Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Review: the Jay Dee Supernatural series III
The Mark King III.
Jay Dee are made in UK by John Diggins, hence the name.
Mine is a 1987. I fell in love with it from the first time I played it. Back then I couldn't afford more than two basses. So I had to sell a 1977 Music Man Sting Ray to buy one. Don't ask.
This bass is a display of great craftsmanship. Over thirty different pieces of wood are used for the construction. The body wings are Brazilian Mahogany and the neck is a five piece Walnut and Maple laminate.
The 21 fret fingerboard is made of Ebony and it originally had MOP dots. The nut is Ivory. The P-Ups are sealed inside a Ebony, Maple and Mahogany cover - a little masterpiece. The front of the uniquely shaped headstock sports a beautiful top and veneer.
The only part they don't make is the Schaller tuners which are as precise and reliable as one would expect.
The most interesting feature of this bass to me is the fact that it looks like a neck through but is actually a glued neck. Go to the JD Gallery to see how this is done - link provided below.
The string holders are made of massive bell-quality brass. The bridge itself - also in brass - is screwed to a brass plate sunk into the body. The two parts together lend a very unique look to the instrument.
Then again, everything about this bass is unique. Which is probably why it's a love or hate type of instrument. There is no denying that the somewhat retro style divides people. I love it, obviously.
The body is gracefully contoured leaving no sharp angles and is a pleasure to hold. The finish is exceptional. After so many years of playing it still looks new with little sign of wear and tear.
The neck is flat, thin and makes for very fast playing. Unfortunately, the combination of thin neck, soft woods and the rather weak truss rod in this '87 model, resulted in a very temperamental neck.
Much like vintage cars, it succumbs to the slightest humidity and temperature changes. Having changed addresses many times across two continents I became a bit of an reluctant expert on this topic.
Good thing is, I learned to have the basic tools with me all the time. Still, a moody neck is not something too desirable in a high end instrument.
Last year I wrote to Mr. Diggins, a very likable person. He advised me to replace the old truss rod and confirmed that for quite some time now they had been using a far superior rod, putting an end to the problem. You've got to love progress! ;)
Needless to say, with the neck back in shape I fell for this bass all over again.
Playing this thing is a pleasure. It is well balanced, surprisingly light and the strap locks push the body slightly towards the left of the player, making it perfect for slapping.
This position makes it easier for the left hand to move around the 18th/21st fret area. It requires a bit of stretching to reach the first fret though, so small sized players be forewarned - and to those playing with the neck at a sharp angle.
There is a metal knob for master Volume and another for Tone control, which works on both active a passive selection. A toggle switches the Eq On/Off.
The three smaller Eq knobs are very nice looking in black plastic with MOP top. The Eq on my JD (B/M/T) is perhaps not the most versatile on the market and I personally don't particularly like the Treble sound when rotated fully clock-wise. But the Eq works well overall. Jay Dee confirmed last year that new basses are mounting the same electronics.
When you open the Eq compartment you'll see the large recess full with circuitry very neatly put together. I have no idea what brand the Eq is though, probably JD made? If anyone does, please add a comment here.
The P-ups selector is a large switch with On-Off/Bridge/Two P-ups/Neck position. The ON position also tuns on a small red light so you know. The light gets dimmer when the battery starts running low - nice.
Just make sure to lower the volume on your amp when you switch the bass off or you'll hear the speakers popping - not nice.
Many seem to agree that a switch is preferable to a balance pot because it produces a cleaner signal. Be as it may, most basses come with a P-U balance or separate volume knobs, probably recognizing that players out there need all the in-between nuances to find a personal sound. I share that sentiment, even more so on this bass - more on this later.
Finally, the bass mounts a standard jack and an Balanced DI.
The Jay Dee Voice.
The overall tone is very organic, resonant. It almost feels like you could hear the sound of the wood unfiltered. It's very unique. You hear it, you know it's a Jay Dee.
The bridge P-U produces a sound that is punchy and nasal like many wouldn't expect from a Mahogany bass. The neck PU sounds very rounded, with an almost acoustic quality to it. Its very distinctive, but I have yet to find the right sound environment for it - after 23 years! Perhaps in a semi-acoustic lineup? It does add to the versatility of the bass though.
The two P-ups together produce a killer slap sound - rounded, percussive, sharp, compressed. To me it almost gives a voice to the bouncing of the strings. With light gauge stainless steel strings (.40, .35 or .30) it's a flying slap machine.
Which is why I earlier said I am not keen on the way the P-ups selector works. If only this bass had a Balance instead one could explore its infinite combination. As it is, I just hardly use the neck P-U. I wonder why it was designed that way. Perhaps I will ask Jay Dee to change that for me ;)
I have also noticed that the overall output is not as high as many high end basses. I'm not too sure why. But when I play it together with another bass - particularly with Wal or Steinberger - I often need two separate volume settings. Has anyone else noticed that?
The Supernatural was brought to international attention by Mark King of Level 42 in the mid eighties. However it was not designed in team with Mr. King. It was merely the bass he used. He later gave permission to name it after him.
Mark King & Jay Dee was a perfect marriage. If the player made the bass famous, the bass gave the player a signature sound which I feel he had not fully found until then.
The Jay Dee somehow planted the seed of a vision that has been perfected over many years of collaboration with top builders and has produced the gorgeous Alembic M.King and more recently the superb Kingbass MarkII.
The association with Mr. King might have somehow pigeon-holed this bass back then, with people looking at it from the funk-fusion angle only, perhaps limiting his appeal.
It might come as a surprise to some that Jaco Pastorius was about to endorse Jay Dee in the last period of his career. There is a video of him playing a Series II. The link is below.
I read in an interview to Mr. Diggins that Pastorius was initially quite skeptical about using a Mahogany bass, his being so used to Swamp Ash. However he was so blown away by the sound and the crafting of the Jay Dee that he ordered two basses right away - or was it three? - albeit in a shape closer to the Fender Jazz.
These basses were to become the Jaco Pastorius signature Jay Dee. As fate would have it, he passed away just days before he could collect his basses. I wonder what would Jay Dee's story have been like had Pastorius survived the accident.
Anyway, Mark King and Pastorius' choice, that's good enough for me.
I saw the last one of those JP models on sale at Jay Dee's many years back. I should have bought one. But then again, those were the days when I had to sell a Music Man to afford a Jay Dee.
In a Nutshell:
+ Great Craftsmanship. Build to last. Fast neck. Personal Sound. People will stare.
- No P-ups Balance. Low volume output. People will stare.
I've got a little story about this bass. If you're interested you'll find it in my other post: Lesson learned: My Jay Dee taught me
Jay Dee website (another web site is here).
This video features Pastorius with a JD S series II