What is it?
There are no shortage of talking points upon opening the Hiscox case and finding the high-gloss orange finish of the Anaconda HE-4 Hydra Elite shining back at you.
Where do you start with a bass guitar like this? There is an offset body, readers might recognise from the show-stopping Ultra-J series, with an alluring roasted flame maple neck, but it's the hardware and the pickups that will have the more adventurous players in a state of euphoria.
A set of open-gear Hipshot UltraLite tuners makes for a quality choice, but Anaconda has gone all-in with performance-focused features, with a Hipshot Bass Xtender for going down super-low on-the-fly, and a Kahler vibrato system, on a bass? This has to be a joke. And yet it is not. This is just one of the options that the British boutique bass company offers at the checkout.
To the pickups: a trio of Delano SBC 4 HE/S humbuckers sit in close alignment, all but filling the space between the end of the fretboard and the bridge, with the Hydra's 26-fret design eating up real estate on a 34" scale.
There is a similarly crowded scenario for the controls. Fitted with an active John East Uni-Pre 5 preamp system, the Hydra has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to tone-shaping.
There is a volume knob with a push/pull function for toggling between active and passive modes. There is pickup pan, a stacked bass and treble, stacked mid and mid-sweep, a pickup selector switch, active/passive tone control, and acoustic pickups volume. That's right: there are contact mic piezo transducers – one positioned by the second fret, the other under pickups – adding yet another tone option.
The build is magnificent. The neck is joined to the swamp ash body with five bolts, the deep treble-side cutaway opening up the rosewood fretboard for business. You can request dot inlays of various materials as an optional extra, but here we have a plain 'board with Luminlay glow-in-the-dark side-markers.
Performance and verdict
The Hydra is a heavyweight bass. The extra engineering needed for the Kahler adds heft. But while you'll want to seek a thick, padded strap, you will be pleased with the Hydra's balance. Fretwork is tip-top throughout and the Hydra left the Anaconda workshop with a flawless setup that makes the best of its neck profile.
With so many custom appointments, there are bound to be a few that are not up your street. Not every player needs a whammy bar, but the Kahler system can be a lot of fun as Victor Wooten has ably demonstrated over the years.
• Anaconda Ultra J4E Elite
This bass is no shrinking violet and its output is mightily impressive. The core tone is naturally solid with a noticeable bark, and the tonal performance is impressive across the whole neck.
• Stonefield F-Series Classic
Looking for a contemporary custom build at a more accessible price? The F-Series from Stonefield retails from around a grand and offers great value.
With so many dials at your disposal, there's a little intimidation when plugging the Hydra in. The EQ options give each of the three pickups huge variety, each a variation on the low-end theme. The core tones are warm, with a little grit and detail in the upper mids.
But it's a bit like staying at the Ritz and ordering room service: you can pretty much have anything you want. The off-menu acoustic tones give the Hydra a second personality, so to speak, and for the session player, or the jobbing bassist who plays a wide variety of material, the breadth of tone possibilities is going to be very persuasive.
You might even find yourself warming to that Kahler. If not, simply drop it on the helpful drop-down menu on the Anaconda order form. There's no point in ordering a bespoke bass and not having everything to your liking.
MusicRadar verdict: A customisable monster with everything the modern bassist could want – and more – the Anaconda Hydra Series is a state-of-the-art doozy and a welcome break from bass building tradition.
- PRICE: from £3055 / $3320
- MADE IN: UK
- COLOUR: Orange, gloss finish
- BODY: Swamp ash
- NECK: Roasted fl ame maple, 34” scale
- NECK JOINT: Bolt-on, five-bolt attachment
- NUT WIDTH: 40mm
- FINGERBOARD: Rosewood
- FRETS: 26
- PICKUPS: Delano SBC 4 HE/S humbucking pickups x 3
- ELECTRONICS: Active John East Uni-Pre 5
- CONTROLS: Volume (push/pull for active/passive), pickup pan, stacked bass/treble, stacked mid/mid-sweep, pickup selector switch, active/passive tone control, acoustic pickups volume, acoustic pickups tone
- HARDWARE: Kahler tremolo bridge, Hipshot open-gear Ultralite machine heads and Bass Xtender
- WEIGHT: 4.4 kg / 9.7 lbs
- CASE/GIG-BAG: Hiscox case (£80)
- LEFT-HANDED OPTIONS: No
- CONTACT: Anaconda Basses