Surprisingly great sounding for size when amplified
Very quiet for personal practice
Strap and Case included
The feeling when having to put it down
80 mm body
Ortega Ukebass/Single Piezos Pickup
Ortega Caiman FL-GB
MSRP £422 (UK) $TBC (US)
With a fretted and lined fretless model named Caiman, Ortega adds the first cutaway equipped; full acacia made uke basses to their catalogue. Dan Veall puts the eye-catching FL-GB to the test.
Well, what a bundle of joy we have here!
The smallest bass we have had down the bassment, but very possibly one of the best looking with some fine adornments. Quite a stunning looking handful we have here and as we’ll hear, fine sounding ‘mini bass’ too.
I recall many years ago tearing up and down probably one of the original ‘mini basses’ the Dearmond Ashbory bass, that was released in 1985. I loved the idea of it and found even then the big ‘rubber’ strings on such a small instrument so much fun, yet it was quirky in the market at the time. - Somewhere out there on the internet is a video of me doing some disgusting slap bass to that very Ashbory. Maybe no one will see it again, but if they do, I apologise!
Today, I am similarly excited. So, okay, okay, you know that I get enthusiastic over the coolest instruments we have here to review, this really is a dream job. Ya know, every now and then though something arrives that you just can’t not smile over when it comes out the case. The Ortega Caiman fretless Uke bass is one such.
The detail on this instrument is stunning and I am looking forward to picking through each little bit with you here.
Ortega pull from their roots making acoustic (Spanish Classical) instruments and this bass is every bit as well made as it sounds. Such a striking looking instrument. We have a fretless version here, hence the ‘FL’ in the model name. There is also a fretted model should that take your fancy, don’t let the lack of frets concern you though, it didn’t take me too long to become accustomed to the fingering positions for good intonation. I love the additional character that a smooth fingerboard brings to any playing style, not being bound by absolute pitches, but sliding effortlessly between notes. Speaking of which, the fingerboard is Rosewood with Mahogany binding and dot markers and that is laid on a Mahogany set neck. The workmanship is beautiful and that carries down on to the AAA grade Acacia top and back whose edges are bound by talented hands that’s for sure. You really need to get up close to see the pinstripes that flank the binding around the body. Similarly, the rose, which is also Mahogany has a pair of cream pinstripes giving contrast and framing the sound hole. The Caiman is a joy to look at and even more so to play.
Rosewood is carried over to the bridge too which houses a piezo element allowing amplification of this instrument which is fairly quiet when not plugged in. Yes, un-amplified it won’t keep up with a ukulele band, that’s not what it is designed to do. Connected to your favourite amplifier or PA, however, this little beauty becomes a beast of the low end, alive with tone. Strung with Aquila Thundergut Uke Bass strings, the Caiman has a woody low mid presence that can be further tailored using the onboard preamplifier controls that you’ll find up on the top edge of the instrument. Not only does the panel offer a way to tailor your sound, but an electronic tuner is also included. Now, I don’t mind admitting that I thought the tuner might take issue with essentially ‘rubber strings’. I was so wrong! This example gave me a steady display as I turned the tuning keys quickly up to pitch. Caiman remained spot on in pitch throughout my review in the warm studio.
Often I read that bassists ask if such an instrument could be used to take the place of a double bass given the acoustic tone it imparts. Well, let's go with an open mind here. There is no doubt whatsoever that it oozes a sound when amplified that is big in bottom, and that warmth is there. This little chap is easily as big in character to take on its huge cousin even if not in physical size. Both, however, have their limitations!
Ortega has gone to yet more attention to detail in that you also get a similarly beautifully crafted case and strap for your Caiman.