Ubass Buyers Guide + 2019 Kala Ubass Lineup

Playing a Fretted Exotic Mahogany at the Kala Booth at Winter NAMM 2019

So you’re thinking of buying a ubass, thats great! What ubass should you choose?
I have put together a couple of questions (with some answers from me) you can ask yourself as a little ”pre-buy-check-up”!

1. What is your primary goal with the purchase? Travel instrument? First stringed bass instrument? A compliment to your electric bass? A compliment to your upright bass? A second instrument if you already play for example guitar?
2. What sound(s) are you after?
3. What styles do you want to play?
4. Have you played fretless bass or other fretless instruments like upright bass, cello of violin?
5. Have you got small or big hands?

I think that these five questions is a great starting point. Ask yourself these before your purchase. Below are some of my answers to the questions…

My mom picking up my first ubass while visiting Hawaii back in 2010

There aren’t that many music stores left in the world, there are at least fewer here in Sweden now compared to 10-15 years ago, so it’s not so easy to get the chance to tryout different ubasses before you buy.
I know the feeling. My first ubass was bought by my parents visiting Hawaii back in 2010 and I had not seen or played one before.

There are a lot to choose from and different company’s have hoped on the ubass train. I play Kala ubasses, and have been doing that from the start, but there are of course other options out there now. I still recommend the original Kala Ubass in most cases, however if you find the 21 inch scale (most Kala ubasses have) to be to small for your hands you might find that it’s easier to play a slightly larger scale ukulele bass.

Here’s a couple of answers to the questions above that I hope will guide your search for the best ukulele bass for you!

1. What is your primary goal with the purchase? Travel instrument? First stringed bass instrument? A compliment to your electric bass? A compliment to your upright bass?

Travel instrument
I want to be able to bring a bass on my travels. Could be everything from your everyday comute to a vacation or holiday trip abroad or as a tour instrument that you bring on the bus or to your hotel room before and after your gig.
The ubass can be the solution to al the above! Since all the acoustic/electric ubasses are acoustic that do give you a nice unamplified sound. It’s not super loud but will work practicing on your own.
If you need more unamplified volume you can go for the Kala round wound strings. These will give a little bit more volume. Heads up: Most of the current models will work with either the Pahoehoe (original black polyurethane string) or the Kala round wound. It’s not recommended for the Wanderer model.

It you do want to amplify your ubass while traveling and don’t mind bringing an amp my recommendation is the Phil Jones Bass Double Four (or the new Micro 7). The (quite new) Roland micro Bass Cubes will work too. The core sound of the ubass is below 200 Hz so the better bass response an amp can give you the better your ubass will sound!

There are also headphone amps you can use. The Phil Jones Big Head (HA-1 or HA-2) seems like a good one although I haven’t been able to test one yet.
I have used my Zoom H6 recorder with great results too. The H6 has 4 tele-inputs and although the are line level inputs they have worked nice with my UBasses that has a built in preamp.

First stringed bass instrument
If you new to playing bass and want to take it up the Ubass is really a great place to start. Because of the shorter scale length you will have easy access to the first frets. You will not have to reach so far to play those low notes on the E string. The sound of the pahoehoe string through an amp is also very pleasing and full. Those strings are soft on the fingers too so you can start playing for quite a while without getting tired in your fretting hand.
I have been bringing UBasses to the high school where I teach many times (now we finally have two at the school) and all the students that have played them, even those with no or almost no prior experience, has been able to play and get instant gratification within a few minutes. Recently one of my students used a Ubass when one ensemble was to play Money (Pink Floyd) this made it possible to play the tune since the student was able to focus on the bass part and not spending a lot of time getting a good sound of a regular 34 inch scale electric bass that is so much harder to get. Great sound out of when you don’t have that mush experience and also quite small hands.
A great first stringed bass instrument for sure!

A compliment to your electric bass(es)
I bought my first Ubass back in 2010. I started playing bass around 1983. The new feel of those rubber strings felt strange at first but that feeling quickly went away when I heard it plugged in. The smaller scale length made it ease to play and the portability was of course also an exceptionally good attribute too.
Since 2010 I have used at least one Ubass at almost every gig. Sometimes as the primary instrument and sometimes for a particular song in a set.
I got hooked really quickly and can’t really see myself not using a Ubass since I feel that it is such a great musical expression tool for me!

A compliment to your upright bass
If you play upright and want to be able to get a sound similar to your upright without always bringing one a Ubass is the solution. Although I don’t see me primarily as an upright player I have played enough upright to be able to say that I know the basics of it. I actually try to think like an upright player when I play, for example, jazz on the Ubass. I use the same fingering, although it’s not necessary. I play with a lot of open strings because I would have done that if I played the same tune on the upright. This makes it easier for me to emulate the upright sound too. This is one reason I feel bass players that primary play upright player quickly can feel at home on the Ubass!

A second instrument if you already play, for example guitar?
The Ubass is the perfect bass instrument for a musician that have guitar as their main instrument. The scale length is pretty close to a guitars and if you want to get a warm upright and earthy tone on your demos (or other recordings) the Ubass will fit the bill!
Link to the Ubassists of the world – Gunnar Hjorth post

2. What sound(s) are you after?
There are roughy two main types of ubass sounds you can get from a Ubass – the synthetic rubber sound and the round wound sound. (More options are on the way, though…)

Synthetic rubber (Polyuruthene or similar materials)
The original black rubber string (Pahoehoe by Road Toad Music) is the original string and sound of the ubass.
Nothing really compares to this sound. It has a lot of warmth and low end. The only real downside is that they stretch a lot and it can take a while before they have settled in and won’t stretch of go flat. But the sound is soooo nice and will fit and compliment many styles of music hand in glove!
For more on the synthetic stings available please check out for a upcoming blog post about ukulele bass strings. You can find previous string tests here!

Round wound
The first round wound string for the Ubass that came out on the market was made by the German string company Pyramid. These were a really nice compliment to the Pahoehoe synthetic rubber string. It gave the player a more recognizable feel and a sound that was a bit more distinct and closer in feel to a regular electric bass string.
There is also another similar string on the market made by Kala.
I have used these strings on most of my Solid body’s for quite some time now. They are also great on a acoustic/electric Ubass especially if you can’t get used to the feel of the rubber strings. The sound can be very warm on the round wounds too since they have a nylon or silk core. More on strings in a upcoming blog post about Ubass strings and sounds. Kala has a nice selection of the now available ubass strings on the market.

3. What styles do you want to play?
Although I feel that every ubass model can be used to just about all styles of music there might be some things to consider when you make your choice.

Besides the different string choices available (see above) it might be good to think about the design of the different ubasses. Will you play mainly bass parts of will you also play chords solos in the upper register?

The Kala California Striped Ebony Acoustic/Electric Ubass with Pahoehoe strings

The acoustic/electric models have 16 frets and although you can play chords on these they can be a bit limiting if you want to explore this a lot. Maybe you already play chords on a regular electric bass and want to have a travel instrument or just another sound. In that case a solid body ubass would be an option to check out.

The Nik West Signature Kala California Solid Body Ubass with Kala Round Wound strings

Since the round wound strings came out these have been my go to strings for my solid body ubasses, at least my 5-stings. If you have followed my blog you might have noticed that I have been using a prototype set of the round wounds. This set have a high C instead of a low B. This makes it possible for me to play nice chord voicings not possible on a regular B-G set. This set will be available soon! I will write a dedicated blog post once I know the release date!) Below is an example of how the E-C set can sound. The video features my composition ”Tranquility”. This is composed especially for the


You can support me and my ubass music if you buy this song at my bandcamp page!
https://basmagnus.bandcamp.com/track/tranquility

The Kala Round Wound strings in action in my composition ”Tranquility” that feat. the wonderful bassoon playing of Mikael Lindström

The Journeyman model (it came out in 2018) has a nice design that makes it possible to get easy access the upper frets. So please consider this model if you don’t want an solid body ubass but still want upper register access. See below!

4. Have you played fretless bass (or other fretless instruments like upright bass, cello of violin?

If you have prior experience playing a fretless instrument please consider a fretless model. I really like the added expressiveness the fretless fingerboard gives me, especially when I play styles where a upright bass would fit in nicely. See previous blog post about this below!

5. Have you got small or big hands?
The Kala ubasses has a scale length from ~20 to 23,5 inches. I have quite small hands so I have never had any issues with the super short scale length. If you have bigger hands you might need to look at other brands that make slightly longer scale ukulele basses.

Examples
GoldTone has 23 and 25 inch acoustic/electric ukulele basses
Aquila ShortBassOne 12 and ShortBassOne 60 are both 23,6 inch scale ukulele basses

 

CurRent Kala Ubass models (2019)

I managed to cram most of the current models onto one of the ubass walls while working with Kala at the Winter NAMM Show in Anaheim in January!

Acoustic/Electric models

All Solid Mahogany (The model that started it all!)

Available in: Fretted and fretless (right handed)

Link


 

 

Solid Spruce Top/Mahogany (This model has also been around for a while although current model was updated in 2018. My first ubass was the original Spruce model w/o a built in preamp)

Available in: Fretted and fretless (right handed)

LINK


Striped Ebony (New model that came out 2018) One of my favorite looks!

Available in: Fretted (Pahoehoe or Round Wound strings), Fretless

LINK


Exotic Mahogany (Introduced in 2012 a great and popular model)

Available in: Fretted (Pahoehoe or round wound strings), Fretted (left handed, Pahoehoe), Fretless (Pahoehoe)

LINK


Rumbler (Introduced 2013)

Available in: Fretted and fretless (Silver Rumblers strings)

LINK


Journeyman (New model that came out 2018!)

Available in: Fretted (right handed, Aquila Thundergut)

LINK


Red Journeyman and Black Journeyman (New models that came out 2018!)

Available in: Fretted (right handed, Kala Round wounds)

LINK (RED)

LINK (BLACK)


Passenger(New model that came out 2018!)

Available in: Fretted (right handed, Aquila Thundergut)

LINK


Wanderer (New model that came out 2018!)

Available in: Fretted (right handed, Aquila Thundergut strings)
Use only Aquila Thundergut or Thunder Reds on this model!

LINK


Solid body models (Only available at kalabrand.com)

Natural

LINK

Available in fretted, fretless and in 5 string versions

Maple

Koa

LINK

Available in fretted, fretless and in 5 string versions

LINK

Available in fretted, fretless and in 5 string versions

SIGNATURE SOLID BODY UBASSES

Bakithi Kumalo

 

LINK

Available in fretless 4 string only

Nik West

 

LINK

Available as fretted 4 and 5 string

Previous posts with tips on buying, amplifying and playing fretless Ubass can be found here
https://playubass.com/2011/09/03/tips-on-buying-a-kala-ubass/
https://playubass.com/2013/02/14/how-to-choose-the-right-ubass-for-you/
https://playubass.com/2011/12/23/playing-fretless-ubass-heres-some-tips-for-you/

Annonser

New page: Get easy access to most of my videos from one place!

A screen shot from the video. Kala California Solid Body with prototype Kala Metal Round Wound strings and Kala California acoustic/electric fretless with Pahoehoe strings

I just compiled my videos so they’re easy to find. You can watch my Youtube playlist (at the moment 72 videos) and access videos where I play Kala Solid Body Ubasses with EADGC tuning on the new VIDEOS page.

Besides this there is also a  VIDEO LESSONS page for easy access to my free lessons.

Enjoy!

Ubass Adventures: Travelogue from my trip to KALA and NAMM January 2018

Chillin’ with a lovely sunset at Helen Putnam Regional Park, Petaluma, CA USA

Here comes a long overdue travelogue…I know almost a year has flown by…

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In January I traveled to California for the NAMM show in Anaheim to promote the Ubass alongside Kala.
You can read about my experiences from Winter NAMM 2017 here!

Petaluma and Kala Brand Music

My trip started with a visit to Petaluma, CA, the home of Kala Brand Music. This was the second time I visited the Kala headquarters and since the first time in the summer of 2015 a lot has happened. The Ubass has evolved and in October 2017 the company moved to a new and bigger facility that includes a great factory where the California series of the solid body UBasses are built alongside the Elite series of the ukulele models.

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My focus for this visit was to make some videos with the Kala video crew and also talk about Winter NAMM that was just around the corner. I brought my two custom solid body ubasses with the prototype E-A-D-G-C string sets. I did some videos with them alongside the new Kala Journeyman ubass and a 5-string California koa solid body ubass with regular B-E-A-D-G tuning.

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Me and my wife really had a wonderful time in lovely Petaluma situated about an hour drive north of San Francisco. The town has a lovely downtown area and a beautiful countryside. We spent some time in the Helen Putnam Regional Park and caught a lovely sunset over the rolling green hills.

Magical sunset at the Helen Putnam Regional Park

I also had the privilege visiting the home of Kala Brand Music president, Mike Upton, and we had a nice little jam in his living room!

Jammin’ at Mike Uptons place

Winter NAMM 2018

We flew down to Anaheim January 24 one day before the four day music trade show would start at the Anaheim Convention Center. From the NAMM.org homepage:

”The 2018 NAMM Show gathered the music, sound and event technology industries for the largest show in NAMM history, welcoming 115,000 registrants, more than 7,000 brands, exciting events and triple the industry education.”
https://www.namm.org/

From NAMM.org: Winter NAMM 2018 Wrap-up

Pre-NAMM-day (January 24)
I went to pick up my name badge and got to see the wonderful Kala booth. It was a lot bigger then last year. Really spacious and beautiful with a genius and practical design!

The big wall of ukuleles at the Kala booth Winter NAMM 2018 (Since I took this photo with the panorama option on my iPhone it looks a bit strange. But it also show you the massive display in its full glory!)

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Day 1 (January 25)
From the get go there was a steady stream of things happening. Musical highlights was standing a few feet away to one of my musical heroes, the fabulous organ player Joey DeFrancesco, when he played some super lovely organ jazz at the Visconti Organ booth. I told him about that lovely concert I heard him perform in Stockholm many years ago. YES!

He came to Stockholm in October.  I saw the show with some friends. Did he have a bass player with him…no…was it still great… YES!!! 

The evening was spent at the Bass Bash a special bass event, a great hang! The year before I brought a Kala Ubass there for the ”raffle”. This night I heard performances by Abe Laboriel (Open Hands) and the John Patitucci Guitar Quartet with the amazing Nate Smith on drums (Side note: In this video I play to loops from thelooploft.com played by Nate Smith!)

Laboriel and Patitucci both received Lifetime Achievement Awards from Yamaha this night!

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Day 2 (January 26)
It was great to once again, if super brief, say hi to one of my mentors, Victor Wooten. I attended one of his camps outside Nashville back in 2011. Anthony Wellington was one of the many great instructors at the camp. Joe Craven was a guest at the camp. A super talented multi instrumentalist. So great to meet him again! Also got to meet Christian Fabian, a great bass player born in Sweden but now lives in NYC.

I also met some great musician friends! Please check out Ariane Cap she’s a great bass player and educator (I met her at that Wooten Camp back in 2011) I also met Sam Montooth a great singer, bass player, teacher based, as well as Ariane, in the LA area.

One of my Ubass ”papas” Bakithi Kumolo is always such a great hang. We had some nice talks and jams at the Kala booth. He performed at the Bass Bach on the second day of NAMM and almost played my solid body ubass! 🙂
I also met some new friends and they were also Bakithi admires!

I got to meet and great Mr Funk, Bootsy Collins! And check out the great Manou Gallo!

Oscar Cartaya a great latin bass player and ubass artist visited the booth and also played at the Bass Bash.

I ran into Ida Nielsen (played bass with Prince) and Morten Ehlers (the founder of Bass Buddha, a bass shop in Denmark.

I met Christopher Bolte at the Frankfurt Musikmesse back in 2014 and now we finaly meet again. He’s a fellow Gruvgear artist.

Greg Olwell, the editor of Ukulele Magazine, came by the booth. He writes for the Ukulele Magazine and made a great ukulele bass roundup a couple of years ago.

It’s so great to hear talented ukulele players jam. Corey Fujimoto and Andreas David are super musical on their ukuleles! Andreas managed the German ukulele site Gute Ukulele!

Meeting more new friends, Amie Cool, trying out a new pedal by Ruppert Musical Instruments and seeing Jeff Berlin in a nearby booth concludes the Day 2 travelogue.

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Day 3 (January 27)
Some highlights this day was seeing good friends Ariane and Wolf. We had a nice little lunch away from the crazy show floor.

I got to meet Kala Ubass Artist Nik West. She had her signature ubass on display at the booth.

The duo Go West demoed at the booth. So did Corey, Andreas and myself.

I don’t have any pictures but have to mention the wonderful Jule amps the Jule Potter makes!

I would finally be able to meet Richard Mari Cocco Jr, (president) and Eric Cocco (vice president) for the great string maker LaBella

I got to meet great friend and ubass player Greg Gohde too! While walking outside after a long day we heard som crazy energic funky music performed by Kyotaro and Rikuo, a Japanese rhythm section duo. We closed out the day with some great food at the Disney Resort.

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Day 4

So it’s time for the final show day!
Bakithi came by the booth again so did bass player/actor Sekou Bunch. He did some great jams. I will probably share some of that later! Divinity Roxx, former musical director with Beyoncé, came by too.

The great Ukulenny demoed at the booth. My new friend Simon Poulton tried the Kala Journeyman. The Japanese bass player from Kyotaro & Rikuo from Day 3 visited the booth too.

I went to see Christopher Bolte demo at the gruvgear booth and got to met good friend Jay Baldemor. Gruvgear make a really nice and sturdy gigbag for ubass!

I also went to the Elrick booth to try out some lovely basses built by Rob Elrick

It was so great to work alongside my great Kala Family once again! See you soon!

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The Acoustic-electric Ubass Walls

Links
Good walkthrough of the updated Ubass line for 2018 by Ryan Haugh
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skjsPHn5ig0

The new Jorneyman ubass is one of three new ubasses in a new entry level line. These models are offered in fretted versions and will hopefully be available in fretless versions too later on. I played all three of these and they are a great addition to the existent line of ubasses.
https://kalabrand.com/blogs/u-bass-news/namm-2018-new-u-bass-preview

 

This concludes my travelogue around this wonderful Ubass Adventure!

/Magnus

New music by Marlowe feat. Solid Body Ubass playing!

My friend Marlowe is a Kala Ukulele Artist that I met in California earlier this year. We decided to do a collab and I recorded overdubs to one of the songs of her brand new album ”Moments”. The song is called Battle Royale and it sure was fun adding ubasses to the track. I decided to play my Kala California custom fretless solid body tuned EADGC. 

Now check out the video below and then go to marlowe-official.com and find out more about Marlowe!

Ubass overdub session video of ”Battle Royale” from the album ”Moments” by Marlowe
Marlowe [ http://www.marlowe-official.com/aboutmarlowe/ ]

New video: Bach on Ubass(es)

A screen shot from the video. Kala California Solid Body with prototype Kala Metal Round Wound strings and Kala California acoustic/electric fretless with Pahoehoe strings

 

Time for some classical music!

Playing classical music is very rewarding and it’s fun to do it on instruments that wasn’t even invented when the music was written.

This first video (I hope there will be more) features ”Inventio no. 4” (Invention No. 4 in D Minor, BWV 775) written by J. S. Bach. These short pieces was originally written as musical exercises for Bach students. Since I’m a forever student of music they suit me too! 🙂 I use these from time to time with my bass students. It’s lovely to play melodic baroque music on the bass/ubass.

Since Part 1 is played on my Kala California Solid Body, with the prototype strings (EADGC), I was able to play it one octave higher then on a ubass tuned (B)EADG. The contrast to Part 2, played on my Kala California acoustic/electric ubass with the original Pahoehoe strings, is nice I think. This piece was originally composed to be played on the piano (Part 1: right hand and Part 2: left hand). Playing both parts on one ubass would require some kind of tapping technique and could probably be done but would be very hard. I think it’s nice to use different instruments with sounds that, I think, compliments each other, and it’s easier too! 🙂

Playing in the high register of the Solid Body Ubass is very hard since the frets are pretty close from fret 15 and up. I decided to make ”one pass – no edits” takes of each part. It’s of course even nicer to play this as a ”real” duo since it will be easier to get more interactivity that way! 🙂
This piece can be done at different tempos and I opted for a medium tempo. It’s not slow but definitely not fast.

I hope you will like it and be inspirerad to play some classical music on your ubass!

In May I recorded some Bach-inspired improvised music. Here’s one of the videos recorded on my iPad (built in kamera and mic) I will try to make more videos like this but with a better video and audio quality!

 

New video! My version of a true classic – Summertime by George Gershwin

A short background to my version
The classic song is, as you probably know, from the opera Porgy and Bess, by George Gershwin. It was first performed in Boston in 1935 before it moved to Broadway, New York.

I was lucky to be a part of a short summary staging of the opera when I attended a music school in Sweden back in 1992. I had the role of Sportin’ Life and sang the song “There’s a boat that’s leavin’ soon for New York” and ”It ain’t necessarily so”. Sportin’ life was the drug dealer, and possessive lover of Bess the main character. Porgy the other main character wanted to rescue Bess from him…

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Twenty-six years later… I guess it’s about time to do another song from the classic opera
”Summertime”, by far, the most classic and recognizable song from Porgy and Bess. It has been performed by countless of musicians across the globe since 1935 and onwards.

My version is quite short. I present the melody twice, first instrumental with the melody played on my Kala California acoustic-electric fretless Ubass. Then sung and harmonized the second time around. All vocals by yours truly. 🙂

I decided to incorporate my fretting hand tapping plus plucking hand percussive technique that I have used from time to time since 2014.
It all started when playing in the country duo M&M’s Honky Tonk with the great friend and lovely guitar player, Marcus Måttgård. I wanted to add some percussive parts to mimic a drummer and experimented using the body of the Ubass as a percussive acoustic drum.

Recently I started to use a acoustic pickup by Ehrlund microphones to enhance these percussive sounds. Before playing with this technique only really worked in the studio, where I could use a separate mic to pick up the percussive sounds, or in a small intimate live setting where the audience is near the performance.
The pickup is blended with the built in piezo and this makes it possible to play bigger venues and the percussive parts can be heard alongside the tapped bass part. More about this in a later blog post!

Besides the core parts of bass line/percussion played and recorded live on a small dock by the lake Storsjön in Jämtland, Sweden I added vocals and, for the first time in any of my videos, ukulele parts!

I hope you will enjoy my version of the Gershwin classic!

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UBass sightings – David Ranson with Sonny Landreth

David Ranson on ubass with Sonny Landreth

 

Hi everyone,

Great ubass playing in the blues zydeco genres of music can be heard on the 2017 live recording by Sonny Landereth called “Recorded live in Lafayette”
David Ranson has a beautiful tone and feel and this proves, yet again, that a ubass can fill so many “bass shoes” with fantastic results. This live recording is a great example thereof!

Links
https://mim.org/events/sonny-landreth/

https://www.allmusic.com/artist/david-ranson-mn0000782766/credits

https://open.spotify.com/album/4JskRMAo7ycx1lNMZb2ZZ8?si=u0c7NkzyQJq4u2b_-eEW5g

String Review of the Aquila Thunderblack

Aquila Thunderblack

There are now quite a few options for Ubassists when it comes to choose the right string for your preferred sound and playing style. Owen Holt invented the Road Toad Pahoehoe strings (made from polyurethane) to make the super short scale length of the ubass work. These are of course still the original ukulele bass string reference that many use and love.

The Italian string company Aquila Corde now offers three different ukulele bass strings.
Besides the Thundergut string that has been around since 2012 and the Thunder Reds since 2014 they also offer the Thunderblack.

The Thunderblack string has, in my opinion, more similarities to the original Thundergut than the Thunder Reds. I think they feel a bit less sticky then the original Thunderguts but the sound is pretty similar.

If you prefer the look of black strings but want a sound and feel similar to the Thundergut there’s now an alternative available.

In the video below I decided to record some of the same musical exemples used in the Thunder Reds review. This makes it easier to compare the different strings.

Past Reviews
Pahoehoe vs. Aquila Thundergut Part 1 | Part 2
Aquila Thunder Reds Review

Tech specs
Aquila Thunderblack strings
Kala spruce top fretless (2010)
RMI Basswitch IQ/DI in the 10 mOhm setting
Aguilar Tone hammer 500
Aguilar SL-112 cab
AKG C-414 mic
Universal Audio Apollo (upgraded with Thunderbolt card)
iMac with Logic X