Sadowsky Metro RV4HPJ-OWH Hybrid P/J, Precision Bass, Alder Body/Rosewood Fingerboard in Olympic White w/ Hardshell Case
by Ed Friedland
In 1979, Roger Sadowsky was a luthier handling repairs for New York City’s top session players. Working on the Fender basses that launched a thousand hit records, he soon determined there was a market for a high quality Fender-style instrument built with the modifications he was regularly asked to perform: active electronics, improved pickups, and superior fretwork. He was right. Over the years, Sadowsky basses have become a benchmark for quality—and in the process, have raised the bar for all builders.
The Metro series is Sadowsky’s more affordable line of instruments, built in Japan by his highly-skilled Tokyo-based crew. But the Metro is in no way a compromise in terms of quality or tone. By limiting finishes and options, the Tokyo shop is able to produce instruments faster while maintaining the high standards set by the NYC-built instruments.
THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS?
This month’s review instrument is a Metro RV4HPJ-OWH, which designates: Rosewood/Alder (fingerboard/body), Vintage (slightly undersized P-size body) 4 string, Hybrid (Jazz width neck), PJ (Precision and Jazz pickups), in Olympic White.
The Hybrid is a relatively new offering in the Metro line, and is available in both PJ and standard P configurations. While many players love the classic chunky tone of a Precision bass, not everyone cares for the P’s wider neck. The Hybrid uses the standard Jazz Bass 1.5″ nut width, and while the 12″ fingerboard radius is slightly flatter than a typical Jazz bass, it feels comfortable and familiar under the hand.
The PJ pickup configuration is now an industry standard, but its origins are firmly rooted in the era of judgment-impaired DIY bass modifications—the 70′s. As slap bass, and Jaco both took hold of bass player’s ears, thousands of P-bassers added J pickups to their axes. If we only knew then how much it would cost us in terms of the instrument’s value 30 years later… Well, that’s bong water under the bridge I suppose.
The PJ configuration in many ways does offer the best of both worlds. Separately—you get the wooly bark of the classic P bass, or the detailed articulation of the bridge position J pickup. But the combination of the two does have it’s own unique sonic signature. For fingerstyle playing, the PJ combination tempers the woof of the Precision—the bottom, while certainly not deficient, is more contained. The J pickup adds a midrange presence with great cutting power, also a plus for pickstyle. Slapping the PJ, you hear a distinct voice—perhaps not quite as open as a Jazz configuration, but has become a new standard for many thumpers thanks to players like Victor Wooten. Let’s take a closer look at what makes this Metro RV4 Hybrid PJ an exceptional example of this species.
SUM OF THE PARTS
The Metro Hybrid PJ has an alder body, a classic tone wood loved for it’s punchy low-mid focus, while the bolt-on maple neck and 21-fret rosewood fingerboard completes a classic platform. While these elements are not unusual, Sadowsky’s very deliberate wood selection process insures that every instrument is a winner. In addition to top-notch materials, the construction is airtight—the neck pocket creates a rock solid home for the neck heel, and the frets are deeply seated, and crowned to perfection. The Olympic White finish is covered in a thin polyester finish that doesn’t choke the tone—the end result of all this attention is a highly responsive bass with excellent resonance.
The hardware is all first rate: Hipshot Ultra-Light tuners are a welcome feature, they provide a classic look with improved performance, and help in the battle against neck-dive.
The Sadowsky bridge has beefy saddles and a quick-release design that makes changing strings simple.
The Sadowsky P and noiseless J pickups are the same models as those found in the NYC basses, and the split-coil J pickup eliminates all concerns of the single-coil hum that plagued most homegrown 1970′s PJ conversions.
The Sadowsky preamp circuit is also the same as in the NYC models, a two-band boost-only system that provides +13dB at 40Hz for the lows and 4kHz for the highs. With the tone controls set at zero, the eq is considered flat. This instrument also has the Vintage Tone Control, a low-pass filter that works in passive or active mode.
The control layout from neck to bridge is: master volume, pickup pan (Sadowsky sets the bridge pickup in the clockwise position and the neck counter-clockwise), VTC/preamp bypass (bypass is activated via push/pull pot), and concentric bass/treble.
As a long-time Fender user, strapping on the Sadowsky felt completely natural. While it has the look, feel and tone (in passive mode) of a vintage favorite, it offers many more options than my trusty old reliable. While the pickup combinations and electronics present a large tonal palette, the bass itself is just THERE. It responds quickly to the slightest change in attack, and rewards good technique with a sonic integrity that is hard to find in an average instrument. In fact, while recording the samples, I noticed glitches in my technique that forced me to concentrate a little harder to get it right. Don’t get me wrong, the bass plays like butter, but if I got sloppy or lazy, I could hear it. Good news for those that actually practice!
In passive mode, the Sadowsky exhibits the tendencies of a great Fender—P or J. The Precision tone is warm and thick, what else can I say? It’s a great P bass. The J pickup in passive mode nails the stuttering Jaco thing, and while it may not be as inherently bright as a traditional single coil, all the high end you could ever want is just a quarter turn away.
The Sadowsky preamp has +13dB of boost, so cranking it is not advisable—”a little goes a long way” is your new mantra. In active mode with the controls flat, you’ll find the passive tone of the instrument remains mostly intact, but boosting just a tad on either band opens up a new character. Rolling the bass boost to “3″ gives you a round extended low end that is just right for filling out the bottom. Once you go above “5″, it gets thick—adding some highs (or bringing in the bridge pickup) will bring back the articulation. Going big on the low boost works well with just the J pickup—kind of like driving the bus from the backseat.
The treble control adds sparkle and clarity, but again—caution is advised, you can easily go too far. Luckily, the VTC also works in active mode, so you can temper the edge. The two-band eq, VTC and pickups are very interactive, and spending the time to learn how they work together will yield a myriad of great sounds ranging from classic to ultra-modern. It seems “the best of both worlds” applies not only to the P and J pickups, but also to the passive and active tones this versatile bass offers.
I recorded the Sadowsky Metro Hybrid PJ direct into ProTools using a Radial Engineering Pro DI and Evidence Lyric Audio cable. No additional eq was used, with only minimal compression on the slap samples.
Track 1 - The passive P Bass tone is classic, and the Metro nails it. Fat, chunky, with a velvety sweetness.
Track 2 - Kicking in the preamp with the tone controls set around “2″, you hear a more present P sound, a little bit of zing, and rounder on the bottom.
Track 3 - Passive mode, pan control straight up in the middle-the J pickup takes away some of the wide bottom of the P, but it brings greater definition to the party.
Track 4 - Both pickups with some low eq to round out the bottom, a little bit of treble and a slight rolloff of the VTC gets a full, articulate tone.
Track 5 - The J pickup soloed in passive mode speaks quick and clear. It has punch and clarity, with a natural, organic quality.
Track 6 - Adding the preamp to the solo J pickup, I dialed in some lows to fatten it up, a little highs to keep it clear, then pulled back a tad with the VTC to smooth out the top.
Track 7 - Slapping a passive P Bass is a classic 70′s tone. Think Pops Popwell with the Crusaders, David Hungate on Boz Scagg’s “Lowdown”. The Sadowsky has more natural high end than your typical P bass, which translates into getting heard in a mix.
Track 8 - Popping in the active eq produces a glassy sheen and pillowy bottom to the classic P-slap tone.
Track 9 - With the P and J together in passive mode, the slap tone thins out a bit, it might even be a little nasal. The J pickup and treble coil of the P pickup are right next to each other, so they pick up the tone from the same zone. That’s just the way it is.
Track 10 - Kicking in the onboard eq really livens up the PJ combination for slapping. Boosting the highs and lows effectively creates a mid-scoop that overrides any tendencies toward honkiness.
Track 11 - Slapping on the J soloed in passive mode is not a texture I would typically go for. It is by nature a bit thin, and edgy. Not to say there is no use for that, and this bass certainly sounds as good as I could expect any bass to sound this way… I’m just sayin’… it’s not something I would do.
Track 12 - Now, that’s more like it! The active eq brings the soloed J pickup into another realm for slapping. Just enough lows to fatten it up, just enough highs to make it shine. THIS I can use!
The Sadowsky Metro Hybrid PJ is a workhorse with a champion’s bloodline. It can nail most of the classic Fender tones that never lose their appeal for live and studio applications, and do it with a vividness that practically jumps out at you. The P and J pickups, the J neck, the active/passive option and Vintage Tone Control all combine to make this bass an excellent choice for any musical situation.
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/.