First Act 12-String Bass Review

First Act 12-String Bass: The Return of the High-End 12 - The Reverse Delgada
A Review by Philip Snyder

I wish everyone who reads this could have the chance to play this incredible instrument.
 
Let me begin by being forthright and up front. I acted as catalyst for this project and consultant to First Act, and I designed this 12-string bass. My review here is not to critique the design of it as much as it is to reveal the quality of its construction, playability, tone and overall character. These are the things for which the talented craftsmen at the First Act Custom Studio were responsible. Bill Jancar did have some input in the appearance of the bass as it was his idea to alter the contours of the body from that of the established Delgada design. He also designed the truss-rod cover, pickguard and chose the metallic Pelham Blue finish. We worked together for months and his enthusiasm for the project and masterful luthier skills made this bass a reality. Kelly Butler also played a major part in the creation of this bass; without his initial interest and willingness to take a chance in the beginning, none of this would ever have happened.

It was our objective right from the beginning to create a 12 like no other; one that would stand the test of time as one of the finest 12-string basses ever built. This bass meets, and in some ways exceeds, that challenge. I can honestly say that this is indeed as good as or better than any other 12 I've played, and I've played a bunch of them, thank you very much.
 
In designing this 12 it was important from the start that we give it certain elements that would identify it as a First Act creation. Such details include the "circling sharks" inlays, the tapered "Pompadour" headstock and the reversing of the Delgada body style. Other ideas were spawned from the "Bettie" guitar that the First Act Custom Studio built for Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen, such as the multiple pickup layout, the electronics and the Gotoh 510 tuners. Many other ideas were tossed around and either utilized or thrown out.

So without further ado, here is my assessment of the First Act reverse Delgada 12-string bass prototype.
 
It f'n RULES!
 
The three Lace "Aluma 90" pickups growl and bite with aggressive authority, yet are sensitive enough to grab the subtle nuances of intricate lines and convey them with delicate beauty. These pickups feature a design that is aluminum based rather than copper. The result provides less resistance and higher output coupled to a "current driven” design as opposed to conventional voltage based pickups. The aluminum waterjet-cut exoskeleton is matted to a micro winding using 90% less fine copper wire, creating a low impedance / high impedance pickup. The "Aluma 90"s feature no hum but all the growl, depth and sparkle for which a P-90 is famous. They appear to be an excellent choice for this bass. Are they the perfect choice?  Who can say? Any future First Act 12s will most likely be fitted with their own brand of bass pickups that are reported to be very good. Only at that point will we have something to compare to this arrangement.
 
Each pickup has its own independent on / off "kill" switch and volume and tone controls topped off by chrome Hipshot O-ring knobs. The on / off switches are industrial quality and are very durable. These details were inspired by the "Bettie" guitar made for Rick Nielsen. It is only fitting that a few of Bettie's unique accoutrements be utilized in the creation of this 12-string bass. They would make a great pair.
 
With the reversal of the body style from that of the standard Delgada model, the reverse Delgada 12 is a very well balanced instrument. The offset body with larger lower bout also aids in the balance of the bass, as does the 32⅛" medium scale length. The bass is as comfortable to play when sitting as it is when standing. As with any 12-string bass, a wide strap always helps with balance. A set of Schaller strap locks would be a good call even though I never felt like the strap might come off unexpectedly.
 
The metallic Pelham Blue finish is deep and adds a distinctly retro vibe to the modern appointments of the instrument. From a distance it appears as a solid color but upon closer examination you see a broad spectrum of hues as the finish winds its way around the contours of the Delgada's sultry body. The pickguard is multi-ply with an off-white “parchment” top layer that aids in the vintage look. The fingerboard is quarter-sawn Indian rosewood and is adorned with mother-of-pearl inlays in the "circling sharks" design beginning at the first fret. The fretboard is encased in white single-ply binding. The entire bass received a light antiquing (not relicing) treatment before the lacquer clear coats were applied. The result is subtle but it gives the impression of a bass that could have been created decades ago and stored away for future generations to enjoy as new.
 
The headstock face is a beautiful ebony veneer finished with white binding and First Act f-hole logo. The subtle grain of the ebony wood shows through the clear coat and is a nice alternative to the standard black headstock veneers that have been so prevalent for decades. The machine heads are Gotoh smooth-edged 510 guitar tuners and compact bass tuners. For tuning simplicity three different sizes of tuners were used instead of the more economical and common two-size design. The nut is crafted from white mammal-free Corian
®. The binding on the neck and headstock appear slightly off-white due to the antiquing process.
 

The set-up from the First Act Custom Studio was spot on. There are absolutely no dead spots anywhere on the neck and the action is very low. The playability is superb. The neck is incredibly comfortable and does not fatigue the hand even after a solid hour of playing. The string spacing is more traditional than that of most recent production 12’s and has the added advantage of the broadened gap between the fundamentals and the octaves.
 
The 12 is amazingly solid and stays in tune incredibly well. It is currently strung with S.I.T. Power Wound Nickel strings, gauges .018 - .095. This set would normally feel a little light on anything but a long scale 34" bass, but due to the extra 3" distance added between the bridge and tailpiece the tension created is greater, resulting in a higher tension feel much like that of a long scale 12. This added tension coupled with the comfort of the medium scale gives the player the best of both worlds - punchy, pronounced tone and ease of play.
 
The tonal variations available to the player are seemingly endless with the number of options for pickup combinations and tonal and volume control over each pickup. With each pickup having its own volume and tone control along with a designated "kill" switch, the possibilities are almost endless. The electronic components are all top-notch (no cheap imported mini-pots) and the signal is clear and precise. It will take a considerable amount of time to explore all of this 12’s capabilities.

The neck-through design allows the Delgada 12 to ring and sustain incredibly well. Even unplugged you can tell this is a very lively yet tight bass. The extensive routing for the pickups and controls act as sound chambers under the pickguard, much in the same way as you find with a Strat. The result is a bell-like quality that is noticeable regardless of what pickup is being used.  It has a uniquely organic tone that can be heard acoustically and amplified and is capable of the best “piano-tone” of any 12-string bass I’ve heard. In fact, I have never heard another 12 that has a tone quite like this one.

 

First Act also ships all of their Custom Studio instruments in special flight cases. This was a complete surprise and really drives home their attention to every detail. The presentation of the bass in this way instantly makes the recipient aware that they are about to discover an exceptional instrument upon opening the case. The interior is a deep plush dark blue and has and extra thick cushion in the lid to support and protect the neck. The outside of the case features the First Act badge riveted to the case. It's top shelf all the way.

Obviously this 12 bears a strong 1960's sci-fi visual character. That paired with its unique tonal capabilities makes it a great choice for any type of pop or rock with roots in The Beatles tradition. It might also be a good choice for country players as it has a great "open" sound to it. On the flipside those traits would make this bass a poor choice for a metal band as it is simply not designed for that application. The player, the instrument and the musical style must be in sync for optimal results. It's very possible that future 12's from First Act may be designed and constructed with heavier music in mind. The construction of future 12-string basses will most certainly be built to the same high level of craftsmanship as this one but they will be entirely different instruments. Each will have its own identity that goes well beyond a fancy paint job. I look forward to covering these 12's as they are built.

Props:
The first new USA-made custom shop 12 we have seen in a decade that displays a completely new identity, and is as good (or better) than anything else out there.
 
Drawbacks:
There is, at this point, only one. Call First Act for information on expanding the breed.


Check out First Act's website