Nordstrand VJ5 Bass guitar An upmarket American Fender contender, the Nordstrand VJ5 offers custom pickups and circuitry on an impressively constructed five‑string. David Heap F rom humble beginnings, working for the likes of Suhr Guitars and Azola Basses, Carey Nordstrand has taken a leap of faith by opting to manufacture his own style high‑quality bass guitars. He’s been full‑time in this business since December 2002, starting off in his garage, but now operating from a dedicated facility where he builds custom, handcrafted basses using the latest technology and state‑of‑the‑art machinery. Basic models on offer from Nordstrand are the conventionally styled, Fender Jazz‑influenced NJ and NJ Deluxe, plus the more exotic SC and NX basses. The SC is Carey’s take on the single‑cutaway concept, where the upper body joins the neck at around the 12th fret — a design pioneered and developed by Fodera. The NX is a cross between an SC and a set‑neck NJ, resulting in a bass that combines the construction characteristics of the former with styling that suggests a double‑cutaway shape. Each model comes in four‑, five‑ and six‑string versions, finished in satin urethane finish, equipped with Hipshot Ultra‑Lite tuners and Style B bridges, an abalone or pearl logo and DR Sunbeam strings. Scale length options span 33 inches, 33.5 inches, 34 inches, 34.5 inches and 35 inches, but 34 inches is considered standard for four‑stringers, while those featuring five or six strings add an extra half inch. Nordy VJ5 The ‘Nordy’ VJ5 offers another alternative, being Nordstrand’s more obvious interpretation of the Fender Jazz bass. It’s available with four or five strings, plus varied choices of pickups and electrics. The four‑string version features a black alder body and rosewood fingerboard, while a slightly more expensive equivalent of the five‑string PerformingMusician Nordstrand VJ5 £2290 (including gig bag) This American‑made, Fender‑inspired bass is far more Rolls‑Royce than Ford, thanks to excellent build quality, superb sounds and impressive playability. It’s not cheap, but should really suit any player who fancies something more than just another Jazz. Bass Direct +44 (0)1926 886433 www.bassdirect.co.uk 92 March 2008 | performing‑musician.com “Slapping is a dream on this instrument, and with very little tweaking, all the classic sounds can be achieved at a stroke.” review example boasts a birds‑eye maple fretboard and Olympic White finish. The Nordy VJ5’s maple headstock carries five Hipshot Ultra‑Lite Retro tuners, chrome‑plated and set out in the familiar four‑plus‑one configuration conceived by Music Man. The wood has been cleverly scalloped out along the treble side to reduce weight, while still leaving enough wood to accommodate the top string machine head, and also maintain requisite neck resonance. A large circular guide firmly anchors the second and third strings over an impressively installed bone nut. The satin‑finished maple neck is topped by a fingerboard that’s made from a slightly darker‑coloured length of the same lumber, which carries conventional position dots on the face and edge. All 21 vintage slim frets are extremely well fitted into the 30mm - 50mm compound radius board, while the 45mm nut width and 19mm string spacing at the bridge combine to create a four‑string feel on a five‑string bass. Nordstrand’s choice of 876mm (34.5‑inch) scale length for the VJ5 proves to be a really good compromise between the familiar 864mm (34‑inch) option and the higher‑tensioned 889mm (35‑inch) alternative. The VJ5 employs the traditional bolt‑on neck method, with four screws and a chromed metal plate holding the neck firmly within its precisely machined body pocket. Truss rod adjustment is by a hex nut tucked under the end of the fingerboard overhang and easily accessed via a slot in the body. The 40mm thick, two‑piece ash body exhibits the usual rib and forearm contours, plus an ample radius on front and rear edges for extra comfort. The outline is offset in typical Fender Jazz fashion, but there’s no pickguard and rear‑mounted controls obviate the need for the traditional chromed metal plate. The review bass is equipped with the £120 extra cost option of two Nordstrand ‘Fat Stack’ pickups and accompanying coil switch, a partnership that provides the choice of humbucker or single‑coil sounds. The company’s custom Audere circuitry comes as standard and features individual bass, mid and treble controls, with the latter incorporating active boost and passive cut. The other two pots govern volume and pan, and apart from the former all feature usefully well‑defined centre detents. The jack socket is front‑mounted, and round the back a black plastic cover plate conceals the control and battery compartment. The steel bridge/tailpiece is comfortingly simple and traditional, although strings anchor at the back edge of the base plate via slots that allow speedier changes. The five cylindrical saddles are individually adjustable for height and intonation, while the suitably indented base plate prevents sideways movement. Performance Tonally, the Nordy VJ5 is superb for a five‑string bass in the Fender mould, with the Audere preamp’s chosen frequencies that hit all the right spots. The bass control delivers plenty of depth via an uncluttered and smooth, almost sub sound. Middle has a nice honky grunt and treble Tech Spec VJ5 • Ash body. • Bolt‑on maple neck. • 21‑fret maple fingerboard. • 876mm (34.5‑inch) scale. • Two Nordstrand ‘Fat Stack’ pickups. • Volume, balance and three‑band EQ controls; coil switch. • Weight: 4.2kg. Conclusion Overall, this is a really nice bass guitar that delivers some great, tight, funky sounds and equally impressive playability. However, there are a couple of comparatively minor niggles. It would be nice if the body’s generous edge radius could be extended to the neck heel area, as playing in the higher registers can feel quite uncomfortable. My second carp is that, although central on the fingerboard, the position markers don’t line up under the “The Fat Stack pickups and coil switch option certainly offers an extended tonal range…” possesses an attractive presence that provides an almost bell‑like clarity. With the EQ set flat, the bridge pickup sounds very tight and controlled, while the addition of a small amount of treble results in a really good workable tone that should suit most situations. As expected, its partner produces a much rounder response, and upping the bass and treble, while slightly cutting the mid‑range, makes for a wonderfully wiry, piano‑like tone. Slapping is a dream on this instrument, and with very little tweaking, all the classic sounds can be achieved at a stroke. The Fat Stack pickups and coil switch option certainly offers an extended tonal range, and therefore seems to be well worth the extra outlay. middle string. This off‑centre situation is not uncommon on five‑strings and seems to be a cosmetic aspect that’s overlooked by many manufacturers. Although this is undoubtedly a beautiful bass guitar, I’m undecided regarding its value‑for‑money factor. Any instrument over the £2000 threshold needs serious consideration, and I wonder if Carey Nordstrand has strayed too far from his wonderful custom‑made bass strategy into the realms of the almost ordinary. Bass Direct’s £1649 introductory price is far more realistic than the maker’s recommended figure of £2290, especially as the Nordy VJ5 faces some stiff competition in an already pretty packed market. performing‑musician.com | March 2008 93 This article was originally published in Performing Musician magazine, March 2008 edition. Sound On Sound, Media House, Trafalgar Way, Bar Hill, Cambridge, CB23 8SQ, United Kingdom Email: email@example.com Tel: +44 (0) 1954 789888 Fax: +44 (0) 1954 789895 Subscribe & Save Money! Visit our subscriptions page at www.performing-musician.com All contents copyright © SOS Publications Group and/or its licensors, 1985-2008. All rights reserved. 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