REVIEW: Spector Coda 4 & Coda 5 basses

Stuart Spector is a legend in the bass world. His instruments have provided the backbone to bands like Metallica (Jason Newstead was a particularly visible Spector user in the early 90s) and Living Colour (Doug Wimbish), and Spector designs have often been imitated. The ultra-deluxe Coda series is made by hand by the man himself and his small team in the USA, and unlike his more sleek models like the NS (which still looks sleekly futuristic over 30 years after its debut) the Coda pays tribute to an altogether more vintage aesthetic: the Jazz Bass.

I got my hands on both the Spector Coda 4 (4-string) and Coda 5 (5-string) basses. Each features a one-piece rock maple neck with a 20-fret Pau Ferro (Bolivian rosewood) fretboard featuring Spector’s 1962 neck shape; a lightweight alder body; Aguilar OBP-2 active tone circuits; two passive Aguilar J single coil pickups; Schaller tuners; Dunlop Dual Design strap pins; and 34″ scale lengths. The fretboard radius on each instrument is a curvy and comfortable 7.25″ and lined or unlined fretless fretboards are available at no additional charge. The Coda is available in four colours: creme, solid black, candy tangerine and metallic blue. I reviewed the Coda 4 in Candy Tangerine and the Coda 5 in solid black.

The workmanship of both basses was absolutely flawless. You know when you pick up an instrument and you can tell immediately, before even looking at the brand name on the headstock, that you’re holding something special? The Codas have that thing goin’ on. The crucial neck joint area is unbelievably tight, ensuring unfettered energy transfer between the wood grains of the neck and body. The finish is perfectly and evenly applied – something you really appreciate on a jet-black instrument like the Coda 5 – and the fretwork is incredible. Bass players often aren’t as picky about the condition of their frets as guitarists since there’s less bending involved, and I’ve played some basses with pretty woeful frets over the years: the Codas leave them all choking in its dust. The sheer smoothness of the fret ends encouraged me to get more adventurous in my arrangements, throwing in more slides and grace notes than I would otherwise attempt, simply because the instruments felt so damn agreeable to such techniques.

The Coda’s tones are very punchy, powerful, dynamic and balanced. The low end is deep and tight, the treble is present and raspy (in a good way) and the midrange is very musical, placed right bang in the middle of the midrange spectrum rather than an overly boomy low-mid or overly honky upper-mid voice. The bass’s unplugged tone is noticeably piano-like in timbre, attack and sustain (especially the 5-string version), and I quite happily spent about an hour and a half playing the Coda 5 unplugged before it dawned upon me that I should plug it in and hear what it could do through an amp (in this case, a Gallien Krueger MB Fusion).

The Coda’s ‘plugged in’ tone is similar to it’s unplugged voice: balanced, sustaining and with great dynamics. Because the pickups are passive and only the preamp is active, you can switch the preamp off and use the bass with a more vintage tone, which is great for straightforward rock and old-school soul and R&B. The ability to boost both the treble and bass via the active preamp means you can maintain the balanced tone and sustain characteristics that the bass possesses naturally, while building upon them for a percussive, snappy slap-and-pop tone, or dipping out the treble and keeping the bass up high crease a killer dub sound. I also liked using the bass pot to reduce the low frequency a little to allow the instrument to sit more neatly within a recording that featured double-tracked 7-string electric guitars.

The Codas are world-class basses that are built with a discriminating touch to create, dare I say it, champagne tones. The workmanship really is second to none and the only reason I’m not immediately wiring money to the distributor so I can keep the basses instead of returning them after the review is because my bank manager would kill me.

This is an extended version of a review I originally wrote for Mixdown magazine.

Spector is distributed in Australia by Music Link.