For decades, Stanley Clarke has been a pioneer of the bass guitar, in more ways than one. His virtuosity changed the way we approach the instrument, but he’s also constantly working on improving the instrument itself.
Although he’s closely associated with Alembic, Clarke has spent the last 42 years collaborating with instrument designer Tom Lieber. The duo first teamed up in 1980 to make the Spellbinder Bass, and continued in the 2000s with the SB II, the Mando Piccolo Bass, and other unique designs.
Several years ago, they worked together to create a four-string bass inspired by Leo Fender’s Stratocaster guitar. They took it to Fender Corp to realize their creation, but after some back-and-forth on the design, the partnership did not pan out. Instead, they took it upon themselves to see the bass through. That’s the origin story of the Lieber Guitars Spellcaster Bass. We’ve been bewitched by it since Clarke teased it in 2018, so let’s get on with the sorcery!
The Spellcaster ships in a thickly-padded Roadrunner gigbag. Snatching it from the case for the first time, it feels slightly heftier than it appears. Lieber bills the Spellcaster as 8.5 pounds, though the bass we received was just over nine. It’s crafted with the classic wood combination of an alder body, maple neck, and rosewood fingerboard.
Despite its classic shape and vintage sunburst finish, the axe has some bells and whistles rarely put into a bassist’s hands. The tremolo bar is an eyebrow-raiser, for sure. There’s also the reverse headstock, which helps to increase tension on the E string and reduce it on the G string.
Once under the fingers, the strings all feel uniform. The hardware feels sturdy, if not elegant. A few build issues presented themselves. The nut was not seated correctly in its slot, although the zero fret negated any effect that had on the sound. The side of the neck showed some chip out, and there were small gaps on either side of the neck in its pocket, where it should fit snug to the body.
The Spellcaster is assembled in the USA, but pieces crafted overseas seem to have slipped through quality control measures. Ultimately, however, the playability was not sacrificed. We mentioned our concerns to Tom Lieber, who explained that our review model was deliberately intended to represent an average Spellcaster, not a specially set-up model designed to elicit a better review.
Sounds and Playability
As you can imagine for any instrument with Stanley Clarke’s name on it, it’s clear that the Spellcaster was built for speed. The short 30” scale combined with a 1.5” nut width make the neck feel like a breeze.
I felt compelled to run lines up and down the neck, which put a big smile on my face. Speaking of fun, let’s get back to that whammy bar. Its construction is solid, so even when I cranked down on it with some chords, the strings all came back to pitch and stayed that way with no problems. If you want to try some divebombs, this will not disappoint.
The true magic of the Spellcaster is its sonic palette, which has a lot to offer. The three Kent Armstrong-designed single coils are some of the cleanest, clearest pickups I’ve played.
A Strat-style five-way selector lets you toggle the pickup configuration: Neck, Neck/Middle, Middle, Middle/Bridge, and Bridge. However, a mini-switch brings some extra tones to the mix. When it’s flipped down, the first position on the five-way selector engages both the front and rear pickups. Most importantly, the second position then engages all three pickups at once.
The neck pickup on its own gives that old school short-scale tone that would sit well in indie or classic rock. Mixing in the middle pickup adds more low end to the sound. The middle pickup is aptly named, because it balances well, and the bridge pickup offers crystalclear overtones, perfect for bell-like harmonics.
Two tone controls let you roll off the highs of the neck and middle pickups for more subtle sounds. I found myself switching to all three pickups at once over and over, because it turns the bass into a flamethrower of tone.
Utilizing all three provides a load of sonic information through the pickups, with the depth of the front pickup, the punch of the middle unit, and the definition of the rear pickup. No matter the setting of the bass, it always carries a certain throaty tone; more punchy and defined than fat. It makes sense once you read the name on the headstock again.
As Clarke himself states, the Spellcaster is not meant to replace your existing traditional bass: it’s a new tool with different options. Yes, there are some problematic build flaws that are hard to ignore at this price point.
However, the bass still acts as a boon for creativity, with loads of cool tones that cut through a mix. If you’re looking to conjure your own new sounds, this could be the bass for you.
- PRICE: $1,635 plus shipping
- MADE IN: Produced in Korea, assembled in USA
- COLOR: Sunburst
- BODY: Alder
- NECK: Maple, 30” scale
- NECK JOINT: Bolt-on
- NUT WIDTH: 38.1mm (1.5”)
- FINGERBOARD: Rosewood
- FRETS: 25
- PICKUPS: 3x Kent Armstrong/Tom Lieber-designed single-coils
- ELECTRONICS: Passive
- CONTROLS: Master volume, dual tones, two-position miniswitch, five-position pickup selector
- HARDWARE: Chrome
- WEIGHT: 9.3 lbs
- CASE/GIG-BAG INCLUDED: Yes
- LEFT-HANDED OPTION AVAILABLE: No
- CONTACT: Lieber Guitars