Bass Review – Overwater Progress Series IV Standard 5-String Bass
Yet another company I was looking forward to contacting after joining the Bass Gear Magazine team, Overwater, is based in Carlisle, Cumbria, UK. Overwater Basses was founded in 1979 in the Pennine Hills, Cumbria, but before that Chris and his partner Andy were part of London’s bustling and vibrant 70s music scene at a basement in Denmark Street, The London equivalent of the famous “Tin Pan Alley”.
Fast forward four decades, Overwater builds custom basses around a company philosophy in that a bass guitar is first and foremost an acoustic instrument, and design decisions are based on producing an instrument that has a natural resonant response and is tonally balanced across the Range frequency.
While the Custom Series Progress bass offers ultimate build flexibility – your choice of exact requirements – the Standard line offers a more streamlined setup. Make no mistake, the Overwater Progress Standard comes with options that Chris and his team have curated to present you with a high-end instrument whose configuration is complementary to its overall tone and aesthetic, which only makes make production more profitable.
As soon as I opened the Lite-flite Overwater case (made by Hiscox), I was greeted by the wonderful scent of a recently finished bass. Indeed, the signed certificate attached to this bass indicates that she was born on “April 18, 2022”. This may be the youngest bass I’ve ever played on!
First, the Progress Standard bass rested in my usual seated playing position with no neck dip. The 3/2 headstock with five closed tuners is a weight saving compared to, for example, larger 70s-style elephant ear tuning keys. If you are a theater or studio actor where you spend most of your time sitting, this will provide comfort while performing multiple shows a day! When standing, the Progress Standard’s longer top horn meant that when stepping out of my seat, the bass remained in the same position. Why practice all these scales and positions sitting, standing, and the bass is at a different angle?
This 35-inch scale model has a three-piece bolt-on maple neck with a natural satin finish. If your heart desires it, the Progress Standard is also available in a cross-over collar. Speaking of which, the mid-weight swamp ash bass body sculpt helps with weight distribution and playability. Take, for example, the heel of the neck which is sculpted at a shallow angle, eliminating unnecessary mass that might impede travel to the “dusty end” of the neck. Further cuts around the bottom horn meant I had unimpeded access to the highest fretted note. This example weighs only 4.3 kg! (That’s ~9.5 pounds).
The neck profile of this Standard 5 is shallow and lean, but I wouldn’t call it skinny. Finding a balance between stability and playability is one for the experts, but I would describe this profile as “just right”. After playing bass for most of the day, I didn’t feel any fatigue and just wanted to keep moving effortlessly around the bare Indian rosewood fingerboard. Each of the 24 medium-sized frets meticulously installed and perfectly dressed.
The bridge is an Overwater design and surely one of the most beautiful bridges on the market today; functional and elegant as it follows the curve of the bass body. You already know that I’m a fan of quick-release saddles, and in this case, the key shape the ball of strings slides into is sleek and tidy. 18mm spacing here, but if you opt for customization, different spacing options are available. The included tuning keys are also Overwater branded. Tuning operation is smooth and stable as expected.
Chris May has worked with top instrument makers, and for the electronics the stock pickups were designed with none other than Kent Armstrong. The SB5 models, I commented to Chris, sounded similar in tone to my usual pickup choices. There’s good reason to notice this, as the SB5 humbucker is also a ceramic magnet and steel bar humbucker, but with the coils wired in parallel. The raspy, yet punchy and controlled tone of this style of pickup is my favorite, and I’m glad the Progress Standard has it. Rich sound as notes almost pop out of my reference bass rig; I could feel my heart warm to this bass.
The pair of Overwater SB5 pickups deliver a beautifully open sound. The bridge pickup features an extra set of magnets to increase the output slightly, and so, in combination, provide a bold yet clear sound. They are (Faraday cage) shielded against electrical noise and encapsulated to protect delicate windings from contamination and vibration.