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ACG 9 string review

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[size=1][b][i][color="#FF0000"]Please note: This review has been written for the sheer enjoyment of writing. I am not connected with AC Guitars in any way, only as a customer The review has not been requested by AC Guitars nor was prior warning given to AC Guitars before posting.[/color][/i][/b][/size]

[size=2]This is a review of the ACG 9 string bass which I took delivery of in January this year. This bass may have a larger than normal body and neck, but at the heart of it is a solid sounding, traditional electric bass guitar. AC Guitars have been making a name for themselves over the last few years. The vision of one man, Alan Cringean, ACG instruments are instantly recognisable with their original silhouettes, high build quality and stunning woods.[/size]








[size=3][b][u]Construction and hardware[/u][/b][/size]

[size=2]This ACG 9 string has the “Recurve Singlecut” shape and uses a set-neck, a glued joint, instead of the more usual thru-neck or bolt-on. This set-neck design is well executed and shaped with no ungainly mounds or troughs in the join between neck and body. The neck and body sandwich a “transition block” of wenge which, as well as being used when the neck and body are glued, gives a clean and handsome look to the finished joint.





The neck itself is a 7 piece laminate of maple and wenge. The back of the headstock has a wenge backplate to mirror the wenge of the neck whilst the front of the headstock mirrors the wood used on the body of the bass, which is a smart touch. The headstock carries 9 Hipshot Ultralite tuners which have been angled slightly towards the body. This both makes tuning physically easier and reduces the size of the headstock to help with the balance of the whole instrument.





The neck carries an acrylicised, book-matched, spalted maple fingerboard (!) which is completely flat (i.e. no radius). Supplied by Gallery Hardwoods in the USA, the “stabilized figured woods have been impregnated with monomers and acrylics to produce a dimensionally stable wood*” As well as allowing woods which were previously considered too fragile to be used as fingerboards the “stabilized woods minimize or totally eliminate: shrinking, cracking, expanding, warping*”. ACG have embraced this new innovation and are one of the only (if not the only) luthiers in the UK to offer acrylicised fingerboards to their customers.





The ACG 9 has a 35” scale, has 17mm string spacing at the Hipshot bridge and a wide fingerboard which grows from 79.7mm (3.14”) at the nut to 126.4mm (4.98”) at the 24th fret. The neck is very shallow at 20.2mm (0.8”) and is very slighter narrower at the body joint. The frets themselves are fat and not too high measuring 2.58mm tall (0.1”) and 1.55mm high (0.06”). The entire bass is 118cm (46 ½”) long and 38cm (15”) at its widest point. Surprisingly, the big ACG 9 string weighs just 5.4kg (just under 12lbs) and fits in an off-the-shelf Hiscox case.

The neck joint and body cutaway gives access to all of the 24 frets. The range of the ACG 9 is 5 octaves plus a major third (4 frets)!!

The body is swamp ash and the piece has been specially selected for its light weight. A black veneer is sandwiched between this and the mahogany top. The top not only has stunning figuring but the colour varies from light, orangey hues to dark brown. The black hardware compliments the colouring of the whole bass.

The whole instrument is finished in an acid catalysed lacquer with the “sheen level” adjusted to make a satin, smooth finish on the back of the neck and a high gloss everywhere else. On many basses, a thick gloss finish coats the whole instrument necessitating 0000 wire wool (or similar) to be used on the back of the neck to make it smoother and easier to get around on. This clever control of the “sheen level” makes the bass great to play straight away. The quality of the finish is really impressive with no bubbles, runs or other defects.[/size]





[size=3][b][u]Electronics and controls[/u][/b][/size]

[size=2]The ACG -01 preamp is only available on ACG basses (the 02 version, with reduced functionality can be purchased from ACG direct) and is a filter-based system. This does take some getting used to but, as with all things in life, the work you put in pays dividends. Sounds range from dark, thick and soupy to harsh, thin and trebly. Not only can separate sounds be set on each custom wound ACG pickup, they can then be blended together as well. If that wasn’t enough to shape your tone, each pickup has coil switching controlled by the relative toggle switch below the bridge.

The controls are on 4 stacked knobs and the first of these takes care of volume and pickup blend. The next two stacks are low pass filter stacks, one for each pickup. The further the bottom of the stack is rotated clockwise, the more high frequencies are let through the filter. Importantly, the bottom end of the sound is not affected as it would be on a regular eq-based preamp. The top controls the “overshoot peak” essentially enhancing the frequencies passing through the filter. The fourth stack is a high-pass filter which affects the whole sound. This time, the lower ring controls the amount of low frequencies passing through and the top enhances those frequencies.

It all sounds complicated, but in essence the stacks are volume/blend, tone shaping for neck pickup, tone shaping for bridge pickup and a stack to add treble to the whole thing.

The 9 string also has a third toggle switch to select either the bridge pickup or the piezo pickup in the bridge. Instead of blending in a flat piezo signal to the magnetic pickups, either the bridge or piezo signal runs through one channel of the ACG EQ-01 preamp. This means that the piezo signal can be shaped as well, creating a totally new range of sounds. The pre goes down to 20Hz, so even affects the low F# string.

This ACG bass also has a low-battery indicator, so the 9V battery can be changed before it’s completely exhausted. This avoids the huge embarrassment caused when your bass cuts out mid-gig.[/size]


[size=3][b][u]Playability and sound[/u][/b][/size]

[size=2]All of the previous would count for nought if the bass was a swine to play. As mentioned before, the fingerboard is very wide but because it’s flat, and so does not have a radius or a ‘curve’ to it, this makes getting around surprisingly easy. The fingerboard feels very smooth and hard, but even smoother than a traditional varnished maple fingerboard. This at first feels a little strange, but after a minute or so this is forgotten and you find that the fingerboard is ultra-fast.

The 9 strings come from S.I.T. in the USA, are tuned in fourths from F# B E A D G C F and Bb and measure .165, .135, .105, .80, .60, .35, .30, .19 and .12. The lowest 5 strings are taper-core so exposing the core at the bridge and over the bridge saddle. It’s important to note that the 9 strings are based around a ‘conventional’ 4 string set of .35, 60, 80 and 105 with a .135 making the low B of a ‘conventional’ 5 string set. This essentially makes the instrument a 5 string bass with extra strings added and makes the adjustment to playing this “Extended Range Bass” as painless as possible.

Straight from the workshop, the action was really low. This hasn’t been adjusted at all ever since and measures 1.6mm (4/64”) on the lowest string and 0.4mm (1/64”) on the highest string. At the 12th fret the action is 2mm (5/64”) and 0.6mm (1 ½ / 64”). There is a tiny bit of relief of 1.6mm (1/16”) in this neck. This low string height added to the glassy-smooth fingerboard combine to make the ACG 9 an incredibly easy instrument to play. The wide neck takes some getting used to but this is by no means an impossible mountain to climb.

Frets end have been carefully bevelled and there are no protruding fret ends to catch flying fingers or thumbs. The crowns of the frets have been nicely shaped and polished to a high shine. Being really picky, the only criticism of the setup is that the strings are too low in the nut slots. There are some repairers and luthiers who would dictate that half of the string diameter should be exposed in the slot and that the sound could be muted because of this. Overall though, the setup is really low and buzz free which is all us bassists could ask for.

The balance is also spot on. The neck strap button lives above the 10 fret giving a fulcrum which the headstock and tuners cannot outweigh. The bass is heavy, but not overly so. Wearing the bass with a thick, padded strap means this bass can be worn for extended periods during practice, rehearsal and gigs.

Even with the preamp set totally flat, the sound of the ACG 9 is full and round and from there it is possible to dial in, literally, any sound you can think of. Even that low F# is audible and usable, even through a 40 watt 12” practice amp. The bass continues to sing all the way up the entire range with no dreaded ‘dead spots’.

It has to be said though, that the preamp does need some getting used to as you start to understand how each control affects the sound. However, after a short time it gets easier to dial in sounds quickly and easily. As of now, I have one sound that seems to work for everything I need so I add bass or treble from that favoured setting. The pre even affects the low F# string so the entire range of the bass can be shaped. With this and the huge range of the bass, the ACG 9 becomes a very powerful tool indeed. The highest tribute I can pay to the ACG pre it is to say that, when finances allow, I will have one fitted into my Sei bass and sell the 3 band Schack circuitry that lives in there at the moment.[/size]





[size=3][b][u]Conclusion[/u][/b][/size]

[size=2]These “Extended Range” basses are definitely a niche market, so it is to ACG’s great credit that they even took the order for such an instrument. This is no publicity stunt though, but a serious instrument which shows ACG’s attributes of original design, high build quality and stunning woods. The acrylicised fingerboard is a revelation both in looks and playability and the ACG 01 preamp is a refreshing approach, addressing the limitations of the more conventional banded eq setup.

All through both the consultation process on the specification and the build itself, communication between myself and ACG has truly been a two-way process. Ideas have been aired and used or left by the wayside according to what would serve the bass best. The instrument leads the way and Alan Cringean doesn’t impose his preconceptions or preferences during the build.

I couldn’t be more pleased with this ACG 9 string. It sounds great, plays great, looks great and is wonderfully made. I have no qualms in recommending ACG for anyone looking for a new bass regardless of the number of strings required.[/size]


[size=3]Further information on all ACG basses can be found at [url="http://www.acguitars.co.uk"]www.acguitars.co.uk[/url]

A full explanation of the ACG filter-based preamp can be found directly at [url="http://www.acguitars.co.uk/docs/news/63.pdf"]www.acguitars.co.uk/docs/news/63.pdf[/url]
[/size]


[size=1][b][u]* Taken at 19/5/09 21:55 BST from [url="http://www.galleryhardwoods.com/stabilized.htm"]http://www.galleryhardwoods.com/stabilized.htm[/url] [/u][/b][/size]

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Great review, does this beast justice without getting too carried away or biased. I have played this lovely instrument and can vouch for the fantastic quality, feel, sound and most of all surprising playability. Truly a work of art, ACG are very high on my wish list at the moment

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Thanks for the kind words about the review. I really enjoyed putting it together. :)

I have no idea how to post soundclips. If I can record an mp3, how do I get it to this website? Is there a sound version of Photobucket ?

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Very nice bass and very well made review! Congrats to both builder and customer :)
Alan is an artist and you've been extremely detailed. Well done!

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Excellent review, and good pics too. :)
Was there a particular reason why you didn't have a matching mahogany back too, to complete the full hippy-sandwich? Not that it detracts from this extraordinary instrument in any way.

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Thanks for all the kind words about the bass and the review.

I never really thought about the back of this bass to be honest. My Sei 7 has full facings back and front, but that has maple on both sides as well. With the ACG, the ash body and maple go well together and gives a great contrast between the 2 sides.

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