If you witnessed Danish bassist Ida Nielsen levelling the crowds at this year’s London Bass Guitar Show, you’ll know what a huge asset she was to 3rd Eye Girl, the backing band which played with Prince from 2014 until his tragic death last year.
A slap and funk player of enormous dexterity, Ida can be heard on his Royal Purpleness’s Plectrumelectrum album and three solo releases: a signature Sandberg California model has been in the works for some time, and we’ve been lucky enough to have one land on our doormat courtesy of UK distributors Synergy.
At almost £2200, you’d expect nothing less than the finest design, engineering and construction from this bass, and indeed that is what you get. The general feel is sumptuous, with Asian silk beneath the pickguard, beautiful gold hardware and fluorescent side dots on the neck. Six bolts anchor the 22-fret neck to the body and a matched headstock adds a touch of zing.
Talking of the headstock, we’re so used to small, streamlined machine heads round here that when a bass with the full elephant-ear set arrives, you’re reminded how easy they are to operate.
These are like the earlobes of a mammoth that’s been dipped in gold leaf. We’re also told that Sandberg have applied their vibration treatment to Ida’s bass: in other words, 100 hours - four days or so - of machine-generated jiggling has been applied to it to ensure that everything is ready for the road. It certainly feels rock-solid.
The fine details are all in place too, from the thumb rest (easily removed if you prefer to anchor your thumb on a pickup or the E string), the easy-access battery compartment, the detuner and of course Ida’s signature, etched onto the rear of the headstock.
Plug in and marvel at the extremely low action, permitting effortless thumb slaps and pops as well as shreddy fingerstyle, the two cornerstones of Ida’s technique. There are those who prefer a higher action, of course, in which case that big ol’ golden bridge will be only too happy to oblige, offering three Allen key sockets per saddle.
The solidity and excellent balance of the bass makes you glad that it’s been designed with 22 frets rather than 24: a two-octave neck would have felt gratuitous, somehow, especially with that meaty headstock and its massive gold tuners winking at you from your peripheral vision.
With a single-coil pickup situated at the middle of the body rather than near the neck, and a humbucker at the bridge, plus active and passive options, you’d expect a wide tone range, and you’d be right to do so. Detented centrally, the two-band EQ is adequate but familiar, so utilise the boosts for a proper dose of adrenaline.
The bass boost in particular is monstrous, so keep a delicate eye on it. As per Ida’s preferred playing style and tone, there’s ample top end too, so slap players will be in hog heaven.
A word about the passive tone control, which we’ve recently come to regard as the unsung hero of bass guitar EQ. We get so many hot-rod basses with turbocharged pickups and circuits through our doors these days that it’s refreshing to go back to a simple volume plus tone setup, and Ida’s bass does the basics perfectly. Maybe we’re getting old, but in passive mode, this instrument sounds divine.
What a beautiful bass this is - but on the other hand, what a hefty pricetag £2100 is in the era of widespread skintness in which we currently find ourselves. The cost is, of course, a reflection of the large number of optional extras applied to the instrument.
If you’re just looking for a ‘basic’ Sandberg which still has all the power you could ever need, you could pick one of several alternative variants for £500 less - so be warned. If you do go for Ida’s model, though, you’re in for a hell of a treat.