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This article was originally published in issue #41
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1960s Italian guitar design divides opinions - that's for sure! For me, they are eye-catching and I have to say that this Italia Imola doesn't not look out of place today. Nor should it, really, because it wasn't designed back in the heyday when Italian manufacturers were making many of the world's starter guitars and basses - before the Japanese took over that market. No, Italia is a modern retro styled instrument so though you might want to judge its looks against an instrument from that era, in terms of its playability and sound, it is actually completely modern.
The first thing to say is that the Imola isn't a short scale bass, as you might have expected from the vintage styling. The neck is tidy and has a sort of Jazz bass profile, with maybe a little more on the nut but nothing to put the smallest hands off and it offers a full 34” scale and 22 frets. There are no dots on the front, giving it a super clean look, but there are side markers for you to see where you are should you need it. I also like the way that the neck seems to merge in to the pick guard that envelopes the whole top of the bass.
The Wilkinson WBBB bass bridge is set in a cutout and the korina body of this instrument is chambered, so it is a very stylish and quite sophisticated piece of work. In fact I have to say this could well be the best looking ‘f hole’ chamber cut out I have seen on a bass so far. It looks super following the line of the bass. My only niggle is that the pick guard doesn’t align exactly with the shape of the cut out in the woodwork. It’s not untidy though, just doesn’t quite line up - and when you know something is there, you just can’t ‘unsee’ it if you know what I mean. You won’t see this out front though, so I’m unlikely to lose sleep over it!
Back to that chambered body. It means that the bass is very light and I suspect that acoustically this feature may lend it some of the ‘mid accent’ in its sound. Plugged in it’s less noticeable though, as you would expect. Not surprisingly, given the pickup type and positioning of the Wilkinson transducers, the Imola does a great ‘Jazz bass’ type sound with both pickups on but in the single pickup settings there is a wide range of tones available, from a biting bridge position to that warmer plummy P bass tone from the front pickup alone.
Controlling the two pickups is a simple affair with just a master volume per pickup and a master tone. Whether or not this is a set up that works for you will be down to personal opinion, though I am more likely to go for just a single master volume and some sort of pickup selector, for my own tastes.
If I could have had one extra on this bass it would have been active EQ - in fact I think it would be a killer option, so check out the Imola GP which looks really cool in a black and white chequered flag design and does indeed include those all important ‘actives’.
In the video I referred to the colour as ‘Sunburst’, by the way, but that may have been a little misleading and I apologise, as according to the online specification you have three sunburst options: two tone, cherry sunburst and vintage red burst.
There's no doubt this bass represents a distinctively different option to the inevitable Precisions and Jazzes, not to mention all their clones, and as such is bound to appeal to the player who wants to be visually different. Where it scores over some other attempts to revive the past is that Trev Wilkinson's parts are thoroughly modern and the bass has been designed, made and set-up to play like a contemporary instrument. That said, it isn't particularly cheap (not that there's any reason it should be) so you would have to be really sure you wanted one and were likely to hang on to it. Personally, I’d like to spend some time with the GP model at some point too as I think it looks like a fun bass with character.
There are plenty of basses out there that will compete with the Italia, including some competing very directly for the 'retro dollar' but if you are looking for something that looks like it was made in the 1960s yet plays like a modern bass, the Imola fits the bill. Oh, and should you be so inclined, there is also a five string version on offer.