I’ve got this weird Italia Maranello bass I picked up years ago when I was playing in the Eels. It looks like it’s from the ’60, but is, in fact, a modern instrument designed by Brit luthier Trev Wilkinson and built in Korea. The only “Italy” in “Italia” is the fact that their instruments look like the Brand X axes being made in Italy, Gemany, and Sweden nearly 50 years ago. It looks inexpensive, and is. But it’s cool if you like weird, trashy stuff.
I strung it up with flatwounds, figuring I’d try to use it as a pseudo-Hofner, something to use for melodic parts that didn’t demand massive low end. Given the instrument and the relatively dull-toned pickups, I didn’t expect anything massive-sounding. I got this:Italia Neck Pickup
It didn’t sound bad, exactly, but I thought I hotter pickup might improve things. So I pawed through my box of Seymour Duncan pickups and found…
… nothing that would fit the Maranello, which is routed for a guitar-sized humbucker. I had my eye on a Custom Shop Hawkbucker, but I needed something Beatles-esque for a jingle session. So I did something really dumb and popped in a pair of Custom 5s. Installing a pickup made for six-string guitars into a 4-string bass isn’t recommended by Seymour Duncan, or for that matter, anyone with a lick of sense. Draw your own conclusions.Italia Custom 5 Pickup
A pretty substantial upgrade, is it not? (Now, you know better than to evaluate bass tones through laptop speakers, right? Go get your headphones.)
The polepieces aren’t even positioned under the strings! Surely the levels between strings would be mismatched. Or would they? Here’s a four-note phrase played on each of the four strings:Italia Balance Test
So I dived in a recorded a track with it, for a TV commercial cue that called for a bright, dopey ’60s bubblegum rock sound. The part jumps across all four strings, and I don’t hear any glaring volume discrepancies.30-Second Bubblegum
Nope, it doesn’t sound like a Hofner. Hardly surprising, given that Hofners are hollowbodied, and I was playing a solidbody with guitar pickups. Yet it sounds shockingly decent, and it evokes the period, if not Paul. Close enough for TV!