Modulus Guitars Modulus FBJ5 5A Quilt Maple Top/Clear Gloss Finish, Tortoiseshell Pickguard & Composite Fingerboard 5-String Electric Bass
by Ed Friedland
The carbon fiber bass neck is the brainchild of bassist, bass builder, and former aerospace engineer Geoff Gould. He enlisted Alembic co-founder Rick Turner to help bring this idea to life; forming a company called Modulus Graphite. In 1977, Modulus began by fitting their necks on Alembic basses, but soon introduced the Jazz-styled Bassstar, as well as the Quantum design. Fender-style replacement necks were briefly in production, and between 1980 and 1984, Music Man offered Stingray and Sabre basses with Modulus necks (known as the Cutlass and Cutlass II).
Carbon fiber necks are lightweight, and stiff, and their resonant frequency is above the range of the bass—which allows the strings to vibrate without hindrance, solving the age-old problem of dead spots on the fingerboard. They are essentially unaffected by changes in temperature and humidity—a quality that makes them especially desirable to touring players. Even with the neck’s inherent stability, Modulus uses a two-way adjustable truss-rod for fine-tuning the relief. But it’s not just the neck that makes Modulus instruments special; fine craftsmanship, exotic woods, and great electronics have always been a big part of the their recipe. This month’s review bass is a stunning alder FBJ5 Flea 5-string with a 5A quilted maple top.
The FBJ5 is a 34″ scale 5-string with a 22-fret bolt-on neck and fairly narrow string spacing. Modulus lists their spacing at 17mm, but it’s really 11/16″, or .687″ which turns out to be more like 17.44mm. Close enough? The width at the nut is 13/4″ (the same as most P Basses), while the total spacing at the bridge amounts to 23/4″. Some may find these dimensions a bit tight, but I found the closer spacing made string crossing and chordal playing easier. I had no trouble slapping with the narrow string spacing as well, let’s face it—any bass with Flea’s name on it is going to slap just fine.
While the original Flea bass comes with a Music Man-style humbucker, the FBJ5 has two Bartolini Jazz-type pickups (oh, that’s what the J stands for…) in the standard 60′s J position—2 3/4″ from the center of the bridge coil, and 6 1/4″ from the center of the neck coil to the center of the G string saddle.
Along with the pickups, Bartolini also supplies their tried-and-true NTMB 918FL active circuit (operating in 18-volt mode) which gives +/- 15dB @ 30Hz, +/- 13dB @ 250Hz, and +/- 16dB @ 6KHz. The bass and treble controls are mounted on a concentric pot, while the midrange control stands alone. A blend pot and master volume knob complete the control panel.
Alder is always a great choice for focused low-mid response, and the FBJ5 certainly has a strong voice in that range. The 5A quilted maple top has wonderful depth and dimension, brought out by the perfectly applied glass-like finish. Be forewarned, staring into the quilt for prolonged periods has been known to induce hallucinations. It seems a shame to cover that beautiful wood, but the four-layer tortoise shell pickguard does add a classic vibe to this otherwise modern axe, and the color matches the natural stain nicely.
The graphite neck’s rigidity insures a tight and articulate B string—even with a 34″ scale, but the composite fingerboard, secure neck joint and body wood all contribute to the instrument’s lively tone and outstanding response. Lively is a good word to describe the FBJ5—unplugged this bass rings loud and clear, the B string played fingerstyle is surprisingly audible. Slapping it unplugged, the notes virtually jump out at you, and the neck produces a springy feel that seems to invite thumping.
But this bass is far from a slap-only ax, it’s fast speaking response and flexible eq make it perfect for finger or pick-style playing. The instrument’s inherent tonal quality is bright (graphite and maple contribute to that), but rolling off the treble and bringing up the lows dials in a warm, cushy tone that works great for rootsy stuff. But no matter how much you obscure the natural edge of this bass, the carbon fiber neck has cutting power. This is a bass that will get you heard in the unfriendliest of mixes. The even response, and clear fundamental give the FBJ5 a tonal purity that is seductive.
I recorded the FBJ5 direct into Protools using a Radial Engineering ProDI, with no additional eq or compression added. This month I’m checking out a new cable, the Analysis Plus Bass Oval; I’m finding that it has an extended low-end response. All eq settings for the recording are from the FBJ5′s onboard preamp. The Bartolini eq has a center detent, with 5 being considered flat—all numbers quoted are approximate.
Sample 1 - Using only the neck pickup for this fingerstyle lick, I dialed in the mids to 8, the lows to 6 and the treble flat. It’s a wide-open tone, but the graphite gives it a little crunch on the top end.
Sample 2 - Dialing into the middle position for fingerstyle, I left the eq settings the same as the first example. The bridge pickup tames the wolf a little and adds more detail, as well as opening up the top end a bit.
Sample 3 - The bridge pickup soloed is tight and punchy for fingerstyle. I brought the bass boost up to 8 to compensate for the drop in volume that naturally occurs when you use just the back pickup.
Sample 4 - Slapping on the neck pickup only, I brought the highs up to 8, dropped the mids to 6 and the lows to 7. It has a big, hollow tone, with some nice zing.
Sample 5 - With both pickups going, slapping the FBJ5 sounds more like a “J”, though it does exhibit it’s own uniqueness.
Sample 6 - The bridge pickup soloed gets a nasty funk tone (the good kind!), I dialed in the lows to 9 to beef it up, leaving the highs and mids at their previous settings.
The Modulus FBJ5 is a very cool bass with a modern edge, but it can adapt well to any style of music. It’s cosmetically spectacular, and the graphite neck has stability that wood simply can’t match.
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/.