If you've got £200 to spend on a bass guitar, you'll be spoilt for choice. At this price point the battle lines are clearly drawn between established budget brands such as Encore and Stagg, and Fender and Gibson's entry level brands, Squier and Epiphone. It's also where brands such as Dean, ESP, Ibanez and Jackson begin to appear, making choosing a bass at this price a tough task.
Enter the CB-42WS from Gear4Music's Black Knight range. It's a modern looking four-string which, at £209.99, is priced to go head to head with all the above brands and more. The question is: can it withstand the competition from the big boys?
First impressions are extremely good. The classy black nickel hardware inspires confidence with both tuning and intonation, and it looks really smart. It's certainly preferable to plain chrome or black.
Moving over to the body, although a 'red wine stain' sounds more like something you'd find on your mum's carpet than the colour of a rock instrument, it is an agreeable enough finish. It's nothing flashy and definitely for those of you who prefer your playing to do the talking rather than the appearance of your guitar.
Indeed, playability is where the CB-42WS really scores highly. The Canadian maple neck is slender and the rosewood fretboard is smooth. The expertly dressed fretwork is impeccable, giving perfect intonation right up to the 24th fret. The action on the review model is comfortably low and, given the overall quality at this end of the instrument, we don't doubt it'll go lower, if that's how you like it. In terms of playability the CB-42WS really could be all the bass you ever need.
There are loads of companies offering active basses around the £200 mark, so the Black Knight really needs to perform well in this area. The neck pickup is meaty with a touch of treble bite - a perfect modern rock tone straight out of the box. The bridge pickup is a thinner sounding device and we had to tweak the two-band EQ constantly to get the sound just how we like it.
The bass boost straightens out the bridge pickup, but it seems too heavy to be used with the already hefty neck pickup. By contrast, the high EQ control seems to be more of a high-mid-range boost, with a slightly nasal, boxy quality. It might be good for funk, perhaps, but we'd prefer it yielded just a touch more treble. That said, a little boost of the high EQ still gives the CB-42WS a pleasing boot up the rear end, and generates a bit more drive from your amp in the process.
The tones available from this Black Knight are genuinely decent and varied, suitable for everything from modern rock and metal to funk and acid jazz. That said, you will almost certainly find yourself frequently adjusting the EQ to find the optimal setting for the bridge pickup. It might not bother you at all, but we'd prefer a more usable tone from the bridge pickup with the EQ 'flat'.
This really is a fantastic bass. It would be a bargain even at twice the price and is a total steal for £209.99. It plays impeccably, looks good, and the tones it delivers, minor reservations aside, have all the sustain you could wish for. If you want a modern sounding and looking active bass for around the £200 mark, check out the CB-42WS.