Lieber Guitars Spellcaster: What is it?
Designed by Tom Lieber and that great innovator of bass guitar (opens in new tab) Stanley Clarke, the Spellcaster is something completely different for mavens of low-end thunder. As the name suggests, there’s more than a little inspiration coming by way of Leo Fender’s blueprints for the world’s most popular electric guitar (opens in new tab) design.
Indeed, once upon a time Lieber and Clarke hoped Fender would pick it up. It’s been a long time coming, and despite the obvious parallels with a more famous design, it is certainly novel.
We have seen enough P and J variants over the years so perhaps it is only right that eventually some enterprising souls will take a look at the Fender Stratocaster (opens in new tab) and set about transposing it for the bass player. And on that count, Clarke and Lieber have gone all in.
The fundamentals scream Strat. You’ve got a solid alder body finished in high-gloss Vintage Sunburst, a bolt-on maple neck with a four-bolt heel plate, a rosewood fingerboard… The control knobs look like they’ve been recovered from a Strat, and then we come to the Spellcaster’s pickup configuration, which sees a trio of single-coil pickups, y’know, arranged just like a Strat. There’s even a vibrato.
Who needs a whammy bar on a bass? No one could argue that it is essential with the day-to-day job of helping the drummer keep the groove in the rhythm section, but if you’re going down the ‘make a bass but make it Strat’ route it might feel undercooked without one.
The control setup is interesting. Yes, again, it’s like a Stratocaster, with a five-way blade selector switch activating the neck pickup, neck and middle pickup, middle pickup, middle and bridge pickup and the bridge pickup.
But see that little toggle switch beside the pickup selector? That selects two bonus modes that combine neck and bridge pickup together, or if it’s the weekend and the occasion calls for it, all three pickups at once. Pretty neat. Elsewhere you’ve got one volume control and two tone controls.
There’s something of a Frankenstein vibe about the Spellcaster. It’s assembled in the USA but from parts sourced further afield. As such, it doesn’t feel like it is necessarily the tidiest build you’ve ever seen but it’s the sort of instrument with which the strength of concept is such that these concerns are by the by.
It also has a 30.5” short scale, which makes it very approachable for those holidaying in from a six-string guitar. The full 24 fret fingerboard has an extra zero fret which does half the job of a conventional nut in setting the height of the strings while the nut aligns the strings.
The reverse headstock might be an acquired taste but if you’ve made it this far into a review about Strat in bass form then such a thing seems irrelevant. This is an unorthodox instrument but it all makes sense when you plug it in.
Lieber Guitars Spellcaster: Performance and verdict
Confusingly, Lieber Guitars isn’t the only company offering a Spellcaster in their lineup. London-based boutique guitar company Blast Cult, headed up by luthier Jason Burns, also runs a Spellcaster, only that is a conventional electric guitar in a Telecaster style with a hemlock build – hence the spell.
Back to the bass. It feels like a short-scale bass all right, with a neck that’s more than accommodating, and of a piece with the whole bass-as-electric-guitar idea behind the design.
As ever with a slinky instrument, the immediate challenge is not to overplay. Yet, is that not the point here? From its cosy, short-scale profile to the stunt bass guitar offered by the remarkably stable bass trem, the Spellcaster is designed for the gregarious bass player and those musical contexts in which they can cut loose with a solo.
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What you lose in note clarity, tone and character with the Mustang, you make up for with a very enjoyable bass that ticks many boxes for those starting out - or for those who just find a long-scale bass too much effort.
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Assisted by the very sympathetic action and smooth, almost unfinished rear neck surface, your fingers will slip happily into position, pretty much wherever you want to go. If the point of a short-scale bass is ease of playability, the Bantam pulls it off with aplomb.
When such times come, there are plenty of tones to inspire you. Engaging three pickups in unison is quite the experience, a full-frequency bass assault that is both balanced and powerful.
Some parts require a little more subtlety, and the Spellcaster excels in finding the right tone for the job. Playing Motown, soul, or classic rock, you’ll want the neck pickup and its plummy warmth. The bridge pickup offers brighter, detailed and harmonically forthcoming sounds, and while the middle splits the difference, its real gift is in how it adds light and shade to the neck and bridge pickups and expands the Spellcaster’s voice. How apt. It would have been negligent in the extreme to model a four-string electric bass guitar after the Fender Stratocaster and now give it the Strat’s wide sweep of tones.
MusicRadar verdict: It is more than likely that the Spellcaster will become a specialist’s bass, but for those occasions when you need to cut loose – vibrato and all – it makes for a sonically versatile, playable and fun instrument.
Lieber Guitars Spellcaster: The web says
“As Clarke himself states, the Spellcaster is not meant to replace your existing traditional bass: it’s a new tool with different options. Yes, there are some problematic build flaws that are hard to ignore at this price point.
“However, the bass still acts as a boon for creativity, with loads of cool tones that cut through a mix. If you’re looking to conjure your own new sounds, this could be the bass for you.”
Bass Player Magazine (opens in new tab)
Lieber Guitars Spellcaster: Hands-on demos
Lieber Guitars Spellcaster: Specifications
- PRICE: $1,835 plus shipping
- MADE IN: Produced in Korea, assembled in USA
- COLOR: Sunburst
- BODY: Alder
- NECK: Maple, 30.5” scale
- NECK JOINT: Bolt-on
- NUT WIDTH: 38.1mm (1.5”)
- FINGERBOARD: Rosewood
- FRETS: 25
- PICKUPS: 3x Kent Armstrong/Tom Lieber-designed single-coils
- ELECTRONICS: Passive
- CONTROLS: Master volume, dual tones, two-position mini-switch, five-position pickup selector
- HARDWARE: Chrome,
- WEIGHT: 9.3 lbs
- CASE/GIG-BAG INCLUDED: Yes
- LEFT-HANDED OPTION AVAILABLE: No
- CONTACT: Lieber Guitars (opens in new tab)