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Marleaux Contra review

The latest four-string beauty from Gerald Marleaux will make your jaw drop, but can you justify the price?

  • £6750
Marleaux Contra
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

It's unique, exquisitely put together, and is incredibly playable – if you can spend £6750 on a bass and are looking for something different, well, it's an option.

Pros

  • It is a dream to play.
  • The build is faultless.
  • Wonderful upper-fret access.
  • Very clever electronics with wide range of tones.

Cons

  • The price.
  • Not to everyone's tastes.

What is it?

For all the Marleaux bass guitars we have seen over the years, there are two things that stand out, time and time again. One, they are exceptionally well-built. Two, oh geez they're so darn expensive.

And we mean expensive. Sure, for a pro-quality bass you would expect to drop a couple of grand, and the investment will pay you back with a lifetime of playing. But £6750? That's a whole different ballgame. Is it worth it? Well, you'd have to be in the position to spend it to make that call, but the first impressions are that this is an instrument of rare quality.

It is also an instrument of rare design. The design is inspired by the string section in the orchestra, with the Old Violin finish a very pleasing antique stain, and the profile of the Contra, F-hole and all, is one of an augmented cello or viola – it's the Picasso of modern bass guitar design.

Technically, it is a semi-hollow design. It has a highly-figured flame maple back and sides with a spruce top. It has a neck-through build, with a five-piece flame maple and smoked oak veneer neck. The area surrounding the heel is all but excavated as to facilitate free-range noodling up the dusty end of the fretboard.

Right across the neck, there are usable tones, a detailed attack that complements the 360º low end thump

It's an interesting design for sure, and the intrigue is heightened when you approach the electronics. The Contra is fitted with a pair of Marleaux ebony humbucking pickups, which are controlled by the Marleaux Contra 3.0 active circuit.

This circuit gives you controls for volume, balance, a stacked treble and bass control, and a pair of switches to select between single-coil, series humbucking and parallel humbucking modes. That's a lot of ground to cover.

Completing the picture, the Contra has an ETS Contra black bridge, and gold and ebony Schaller tuners. It's all very classy. But, y'know, £6,750, you want to see where that money's going.

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The Contra has a wickedly contoured heel, should you need the high notes.

The Contra has a wickedly contoured heel, should you need the high notes. (Image credit: Future)
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(Image credit: Future)
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(Image credit: Future)

Performance and verdict

As you might expect from a semi-acoustic build, there's a lovely natural resonance to the Contra. Played acoustically it exhibits a lovely, organic low end that resolves itself nicely. The mids suggest a really musical darkness that's going to fill up the mix.

Plug it in and the magic really starts to happen. The details bloom. The harmonics come to the fore. The musical potential of the Contra starts to open up. Right across the neck, there are usable tones, a detailed attack that complements the 360º low end thump.

The controls are a little bit intimidating, and it might take a few sessions to dial in what you want. But having those options is the sort of luxury that you'd demand of a Marleaux.

Also consider...

(Image credit: Future)

• Marleaux Tiuz
If you are looking for a new bass that is a little different from the usual high-visibility names, the Marleaux Tiuz makes a strong case. Its level of craftsmanship is excellent, the electronics package is exceptional and the level of playability and comfort is very impressive indeed. 

Spector Euro 4 1977 Ltd Ed
What a fantastic bass, as it damn well should be at this price point. We couldn’t find a thing wrong with it. Our only slight whine is that for your £2500, you could look forward into the evolution of bass technology and invest in an innovative instrument, rather than choosing to look backwards to an old, if also wonderful, one. 

Overall, the performance is immaculate – zero hum, zero feedback. The EQ is powerful and rewards a light touch. Set flat the Contra sounds incredible, and it's  shame to get away from that natural voice, but, that said, there are usable tones at all stages on the dial. 

Rather than needing the EQ, the pickup switches offer a neat way to experiment with the different voicings on offer. You can choose between humbuckers in series or parallel, or split the coils for some classic J-style tones. The parallel humbucking mode gives the Contra a lithe, dynamic response, while the series option is where you'll find the thunder.

You are going to love the neck, too. It has a 40mm nut width. The setup is perfect. Out of the case, the string spacing at the bridge was 19mm, but this is adjustable. The body might have an avant-garde quality but somehow it works, and fits flush against you while playing, and the balance seems just right when played while standing.

But that's what Gerald Marleaux does. He builds exotic basses that feel great, sound amazing, look off the wall, and cost a small fortune.

Is it all worth it? Again, who can say. But it's certainly a once-in-a-lifetime bass, a high-end instrument that is deserving of the dreaded 'B' word.

MusicRadar verdict: It's unique, exquisitely put together, and is incredibly playable – if you can spend £6750 on a bass and are looking for something different, well, it's an option.

Hands-on demos

Bass Buddha

Specifications

  • Price: £6750
  • Colour: Old violin aged, satin finish
  • Body: Flamed maple and spruce top
  • Neck: Flamed maple, five-piece laminate with two smoked oak veneers, satin finish
  • Scale: 34"
  • Neck Joint: Through-neck
  • Nut Width: 40mm
  • Fingerboard: Ebony
  • Frets: 24
  • Pickups: Marleaux ebony humbucking pickups x 2
  • Electronics: Marleaux Contra 3.0 active circuit
  • Controls: Volume, balance, bass/treble (stacked), passive tone control, pickup coil-split switches x 2 (humbucker parallel/single-coil/humbucker series)
  • Hardware: ETS Contra black bridge, Schaller gold and ebony machine heads
  • Weight: 3.7 kg / 8.15 lbs
  • Case/gig bag included: Gigbag
  • Left-hand option available: Yes, on request
  • Contact: Marleaux