We’ve taken a look at a few brands offered exclusively from Rondo music over the past year such as SX and Agile. Today we’ll give you the low down on the low end focusing on the Brice HXB 406, an affordable 6-string bass with an alder body and exotic zebra wood top.
First there is some thing you should know; I don't play a 6-string. My axes include a Fender jazz deluxe 5-string and an Epiphone Explorer bass. I have toyed around with the idea of buying one, but never could rationalize the expense...until now.
To help keep myself on the level, I have made three basic categories that I use every time when thinking of making an instrument purchase. First is comfort and playability. No one can have that effortless sound if you have to wrestle with an instrument. Second is tone and tuning stability. If an instrument farts at you, or if half the notes don't speak with the same inflection, I leave it on the wall. Just the same if the instrument doesn't play in tune, no good is done to any song. Third (and least important in my book) is cosmetics. You have to love the instrument you play. Looks account for something too.
When I first picked the bass up, I was surprised by the 8.5 pound weight as it looks as if it would weigh more. Weight distribution was excellent when held by the top horn and strapped on, the neck tilted slightly upward, a great starting point for a relaxed fretting hand position.
The head stock has a zebra veneer to match the body for a high dollar custom appearance and ends with a brass nut. The 3-on-a-side tuner’s action was smooth and tuning stability was superb. Outside of some slight tweaking due to weather and humidity changes, setup out of the box was ready to go.
The bolt on maple neck was attached with six screws and is topped with a 35" scale rosewood fretboard with offset abalone position markers. Frets are nicely polished and free of any burrs and the consistency of its thickness kept it easy to blaze three and four octave scales, crazy rock riffs, and funky jazz licks anywhere on the neck. Even at the 24th fret, my hand didn't feel cramped. Likewise, I didn't feel any excessive stretching at the first fret. I was surprised that the string spacing wasn't any noticeably tighter than my 5-string. I've tried some 6-stings that were more tree trunk than bass. Cool! There was a small bump on the neck under the 4th fret and a very small neck joint gap but neither affected playability nor the tone of the instrument.
The HXB-406 controls include a push/pull volume knob to toggle the active electronics, two tone knobs, and a blend knob for the neck and bridge pickups. The sweep of both tone knobs was a bit inconsistent with the treble knob seeming almost all in after a quarter turn and the bass knob fairly ineffective until the last quarter turn. Fortunately, I felt its voice was best with the tone controls fairly flat with a little blend of the neck pickup. Individual notes spoke clearly and chords sounded good with each note easily picked out in the crowd. The neck didn't have any problems with dead spots or a muffled tone.
Passing my hand over the finish, I noticed a couple of spots on the body where a touch extra sanding and perhaps an extra coat of varnish could have benefited the otherwise excellent finish. Also, the back panel for electronics could stand to be a bit snugger. However, I’m being very nit-picky especially at this price.
Overall, the Brice HXB-406 is an easy-to-play instrument offering a great option for players looking to experiment with a 6-string without breaking the bank. Sound was consistent, and the comfort factor was great! With a change of electronics you could make this bass roar.
Price: ~$300 USD
Pros: Excellent playability and tones
Cons: Active tone controls could be more effective across the control’s entire sweep.