At Veillette Custom Luthiery in Woodstock, New York, we build unique instruments by hand, often collaborating with customers to explore new directions.
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Veillette Singlecut Retro 4-string Bass
Joe Veillette has been involved in making guitars and basses since the 70s and during his career has been associated with other notable luthiers Harvey Citron, Stuart Spector and Michael Tobias. Veillette are best known for building baritone guitars and acoustic/electric instruments, but now also produce a more conventional electric bass with a bolt-on neck and a distinctive single cutaway. These basses come in two main flavours, Modern or Retro, but all are custom made so there is an extensive list of options to choose from when placing your order. We received a 4- string Retro model with optional upgraded maple top and black tuners.
As a design, the single cutaway is more commonly associated with guitars such as Les Pauls but thanks to modern luthiers, particularly Fodera, this design is also making it into the bass market. Veillette's aim in using the single cutaway is to combine vintage-like bolt-on tone with the enhanced frequency response, clarity and stability of neck-through basses. The neck is joined using three large hexagonal (alien key) bolts and Veillette claims that the extra support provided by the body extension results in an extremely stable joint, while the broad contact area augments neck-to-body resonance.
BGM RATINGSThe first thing people notice about the Veillette is its diminutive stature. If this bass was an actor think more along the lines of Danny De Vito than Arnold Schwarzenegger. The size combined with the single cutaway gives it a distinctive air of modernity but it still manages to retain a decent level of familiarity for the traditionalist. For the Retro series Veillette adopt the regular 34" scale length and use only passive electronics for a clean, traditional sound with the minimum of fuss.
BUILD QUALITY 20
WOW FACTOR 19
TOTAL SCORE 96/100
Fellow Woodstock-based luthier Harvey Citron provides the pickups, which are humbucking and based on ceramic magnets, said to increase midrange cut. These are controlled by a simple volume, pan, tone arrangement, but that's not all, pulling up on the tone control completely removes it from the circuit, making more high-end available.
The bridge is made of individual string units that bolt completely through the body and not simply screwed in to the surface. This is supposed to improve sustain and attack, and with the option of through-body stringing the most is made of the resonant possibilities.
Strap on the Veillette and your back breathes a sigh of relief. Weighing in at only 7.5 pounds (3.4kg) puts it firmly in the light or even featherweight category, making my 5-string feel like a millstone. The balance of the bass took a little getting used to – with the lower strap button being off-centre and the upper body chamfering, the bass tends to tilt in towards you, rather than being perfectly perpendicular to the floor. Actually once I got used to this I found it to aid position shifting as the neck stays at a consistent angle wherever you play. The neck feels very comfortable and easy to get about. It's slimmer than a Fender but is still deep enough to give you something to hold on to. Having a wenge fingerboard is reminiscent of a Warwick, but overall the neck on the Veillette is wider and flatter.
A single cutaway changes the playing perspective slightly, which is obviously more pronounced at the upper end of the fretboard. The only thing that takes a bit of getting used to is being slightly restricted to where your thumb can be placed. There is a groove along the neck join, which your thumb fits into very neatly, but it might take a while to get used to putting it there if it doesn't land there naturally, which mine didn't!
In use the Veillette is lively and expressive. The graphite-reinforced neck gives a consistent tone all over and the bass feels nimble and responsive. Despite the lightweight and small body, the bass still feels stable and purposeful, giving you the feeling that you can dig in without any danger of breaking it. The excellent balance and thoughtful body design mean the bass sits well and doesn't move around too much, all adding to the sense of stability.
The Citron pickups sound well matched to the overall resonant design and a wide palette of sounds is on offer from the simple passive set-up. The rear pickup gives off plenty of bite and midrange 'grind' reminiscent of the Fodera/Garrison sound that can really help you to cut through, particularly in the middle/upper registers. Conversely the front pickup is very full- bodied and bass rich, projecting a rotund stature that belies the Veillette's svelte figure. The real fun lies in blending the two pickups and I found a bounty of useable sounds on offer, more so than with most dual pickup basses. Generally I found myself biasing the front pickup to a greater or lesser degree and for any solo opportunities switching round to favour the more cutting rear pickup. Having the option to completely bypass the tone control means a purer and more full-range sound gets to the amp, resulting in more bright presence that normally requires fresh strings and high frequency horns to make the most of. I really warmed to the Veillette, and the more time I spent with it the more obvious its quality became. It's not a showy boutique bass with lots of extras, but what it does it does really well. I liked the simplicity of the passive set-up and didn't find it restricted the available sounds thanks to the individually distinctive pickups. Combine that with the modern singlecut design and you end up with a bass that nicely straddles classic and contemporary, and being so lithe and lightweight means you can play it to your heart's content without risk of strain or injury.
Making a bass like this available to the UK market at a reasonable price is a great move and something we'd all like to see more of. Veillette are setting high standards here and it would be great to see others in on the act.
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