The Bass Whisperer Reports: Elrick Gold Series eVolution Bolt-On 5-String, Buckeye Burl Top/Swamp Ash Body, Birdseye Maple Fingerboard, Black Hardware, Soapbar Pickups w/ Hardshell Case
by Ed Friedland
If you use attractive woods, it isn’t very difficult to build a bass that looks good. Lately, even some of the lowest price-point imports are coming in with fancy quilted maple tops that give the impression of quality. While cosmetic appeal is nice, what really matters is the craftsmanship under the cap. Chicago-based luthier Rob Elrick understands that tone and playability are the first priorities, but man… he sure does know how to make them look purty too! This month’s bass has a stunning Buckeye Burl top (with matching headstock) that will activate any bass player’s salivary glands. Bass Emporium owner John Files let me take this bass home to review with the understanding that I would wear my drool cup at all times.
Tool, Or Work Of Art?
In the pursuit of artistic beauty, it is possible to lose sight of function—there are many custom basses on the market that might better serve as a coffee table than a musical instrument. While the intricate designs and exotic woods are visually interesting, playing them often proves disappointing. In some instances, these instruments are so over-the-top fancy that you might be reluctant to subject them to the hazards of gigging. Elrick is one of those rare builders that can successfully balance beauty and practicality, creating truly functional art.
Eschewing glossy lacquer, Elrick basses receive hand-rubbed oil finishes that enhance the pattern of the wood, allow for better resonance, and keep maintenance simple. Another hallmark of the Elrick brand is low weight—the review bass clocks in at a svelte 7.9lbs! Even packed in its supplied ultra-light “zero-gravity” case, the Elrick weighs less than most of the basses I own. But its no lightweight when it comes to tone—listening to it unplugged reveals an acoustic quality rarely heard in a solidbody bass. The bass has a remarkably even response across all 5 strings, with a clear, audible attack, and plenty of volume—I couldn’t wait to plug it in!
Wood-e And You
The body is primarily Swamp Ash, a wood bassists love for it’s beautiful open grain, low weight, great low frequency transmission and crisp highs. Elrick Gold Series instruments are offered with either Swamp Ash or Alder as standard choices, but other woods are available for an additional fee. The aforementioned Buckeye Burl cap and headstock overlay is a spectacular piece of wood with striking grey, dark green and black accent tones.
The eVolution body style is substantial, but with its rounded edges and generous belly-cut, feels sculpted and refined. The extended top horn balances the instrument well, and places the 35″ scale neck within comfortable reach.
The three-piece, quarter-sawn hard maple neck (quarter-sawn Wenge is a standard option) is deeply seated into the body, and secured with 5 bolts in an asymmetrical pattern. A super-tight fit at the neck pocket insures there will be no slop here, and built-in graphite reinforcement rods supply rigidity without weight.
Even a mundane feature like the control cavity cover benefits from Elrick’s expert woodworking—cut from the body wood and attached by 6 counter-sunk screws, the seam is so small; it almost appears watertight (although I don’t recommend testing that theory…).
The lower cutaway is deep and allows for total access to the top fret—good news for those of us that like to play Em7 arpeggios starting with our pinky on the 24th fret. The deeply scooped neck heel is both practical and beautiful—its sculpted curve is echoed on the neck itself, and forms a perfect place for your thumb as you move into the “no money zone”.
With a total width of 3″ at the bridge (aluminum by Hipshot), the 3/4″ string spacing gives you plenty of space for slapping. Tapering down to 1 & 7/8″ at the nut, the Elrick’s playing surface feels comfortable and well proportioned.
The review bass came with a gorgeous, upgraded Birdseye Maple fingerboard with position markers along the top. While many people love the look of an unmarked fingerboard, I’ll voice my preference for position markers on the fretboard. Like all Erick basses, the eVolution is built with a zero fret. Although once a feature associated with inexpensive instruments (it saves time when you don’t have to cut the nut properly), many high-end luthiers adopted the zero fret because it gives the open string the same timbre as fretted notes.
The angled headstock is spliced on to the neck with a beefy joint for strength, and gives the B string a few extra inches of string length behind the nut. While many people refute the effect of string length past the points of contact (the bridge and the nut) I say: It doesn’t hurt!
Lightweight black matte-finish HipShot tuners look very deluxe next to the headstock overlay, function flawlessly and help maintain the instruments balance.
The Power Station
It’s not unusual to see a bass with Bartolini humbuckers and 3-band eq, they are the choice of many builders—and for good reason. The Bart system provides even, full-range tone with plenty of flexibility. The control panel is straight-forward—master volume, blend, treble, mid and bass controls form a single row across the lower edge of the bass. There are two toggle switches—one for passive/active operation, and one that switches the midrange frequency between 250Hz, 500Hz and 800Hz.
While it’s nice to have the power of the eq at your fingertips, the instrument’s essential tone is full and well-defined—this bass doesn’t need much help.
The Evolution 5 has a punchy attack and a woody tone—two Fender-like qualities that are not often found in boutique instruments—and in my opinion, make this instrument that much more desirable. Between the two pickups, 3-band eq, (and a good set of hands…) it is possible to coax any sound you want from this beauty; thick bottom with a glassy top end for slap, in-your-face mids for fingerstyle soloing, dark, chunky old-school thump, edgy definition for pickstyle—you name it. The inherently even response makes playing the Elrick’s full range a treat—no overly booming low notes, no disappearing G string—every note on the axe speaks clear and full. The supplied Elrick brand medium gauge stainless steel strings have well-balanced tension, a clear fundamental, and a musical edge that suits the instrument’s subtle character.
I recorded the Elrick Gold Series eVolution 5 string direct into Pro Tools with a Radial Engineering Pro DI using Evidence Audio Lyric HG cable.
Sample 1 - Both pickups on full, played fingerstyle: The Elrick is round and full, without sounding bloated. Great definition with a musical warmth make this default setting perfect for a wide range of situations.
Sample 2 - Soloing the neck pickup brings out an unexpected brightness that helps this fat boy cut through the mix.
Sample 3 -The bridge pickup speaks fast and clear, but still has enough depth supporting the tone to make it useful for other things besides taking a solo. And of course, if you want to solo, it’s very happening.
Sample 4 - With both pickups up full, the Elrick is not obnoxiously bright, so I boosted the treble eq to bring out the sparkle, and added some lows to beef up the slapping. What you get is a classic full-range tone.
Sample 5 - Slapping on the front pickup, I’m able to pull back on the eq a bit. This setting has a cool, almost hollow tone with a nice edge.
Sample 6 - Slapping with the bridge pickup gets a very Stanley-ish vibe. With this setting, you can really hear the complex overtones of the lowest notes.
Spectacular tone in a lightweight, well-balanced package is enough for most people, but combine that with drop-dead gorgeous looks and you’ve got a real winner. Elrick basses have all the sex appeal you would expect in a high-end custom, but they also retain the useful qualities of your favorite workhorse axe.
Ed Friedland is a renowned Bassist, Educator and Author. He has authored over 15 books and DVDs and has played with the likes of Joe Beck, Larry Coryell, Robben Ford, Paul Horn, Clay Jenkins, Mike Metheny, Bud Shank, Lew Tabackin & Michal Urbaniak to name just a few. Ed is also currently teaching at Bass Emporium in Austin, Texas. Check out the Ed Friedland website for full information about him at http://www.edfriedland.com/.