For decades, guitar players have known the name Epiphone. Renowned for making great-sounding jazz boxes like the Zephyr and Emperor Regent, which have been seen in the hands of major artists, and models like the Texan and Casino were key to the sound of The Beatles. Even blues legends like John Lee Hooker flocked to the Sheraton.
Sometimes overlooked, though, is the heritage behind the company’s bass line, including its early B4 model uprights. That heritage makes its presence known – loud and proud – with the new Zenith bass.
A culmination of classic and modern concepts, the Zenith looks more like a vintage jazz box than a contemporary bass. Finished in Translucent Black or Antique Natural on the fretted models (the fretless is available only in natural), it employs exceptional finish work and detail for a budget import bass.
The body is acoustically-chambered mahogany with a laminated flame-maple top. The body and its f-holes are bound in faux tortoiseshell – a classy touch. And kudos to Epiphone for binding the f-holes – a detail often overlooked. The body is attached to a five-piece neck of hard rock maple and walnut. The 34″-scale D-shaped neck has a satin finish and attaches to the body with a deep-set five-bolt plate designed to give the instrument a richer tone with better-than-average sustain. The package is rounded out with a classic Epiphone logo and a rosewood fingerboard with dot inlays on the fretted version, and lines on the fingerboard of the fretless. The makings of a classic are reinforced by details like the upright-bass-inspired rosewood bridge, but with contemporary twists like electronics.
Taking ideas from custom builders, the electronics of the Zenith are versatile and conceptually sound. The neck pickup is an Epiphone NanoMag that attaches directly to the base of the fingerboard for a sleek look. The other pickup is Epiphone’s NanoFlex low-impedance type under the saddle. These are controlled by a master Volume and a blend, rounded out with a dual-concentric setup of individual Bass and Treble controls for each pickup. Taking it up even one more notch are mono and stereo outputs. How cool is that?
Quality construction is immediately apparent on the Zenith, and closer inspection reveals that not only are its concepts worthy, but execution lives up to its full potential. These basses have a unique blend of retro and modern, and fill a distinct void in the market; there just aren’t any budget-minded options that will give an upright-like sound without breaking the bank.
The sound of these basses can be summed up simply – it’s monstrous! The chambered body resonates well, with little or no feedback issues. Traditionally, one has had to either throw down serious coin to get a similar sound, or use an acoustic and simply learn to fight the feedback. But with the Zenith, electric players who want an upright vibe have another choice.
Beyond the sheer girth of the Zenith’s tone, perhaps most impressive is the fact this is no one-trick pony. The NanoMag and NanoFlex are quite different from each other, sonically. For instance, rolling the blend control to run just the neck gives an old-EB-0-type vibe that would be great for punk and rock players. In the same regard, the soloed bridge pickup would be cool for soloists, especially in jazz. The magic lies in blending the two and tweaking the EQ of each pickup to find a unique sound. And no matter where you set the controls, there is no unwanted noise – just gobs of usable tones.
The only potential hitch with the Zenith is its weight. Think “’70s P Bass” and you’ll know what to expect… Also, you may want to experiment with strings on the fretted model. It ships with stainless-steel strings, which have a lot of zing and may not be to the taste of most. The fretless ships with nylon tape-wound LaBellas, which would probably sound fine on the fretted version.
Speaking of, the fretless excels. It has that wonderful midrange growl, and the nylon strings are comfortable yet still have plenty of attack. You can get that upright attack and woof with ease, but still use low action. The lines help, as intonation with nylon strings can be tricky.
This is a very cool instrument, and one few likely saw coming from Epiphone, and definitely not at this price point.
Epiphone Zenith Bass
Price: $1,332 (fretted, retail), $1,415 (fretless, retail).
This article originally appeared in VG December 2010 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.