Q. What goes “clank, clank, clank,” and marvelously fills out the bottom end of a mix with lots of articulation?
A. The Rickenbacker 4003 bass!
Let’s just start with the admission that I’ve wanted a Rickenbacker bass for more than four decades, basically ever since I heard Chris Squire play one with YES. My desire was sharpened when I was called upon to play a couple owned by the bassists in my bands. I actually wrote bass parts for some of my songs way back in the early ‘80s for a Rickenbacker but never recorded them because I didn't have the bass they wanted. Later as I was assembling my studio kit, because any bass would be a secondary instrument, I just never quite got around to affording one. Still, I longed for one. To quote Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol, “This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.” Come with me and I’ll tell you a tale of two bargains, a bass… and its case.
A Few Internet Reviewers' First Visual Impressions of the Intrument in Question:
“The mind boggles.”
"I hate it!"
“The world’s ugliest bass guitar.”
“I’m obsessed and disgusted by this bass.”
“You could do some damage with that headstock.”
“What were they thinking?”
“The most polarizing, no HATED instrument that has surfaced in 2021.”
"A bass I am not looking forward to unboxing."
But then they tried one…
And Then There Were MY First Impressions:
Admittedly, the "sherbet orange" or “traffic cone orange” or "Merthiolate orange" (the real Jackson name is "Rocket Red") color is at first blush, at the very least, eye-popping and to some, well, HEINOUS. And wasn’t the Jackson headstock banned by the Toy Council as dangerously pointed? "You'll shoot your eye out, kid!" Okay, it’s a joke. Laugh a little.
...And then I tried one.
What’s in a Name
The name of the monster in question is the Jackson CBXNT DX IV. Only one of the many YouTube reviewers I watched could remember that collection of acronymous letters long enough to get through a take. In the end they resorted to reading notes or cue cards or getting part the way through and mumbling vulgarities. Unpacked, that name means: Concert Bass (Fender Precision body), X Series, “New Type?” (a guess), Deluxe, and finally, IV for "Four String" (there is a Five String version). I think Jackson could have benefitted from adopting one of the humorous nicknames that bassists gave this instrument as soon as it was introduced: "Jacksonbacker," "Jackenbacker," "Jickson". At least those names can be pronounced and/or remembered.
Okay, so this instrument is certainly a visual a mash-up of brands: it has a Fender P-bass shaped body and neck pickup, Jackson “Sharkfin” inlays that look nearly identical to the Rickenbacker triangle inlays, and the pointy Jackson headstock. Until you get up close, the high mass “Jackson Bass Bacher” tailpiece is a spitting image of the Rick’s. The bridge pickup cover is reminiscent of the Rick 4001 horseshoe bridge pickup. The white binding, the pickguard shape, and the skirted black knobs with aluminum inserts are nearly direct visual lifts. From a distance the light-colored (but unfinished) laurel fingerboard looks like the Rick rosewood fingerboard. And finally, the bold colors: Well, no-one ever accused Rickenbacker of offering subtle visual appointments.
Just like the Rick 4001 & 4003, the Jackson features maple neck-through-body construction. Like the Rick, the Jackson has a wide, shallow, full-shouldered neck and a fingerboard that is flatter than typical Fender fingerboards. In fact, Rick players should feel right at home on this neck.
Jackson Guitars is a division of Fender with most of their line built in Indonesia, which should explain some of the style lifts from Fender. Most people have seen a notable increase in the quality of Asian guitars of late and this one is no exception.
When introduced in 2021, the finish versions of the bass were priced at very reasonable $899 and $849 points but very soon after the initial splash they began creeping downward. Most settled at about $799 or $754 depending up on finish. A recent second generation of finishes probably contributed to another reduction in prices of the original finishes as well, and the group settled at around $599. All of this happened before I even knew about the instrument. Then the prices began dropping again recently as stocks at Musician’s Friend and Guitar Center began flooding the market.
Stalking the Wild Bass
As I mentioned before, I had wanted a Rickenbacker 4003 bass since I played a couple of my friends’ back in the ‘70s. Because it was to be a secondary instrument, I could never make space for a Rick to fit into my studio kit budget. Then recently, a friend on an Internet forum put out word that the Jackson CBXNT DX IV models were very Rick-ish and were being discounted at Guitar Center. Really? A Rick clone from Jackson? I gave it a look. I'll admit that I had to get over that pointy headstock, and that it took some doing. I used to say that I would never own a pointy-headstock instrument, as was recalled to me by an old friend just recently. But necessity makes strange bedfellows and I've never been a man who would cut off his nose just to spite his face. It was time to eat crow and re-think.
After consulting several YouTube and magazine reviews and seeing pictures I was very impressed with the bass, in theory. I was especially attracted to the Fireburst finsh because it makes this bass look very much like Rickenbacker’s Fireglow-finished basses. When I entered the fray I found the Fireburst version for $499 on the Musician's Friend and Guitar Center websites. But wait, the local Guitar Center’s website said they had one last "traffic cone orange" one priced at $499. Just to get the feel of the model I dropped by GC to check it out. The salesmen weren’t even aware that they had one so I had to ask them to dig the box out of the storeroom and unwrap it. Yep, profoundly eye-pokingly orange. I settled into the bass nook and tried it through a large MarkBass MB58R CMD 151 combo amp. The bass sounded fantastic, very, very much like a Rick, and it played incredibly well too. The feel was very much like a Rick as well with the flat-ish compound radius and wide board. It seemed like a REAL value. While I was playing the salesman was typing in the data to generate a stock tag. He dropped by and said, “Oh, by the way, the price is actually now down to $399 on closeout. Closeout instruments can't be returned.” I am not one to be rushed so I trundled off home to think it through. I figured that if it disappeared, it simply wasn't meant ot be
Just to be thorough, I called Musician's Friend and Guitar Center online and asked if they could match the local deal on the Fireburst version. Nope, nope, nope. They couldn't even match the local deal on their stock of the Rocket Red one. Knowing that the bass doesn't come with a case I started doing a little research on that issue as well because, well, loading docks. I knew I'd have to add that into the price. So two days later, following the maxim that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, I went back to the local Guitar Center. Glory and trumpets! The bass was still there. Not only that, but it was now tagged at $349! Of course at that price, I snapped up this bird in hand and took it out of the store ignominiously swathed in bubble wrap.
My Impressions after Time and Reflection
Before I had the instrument in my hands I hadn’t held out a lot of hope that at its price point, the Jackenbacker would be very satisfying to play, but boy was I surprised. To start off, this bass has a powerful, loud acoustic voice. When you plug it in and center the controls you hear a clear, clean sound with a full midrange. It has wonderful sustain, clarity, and high-end articulation, all of which probably start with the maple neck-through-body design. The Jazz pickup is closer to the bridge and the Precision pickup is closer to the neck than they are in the typical PJ bass, and I'm sure that contrbutes to the unique sound of the instrument as well. The bass' nicely-voiced, three-band active EQ allows lots of useful tone tweakage without excess or spikiness. Each of the EQ and blend controls has a solid center detent, allowing easy indexing. There are a variety of sounds inside, covering sonic ground from near a standard PJ bass to a Rickenbacker 4001 or 4003. And may I say that it covers the territory of the Rickenbacker remarkably well. I mean REMARKABLY. With a little tip up of the treble and bass controls it puts out the classic Rickenbacker “clank” in spades. In fact, it falls head first into the Rick thing at the slightest urging. That, my friends, is exactly what I wanted.
The instrument's fit and finish are excellent, with tight seams and clean binding. I don’t see or feel much, if any, quality difference from my American-built guitars. The one exception is the nut which is plastic and still has some file shards dangling on the headstock side. That is easily fixed next time the strings are replaced. The bass arrived from the factory with a very good setup and intonation making it easy to play. The ends of the wide and tall jumbo frets are round and smooth and the crowns are polished. The EQ is fed by a 9-volt battery housed under a nice door on the back of the body, behind the neck pickup. There is no bypass available so carry a spare battery. The bridge pickup cover arrived slightly dished in from shipping causing it to gently buzz against the E string. I was able to remove it and gently straighten it back out with my fingers, setting things to rights. However, I find the pickup cover to be somewhat in the way of my picking hand and I’m considering whether or not to remove it, as many seem to. After two days at GC there were some hand smudges but a few minutes with polish and a cloth brought it back to brand new. To tell the truth, I think time spent cleaning up a new-to-you instrument is a great way to get acquainted.
The Case for a Case
As mentioned above, a case is not included by Jackson. That simply won’t do in my little world – my instruments take too many trips across the steel thresholds of loading docks. They need their protection. I don’t know why it occurred to me to check the inventory at the local Music-Go-Round used music gear store for bass cases, but it did. I found that they had several used bass cases available including a couple of tweed cases, an inexpensive tolex-covered wood case, and three of the Road Runner brand ABS molded bass cases that typically sell for $149 new online. So, the night I bought the bass, I immediately ran across town to Music-Go-Round and looked over their selection. I chose the cleanest Road Runner case of the three because it looked absolutely brand new, including keys and a silica packet.* It was as light as a feather but reasonably rugged. Their tag price was $59.99 but I had a small store credit and a $20 discount coupon left over from another transaction that pulled it down to $35. Et Voile'! The bass was caseless no more and that was bargain number two!
I was seriously surprised by the bass’ amazing quality at such an inexpensive price. Between the excellent construction, the great playability, and the marvelous sound, I don’t feel the least bit bereft of a Rickenbacker anymore. This bass takes me there, both in sound and playability. If you can find one, GRAB IT and start enjoying the clank, clank, clank. Just watch out for that headstock!
How about an informative video review from a rather hilaraious, unique bassist who can pronounce the name?
Neck: Maple neck through-body with graphite reinforcement and top-adjust truss rod
Scale: 34 inches
Fretboard: Laurel, unfinished
Fretboard Radius: compound radius, 12” to 16” bottom to top
Inlays: Sharkfin pearloid inlays, black side dots
Frets: 24 jumbo frets
Tuners: Jackson sealed die-cast tuners
Body Wings: Poplar
Body Shape: P-bass
Finish: Poly Gloss
Color: Rocket Red
Binding: White plastic on body front edge, neck, headstock
Bridge: Jackson Bass Bacher IV hardtail high mass bridge
Pickguard: Laminated three-ply parchment/black/parchment, un-beveled
Pickups: Jackson J-style bridge and P style neck, passive
Electronics: Active preamp, bass, middle, treble, volume, and pickup blend, NO bypass
Knobs: Skirted black plastic with indicator
Strings: .045-.105 gauge, nickel-plated steel
* Um, and about those silica packets: The next morning after I acquired the bass I opened the case in the living room for all of five minutes to take the bass for a short ride. In that short space of time our kitties, Oscar and Henrietta, got hold of the silica packet and dragged it off, then ripped it open and spread hundreds of those little silica crystals from hell to breakfast... with glee! I mean they were all over the floor, starting in the living room and spread through the dining room and into the kitchen. I vacuumed, my wife swept, but I bet there are still crystals rolling around on the floors from that debacle.
They didn't try to eat the crystals, but beware the little fanged silica packet rippers.