Sandberg Panther Five-String Special
While many players are more than content to stick with their four-string basses, there are others who wouldn't be seen dead with anything less than five (wide-necked six-string bass, anyone?).
But whatever your personal preference this new, hand-built Sandberg model is well worth a closer look. It comes in both four- and five-string configurations so will please both camps, however, after examining the five-string Panther we feel it may encourage a few of you to jump ship.
This slightly offset body design offers an exaggerated upper horn that effectively provides excellent instrument balance, something that is sadly lacking in many five-string models.
It's of modest weight and the beautiful matt satin finish allows the walnut top over a mahogany body core to really stand out, while the white wood coach line has to be seen as the cherry on the top.
This Panther 'Special' model is also known as the Panther 'Walnut' bass – the main difference between this and the Standard model (see Spec Check) is obviously the choice of woods and the natural feel of the finish.
But rather than having the standard sloped forearm chamfer the one here is slightly dished, making it not only good-looking but pretty comfortable too.
At the rear, the body scoop is pretty standard but all the body edges are curved and tactile. With an unadorned fingerboard and dark wood headstock the design may be a little reminiscent of the eighties but the overall effect is one of completeness that is very easy on the eye.
Sandberg makes a point about these Delano-designed pickup covers and it must be said that the angled design of these units adds a contemporary visual edge in this natural wood environment. They also disguise the fact that one pickup is a humbucker and the other a split-coil unit.
Another plus point is the four-spot Sandberg logo used at every opportunity – it's very neat and gives the bass that extra touch of originality.
The chrome hardware is also clearly of high quality, from the traditionally styled open-gear tuners, to the hard block string tree and the excellent bridge and tailpiece.
This bridge unit really is finely engineered, fully adjustable in all aspects (all well illustrated in the included manual) and featuring roller-style bridge saddles and an extended raised tail to hide the string ends.
Very neat, aesthetically pleasing and highly functional, in fact it's a reflection of the whole instrument where everything is very well proportioned and balanced both in looks and practicality.
When playing the Sandberg you soon appreciate that the neck is relatively shallow for a five-string and, although the fingerboard is not overly wide, it does seem very spacious.
This means that four-string players will immediately feel at home as the string spacing is similar so that the extra string just falls naturally under the fingers – excellent!
There's also significant tension in this low B so there's no sloppiness when playing it and it performs well in both delivery and punch.
The fingerboard is beautifully smooth to the touch and the side dots are clearly defined so that you still have a reference point – there are none on the board's face.
Equipped with a humbucker, a split-coil pickup and powered circuitry the Panther has all the necessary ingredients to provide a huge palette of colourful sounds.
All but the master volume control are centre-detented and the three tone control knobs are downsized for easy reference.
A blend control is provided for mixing the pickups, and although the positioning of the two pickups is extremely close there's still enough in the spacing to bring in few of those hollower sounds that we all appreciate.
In some ways you could think of this as having one huge pickup but, as the Sandberg three-band EQ is highly efficient, there is plenty of tonal variation available.
There is also a hidden plus, accessed courtesy of the push/pull switch on the volume control, where you are given the option of active or passive circuitry. In passive mode the sounds are full and plentiful and somewhat more traditional – a great benefit when recording or rehearsing with a small amplifier.
However, it also provides some cover in the unlikely event of a battery failure.
From a purely sonic perspective the active circuit is the most likely choice in a live situation as the sounds are so much fuller and robust in delivery but whatever your personal preference this is a bass with a distinctive and very purposeful voice.
The overall sound is concentrated on the practical so expect loads of fine tonal adjustment that manages to avoid extremes of sub-bass or high-frequency treble.
After all, that bottom B is sub enough for anyone. This Panther is all about quality when it comes to its sonic performance and it produces it by the bucketload.
Whether you want a smoother bass delivery or popping note definition you'll find it here but with loads of combinations in between and all delivered with a very high degree of individuality.
Apart from the sounds the pickups also provide plenty of good anchorage points for your thumb and there's enough space between pickups and neck for a bit of Korn-style slapping or hard digging in with a pick if that's what you wish.
And that adjustable bridge ensures that the intonation and string height can be kept perfect. In fact, the bottom B has an actual speaking length of around 35.25 inches, which is considered preferable for a five-string bass.
Well, it looks like the Germans are finally getting the message – again this is a beautifully built bass that neatly avoids being over-engineered and consequently over-priced, especially when you consider that this is the most expensive option in Sandberg's Panther range.
Be aware, of course, that with the rising strength of the Euro things might slightly change…
The bass's 'darkwood' look is certainly very striking visually, and offers an air of distinction, but the Panther is not only about visual quality because it's a very practical instrument too.
It speaks clearly and plays extremely well with virtually every sound you could need tucked away somewhere. And, Sandberg offers a wide range of styles too. Certainly a name to add to your checklist for 2008.
Even sound balance across all strings; good tonal range; stylish looks.
Call us old fashioned but we'd still prefer individual volume controls.
A fine instrument with individualism in both looks and sound.
All MusicRadar's reviews are by independent product specialists, who are not aligned to any gear manufacturer or retailer. Our experts also write for renowned magazines such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Computer Music, Future Music and Rhythm. All are part of Future PLC, the biggest publisher of music making magazines in the world.
Country of Origin
Blend EQ Volume for Each Pickup
Matt Satin/Nautral Mahogany with Walnut top (special)/Brownburst or Black high gloss (standard)
Walnut over Mahogany
Guitar Body Material
Chrome plated stop-tail bridge with individual roller saddles, traditional open geared tuners.
Canadian hard rock maple
No. of Frets
No of Strings
Panther Four-String Standard (£975), Panther Five-String Standard (£1,099), Panther Four-String Special w/ walnut top (£1,149)
Year of Origin