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This article was originally published in issue #22
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In 1989, New Yorker Ned Steinberger launched a revolution in bass guitar design when he unveiled what has since become dubbed... well, all sorts of things really but including ' the cricket bat bass'. By the time the 1980s got under way, the all-synthetic Steinberger bass sharply divided opinion. It was light in weight, easy to play (though our editor insists that everyone at the time grumbled that your hand always fell two frets higher than you thought it was!) had a tremendously even, almost synthetic, sound with absolutely no dead spots and was, at least for a while, seen everywhere - not least because it weighed just a few pounds and could be carried in your pocket - well, almost! It was also, in its plastic incarnation, more or less indestructible.
This review isn't about the Steinberger, but clearly the Hohner B2 that we are reviewing here gets its general idea from Ned Steinberger's original, so it would be impossible to review it without a nod to the originator of the headless concept.
Lots of things happened in the Steinberger story (the short version is that Ned sold the name to Gibson) but various licensed and unlicensed headless basses have been made down the years, some closer than others to the original Steinberger design. Hohner, the venerable German musical instrument business, have always done the honourable thing and licenses the Steinberger design, so should have a greater insight into how to make a headless bass work than many. Which is our cue to start the review!
The B2-ADB bass, coloured head to toe in gloss black lacquer, features an American maple body and neck in a neck-through configuration. The very slim profiled neck features a dual action truss rod and has 24 jumbo frets neatly fitted to a rosewood fretboard. The B2-ADB is a full scale 34” design. Both the nut clamp and bridge tuning unit are Steinberger licensed units that are sturdy and very well made. The bridge unit, as opposed to individual mono-rail pieces that we see on a number of modern instruments, is a large block, housing all four tuners with their saddles and string clamps. The tuning action is smooth and fairly easy to turn each key. It also features a superb detuner lever that I think is absolutely brilliant. It is possible to set the tuning of this bass to standard EADG, but at the flip of the handle on the bridge, you can tune accurately down to another note on the E string.
Off camera I messed with D and C# with no tuning problems at all - in the video we dropped all the way down to B! The string as you might expect did get a little floppy at such a low tuning, but it worked perfectly in tune. That for me is a great addition to the bass. Simple, tidy, effective!
Moving on to the electronics, the B2ADB comes with two humbucking EVL-1P pickups - a pair of soapbars in a JJ configuration. The pre-amplifier on board is powered by a 9v battery and provides bass and treble cut/boost. There is also an 'active/passive' bypass switch that allows the instrument to be run in true passive mode. A red LED shows the active status of the circuit. Each pickup has its own volume control to mix to taste easily. I'd have preferred a pan control personally as it can be fiddly to adjust volumes after you have found that two pickup mix sweet spot.
The bass is quite comfy to play though I have to admit, for me, a little on the awkward side. I don't mind admitting that I had a little trouble, especially with slap styles as you'll see in the video. It'd take a little getting used to since the bass has so little mass, and I found it hard to get it to stay on my leg with the more animated playing styles. I appreciate I may have to work on that a bit - but it's surprising how much of a normal bass body I rely on to steady things a bit!
One thing that I found very useful is the kick down leg that simply unfolds on the bottom of the body. It does the job brilliantly and better still it folds away in a stand-up position.
Speaking of position, the other thing that I find a problem with many headless instruments is the position they sit in either on strap or knee. You'll know what I mean if you have played a few. The feeling that the neck is further away from you than that of a normal bass. An issue I had to rectify in the design stages of my headless bass you often see me with in Guitar Interactive. It's an issue for some and worth mentioning.
So bashing aside, what about the advantages? It's small and therefore easy to ship, carry and store. It is very light and the lack of headstock and body wings will be a godsend to those with back and shoulder problems. You won't ever have difficulty squeezing on a busy train or bus with one of these, either. It's perfect for warm-up and practice as well as learning and teaching in schools too, for the same ease of transportation reasons. The slim neck will suit all hand sizes too. If this configuration isn't your bag, then there is a PJ variation, a 5-string and thankfully a left hand model too.
The Hohner B2 models come in black, grey nickel satin and walnut satin. I like the Hohner B2ADB; it's actually a pretty fun instrument. It's not the same as the original premium carbon fibre L-series Steinberger basses but it's doing a great job of keeping the name and unusual styling alive. Love it or hate it, it stares convention in the face and then chops its head(stock) off. If your guitarist is interested, there is also a 6-string version on offer so maybe you are in an '80s' tribute band here's your answer? Our only reservation was that the price seems a bit high but against that it is a licensed version, so truer to the original than some and really, if a Steinbeger-like headless is really what you want, what else will do?