A review from Music players.com by Joseph Dubbiosi
The Lightwave Saber Bass is a welcome sight (and sound) for bassists
looking for something new. Electric guitar & bass technology has remained
essentially the same since the very beginning. There certainly have been subtle
improvements in magnetic pickup technology and active electronics, not to
mention cleaner effects pedals and amps, but the instruments themselves have
stayed pretty much the same… until now.
Unlike conventional magnetic pickups, the LightWave Saber’s optical pickups do
not create a magnetic field, therefore the strings’ sustain is not affected by
the slight pull of the magnet. This allows the tone of the Saber bass to sustain
much longer while remaining clean, and it delivers a more natural bass tone than
you’ll hear from a typical magnetic pickup.
After spending two months playing with both a five-string fretted Saber SL and a
four-string freless Saber VL, not only are we completely in love with their
tone, but the fretless VL in particular truly captures the tone of an acoustic
upright bass – incredible!
Built-in tone controls allow the player to easily design their own tone color as
with traditional basses. With the optical pickups, though, you will notice
something else very cool – when you lower the gain on the guitar, the quality of
the tone is not diminished, nor is the sustain! Also, when you apply high levels
of tone control or set the optics for a stronger bridge or fingerboard tone, you
don’t get any humming from pickups being out of phase – excellent for those of
you doing a lot of studio work. The overall sound of the Saber is neat and
clean, balanced and very natural. This should make processing any effect sound
The Saber SL and VL models sport a fresh design – not too traditional but not
too “out there” either. Everyone we showed the Saber basses to appreciated the
good looks of these guitars. The biggest difference between the Saber
instruments and our other basses is, of course, the tone. You will notice right
away that the tone settings on your amp and/or EQ may have to be reset almost to
flat levels when you first start playing with this bass. The Saber’s optical
pickups produce such a clean signal that most of the EQ settings which were
present (on our amp) to compensate for lack of tone are no longer required.
The Saber is also equipped with piezo pickups in the Monolith Bridge rails that
add a very cool character to the instrument’s tone when blended into the signal.
If you are looking for a fairly versatile bass with a really clean sound that
looks pretty good, at a price that won’t break the bank, The LightWave Saber SL
is definitely an instrument you should test drive and consider. And if you’re
looking for a fretless bass, the Saber VL should knock your short list down in
size significantly – its tone is really nothing short of amazing (and helped it
to win our distinguished WIHO Award). We know that everyone has different
tastes, and we own a variety of pro-level basses ourselves, but no other bass
guitars we’ve played dropped right into the pocket almost instantly and have
been so much fun to play right out of the box.
The LightWave Saber SL we tested was a five-string fretted model: solid
alder body, 34” scale length, three-piece laminate hard maple neck (14” radius)
with a rosewood fingerboard, nickel silver jumbo frets. Four-string and fretless
versions are also available.
The Saber VL we tested was a four-string fretless model that only differs from
the SL in that it has a chambered swamp ash body and a fretboard made from
treated basswood, making it extremely smooth to the touch and rock solid for
good contact with the string. With its small sound hole cutout on the body, the
look of the Saber VL is nothing short of gorgeous, especially with the hot red
flamed maple top on our test instrument.
The single most unique feature of these basses (of course) are the optical
pickups. Unlike a conventional magnetic pickup that generates a magnetic field
to interact with your strings, and thus alter your strings’ natural vibration,
optical pickups use infrared light to observer your strings’ natural vibration
and translate that vibration into sound while remaining transparent to the
signal path. While various magnetic pickups are optimized to change the tone of
an instrument in some particular way, the optical pickup’s job is to capture the
sound without changing it at all.
The basic Saber SL and VL controls for volume, blend and tone are standard
and therefore very easy to use. There is also a special Mids center frequency
sweep control knob. This allows you to create a greater range of tone by
widening or narrowing the frequency between 220Hz and 1kHz. At lower settings,
the sweep has a narrower “Q” setting for altering a narrower band of
frequencies, and the “Q” is wider at higher settings for boosting presence.
A two-way toggle switch (called the Warm/Cool switch) does just that, almost
simulating the experience of selecting between a magnetic bridge or neck pickup
in the magnetic world. In the Warm position, the EQ of the bass tone is a
smooth, solid, deep bass. The Cool setting shifts the overall EQ curve of the
bass to sound brighter.
Built into the very slick-looking Monolith Bridge saddles are piezo transducers
which, when activated via the iceTone control knob, blends the piezo tone with
the optical pickups to add another dimension to your sound. The piezo pickups do
not function in the manner you’re more accustomed to – i.e. they do not
specifically generate the tone of an acoustic bass. They are purely part of the
instrument for shaping its overall sonic palette.
The custom-designed Monolith Bridge rails are not only very neat looking but
they offer virtually all adjustable parameters you need for setting intonation,
action and aligning the optics (more on this later).
Basses with active electronics have forced us to have a ready supply of
nine-volt batteries on hand at all times, so the built in rechargeable NiMH
battery is a really nice feature to have. The built-in battery provides a long
power life and is simple to maintain. An LED indicator on the bridge lets you
know when the battery is running low on power. When the LED is lit, you’re good
to go, and a full one-hour charge provides approximately sixteen hours of
playing time. When the light goes out, you still have power for about an hour or
two. The battery charger (provided) can be plugged in for a quick charge before
a show, but if you can’t wait, the charger will charge the battery while you are
Right out of the box the Saber SL was ready to go. We didn’t even need to
charge it until after a few days of playing.
The feel of the instrument was very easy to adapt to. The shape is unique, but
not so “out there” that you have to alter your playing style. We found it almost
seamless to begin playing just about any style. The only thing we noticed was
that it seemed to be top heavy at first, but playing around with our strap
length solved most of that problem. We also missed having a thumb rest. However,
the two-octave fingerboard provided an alternate resting place, and we became
used to the different position sooner than we might have expected.
The overall feel of the Saber SL bass was what you would expect from a
quality-built instrument. The two-octave fingerboard worked well with the body
design making it very easy to play higher notes, and the smooth finish on the
neck didn’t slow us down either. The size and the shape of the neck allowed for
easy movement up & down the bass on all five strings. The round wound strings
supplied with the Saber SL were very playable, but depending on you tastes, you
may want to try your favorite brand to see how they sound with the optical
pickups on this bass. Keep in mind that you may experience very different tones
from your favorite strings because the pickups are so clean (more on that in the
Sound section) that they may reproduce overtones you never heard before!
If you don’t like the factory settings (action, gain etc), you can spend a
little time – and we really mean just a little, making your own tweaks to the
bass setup. When we first received the bass, we wanted the action to be lower.
Making the string height adjustments was very simple. All adjustment points were
accessed from various setscrews on the Monolith Bridge saddles. [Editor’s Note:
LightWave has informed us that current shipments now have a lower action set at
At first, we didn’t even have to open the back panel to realign the optics, but
our curiosity got the better of us and we went for it. To our pleasure and
surprise, having never before worked with optical pickup technology, making the
optic and trim adjustments took less than forty-five minutes (the bass came with
expert documentation on this, but more about that in the Documentation section).
Five screws on the back plate offered access to the motherboard. You will only
need to access this panel if you adjust the string height. Since the tone relies
on the optics to target the string, setting a higher or lower actions requires
resetting the optic height, too. The manual details the steps to accomplish this
through the back panel, but you can also reset the optics by ear. Using the
precise method detailed in the instructions, an LED indicator on the logic board
showed us when we adjusted the optics to their “optimal” position after we had
set the action to our personal taste.
Using only our ears to adjust the optics was easy, too. Because the optic
adjusters are located on the Monolith Bridge Saddle (one for each string), if
you trust you ear, it is very easy to reset the optics without ever opening the
back panel. All adjustments were made using standard Allen wrenches supplied
with the instrument.
We didn’t make any adjustments to the Saber VL freless. It played like a dream.
When playing and sliding our fingers across the fretboard, it was very easy to
produce killer fretless tones, which is why we all buy one to begin with, but
we’ll tell you more about that in the next section.
The sound of both LightWave Saber basses was so clean and clear that we
had to level our EQ settings to completely flat! We were amazed at the clarity
of the tone through our Peavey 400 watt digital bass amp that we used. We reset
the EQ to slightly enhance the bottom end for a little more punch and that was
it! The tone controls on the bass were really all we needed to create deep bass
tones, popping treble tones for a funkier feel (on the SL) and everything in
Saber SL Fretted
The Saber SL dished up the best tones and overall sound we were shooting for in
a variety of styles: straightforward jazz, hard driving rock, and smooth
ballads. All of these sounds were very clean and recorded so well in our studio
test that even the engineer commented on how precise the sound was. He simply
added a little compression and that was it!
One other very cool sound we discovered was when you roll off the bass tone,
pump up the treble tone and play around with the bridge/fingerboard balance
knob, you get an almost piano string tone quality (If you have ever opened up a
piano and lightly plucked one string, you’ll know what we are talking about). We
were amazed when we heard this. If you are trying to find more sounds for your
band or original music, try this bass out – very cool!
We did, however, notice that when we tried to get a real funky pop/slap sound,
the initial punch was not as strong as we expected. Playing with EQ settings
helped a little, but the articulation still fell a bit short. The slap back of
the strings to frets in the funkier style also seemed too muffled. The slap
sound was a little better once we adjusted the EQ settings, but again fell short
of our expectations. This difference occurs presumably because of the lack of a
magnet interacting with the bass strings. LightWave just started shipping the
Saber Hybrid bass, which includes a magnetic pickup, to better facilitate
funk-style playing, and we’ll be reviewing that instrument soon.
When we plugged into an effects box, the desired effect didn’t create the sound
we were initially going for – the optical pickups responded a little bit
different compared to our magnetic-equipped instruments, but that was very easy
to fix when we placed our effects in the effects loop in back of the bass amp.
With that simple change, our effects sounded great!
We tried using the bass in several different situations to see how roadworthy it
was, and it never let us down. We took it to a couple of live gigs, tried it out
in a home studio set up using a Lexicon interface through a Dell computer, and
straight into Pro Tools in a full blown professional recording studio. The sound
was always better than we anticipated.
Saber VL Fretless
The chambered body of the VL wasn’t just incredible to look at, but its design
(and different wood) seemed to give the VL a unique yet subtle tone difference
from the solid-body SL. We think that the chamber allows for more resonance of
the instrument body, and when the tone knobs and balance were set to our taste,
we were able to command a true upright bass sound.
When it came time to let our fingers do the sliding, every movement of our
fingers on the string was clear and reproduced the exact tones we were trying to
hear. The classic fretless (ala Jaco) pitch bending of the tone was virtually
flawless. Every subtle movement of the finger, even vibrato, was dead on.
EQ settings in both live and studio applications were flat. No enhancements of
the tone through amps or mixing boards were necessary. We didn’t even need to
use any external effects to achieve the perfect fretless and upright bass sounds
we were after. Of course beyond our “pure” tests, we did apply certain effects
to hear their affect of the tone.
These effects only needed to be turned up slightly to be heard. The best
sounding effects were a little flanger, wah (although with fretless this was
almost redundant), and a hint of octave doubling. The five string VL would
probable eliminate most of the need for doubling, though.
As with the Saber SL, we used the Saber VL in several real-life playing
situations including the recording studio, live gigs, and home studio recording.
In every situation where we used the VL, we not only got comments of “Wow! What
a neat looking bass!” but we experienced real jaw-dropping looks from other
bassists, sound engineers, and musicians who had an appreciation for great bass
The clean tone reproduction of the optical pick-ups combined with the chambered
body design and the incredibly smooth fingerboard made for a super fretless
sound that instantly put a smile on our faces.
This fretless would be perfect for any bassist seeking a fretless instrument –
not just jazz or blues players. The Saber VL is a super-clean sounding
instrument with all of the cool new technology of the Saber line plus a
fantastic fingerboard and chambered body for incredible bass tone.
Documentation and Product Support
The user manual for the bass is only fourteen pages long (unlike other
manuals for microwave ovens or lawnmowers), but that’s at least ten to twelve
more pages than the typical documentation that comes with a bass guitar.
Happily, it offers everything you would need to know to set up and maintain the
bass to your personal taste. The manual includes pictures of the motherboard and
easy-to-follow instructions for the adjusting of the controls inside and out.
There are close-ups of the adjusting points on the Monolith Bridge for action,
intonation and optics adjusting. The manual is written as clearly as the bass
sounds. We found that to make any adjustment took only moments.
The manual gives excellent information on everything from doing an initial setup
to how to maintain the NiMH battery for long life.
The warranty is a typical one-year warranty on materials and workmanship. We
thought that with a new technology like the optical pickups, a longer warranty
should be offered on at least the electronics, but we never experienced any
problem during our month of active playing.
If you’re curious, you can download a PDF file for the manual from LightWave’s
The list price for the basic Lightwave Saber SL four-String bass is
$1,295.00 and a very reasonable $100.00 more can get the SL five-string at
$1,395.00. The Saber VL four-string fretless has an MSRP of $1,645.
As most quality basses go, these are a very good prices when you consider the
technology inside and the full features these instruments offer.
Make no mistake – although we’re all just discovering the LightWave brand, these
are quality instruments with professional features and killer sound.
The technology inside the Saber SL bass isn’t completely new, so don’t be
hesitant to check it out if you are worried that this is brand new technology.
LightWave has been making the optical pickup technology for at least five years
now, and previously, you were able to custom order their electronics installed
on select premium instruments from manufacturers such as Zon. Unfortunately for
mere mortals, the $3,500 price tag on those optical-equipped basses made them
all but unobtainable for most players.
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