Musicvox Space Cadet 12
by E.E. Bradman, published in Bass Player Magazine, August 2013 issue.
Twelve-string basses, which add two thinner "treble" strings to each of the standard-gauge E, A, D and G strings, are an attractive option for rock trios and other situations where bass players are allowed (or required) to commandeer a larger-than-usual chunk of the frequency spectrum. Legend has it that Cheap Trick's Tom Petersson convinced Hamer to build him his first 12-string bass in the 1970's, but it wasn't until the 90's that 12-strings, mostly imports, became affordable. New Jersey-based Musicvox, who specializes in distinctive instruments built in Korea, first offered the Space Cadet 12 in 1999; they stopped production in 2001 and began re-introducing the Space Cadet, with refinements, in 2011.
Our tester was an older model without the words "Space Cadet" on the headstock, and it has a wider neck than the first Space Cadets, but in many ways it's essentially the same instrument as the original Musicvox 12. It shares the original's neck-through body construction, alder body, maple neck, rosewood fretboard. brass nut, pickup selector, and proprietary pickups and electronics. It differs slightly from the company's latest models, which have a newly-designed bridge and tail assembly, but it has the new generation's cool binding on the neck, body and headstock.
The body is small and comfy, but I couldn't help wondering if a slightly heavier, bigger body might balance the headstock a little better. Adjusting my left hand to deal with her wide neck while pressing down on three strings at once took some getting used to, but neck-dive on a 12-string is to be expected. Sitting down made things a bit easier, and after an extended tuning session, the bass was ready to go.
Once I plugged in, I finally understood the appeal of this massive bass. Sure, players like Petersson, dUg Pinnick, Jeff Ament, and Allen Woody have opened our ears to this instrument's possibilities, but there's nothing like plugging in, turning up, and hitting three notes at once with big bottom and bright highs. I could imagine spending years discovering new flavors of alternative tunings, double stops and chord voicings. The Space Cadet has two outputs - one passive and one active - and I preferred the active output and the three-band EQ, activated by pulling up the master volume knob. It was fun to run separate signals to my Ampeg Micro-VR/EA VL-108 1x8 practice amp and a little guitar amp, putting a chain of effects on the highs, but it's unlikely that I'd take two amps to a gig, so the Space Cadet spent most of its time plugged into my Alembic F-2B/Bergantino IP112 1x12/Acme Low B 2x10 setup. It took a little longer than I expected to dial in EQ settings that allowed for the perfect fundamental, clear mids, and highs that were chime-like and not glassy, but in general, I ended up using more highs than usual.
I don't regularly play with a pick, but the .045-.105 fundamental strings on our tester were on the bottom (closer to the G string), which made it easier to play fingerstyle. Newer models have a different twist on the three-course idea: Standard-gauge E, A, and D fundamental strings on top, an intermediate gauge string tuned in unison to the fundamental, and a thinner-gauge string tuned to the octave; two octave-tuned thin strings accompany the G fundamental. Apparently, this makes it easier to play with a pick while easing up the string tension on the neck. I had fun experimenting with Wedgie, Fender, and Dunlop picks, but mostly I played fingerstyle, developing new calluses while enjoying the rich sound of single notes and simple intervals. Something about the 12 seemed to inspire Middle Eastern and Indian scales and modes, especially when the treble strings were slightly detuned. I've certainly gained new forearm muscles and a healthy respect for folks who can slap authoritatively on a 12-string.
As much as I liked the Space Cadet's complex tones, though, my ears preferred to put some space between my 4- and 5-strings and the 12; going back and forth too quickly made me miss the creamy low end of my basses or the sparkly fullness of the 12, which really is in a category of its own. With a direct price of $1,500 and occasional sale prices that are substantially lower, the Space Cadet is most likely the best compromise between price and quality. Plug in, hit a note or three, and step back. It's about to get loud.
Pros: Exciting sound, interesting possibilities.
Cons: Neck dive can be a deal breaker.
Bottom Line: If you can deal with the neck dive, a world of ringing tones and guitarless fun awaits you.
Challenge Accepted! Musicvox Space Cadet 12-String
by Von Gregor Fris in Bass Quarterly, published in Neumarkt in der Oberpfalz, Germany, March 2014 issue.
After the test of the already quite bizarre Musicvox Spaceranger in issue 6/13, things get even weirder. Based on the concept of twelve-stringed guitar, the twelve-string bass is a relatively young instrument. The first of its kind was built in 1978 by the company Hamer. The idea originally came from Tom Petersson, bassist of the rock band Cheap Trick. His idea was to create a bass that sounds bigger than anything you could buy for money at the time.
The design presented the guys from Hamer with some challenges. On the one hand, no guitars and no basses were built which had to cope with such a high number of strings, on the other hand, of course, it required individual hardware to implement this project. I do not want to go too far into the Hamer story, after all this test revolves around the Musicvox Space Cadet. One thing should be clear: A twelve-string bass is a rare instrument. I can only guess, but I doubt that the number of manufactured instruments of this kind in the world has ever surpassed the 5000 piece mark.
Anyone who has read the last test already knows that Musicvox is a rather special manufacturer. You will not find classic designs in their assortment in vain. Instead, you'll find retro-tinged oddities and things like that. Nothing that a 0815* pop musician would take to the stage. Of course, from this point of view, it's not surprising that Musicvox has adapted to the 12-string theme. (* 0815 is colloquial German for “average” or “mediocre”.)
Everything is different
To answer the most important questions beforehand: Yes, the Space Cadet weighs a lot, it is incredibly difficult to play and is even more top-heavy than anything that has come my way so far. Do I think that's bad? No. There is no doubt that this is a conceptual bass, the usual measures and expectations would simply be out of place. It is enough to look at the headstock to get to the obvious problem. Twelve tuners, four of them bass, eight of them guitar, everything is bigger and longer than you are used to. I do not hold a twelve in my hands for the first time. Nevertheless, our encounter is like a first attempt on a completely new instrument. Whatever it is, everything you know about the Bass instrument and know all the tricks and tricks you've learned over the years, it's hard to get down to it all. It's really like learning a new instrument. The only difference is that you have one goal in mind. Sooner or later you want to be able to move on the twelve, as you can with any other bass. Long story short. Everything is different, everything is new, forget everything you know about the bass, and embark on a new and certainly enriching experience.
The practical test quickly shows that fingerstyle techniques are rather difficult to implement. Slapping and groping can also be completely suspended. What is left and makes sense? The pick. Without this, the bass cannot even voice properly. Somehow you have to finally pick the individual strings. Speaking of voices, of course this takes a lot longer than usual. But not to be a complete farce, the designers of Musicvox made use of an interesting invention. The mechanics all have an integrated locking mechanism. Once the string has been set in tune, then turn a thumbscrew on the back of the tuners to prevent the tuners from giving in to the string. The Space Cadet came to me with a vengeance - despite the overseas flight from New Jersey to Germany, including a stopover in cold forwarding halls and customs stations – that works so well. I would not have expected this. In the world of guitars you can see locking mechanics so often, in the low-frequency segment, however, this invention has not yet arrived. In defense, though, it's worth noting that these tuners weigh a bit more, which of course tends to stand in the way of the current trend of ultimate head slimming for weight reduction. Although the Musicvox, as already mentioned, is very top-heavy, I think the decision is good. Through this mechanism, the Space Cadet can manage an entire gig without re-tuning. If that were not so then you would have to insert between the songs tuning breaks ... well, your band mates could probably go take a relaxed smoking break. It's not just the number of strings, but also their small spacing and the mechanics make it difficult to quickly engage in the utmost.
To give a brief overview of the general specifications, this is a long scale bass with a full-length maple neck. The body painted in Gold Sparkle is made of mahogany and like the rosewood fretboard with a chic cream-binding provided. The back is painted opaque black and the entire processing, to a few small places on the pickup milling, to my satisfaction at a decent level. The Space Cadet 12-string comes from China, so you should not expect detail-intensive manual work. But on the whole, this is a solid work. It will be interesting in the field of electronics. The two soap-bars, which can be selected via a 3-way toggle switch, can be tapped either passively or actively. These two paths are completely separate from each other and even each have their own output socket. The passive section has only one volume pot, while the active version has additional bass, mid and treble controls. However, these signal paths cannot be operated in parallel but are switched via the push / pull function in the volume pot. According to Musicvox, this is a request from the 12-string community. Thus, the two signal paths can namely send to two different amps, which can be set individually according to taste. These are gimmicks that I think it would not have needed. On the other hand, the hint with the locking mechanics came from the same direction, I guess the guys know what they're talking about, and I'm just an apprentice in their world and in the middle of the probationary period.
12-string guitars are often played with so-called open tunings. This means leaving the usual EADGBE path and tuning the strings to an open chord instead. Particularly popular is, among other things, the DADGAD variant. If you do not know what to do with this, please try the online search engine you trust for more information. Depending on what you want to start with such a bass, a mood in this way would also be conceivable. For example, in our case of the four-string bass guitar, a simple drop-D tuning is a good way to achieve a similar result. The result is very easy-to-grasp chords or power chords, where you play all the strings at the same time, creating an almost orchestral sound. This variant is interesting just because the Space Cadet, like all its members, is difficult to handle. There are tricks that make it easier to play and still provide a greater sound yield, of course, gladly seen. Coming from the regular electric bass, it is definitely associated with an unusually large amount of effort to simultaneously grasp all three strings of a group. There are only three solutions: practice, practice and practice. As already mentioned, conventional techniques quickly reach their limits. As for the arrangement of single strings, there are two different variants. Our test bass has arranged the high octave strings below the bass string. Most of the 12 strings I've seen so far, on the other hand, were designed differently. Musicvox's Matt Eichen offers both versions in his assortment and wrote to me that in his experience every 12 bassist has his own preferences, which are primarily based on his playing style.
At the end and yet at the beginning
The Space Cadet 12 string actually invites you to new shores. It inspires new techniques and, consequently, new music. Whether such an instrument is still a bass at all, the ghosts straighten themselves over. Ultimately, it does not matter. It sounds big, it sounds like several instruments playing at the same time, it's a challenge to accept and fight for. The result is unfamiliar sounds and new inspirations, which in turn can be transferred back to the normal electric bass. Even though I have completed this test for today, I am still at the very beginning with the test object itself. Finally, I would have a few listening recommendations. Doug Pinnick of King's X is a passionate 12-player, Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick, of course, Paul Gilbert's song "12/12" is worth listening to, Allen Woody of Gov't Mule / Allman Brothers, and last but not least ... the internet goes to great lengths time to Christopher Cardone. The sympathetic upper - bearded American plays a bass in this style as a six-string – a total of 18 strings!
Musicvox MI-5 12-String Bass
by E.E. Bradman & Bobby Vega published in Bass Player Magazine, April 2015 issue.
Pros: Thick bottom, sparkly highs.
Cons: Tight spacing.
Bottom Line: Looking for something different? There's no ride like the MI-5.