 small areas. I had to make a small modification to this arrangement to get rid of some crazy resonances [1 small hole, 1 screw, and 1 felt washer]. General outline of the body is "normal" [like P-bass but with a longer top horn]. Neck wider-than-average 5 string, lined ebony FB, dual truss rods, which turn opposite each other [it's French, after all... ], and a substantial clamping system for a headless design liberated from the "Steinberger String Thing" [I favor the Rotosound black nylon flats]. 20 fretlesss frets on a 34" neck scale. Bridge is seperate from tailpiece. The bridge is wooden. The treble side rides a threaded height adjuster screw that goes thru the floating top [not touching the top] to the hardwood body below. The bass side of the bridge sits on the floating top and involves an "adjustable shim" to set action height. "Intonation angle" of the whole bridge is adjustable [pivots upon the treble side height screw]. Tuning is at the tailpiece via knobs typical of most headless basses. Works as well as any Steinberger. PU's are Bartolini noiseless Jazz, angled with the treble side a bit closer to the neck. Knobs are gain for each PU plus single tone control. The tone knob is very effective. The gain knobs seem to have a very steep increase in the last 20% of their range of rotation, sort of the boomy-gain zone. Using either PU alone, or an off-balance combinations of the pair, produces a wide variety of voices. One more oddity: output jack is on the back at an angle, cord exits toward your right elbow -- run it between the strap and the body for a very easy well-secured connection, quite protected against any foot-to-cord entanglements.

Amazing bass, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I'm rating it at "4", because it's a "5" just on tone alone, but a "3" on its weird inconveniences. A tone monster and decent URB-mimic with no coil taps, no phase switches, no active anythings and whose main active ingredient seems to be just air! Can't set super low one-handed-tap-touch action but otherwise very comfortable ax. Very susceptible to harmonic resonances and I may have to mess around with it now and then as it ages. Not cheap, extremely rare in America but they do have a web site, and a few bass players do live outside America [or so I'm told... ]. Next time you're in France, check one out. If it were lost or kidnapped I'd probably never find another one, and likely would go through a lot of other very odd basses trying to replace my loss. BTW, I also play a Turner RB5FL and Godin A4FL, and all three of these thin-bodied hollow basses sound very different from each other.

Golem rated this unit 4 on 2004-03-11.

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