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Sandberg California TM Nighthawk Plus and California VS Lionel review

A handsome-looking shortie and a very modern Nighthawk prove that the German company has got all basses covered

  • £1142+
Sandberg California TM Nighthawk Plus, Sandberg California VS Lionel
(Image: © Sandberg)

Our Verdict

Two very different basses, both representing the craft and attention to detail at Sandberg. The Nighthawk is a hugely powerful modern bass, an all-purpose thumper, while the shortie Lionel is for those times you want to keep it nice and plump and warm, Motown in the pocket.

Pros

  • Excellent build quality.
  • Lionel is a fresh take on the shortie.
  • The Nighthawk has many feathers to its bow.
  • Decent value all told.

Cons

  • Nothing.

What is it?

When you think of Sandberg basses, what comes to mind? There is no question, they've got a bit of luxury to them, an aura of high quality, and yet they're typically priced more accessibly than its boutique competitors.

Sandberg somehow manages to be many things to many bassists, and this allows Sandberg a certain amount of freedom. It isn't bound by convention in the same way as the original big beasts are, yet it has some scale behind it and is now setting its sights on a bigger presence outside Europe.

The two basses we have in for review might do just that. Having the name of the US's most-populous state in the California Series' title might just help ingratiate them to an American audience. Who can say? 

But the chances are it'll be the spec, with the California VS Lionel looking every inch the organic, free-range, additive free contemporary short-scale bass, and the California TM Nighthawk Plus a bleeding-edge bass design with an air of military stealth about it. 

Sandberg has always been generous with the features, and with its online configurator, it can offer a fair amount of custom options without a custom shop price tag.

Sandberg California TM Nighthawk Plus, Sandberg California VS Lionel

(Image credit: Sandberg)

Let's look at the Nighthawk first. Here we have got a Inca Silver finish and a black aluminium pickguard. It's beyond sleek. We haven't seen the Copper finished model in the flesh but online it looks the part.

There are no fret markers on the ebony fretboard, but luminlay dot inlays run down the side of it to help you find your way on a dark stage.

There is a Sandberg Humbucker at the bridge, a single coil at the neck, with volume, tone, active/passive modes and a 3-band EQ to help you dial in a tone. Shouldn't be too difficult. 

Fundamentally, it has an alder body with a bolt-on Canadian rock maple neck, and a full 34" scale. The proprietary hardware looks nice and solid, and it is reprised on the Lionel.

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Sandberg California II TM5 Grand Dark
This five-string from Sandberg's Cali series has rolled fingerboard edges, adjustable string spacing and acomfortable neck profile. It has a great selection of tones.

The Nighthawk's little sidekick for today has a 30" short-scale and the choice of an alder or ash body. It, too, has a bolt-on Canadian rock maple neck, but has a rosewood 'board with more conventional dot inlay. Here we swap stealth for a nice and natural look.

That said, despite the P-bass vibe, Lionel does not look like a vintage throwback. Like Sandberg the company, it's neither old-school or new-school. It just... Well, it just exists and it is the sort of bass design that unites the tribes.

Here you have a volume and passive tone control to dial in a tone from the single Sandberg split-coil. At a hair over 8lbs, there's plenty of meat to this shortie, with the Nighthawk weighing in just a half-pound more.

Performance and verdict

The Lionel has an easy charm that all great short-scale basses have. At 30" it feels nice and compact without coming across as Baby's First Bass. It's a simple affair, a stripped down features set that allows the player to impress themselves upon the instrument. With just a single split-coil and a passive tone to contend with, less is more.

Warm, rounded, plump, a little ill-defined in all the best ways, the Lionel's natural voice is like a well-baked P-bass, a little of the articulation melting in the mix but giving you all the low-end authority and midrange information that you need. It's hugely playable, and noodling up the top frets is not off the menu.

Sandberg California TM Nighthawk Plus, Sandberg California VS Lionel

(Image credit: Sandberg)

That's what the Nighthawk dares you to do. It's so playable, but with the active electronics, its premium tone woods and build, the level of detail in those tones is quite breathtaking. The newly designed active preamp is exceptional, boosting your tone in all the right places. 

While the passive mode is more than respectable, quite excellent, the response from the Nighthawk's preamp is tough to wean yourself from. This is a bass that will handle all kinds of styles. The percussive players will love dialling in a little elastic bounce. But traditionally minded tone-hounds can roll back the top end and play some rounded fingerstyle lines should the occasion demand it.

The factory setup on both is faultless. At this price, there are few better options than the Nighthawk. It is a pro-quality bass at a fair price. The Lionel is more of a specialist's instrument, but it's just the type of bass that would save many a studio session and provide the gigging bassist with a workhorse shortie that would fit in anywhere.

MusicRadar verdict: Two very different basses, both representing the craft and attention to detail at Sandberg. The Nighthawk is a hugely powerful modern bass, an all-purpose thumper, while the shortie Lionel is for those times you want to keep it nice and plump and warm, Motown in the pocket.

Hands-on demos

J.D. Owens

Bass the World

Specifications

Sandberg California TM Nighthawk Plus 

Sandberg California TM Nighthawk Plus, Sandberg California VS Lionel

(Image credit: Sandberg)
  • PRICE: £1969
  • MADE IN: Germany, some parts sourced in Korea
  • BODY: Alder, choice of Copper, Inca Silver, Dark Grey finishes; black aluminium pickguard
  • NECK: Neck Canadian hard rock maple, 34” scale
  • NECK JOINT: Bolt-on, six bolt
  • FRETBOARD: Ebony, 22 frets
  • PICKUPS: Sandberg single-coil (neck) and humbucker (bridge) Controls | Volume, tone, active/passive modes, Sandberg three-band EQ) Hardware | Sandberg tuners and bridge
  • WEIGHT: 3.9 kg / 8.6 lbs
  • CASE/GIGBAG: Gigbag
  • LEFT-HANDED: Yes

Sandberg California VS Lionel

Sandberg California TM Nighthawk Plus, Sandberg California VS Lionel

(Image credit: Sandberg)
  • PRICE: £1142
  • MADE IN: Germany, some parts sourced in Korea
  • BODY: (matt) European ash, (aged) alder
  • NECK: Neck Canadian hard rock maple, 30” scale
  • NECK JOINT: Bolt-on, six bolt
  • FRETBOARD: Rosewood, 22 frets
  • PICKUPS: Sandberg split-coil (middle)
  • CONTROLS: Volume, tone, 
  • HARDWARE: Sandberg tuners and bridge
  • WEIGHT: 3.7 kg / 8.15 lbs
  • CASE/GIGBAG: Gigbag
  • LEFT-HANDED: Yes
  • CONTACT: Sandberg