Performing Musician Review
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
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
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
March 2008 | performing‑
“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.
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
• 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.
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
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
performing‑ | March 2008
This article was originally published in Performing Musician magazine, March 2008 edition.
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