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    Ernie Ball Bass Slinkies
    Ernie Ball strings are great for a beginner, just starting to experiment with different sounds. They're roundwounds, and are a pretty standard gauge -- 45,65,80,100. A very cool, bright sound with lots of life and roundwound zing. Punch, great slap sound. Apparently, these strings are easy to break -- in two and a half years of playing, I've never once broken a bass string and it's beyond me how one might even accomplish such a feat -- but EB strings are apparently the easiest with which to do so. They're pretty cheap for bass strings at around $35, but the "life" only lasts for about a month. After that, they become pretty dull and lifeless, and, if you're recording/regularly gigging, you'll want a new set pretty quick.

    Ernie Ball Group III Flatwounds
    These were my first foray into flatwounds. Very cool sound -- a lot of old school mojo. Tons of thump. Smooth feel, although they're pretty uninspiring to look at -- just a dull gray colour. They're a bit more costly, over $50 or so. Thing is, they'll never lose the thump, so if you like flats and the flat sound, you'll very rarely ever have to buy a new set of strings.

    Rotosound Swingbass L66 Nickel-wrap
    I found these to be rather uninspiring, bland sound. Not a thrilling set of strings.

    D'addario XLs
    Similar to the Ernie Balls, but a little bit more of a quality product. Longer life, slightly higher cost. Pretty swank strings. Great for slap and other percussive techniques.

    Thomastik-Infeld Jazz Roundwounds
    These have the most pliable, flexible feel to them of any strings I've ever played. Also, once broken in, they have the most consistently good tone I've ever heard. Most roundwounds start off with a really cool, biting, zingy sound but they dull off and get a nasty thump after about a month of hard playing. I've been using the same set of TI's on the fretted since Christmas -- once they broke in, they took on and kept a nice, warm, sound that hasn't faded in the months I've been using them. At $55+tax a set, they seem pretty expensive, but when you only have to buy one set every year and a half...well, you'll see where I'm going with this.

    Thomastik-Infeld Jazz Flats
    A total surprise for those who think they know what flats should sound like. Lots of growl. I use them on my fretless, and if I have the bridge pickup on full, I'm never wanting for a bright, cutting sound. Less smooth than strings like D'addario Chromes or Fender Superbass Flats, but still a great feel. Best strings I've ever used -- they cost the same as the rounds. Appearance is pretty similar to EB flats.

    D'addario Chromes
    Swankiest strings I've ever seen! They're chrome-plated steel. Great thumpy sound and the smooooothest strings I've ever played on. The tension is ridiculously tight though, so I don't think I could ever use these on my basses. A lot of upright players seem to put these on their electric basses (Evan Wise being one). They really helped to tame the harshness of the piezo pickups in an Italia Mondial bass.

    Fender Medium Flats
    A similar sound and smoothness to the D'addario Chromes, these are the best quality-for-price flats I've ever played. Much better tension than the Chromes, but they're still not a s pliable as the Thomastiks. Were I to want the thumpy-flat sound, these would be my strings of choice, but the Thomastik sound is just too great to give up.

    Yamaha BB4F Fretless
    I got this particular bass for $500 CAD, which is $300 off the sale price at Renaissance, so the "quality-for-price" might be different for me than that of other reviewers.
    That said, I enjoy this bass a LOT. The only detractors are that it's got a rosewood fretboard, which are more prone to damage than woods like ebony, and that one of the lines sits a little higher than the fretboard (soon to be fixed). As mentioned, it does have lines -- a big help in the learning process, especially when playing in the higher register. The pickups are better than most I've used on lower-priced instruments -- I can get a LOT of usable tones out of this, including:
    Upright approximation (neck pickup - 10, bridge - 0, tone - 1 or 2)
    Mwah-ee fingerstyle (neck pickup - 6, bridge - 10, tone - 6)
    Acoustic guitar-accompaniment (neck pickup - 10, bridge - 8, tone - 4)
    Primussy tone (neck pickup - 10, bridge - 10, tone - 8)
    Very good build quality, and the finish is very nice -- smooth, matte finish that doesn't shine or pick up fingerprints at all. It's a little rough in a couple places, like in and around the lower cutaway, but very nice overall. It also takes small dings and scratches very well. Best of all, this bass is light and it balances exceedingly well, considering the cost -- a lot of lower-cost basses have a bad case of neck-dive. Great bass, in my opinion, for the cost.

    Ibanez Jet King 1
    A friend of mine owns this -- and frankly, it's a phenomenal guitar for the price. It's got a basswood body, so it's very light. Super 58 pickups, which are the same humbuckers that are in the Pat Metheny signature, George Benson signature, and Jet King 2 (new model) guitars. The electronics are simple, and yet effective -- volume, tone, pickup switching, coil taps (one for each pickup). They're arranged in a very intuitive, but also visually appealing style.
    The neck shape is very comfortable, and the frets were well seated, levelled, and there were no sharp ends. The body design was very comfortable -- it's a kind of pseudo-singlecut design with great upper fret access, and no radical spikes that'll jab you or take out the eye of your fellow musicians on stage. The tone is very sweet, very clean -- a great guitar for jazz and blues. It's a very comfortable guitar to just "noodle" around on, with very comfortable string spacing for those of us who play fingerstyle.
    When my friend first bought the guitar, the high E saddle had a small burr on it that broke a couple strings, but that was dealt with -- no worries now.

All photographs, art, and textual content are Aaron Saunders, 2004 unless otherwise noted.