Although you may think you know what you’re going to get with a Jazz clone, occasionally a luthier manages to follow that tried-and-tested formula very closely but still add a little extra something to make it stand out.
We were recently invited along to the Great British Bass Lounge near Manchester to see what makes this instrument from Marco Bass Guitars stand out from the pack.
The Marco N1’s orange body and matching headstock hits you between the eyes, making either a pleasant or a jarring change from the traditional colour choices, depending on your point of view.
The visuals hark back to the late Seventies and early Eighties Jazz basses, with their punk- and new wave-inspired colours. Fortunately, the N1 comes without the back-breaking weight that some of those instruments possessed. The body and neck have a satin finish, and the timber grain of the body can be seen and felt through the lacquer.
The body shape is familiar, as are the upper and lower body cutaways, and while a front chamfer and rear body contour are in place, the bass has a smooth, rounded feel that gains it several points in the comfort stakes. Despite this supposedly being an entry-level instrument, it certainly doesn’t feel as though any corners have been cut - but then at £1300 and change, you should expect a certain level of quality. Weighing in at 3.8 kilograms, the bass hangs very well on a strap, although there is a touch of headstock bias when played seated.
The neck features standard Jazz Bass dimensions - 38mm nut width, 19mm string spacing at the bridge and a shallow C-shaped neck profile, all of which combine for a comfortable playing experience. The four-bolt neck pocket is super-tight, so the connection feels very stable, while the action and string-to-string volume are pleasing. The presence of several sharp fret ends on the lower side of the neck is a little disappointing, although they’re easily rectified.
The maple fingerboard works well with the orange body, black three-ply scratchplate and chrome control plate, with black position markers used on the front and side of the neck. A standard-style bridge has been used, while the pickups are handwound single-coil units. The machine heads are non-branded but are securely attached and turn smoothly; the bass holds its tuning well.
Acoustically, the N1 exhibits a lively natural punch that stands out a mile. Where some Jazz-style basses can sound smooth and rounded, this instrument has a throaty delivery, almost spiky in nature on the D and G strings, in keeping with its Seventies and Eighties vibe.
Plugged in, with both volumes on full and the tone control wide open, the N1 has an unsurprisingly in-your-face tone; coupled with that is an airy quality, as though the bass is breathing. To clarify, as you play a note, there’s an initial attack before the note blooms; this is highlighted when holding notes, allowing them to ring out. The N1 has a broad tonal spectrum, and it’s important to learn how to use the tone control and volumes for each pickup if you want to get the most from the instrument. Thankfully, the tone control operates across the whole turn of the pot, so the palette is colourful; by the same token, the volume controls have a gradual response across the whole turn of the control, so subtle tonal differences are possible.
Centring on the neck pickup, the N1 pulls off a very convincing Precision impersonation, with a perfect mix of rounded bottom end, midrange thump and top-end clank when the tone control is fully open. As a result, both fingerstyle and pick players will feel right at home with this bass.
The N1 is as playable a Jazz variant as you are likely to find. Sharp frets aside, the neck has an uncompromising familiarity, and if Jazz neck dimensions are your preference, you will feel right at home. The layout and overall finishing pose no limitations to the player, and whether you play with a soft touch or prefer a heavy-handed approach, the N1 will respond to your playing style.
The N1 is a worthy contender if you’re new to the realms of Jazz Bass design, or even if you’re just looking for a new passive option. What is most impressive is the quality of the tone and overall feel of the instrument, and while not all basses are created equal, some definitely appeal to a wide range of players more than others. Keep an eye on Marco Guitars, this is a brand that’s going places.