Galveston 12-String Bass Review

Galveston USB-12B Review
by Alexey Berezin - Moscow, Russia

First of all this model is different from Galvestons previously mentioned on this site. This specimen has the body shape of the so-called "first generation" Galveston 12vers but doesn't have any "passive mode switch". This is not too good as battery changes during live shows are almost impossible; the battery compartment is separate from the main electronics cavity but is screwed to the wood of the body. Unscrewing it onstage in the event of battery failure would've been a laugh for the crowd. In this aspect this bass is very similar to other Galveston models, as well as Hense models. It also has dot inlays instead of batwings more typical for a Galveston. The model number on a box reads, USB12B. (Editor's note: Interestingly, this is the same model number that was used for the Carlo Robelli brand of 12-string basses.)

It has four control knobs, one volume and three EQ controls. Those are Lows, Mids and Highs, just as always. The controls are quite useful, you can arrange a wide variety of tones, however don't be overzealous with the Highs control; just as in the case with cheap active J&D Basses, this one produces a lot of hum when the Highs are turned up. The hum is akin in its character to a hum from a distortion pedal, so using that control with a setting higher then a half when playing through one is not recommended. But otherwise, if used carefully, it can produce a nice, bright and colorful sound; just don't push it to its limits. The other two controls, luckily, seem to be lacking this hum-producing quality. The Lows control can give this bass a very muddy, dull, depressing sound, great for doom metal bands. I prefer setting it half-way up; the fundamentals start to sound akin to a Fender Precision Bass.

The pickups are typical soapbar type humbuckers, nothing special, nothing bad either. When played unplugged this bass produces an admirably loud sound which is bright and clean and a pleasure to hear. Overall, I'm satisfied with the sound of this instrument, it's quite adequate for such an economic bass (Hey, its only $418.00!) especially for a 12ver of such cost.

The only disappointing thing in the sound is the hum mentioned above. The body shape is unusual but is quite comfortable and useful. You can play up to the 24th fret without any access problems. The big extended upper horn allows for better neck balance so there isn't much neck dive. The seller's site states the body is made of mahogany but in reality it seems way too bright for a mahogany. The finish is decent and nice. It looks appealing.

The neck is one-piece maple, it has two truss rods. The good thing is that they were adjusted from the start. The action is low, even a little bit too low for my tastes. In fact I like that neck very much, it feels very natural and I had no problem to easily play it after playing an 8-string, which has a much thinner neck. The neck is attached to a body with the help of four screws. A typical solution but it seems to do its job well.

The fretwork is adequate and nice, nothing special but no big problems either. There is a very little bit of fret buzz here and there but maybe it's just my playing style, since I prefer higher action. The humorous thing about this bass is that this relatively cheap model has 27 frets - a number which isn't typical, especially for a bass! All the frets work as fine as you can expect in terms of intonation, but those last three frets seem a little bit ambiguous. They are hard to reach and I've never heard of anyone who actually needed more then 24 frets on a bass. But if you, like me, are using Paul Chandler's G in Fifths tuning (the first fundamental and its octaves tuned to a 5th chord) you may find them useful for emulating guitarist's riffs.

The bridge is of a typical tune-o-matic style and has 8 saddles. It's also deepened (routed) into the body and it came tuned so there is still more than enough room for future adjustments both in length and height. However the deepening work isn't too good; on close-ups you can see that a pencil line marking the place that should be deepened is still present in some places, especially around the pickups. This isn't a problem especially because it's hard to notice on first sight, but rather, an aesthetics failure.

My conclusion is: This bass is adequate for the money and is even better than you can expect of it. It's a good choice for entry into the 12ver world because it has a nice sound from the start and feels great. Also, when you'll need something more serious, especially in the way of electronics (I'm going to install some passive EMG-HZ's soon), this bass offers a good ground for upgrades and custom modification. But I wouldn't recommend buying it if you already have a 12ver of higher class, unless you are eager for 27 frets or electronics change. Personally I'm satisfied with this bass and am going to incorporate it in both my solo works and my band's live performances soon.

Thanks for reading!
Alexey "Evil Alex" Berezin

Galveston USB-12B Review - Part 2

Well... I have to add things to my review... but I'd better name it "afterthoughts".

So first of all, the Koreans were so kind as to insert metallic inserts into the holes of the battery cover. They were made specifically for increasing the lives of the screw holes. Everything would have been fine if they had used machine screws to attach the battery cover. But instead, due to some horrible mistake or just out of laziness they managed to somehow use wood screws. Yes, you guessed it, right into those metallic inserts! What the *&%#?! It took me more than ten minutes to figure out how to unscrew the battery compartment's cover without breaking it. Next, I had to find some properly threaded machine screws from my personal tool shelf in order to replace those crazy sharp ones the Koreans screwed in. Good thing the carvings weren't damaged by those wood screws!

So now the more terrible problem: Why would I want to open a battery cavity the next day after receiving the bass, you might ask? The answer is simple - the electronics suddenly stopped working. I don't know whether this was a construction failure or a shipping damage, they just stopped. Have I already told you I hate active electronics? So it would seem that they hate me in turn. The logical answer would have been that the battery was dead but no, I replaced it and found out it wasn't the case.

A check with a tester proved that either the preamp circuit has broken or something akin to that. So the next day I changed all electronics to the passive type so as to protect me from any possible further headaches. First, the passive electronics wiring is WAY simpler, and, as such, easily repairable in case of need; second, no more need to worry about the battery and third, the upgrade turned the overall sound of the bass to be approximately 5 times better then it was before (at least from my point of view).

We don't have EMG-HZ pickups available here, no other passive soap bars either. Bad. The aesthetics of the bass are going to suffer until I cut a plastic pickguard for it some time in the future. Well, this won't stop me anyway, I need that bass in playable condition for sound, not for just staring at it. (Bob Nimmo lives with an empty pickup hole in his 10-string and no problems, why couldn't I at least for a time being?) So I took a look at Chandler Royale's wiring and found an interesting thing - the guitar-type rail pickups working alongside a P-type bass pickup. "Hey, it's a 12ver!", I thought, "Those guitar-type rails are a great idea for octave strings!" But the P-type bass pickups required me to cut the wood out of the bass, which I didn't want. So I settled with a J-type (originally 5-string) single coil for the fundamentals. And why not? That proved to be a good solution as well, it gives out a good portion of lows yet it also has a good bright tone! Many people love J-bass but I haven't seen a 12ver with such a layout yet (a guitar humbucker with bass J-type pickup).

I decided to make it happen and see what it'll be like in the end. I've exterminated all the broken active stuff out of the bass and installed a 7-string guitar humbucker (DiMarzio X2N 7) in the bridge position and a J-type 5-string single-coil in the neck position. I also installed a 3-position pickup switch to allow pickup selection. The volume control was left in place. I'm considering installing a tone control later, but I love the result as it is now. All other controls were removed.

It worked perfectly! As mentioned above, it boosted my overall impression of this bass's sound almost five times! It maybe not a looker anymore (at least until I cut a pickguard for it) but the resulting sound was sure worth it! With just the humbucker it sounds very clean, very high. With just J-single it's has a lot more lows, sounds somewhat closer to Doug Pinnick of King's X. With both pickups it's very evil, very heavy, sounds REALLY GREAT with overdrive and distortion pedals. Good for thrash metal. The upgrade also reduced the hum level dramatically. And again, no more battery changing issues - bye-bye, battery!

Rock on!