Bass of the Week: Spalt Instruments vViper

Spalt Instruments vViper

This week we look at the Spalt Instruments vViper, a custom built bass with a unique pickup design that pivots. The idea for the “wiper” arm pickup is the brainchild of proprietor Michael Spalt, a luthier who started building after studying film, photography and painting in San Francisco. After consulting on it with Bill Bartolini, the end result allows infinite positions between the two extremes of the pickup cavity while allowing you to lock it into a favorite position.

The tonal range varies on its placement – moving it all the way to the front approximates a typical P-bass position, where the middle resembles a Musicman’s tone and the rear is similar to bridge pickup of a Jazz bass. Spalt also explains the single pickup is advantageous to a dual pickup design because it eliminates phase cancellation issues, and the wider arc on the bass side of the strings compensates for “a lesser change in tonal character in the lower strings vs. the higher strings.”

Spalt has eight vVipers listed on his website, but number three, nicknamed the “Madras vViper”, really caught our eye. The 5-string custom piccolo bass features a swamp ash body with a brilliant red flame maple top, maple neck, and Macassar ebony fingerboard. According to Spalt, the pickup design only supports 4-stringers (Bartolini hasn’t gotten around to making one 5-string compatible yet), so he used a Lane Poor Jazz pickup to accommodate the 5-string spacing which was relatively narrow.

The bass features the Novax fanned fret system, with Sperzel locking tuners and single-string bridges rounding out the hardware. The owner of this bass also requested the slit in the lower bout, which is made to hold picks.

The Spalt Instruments vViper runs about €3,300 (~$4,500 USD), though prices vary as each bass is custom. For more, visit the Spalt Instruments website.

Spalt Instruments vViper Gallery:

Spalt Instruments vViper Specs:

  • Bolt-on Construction
  • Body: Swamp Ash
  • Top: Flame Maple
  • Neck: Maple
  • Fingerboard: Macassar Ebony
  • Pickup: Lane Poor Jazz
  • Tuners: Sperzel Locking Tuners
  • Other: “Wiper” Arm Pivoting Pickup Design, Built-in Pick Holder

Get Bass of the Week in your inbox.

Don’t miss a Bass of the Week. Sign up for email alerts (every Monday).

Share your thoughts

  1. Tom Groeneweg

    Christ that’s ugly.

  2. Wow Awesome Concept. What a great artistic control over sound options. I would love to try one on a 6 string.

  3. Why would you buy a bass like that only to soil it by playing with a pick?

  4. Interesting concept; would liek to play one and hear how it varies in tone. I’m not a fancier of picks but don’t begrudge people using them – Carol Kaye made a pretty substantial body of work using one and the sounds are current with what she recorded.