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Talk about having it your way...

By Phil O'Keefe

 

Sandberg guitars and basses are far more well-known in their native Germany than they are here in the USA, but that appears to be rapidly changing as more and more American players become familiar with this boutique European brand. Sandberg takes an artistic approach to building instruments, and one look at the custom shop page on their website will tell you that they're not afraid to try some outrageous things. Even their regular models offer the buyer outstanding flexibility in terms of options. Holger Stonjek, the company owner, is a skilled musician who regularly contributes to the building of Sandberg instruments, as well as regularly performing at shows and clinics. The folks at Sandberg obviously have a lot of passion about music and musical instruments; the question is, is that passion evident in the instruments they build? Let's take a look…

Sandberg California TT4 main.JPG


What You Need To Know

  • There are a ton of available options for this bass… you can literally "have it your way", with a staggering array of available options.
  • The neck on the review unit is Canadian hard rock maple and has a smooth, comfortable satin finish. It is capped with a rosewood fretboard. There are no inlays of any kind on the fretboard, although there are side markers so you'll still be able to tell where you're at on the neck with just a glance. If you prefer fretboard inlays, you can get dots or blocks at an additional cost.
  • The truss rod is inserted from the front, and then covered with the fingerboard. There is no "skunk stripe" on the back of the neck. The truss rod adjustment is done at the headstock.

Sandberg neck rear.JPG

  • The edges of the rosewood fingerboard feel as though they're slightly rolled or rounded, which gives the bass a "broken in" feel that is very comfortable. Maple and ebony are also available as fingerboard wood options.  
  • There are 22 medium-jumbo frets, and the scale length is 34", although a 35" scale length is available as an option for five-string versions of this bass. Fretless versions of this bass are also available. The frets on the review unit are well dressed and polished, and expertly leveled via the Plek system.
  • The neck is quite comfortable in terms of dimensions, and has a c-shaped profile. Width at the nut is 1.65" on the review unit, and 2.23" wide at the 12th fret. The neck thickness at the first fret is 0.875", and it is 0.975" thick at the 12th fret.
  • The neck is joined to the body with a unique six bolt arrangement that is very stable, and undoubtedly contributes to the excellent sustain of the Sandberg California TT4.


six bolt neck.jpg

  • The Sandberg California TT is available in 11 different high-gloss finishes. The tobacco sunburst finish on the review unit is absolutely flawless and quite striking in appearance. In addition to high-gloss finishes, you can also opt for a matt finish. There are even three different levels of relic treatment that simulate aged finishes available as options.
  • The body of the review unit is alder, but other woods are available as options, including swamp ash, and European ash. You can even order it with a mahogany body and a "rarewood" top. Optional top woods include bubinga, birdseye maple, cocobolo, imbuia, flamed maple, wenge, quilted maple, walnut, spalted maple, zebrano, bahia, macasar, and bocote. Rarewood versions are not available with "aged" finishes.  
  • The headstock on the review unit is finished in natural, but you can order it finished to match the body if you wish. Yes, even if the top of the body is done in a rare wood, you can get a matching headstock.

Sandberg headstock.jpg

  • The pickups are Sandberg "T" models (J-style) with two big beefy pole pieces per string. Alnico V magnets are used in the pickups. Delano and Kloppmann pickups are also available as options.

Sandberg single coil pickups.JPG

  • The electronics are rather nice too, with the Sandberg California TT4 being offered in both passive and active / passive versions. The review unit came equipped with passive electronics, and features a single master volume control and a smaller master tone knob, with the middle knob serving as a balance or blend control that allows you to quickly switch between either pickup, or blend the two in any ratio you prefer. This center pickup selector knob also has a center-detent which lets you know when both pickups are equally balanced.

Sandberg controls.JPG

  • The control cavity is painted with shielding paint to help reduce hum, and noise is not a significant issue with this bass, even though it uses single coil pickups. Quality full-sized Alpha pots are used, and the wiring and soldering are clean and well-done.
  • The bridge is a very heavy-duty top-loading unit made by Sandberg. Action and intonation can be easily adjusted for each individual string.  

Sandberg bridge and bridge pickup.JPG

  • The three-layer pickguard is fairly traditionally-shaped, and the top layer is tortoise shell colored. The pickguard is extremely well cut, and fits snugly to the neck and control plate, with no visible gaps to be found.
  • There are four metallic inlays near the neck. The "four circles" motif is also repeated on the headstock and on the bridge, and are a Sandberg logo item that distinguishes their basses.
  • The neck is also extremely well-fitted into the neck pocket on the body, with no visible gaps at all.

neck pocket 1.JPGneck pocket 2.jpg

 

 





 

  • The Res-o-lite tuning machines are made by Gotoh. They're open-gear, with a 26:1 ratio, and are exceptionally lightweight, yet hold their tuning quite well.

Tuning machines.jpg

  • The stock strings are stainless steel round wounds, in gauges .040-.100, with .040-.128 gauge strings used on the five-string models.  
  • A Plek machine is used to make sure the frets and setup are first-rate. As with the various other guitars and basses that I've tested that featured Plek-assisted setups, the playability is outstanding, and nothing at all thing needed to be done to the bass in terms of the setup - the action and intonation were perfect, straight out of the bag.


Limitations

  • My only real disappointment is that, at this price, I would have liked to have seen a hardshell case included instead of the deluxe gig bag that comes with the Sandberg California TT4. Speaking of price, it is not really what I'd call an inexpensive bass, and that will no doubt discourage some players from owning one, but it is a very well built and excellent playing bass and not at all over-priced for a European import of this quality.


Conclusions

While I was reviewing a fairly basic version of this bass, the amount of options available are quite impressive, and allow the player to order exactly what they want - at a price of course. This kind of flexibility puts a lot of demands on a manufacturer, but it's great that Sandberg gives players the ability to spec out their dream bass in practically every way, from wood types, to color, to finish aging - even the pickups, electronics and inlays.

The neck joint is extremely stable, and while it has the kind of sound you'd expect given its looks and pickup configuration, the Sandberg California TT4 is even beefier and more sonically flexible than many J-style basses. The setup and playability are both first-rate, and exactly what you'd expect from a high-end bass. If you know exactly what you want in a bass, Sandberg can build it for you, and they're well worth considering when you're ready to have a bass made your way.


Resources

Price: $1,835 "street"

Sandberg's US distributor's web page: www.diffusion-audio.com

Sandberg's California TT4 Bass web page


Sandberg California TT bass demo videos:







Phil\_OKeefe HC Bio Image.jpgPhil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines. 

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