The Bass Whisperer Reports: Pedulla MVP4 Arctic Night 4 String Electric Bass Review                                                   by Ed Friedland

These days, the word "boutique" gets thrown around quite loosely. When applied to musical instruments (and basses in particular), virtually anything with a quilted maple top that costs more than $1,500 receives the moniker, and the cache that goes along with it. While modern manufacturing techniques have made it possible to build high quality instruments at a lower price, simply slapping a fancy top on a bass does not make it boutique. To my way of thinking, the designation should be reserved for fine instruments built by hand. While CNC machines are a boon to the production line, a true boutique instrument must have absorbed the sweat (and sometimes blood) of the individual whose name appears on the headstock. Michael Pedulla started building his basses this way, and while there were years where he employed a crew, as he now tells us on his website: "I have returned to building every bass 100% by myself. This means less distractions directing other people and more of my focus on each and every bass. The basses have my name on them and I take that personally."

Bass Emporium has recently added Pedulla basses to its offerings. To celebrate, this month's review is a stunning Pedulla MVP4.

The MVP is the original Pedulla design that dates back to 1975. I can remember seeing the earliest Pedullas on sale at E.U. Wurlitzer in Boston back in 1977. They kept them in a glass case to prevent the Berklee rabble from getting their paws on them unsupervised. At that time, the custom built bass market was sparsely populated and the Pedulla bass represented somewhat of a Holy Grail to many of us. I owned an MVP back in 1985, it was my first high-end bass, and my first step away from a 20-fret Fender. It's ease of playing and 24-fret neck helped me discover a lot of new concepts and approaches on the bass. Unfortunately that axe falls into to the "wish I hadn't sold it" category.

Features

Unlike many basses that sport a flamed maple top, the body wings of the MVP are built entirely from flamed maple. This particular instrument is AAA flamed maple, the AA maple costs typically around $300 less (list) and 5A maple adds an additional $1,500 to the cost.

The through-body neck is a three-piece maple laminate. With so much maple, one might expect the MVP to be overly bright, but in fact I found it to have a well-balanced tone overall.

The 1.5" width bone nut is substantially thicker than most at 1/4", the slots are cut to perfection and the back edge is sloped nicely to match the angled headstock. The neck profile is a rounded C shape that is easy to play without sacrificing the wood mass required for superior tone. One of the great advantages of neck-through-body design is the seamless flow from the lower to upper register, and the MVP has unhampered access to the 23rd fret. I'm nit-picking, but I wish the 24th fret was a little easier to play-if I can't start an Am7 arpeggio with my pinky on the 24th fret... I get grumpy. Oh well, there's no money to be made up there anyway.

The neck is stabilized with a dual-action truss rod, and two steel stiffening bars embedded under the 12" radius ebony fingerboard. The Pedulla comes with it's own special truss rod tool with a nice wooden handle perfectly angled to make adjustments easy and damage free. As you would expect with an instrument of this caliber, the fretwork is immaculate-and in general, the fit and finish is top notch.

The bridge is machined brass with adjustable roller saddles and a quick-release design that makes string changes more convenient. The Pedulla/Gotoh enclosed gear tuners and strap pins match the bridge's gold color, but chrome and black are also available.

Bartolini pickups have long been standard equipment on Pedulla basses, but they are not stock. Over time, Pedulla has collaborated with the ubiquitous pickup manufacturer to develop pickups that define their sound. No specific information was given as to what the modifications are, but the pickups were designed to "work with what the instrument does acoustically" as Pedulla tells me. The preamp is also Bartolini supplied-the ever present NTMB. Once again-not stock, but no specifics about frequency centers were available, just that they were chosen to bring out the instruments natural quality.

My impression was not that the builder is trying to hide trade secrets, more that the numbers and specs are less important than the result. The result is a very even, full range tone that offers a lot of flexibility. The controls are master volume, pickup pan, bass, treble, and a mini-toggle for a midrange boost/cut. The bass and treble are set for +/-15dB, and the midrange switch is adjustable to the same degree via two internal trim pots.

While I am not usually a fan of the PJ configuration, Pedulla implements this successfully by placing the J pickup 2" from G string saddle (measured center-to-center) and the P pickup in the standard location (5 & 7/8" center-to-center from the treble coil). To put this in perspective, most PJ setups have the J pickup in the 60s Fender position (2 & 5/8" from the saddle) which brings it very close to the treble coil of the P pickup.

It has long been a complaint of mine that this proximity creates a honky, nasal quality when both pickups are used together-particularly when slapping. However, the added 5/8" separation between the coils on the Pedulla eliminates this problem (for me). I find the two pickups blend well-the slap tone is tight with nice high end, and none of the sinusy mids that annoy me with standard PJ configurations.

Performance

The sensory experience of playing the MVP4 is seductive-you can feel the quality in your hands. The Pedulla website talks a lot about the "soul" of the instrument, and while I have no way to quantify this claim, the bass does have vibe. Unplugged, the sound is snappy and lively with great sustain-a good place to start from. Plugging in, the tone is surprisingly warm with the eq set flat, but pop a string and the spank is there. Each note has clarity, detail, sustain, depth and punch.

The neck pickup has the familiar P Bass bark, but with added presence-like a thin layer of sweet icing on a rich, moist chocolate cake. The proximity of the J pickup to the bridge gives it a super tight, fast response. Set flat, it's perhaps a bit too thin of a texture to rock the house, but the eq ably fills in the bottom if you want it. But as mentioned earlier, it's position makes for an ideal blend with the P pickup. Together, they create a thick, full sound that has definition-perhaps the best of both worlds.

this would be to say in the cut position, you get a sound suited for slap, and boost gives you a fuller fingerstyle tone.

With the factory default setting, the cut is not so extreme that it sounds scooped, in fact my ears register it as flat. Naturally, you can get inside and tweak it to your taste, but I have found that it's often best to leave these settings at the factory spec. These guys spend a lot more time determining where to set the levels than you might, and there is something to be appreciated about the builder's tonal vision. The mid boost adds gain as well as low-end punch, without getting cloudy. Sometimes low mids can mask the upper frequency spectrum, but the MVP4 retains plenty of clarity in mid-boost mode.

The bass and treble controls allow for a wide range of textures. The bass control thickens and widens the bottom, but manages to avoid the over saturation that occurs with many active eqs. The treble adds sparkle in a musically pleasing range, not harsh or biting-like the crispy snap of dried twigs crunching under your feet as you walk along the forest floor. The Pedulla customization of the Bartolini package seems to optimize the instrument's performance-you can't find a bad tone in this bass.

Bottom Line

The MVP4 is a versatile and capable axe that is tres sexy. While on the surface we see the same components found on many other instruments, they have been tailored to bring out the best of the beast. If you're looking for a handmade, US-built boutique axe that is both beautiful and functional, check out Pedulla.

Ed Friedland is a renowned Bassist, Educator and Author. He has authored over 15 books and DVDs and has played with the likes of Joe Beck, Larry Coryell, Robben Ford, Paul Horn, Clay Jenkins, Mike Metheny, Bud Shank, Lew Tabackin & Michal Urbaniak to name just a few. Ed is also currently teaching at Bass Emporium in Austin, Texas. Check out the Ed Friedland website for full information about him at http://www.edfriedland.com/.

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