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This article was originally published in issue #44
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Some boutique bass makers seem to go all out to make their instruments look like nothing you have ever seen before, while others prefer to take the evolutionary approach and develop on what is there already. LA's Xotic seems to be firmly in the latter camp, in the case of its XJ-IT 5 having taken the time honoured Jazz bass as the model and bringing that vintage classic bang up to date. As a manufacturer, Xotic has managed to bag some major names in the bass world as users, so its approach is definitely appealing to people.
Naturally a whistle stop tour is necessary but not before you have clicked play on my review video!
OK, where to start? Well, it seems to me that the Xotic XJ's specifications read like a shopping list for all of your necessary hardware, even before we discuss the quality of workmanship in the production of this fine instrument: Even right down to the brilliant D’Addario strings installed as standard.
Downsized Hipshot ultralite tuning keys are used, along with a custom ‘A’ type brass bridge with chrome finish for string vibration transfer. Over the pure bone nut we are headlong into pale coloured maple which looks fabulous against the glossy sunburst finish on the body (there are plenty of colour options by the way). The neck is a hand carved C shape and has been finished with Xotic’s own ‘OG1’ oil. Again, hand finished.
I neglected to mention in the video detail the position markers on the fretboard which are Luminova phosphorescent dots. ‘Charged’ under bright light they will glow throughout a performance on a dark stage. Very cool!
The bass sports a great feeling 22 Jescar wire fretted neck - and you’ll be right at home if you are comfortable with 19mm string spacing bridges here. This is a matter of taste (it isn't mine, as it happens) but many players will love this width, so that's something only you will be able to decide.
On to the body and here is where the 'lightweight' tag comes from. Xotic shaves off some front-to back wood keeping the instrument’s weight under control. Most seem to be two-piece alder but Xotic also offers ash as an option. The company says: “Our alder bodies feature 2 piece construction, while our ash bodies are 3 piece. The 3 piece ash body construction is more reminiscent of 70's jazz type ash bodies.” In case it helps, the average weight of a 'lightweight' is said to be under 9lbs, so it is a significant saving when it’s played standing up.
On to the electronics and we have a pair of '60s Jazz positioned Alnico 5 pickups using Formvar wire. I understand that the pickups are voiced with vintage in mind but with a higher output. I’ve read that Xotic spent time ensuring that its pickups and bass construction meant that the B string not only sounded good but was well balanced when compared to the other strings. I’ll support that as the review bass sounded great top to bottom, even in my hands!
Not only are the pickups good but Xotic’s three band EQ on board works very well, too, with the very useful feature of allowing you to bypass it completely for an all-passive mode, should you wish. There’s even a passive tone control topping off the non-powered configuration. Enabled, the XJ takes on a breadth of tone. Some basses when switched in and out of ‘active’ mode sound so different it’s actually very difficult to make use of the two settings but not the Xotic, where I found that going from one mode to another was a smooth process.
In my video I run through the passive options separate to the active mode, but playing live, I found a sweet spot on the EQ that just sounded brilliant in the room. I hope it came across in the video too.
There are some really nice touches on these basses that aren't immediately obvious. For example, I mentioned in the video that dropping the controls in to the body was very welcome and so are the really great wooden pickup covers that not only serve as a ‘ramp’ but also have thumb rests built in too! Great!
You might think that this Xotic is a case of a bass maker trying to reinvent the wheel but many people want a J-style bass without necessarily wanting an original. Well, this is faithful enough to be familiar but different enough to be well worth considering as an alternative. It isn't cheap but then you're really going to have to put it up against something like a Fender Elite 5-string Jazz for a comparison and if you do, you'll see where the Xotic scores.