Ectomorph Mercury Bass

25 March 2012 | 1:36 pm | Staff Writer

Ectomorph basses are a relatively new diversification, from long-time woodwind specialists, Tom Sparkes Instrument Repairs. Their luthiers, Rob and Paul, both stand well over six foot tall, and thus had little problem conceiving an appropriate brand name for their custom made range. They aim to '...match people to instruments…' by involving '…customers in every aspect of bass building'. Consequently, Ectomorph offers a diverse roster of handmade basses, starting from $1400. (The guys also manufacture guitars, and have recently been invited to produce one for The Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl). Our Mercury test bass featured many of the materials, construction and hardware choices available from their exhaustive options list, and is subsequently priced at $3200 (including a quality gig bag).

Ectomorph

Visually, the Mercury presents contemporary, yet quite distinctive, styling. Its flowing body is primarily stained black, with a red relief outlining the pickup and bridge area (a highlight which is repeated on the headstock face) and is finished with a clear lacquer. A multiple oiled/cut finish seals the neck and a bass clef is inlaid at the twelfth fret. All the hardware is chrome, except the pot knob tops, which are pearlescent.

Construction wise, the bass featured well matched, quality tone woods, the grain visible on the body being particularly appealing. The neck offered an addictive combination of body and taper, with position changes being especially effortless. A good balance of note absorption and reflection was available from the fretboard, and the Graphtec nut was well profiled to the DR Black Beauties strings. The glued neck configuration helped to produce a defined, yet integrated, B string tension and sound. Truss rod adjustment is available at the headstock.

Ectommorh1

The instrument arrived with a comprehensive medium setup; the neck relief, string radii, intonation and pickup heights combined beautifully to produce clean, sustaining and tuneful notes, whilst still offering a very comfortable action. Balance was good on the supplied leather strap, but the Mercury was prone to moderate neck diving when played on my lap (a compromise with the excellent upper fret access provided by the deeply cutaway lower horn). At 4.5kg, the bass was no heavier than an average ash bodied 4 string, and its 19mm string spacing at the bridge will also feel natural to traditional players. Unusually, the bass's neck/body join featured ergonomic blending, via some clever woodworking. Slappers might feel somewhat restricted in the modest popping area afforded by the neck/neck pickup relationship, but again, this is a trade off (in this instance, balancing a two octave range against optimum string sampling requirements).

I was particularly impressed by the Mercury's electronics package; from the intuitive placement of the knobs and switches, to the transparent tones offered by its 9 volt circuit. The preamp offers a solid passive mode (handy for alternate sounds/battery failure), perhaps only lacking a highs roll off option for old school tones. The active controls provide ample boost/cut for well chosen bass, middle and treble frequencies and all include centre detent (flat) positions. Additionally, a more sensitive and wider band mid frequency is accessed by pulling the corresponding knob. The pickup blend pot and coil tap switches are functional in both passive and active modes. Ectomorph have deliberately mismatched impedances to emphasise the inherent strengths of the pickup locations  Dual batteries (dedicated for preamp and fibre optics) are housed in separate quick release compartments on the rear of the body. A single LED lights all dot strands, for maximum battery life.

Soloed for practicing, the Mercury delivered an astonishing array of voices, and never made its long scale/five string specification tiresome. In rehearsals (with my son's unsubtle drumming) the bass spoke extremely solidly and articulately, without the need for big volume or dramatic equalisation. At a jam session, with multiple guitars and keyboard etc., the Ectomorph drew favourable comments (both aesthetically and sonically) from many performers and audience members alike. In passive single coil mode, the instrument immediately locked with the drum kit, providing a clear supportive voice. With its active circuit engaged, the Mercury was only a knob twist away from any tone imaginable; all settings remained extremely musical and unbelievably hiss free, even at stage volume, through my tweeter equipped cab.

I did detect a few purely cosmetic shortcomings with our tester; woodworking and finish inconsistencies which would not normally be evident in production line guitars (perhaps this is the nature of, or even a justification for, a handmade instrument?). From a functionality viewpoint, I would have preferred to see some additional fretboard markers, in the event of a battery/LED failure (although the side dots are subtle and undeniably cool!).

The Mercury represents a unique balance of individuality, function and value; I am unaware of another bass around this price point, which covers so much territory. Ectomorph makes a compelling argument with the Mercury, or alternately with their custom shop service (with choices including naming your own design instrument and having your initials as its serial number prefix!). You might, for instance, want to replicate the mojo of your favourite P bass neck, attached to a novel body shape, featuring a custom circuit, finished with a harlequin paintjob, or so on. In Rob's own words, “…if you want it, I'll build it”. Judging from our test instrument, I am confident that he and Paul can admirably do exactly that.

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

Features:

  • One piece quilted maple body
  • Set-in 35” scale curly maple neck w/ red LED side dot markers
  • Twenty-four fret ebony fingerboard w/ Dunlop
  • Jumbo fretwire
  • Badass V bridge
  • Bartolini pickups (BD5C bridge/BD5CBC neck) w/coil tap switches for single/dual operation
  • Bartolini 5.2AP preamp
  • Gotoh enclosed back lightweight machine heads
  • Jim Dunlop straplocks

RRP: $3200