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Veillette Centaur & Archtop
by Jonathan Herrera, Bass Player Magazine, May 2007
VEILLETTE GUITARS OF WOOOSTOCK, NEW YORK, builds sensuous basses and guitars with unassuming looks and exceptional workmanship. With each model, Joe Veillette and his assistants, Martin Keith, and Ande Chase, prove themselves ingenious; they're always dreaming up clever new approaches to old ideas, like bridges and neck joints, with striking function and form. Veillette's two latest basses are drastically different in concept, but both share this creative spirit. The Centaur is Veillette's first solidbody, dual-pickup bass, a format that's usually at the center of most builders' lineups. From a distance it looks fairly conventional, but a close look reveals a few significant nuances. Veillette designed the Archtop as a semi-acoustic bass that combines the sound of its archtop guitars-lively low end and midrange-with the classic sounds of an acoustic bass guitar and vintage hollowbody.
The Centaur, unlike its freaky-looking mythological namesake, is a relatively conservatively styled bass, with a non-threatening body contour and headstock that's sure to please swing voters. Strapped or lapped, it feels solid and heavy, with a pleasing chunkiness in the neck's lower register. The radiused top was easy on my forearm; Veillette claims it improves responsiveness while saving weight. Veillette's single-bolt neck joint, uses a steel-flanged T-nut, is exemplary of the company's consistent cleverness. Not only does the design make for a coherent connection, it's easily disassembled for travel. The beautiful bridge combines deep-sunk string anchors with free-floating brass saddles resting on an ebony and wenge plate. Without losing any adjustability, Veillette successfully avoided using wood screws and glue, two culprits they blame for compromised resonance and sustain.
The Centaur's construction is excellent, with a refined attention to detail and top-shelf components throughout. The neck's wenge fingerboard is handsome, and the zero-fret helps open strings sound similar to fretted notes. Veillette sourced some particularly groovy electronics for the Centaur: Citron soapbars and an Audere 3ZB preamp. This is the first bass rn' seen with Citrons (other than Harvey Citron's OWl: instruments), and I hope it's a trend that expands to other builders. Citron's pickups gleam with gilded treble, supple mids, and focused lows. They're precise and musical-dynamic, but controlled. Paired with the high-fidelity Audere preamp, they shine. Audere's fascinating design includes buffers for each pickup, active tone and volume controls, and, most interestingly, user control over the impedance load on the pickups via a three-way switch and a cavity-located socket for capacitors. In short, the preamp offers the conventional means of tone shaping (EQ) as well as altering the pickups' frequency response characteristics via the impedance control. (Look for a full review of the preamp in an upcoming issue).
The Centaur sounds balanced, thick. and elegant. Huge variety is available via the Audere preamp, as its active blend control makes the in-between pickup settings as usable as the soloed or equally blended sounds. Each note is clear and clean, but with a lower-midrange girth that's ever present. The bass's physical chunkiness is echoed in its sound – an excellent quality, unless you favor lacy highs for crispy slap tone. To be fair, Veillette offers brighter electronics packages and an aluminum bridge for more treble response. The Centaur B string speaks well, with excellent clarity and pitch definition below E.
|No screws or glue here: The Centaur's beautiful bridge stays put with string tension alone.||Like the Centaur, string tension holds in the Archtop's bridge tightly to the body. It's slotted sides slide perfectly into the Archtop's semi-hollow body|
Veillette's Archtop bass aims to straddle the murky line between acoustic bass guitars. archtop "jazz boxes," and vintage thudmatic hollowbodies. To accomplish this. Veillette used an ebony and wenge dovetail bridge, a soft cedar top, a D- TAR Eclipse preamp to blend between magnetic and piezo sounds, and a chambered body. I'd say mission accomplished. The Archtop is a fascinating bass; its tones range from familiar magnetic-pickup-driven slice to thick, dull, and warm acoustic-y thump.
As with the Centaur, the Archtop's construction and components are top-shelf. The instrument has a cozy, understated vibe thanks to the burnished lacquer finish and richly stained woods. Playability is excellent; the small body snuggled into my body without protest (if only they all did that), and the shallow-C profile neck was instantly comfortable. Its balance is just okay, as it tends to neck-dive due to the smallish body.
The Archtop's electronics are refreshingly simple. A D-TAR Eclipse preamp handles blending and buffering between the bass's piezo and magnetic pickups. EQ is limited to treble rolloff, like a passive bass's tone controL The limited electronics put the focus on technique and touch and highlighted the two pickups' distinctively different colors. With the Citron soapbar soloed, the Archtop has a midrange-heavy sound; notes have a pliant give, rather than an edgy immediacy Rolling down the tone brings the sound closer to a traditional solidbody, with fat fundamental. The soloed piezo sound didn't shine with the tone full up, but as I rolled it down, the Archtop's most compelling sounds emerged. Despite its size, the Veillette's treble-attenuated piezo sound is huge and round, not unlike an upright. The Archtop captures the unique dynamic of an acoustic's attack and decay response. Veillette quite cleverly used a soft cedar top in order to absorb energy from the string, and it worked. Blending in a bit of the Citron pickup brings the Archtop into clearer focus: The setting is ideal for capitalizing on the buttery mids and sweet treble for solos and other delicate passages.
HALF & HALF
Both the Centaur and the Archtop truly capture what boutique bass building ought to be about: smart, competent luthiers dreaming up unique solutions to players' enduring challenges. You won't find either Veillette bass at your local music mega mart, but I hear Woodstock is lovely in the summer.