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This article was originally published in issue #28
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ESP says that the hard work involved in bringing the RB range to life has been a labour of love and passion. The company worked with Tower Of Power's Rocco Prestia for over a year to design and build an instrument that not only would become his own bass of choice but one that they'd want other players to reach for too. This has certainly been a much anticipated bass worldwide, and we've been anxious to get our hands on one since we interviewed Rocco in Issue 24's Bassment.
First, let's just pause to look at this beauty! The model we had in for review, the RB1004, features a solid burled maple top and a pinstripe underneath that accents the join between that and the swamp ash body. Swamp ash is a superb tone wood for this instrument that also keeps the weight of the bass down. Onto that sumptuous body is bolted a five-piece maple and walnut laminate neck by way of a super shallow heel joint that provides a smoother access 'north of the border' into the higher fret positions - the maple taking up the lion's share, leaving the walnut with two very cool stripes down the back of the slim C profile neck carve.
The profile is very comfortable indeed as you slide up and down the neck over its 22 perfectly finished frets. The 34” scale bass neck feels familiar and I was delighted to see a gloss finished maple fretboard and of course the very cool oval fretmarkers. Similarly on the top edge of the fretboard, the markers are wide rather than small dots. Useful on a darkened stage, for sure!
Our sample model came in the 'honey natural' tinted finish further adding to its luxurious looks. Altogether, this is a really fabulous looking bass. I should add that there's a choice between burled or spalted maple tops. Can we have both, please?
Hardware comes courtesy of Grover tuning keys and there's a 'string through body' arrangement from the Gotoh bridge, which also offers 'top loading' too should that be your preference. How nice to be offered the choice!
Tonally, don't be fooled. You'd possibly be forgiven for seeing the pickup arrangement and thinking 'just another PJ bass' - well, it isn't - and I was very pleased and surprised. This ESP LTD has Aguilar electronics installed, which means you get a passive P-style pickup and a hum cancelling J model in the bridge position placed at a jaunty angle. Crucially, both pickups, via a pan control near the bridge, are fed in to a superb Aguilar OBP-2 pre-amplifier and that's what makes the difference.
The Aguilar pickups have bags of character and I especially liked the P pickup through our review amplifier. The J pickup, despite being close to the bridge on the bass side, still rewarded us with bite and mids without being shrill. Using the pan control I found my own tonal sweet spot slightly favouring the P pickup - what you could call a 60/40% mix or thereabouts. A big round tone with added muscle from the pre-amp; I added just a little boost on the low end for the review. The centre position on our review instrument transforms the sound of the bass and hopefully you'll hear that in the video. It's hard to describe but there really is a wider range of tones from this bass than you might expect!
Elsewhere in the RB range are both 5-string and 6-string models, also with the top wood options I mentioned earlier.
Since ESP announced it was working with Rocco Prestia, and especially since it said it was going to make an LTD version rather than a luxurious 'superstars only' edition, we down in the Bassment have been waiting to get our hands on one to try. There wasn't the slightest sense of anticlimax when it arrived. It's everything we'd hoped for - not a signature bass that would appeal only to rich collectors but a fine looking, playing and sounding bass that does exactly what we were promised. ESP and Rocco deserve heaps of praise for that. This is a really great bass at a really great price!