Tennessee 12-String Bass Review

A Comparison with a Waterstone TP-2
by Robert Baird

(Editor's Note: This is a review of the Tennessee 12-string bass which was manufactured in Korea.)

For the past few months, Tropical Moon Music has been auctioning the new Tennessee 12-string bass on eBay. I recently bid and won one of their eBay auctions for a used bass and I snagged it for just under $300 plus shipping. The auction listing did state that it had a broken string and the neck needed adjustment... and they were not lying! It was very well packed for safe ground shipping and arrived in perfect condition.

After I unpacked it, my first thoughts were: #1 - Pretty cool green sparkle finish and, #2 - The thing is a MONSTER!!! With a 3 1/8" thick body and 34" scale, it weighs a ton. My guess is about 14 pounds, it's just huge.

Anyway, I was also very lucky recently to have purchased my second Waterstone Tom Petersson 12-string Bass. My new Waterstone is a 34" scale in the limited edition yellow color. I have to admit my bias, I really like the quality, playability and sound of the Waterstone. To put the new Tennessee 12-string bass in perspective, I've photographed it side by side with my Waterstone 12-string bass.

First of all, the Tennessee's 3" thick arch top body is obviously much thicker than a Waterstone's flat top, 2" thick body. The lower "horns" are styled differently, and the Tennessee's headstock length measures 8 3/4" long from the nut versus the Waterstone's longer headstock length of 10 3/8" from the nut.

The Tennessee's nut measures 2 1/8" and unfortunately it is simply a piece of rosewood that has been slotted for the 12 strings. Honestly, I think it's pretty bad and I plan to have my local luthier replace it soon. The top of the Tennessee's rosewood fretboard widens out to 3" in width, and the neck has 20 medium, low quality metal frets. Overall, it does have an approximately 34" scale. The overall body length is 19" and the width of the widest / lower bout measures 16".

The neck and headstock have single ply cream color binding. The neck has a single truss rod and it is covered by a minimal looking black plastic cover. The body of the Tennessee 12 features single ply, cream colored binding top and bottom. The open f-hole also has single ply cream binding as trim. "God only knows" what kind of wood was used for the body??? Looking inside the f-hole, the woods appears dark, streaked, unfinished (burrs, etc.) and almost used in appearance. I usually never open the control cavities, and upon doing this with the Tennessee 12, I think the body is actually some sort of laminated plywood type material!

The paint finish on the guitar front, back, sides, and neck is actually very nice. There are no obvious paint flaws, runs, etc. The pickups are passive and measure 4" in width versus the Waterstone pickups which measure 4" wide. I can't honestly tell about the pickups on the Tennessee 12. They seem to be a typical flat recessed soapbar style, fully potted to form a solid bar. I think that they were probably designed #1 for looks and #2 to pickup vibrating strings, but not much after that in terms of bass and treble response curves. There is a standard 3-way toggle switch and each pickup has a tone and volume control.

The bridge on the Tennessee 12 uses 8 adjustable saddles similar to the Waterstone's and is also height adjustable like a tune-a-matic style bridge. The tailpiece on the Tennessee is similar to the style of the Waterstone's but has different positioning for the four tailpiece mounting screws. Also, the tuners look exactly the same as my Waterstone's but do not carry any brand markings.

User Report: When my used Tennessee 12 arrived from the seller, it was completely unplayable! The bridge height screws had been raised almost to the maximum bridge height so much that it was almost tilting on the bridge posts. The strings that came with the bass were very low quality. They were roundwound but obviously no attention was paid to their sound qualities. The neck on the Tennessee also had been "adjusted" to say the least - the truss rod had been cranked to the maximum!! So much so, you could see the middle of the neck arching upwards. Yipes!!!

The first thing I did was to remove all of the original strings. Next, I relieved the tension on the single truss rod completely. Then I lowered the sky-high bridge down to what I think of as a normal height adjustment that would prevent fret buzzing but allow a semi-low action on the neck. I let the unstrung neck sit for a day with the truss rod set at no neck tension, then installed a set of Waterstone strings. The new Waterstone E and A fundamental strings were much more stout than the original bass strings and, as a consequence, the slotting of the cheap rosewood nut had to be adjusted or the strings would "ride high" in the nut slots.

I tuned all the new strings up to pitch, adjusted the bridge height just a little and then started re-adjusting the truss rod. I must have been lucky because the neck seemed to be straight and I was able to play without any fretting out or buzzing up the scale for each string.

Finally, the big question... How did this new "Monster" sound? I plugged it in and began to play simple riffs just to hear the bass and treble response of the Tennessee's stock neck and bridge pickups. The volume and tone pots worked as they should have without any scratching, etc. and the 3-way toggle worked as it should have.

To my ear, the pickups on the Tennessee are adequate, not great, not awful, but adequate. There was in no way the articulation of Hamer's or Waterstone's pickups, the Tennessee's pickups seemed a bit mid-range all across the scale. My ears didn't hear the distinct treble courses cutting through with great definition, but they were there.

Final thoughts... Let me repeat, this thing is a Monster!! Not in the cool sonic way, but in the actual physical sense. It's big, it's heavy, it has a chunky neck, and it sounds okay... not great, but okay. I'm planning on using it for gigs and tweaking its sound with an equalizer and treble boost pedal. Since I didn't pay that much for it, I'd feel safe using it live. I just worry about what's going to happen to my shoulders and back after three hours of playing!


Editor's Note: The following comments are from five different buyers of this bass on eBay:

"I'm disappointed with the quality of this Bass and how it was represented."
"Total crap. The bass can't be played, poor quality finish, not worth $150. Cheap."
"Was not playable."