Overwater is one of the UK's longest established and most highly regarded custom bass manufacturers. Its Tanglewood volume-produced models have impressed us before - and now there are two newcomers to the range at even better prices! Can the newcomers really justify wearing the prestigious Overwater badge? Dan Veall finds out.
Back in issue five, we looked at something unusual - a volume produced Overwater bass. Overwater has an illustrious history of offering handmade basses of the very highest quality, stretching back to the 1970s, but commissioning a range of instruments to be made in the Far East is always a gamble and some illustrious brands have come horribly unstuck when they've tried it. Not, we found, Overwater, whose strategy of teaming-up with the highly regarded Tanglewood acoustic company gave it access to the best factories and a company highly experienced at handling this sort of operation. The Aspiration Deluxe ( http://licklibrary.ceros.com/iguitarmag/iguitar-mag-issue-5-john-petrucci/issue5/page/174 ) got a top score - but what happens when Overwater and Tanglewood try to reach towards the entry-level? Let's find out!
From the start, the two newcomers looked impressive as we took them from the packaging and a closer inspection certainly didn't disappoint. I had the Standard (passive) model on my lap first and was impressed with both the set-up and the finish. I accept that in order to keep the price down, the bass cannot feature the premium hardware of its boutique brethren, but the hardware that is included is certainly functional and rewards us with a usable tone with no undue buzzes or rattles.
Speaking of tone, I spoke to Overwater's founder, Chris May, who told me that even on this entry level instrument, the passive 'J style' single coil pickups are custom wound specifically for this model. A nice touch.
The passive electronics, featuring volume, pan control and 'treble roll-off' tone control all work as expected, with a smooth response throughout each of their travels. Check out the video for examples of the sounds available from the bass. Plugged in the bass has a great passive tone to it. Quite organic!
The metallic red finish is blemish free and coats a poplar body on to which a one piece maple neck is bolted. There's a neat set of mini Gotoh tuning keys and I love the attention to detail which means that even a budget Overwater bass has a matching coloured headstock.
We're also treated to a full 24 fret neck with a 19mm spacing and a 40mm nut width that feels nice and slim and quick to navigate. - Incidentally, both basses come fitted as standard with Overwater's own light gauge nickel strings.
The 'Standard' model has some great features, but Overwater felt that there was an opportunity for another variant of the Standard model to fit in before you get to the Aspiration Elite, Deluxe, Artist, Classic J and Contemporary models. That's right! There really is something for every four or five string player in the range.
So next up in the Aspiration range is the very tasteful metallic white 'Standard Plus'. This model features better components and a totally different voice to that of the 'Standard' model - and for not a lot more money! First of all we have the same poplar body with a bolt on maple neck the main differences being hardware related as the electronics feature a John East 'Aspiration' active circuit paired up with the same Aspiration passive soap bars that you'd find in the company's Deluxe series basses. The active circuit is a two-band model featuring bass and treble cut and boost as well as a 'pull up' bright switch on the volume control should you need it. The neck has a rosewood fret board again and we are treated to 24 high nickel silver frets that are much harder than you will find on cheaper mass produced basses. Chris May wanted to make clear that even with a price conscious instrument, he wants to see these models, just like the premium counterparts, enjoying a long service life. Good for him!
Out of the two instruments, the Standard model with the J pickups was a joy, but plugging in the Standard Plus unleashed a fantastic vibrant, modern and characteristic tone. The Overwater Standard Plus certainly does a good job of showing up weaknesses of other mass produced instruments at the same price point! I also really like that metallic white finish too. It's not a bright white, more of a 'hint of vintage' in there. Looks great under the studio lights. Think I might like a white bass next purchase! Classy!
It's clear that the combination of Overwater's experience making handmade basses for professionals and Tanglewood's ability to make mass produced instruments to an uncommonly high standard has been a success. We are firmly in mainstream bass territory here where there may be bass beginners who simply haven't heard of Overwater and may not realise that what they are being offered is like finding a Bentley for Ford money. We can only hope that retailers take them aside and explain why these basses shouldn't be confused with run of the mill mass market instruments. Price notwithstanding, they are in a different class - particularly the Standard Plus.