Sadowsky basses have become one of the most formidable J-style bass on the planet. The Sadowsky is famous for being a scaled-down Jazz bass with a durable, reliable and highly-customizable build with a killer preamp.
Roger Sadowsky is the soul of the brand and the craftsmanship of his team is the reason behind the brand’s worldwide recognition.
Sadowsky basses have achieved great recognition for their quality and playability. Each bass is meticulously engineered with the best-in-business components, high-end electronics, exceptional construction. They are often viewed as lifetime instruments built and designed by one of the best luthiers of our time.
A Sadowsky bass has more active juice than the nicest Pro Fender J. The VTC preamp is awesome at imitating a P-bass. It gets very close to the slap tone of an EBMM SR (5ver).
It sounds great in a mid-scooped metal setting. And you can dial in a convincing passive Fender style tone for Motown, soul and blues.
Each of those sounds is memorable, and it is hard to find such versatility in a bass guitar without spending a lot of money.
If you are a one-bass person, a Sadowsky NYC bass could very well become the mainstay of your rig for the rest of your life. It has a distinct hi-fi tonality, highly customizable build and extraordinary crafstmanship.
Sadowsky basses can go up against other boutique builds priced much higher and come out on top. Musicians may or may not think they are overpriced but few people think they are overrated.
Sadowsky is also well-known for its outstanding customer care.
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Sadowsky bass construction
If you value an artisan-build with superlative construction, the Sadowsky is worth every penny of the price tag.
Sadowsky basses adhere to high quality standards. Despite the brand’s success, the company has repelled offers to mass-produce the NYC line and insists on handcrafting each instrument to uphold the reputation.
Every Sadowsky I have ever played had immaculate fretwork, near-perfect intonation, exquisite neck-feel and excellent weight-balance. The action on the instruments can go as low (if not lower) than anything else on the bass market.
Roger has a lot of street cred in Manhattan where he did a lot of repairs and upgrades for some top players in the NYC scene during the early decades of his career. At one point, Marcus Miller asked him to make ‘improvements’ to his Fender J-Bass.
Roger Sadowski’s years of working on j-basses helped him understand what is lacking in the current crop and how to move it closer to the demands of professional bassists. That is what the Sadowsky is about – taking the best design and making it better.
Every little detail can change the fundamental tone of a note. There are various vital processes like truing the fretboard, cutting the nut, selecting tonewoods and matching it with electronics.
Sadowsky’s high-end boutique basses have a mastery of all these elements, and offer a lot of customizable options combined with top-shelf components.
Sadowsky bass tone
‘Hi-fi tones in a classic build with modern/active electronics’.
The Sadowsky bass tone is this distinct tone, often called the super-jazz tone, that everyone loves. A big chunk of it can be dedicated to the onboard active preamp. Sadowsky preamps are famous for a hi-fi modern J-bass tone that is bright and cuts through the mix like a boss.
Thanks to the EQ filter, first-rate pots and sensitivity response, you can typically run it through a DI without an amp or pedals and get a ready-to-mix tone out of the box.
The tone on a Sadowsky is exceptionally even across the entire fretboard.
The 4-knob control panel has a VTC knob (Vintage Tone Control). The VTC is basically a passive control knob that allows you to dial in or dial out ‘the modern hi-fi’ sounds to get a thick and warm vintage-y low-end. The knob does a respectable P-bass approximation.
The bass can sound burpy and nasty with the treble boosted, which isn’t a bad thing. The only downside is that neither the 3 nor the 4 knob onboard preamp have any mid control and it certainly reflects in the sound.
For some, the Sadowskys are the Holy Grail of a J-Bass tone, often described as sharp, hi-fi, bright and modern.
It works great for any style, especially fusion, funk, smooth jazz, gospel and R&B. A hotter version of the tone in Marcus Miller’s Renaissance Man album.
The Sadowsky tone was all the rage in the 90s. To some, it may sound dated compared to some other ultra-modern boutique builds.
Sadowsky vs Fender basses
We often hear how ‘Leo Fender’ got it right and no one has ever been able to outdo the original Fender J-Bass. Well, Sadowsky did it well enough to earn the “super jazz” nickname – a jazz bass on steroids.
The real question is can the bass justify the difference in price?
The Fenders still rule the under $2000 bass guitars when it comes to value. A passive Fender is great for people who don’t like the ‘glass’ of modern electronics. The Fender has more warmth and a softer tonal palette.
The Sadowsky is wide and loves to sizzle and burp. The huge price difference is difficult to justify unless you really want the hi-fi Super-J tone.
However, when it comes to that Super-J tone, the active Fenders can’t compete with the Sadowsky at any level. Then again, comparing the mass produced Fenders to the handcrafted Sadowsky is like bringing a knife to a gunfight.
You can pitch the Custom Shop Jazz versus a spec’d out Sadowsky and see what your ears prefer. The verdict will depend on whether you like the warmth and sweetness of a Fender Custom Shop build or the active/modern Super-J Sadowsky tone – a highly subjective choice.
Despite the back and forth, the Sadowsky beats the Fender in value based on components, construction, and consistency. You need to play a handful of Fenders before you can find a ‘great’ bass.
Sadowskys are faultlessly consistent in quality control and every bass is set up and checked to a T by Roger himself.
Sadowsky Metro(s) vs Sadowsky NYC Bass
The MetroLine is produced by Yoshi Kikichi, Roger Sadowsky’s protégé who trained under him for one year before Roger agreed to set up a Japan unit to keep up with the growing demand.
The relatively cheaper MetroLine includes most of the popular features from the NYC product line at a more affordable price tag. It offers nearly the same value for a drastic reduction in price.
Frankly, the difference in tone between the two is only something an advanced listener would fuss about.
The main difference between a MetroLine and NYC, other than the price, is the body style and customization options. On a Metro, the only thing that you can customize is the color and pickguard combination.
The MetroExpress is a “budget version of the budget version”. Roger describes it with “The MetroLine is an artisan-built bass while the MetroExpress is a factory built bass – same materials and electronics but a different production approach to make it available to the masses.”
Until 2020, the MetroExpress was being ‘factory produced’ in Japan. For better or worse, Sadowsky has tied up with Warwick distribution and agreed to move production to China in 2020. We will have to wait and see how that reflects on the price and quality.
Regardless, this is certainly going to drive up the prices of Japan-made MetroExpress basses in the used market.
Since the launch of the MetroExpress, the MetroLine falls in an awkward “neither nor” category as most people will either go all in and get an NYC or save the extra cash and get the Express.
Between the three, the NYC stands out for the flexibility in customization. If you want a high-end boutique bass, the NYC is worth the extra money and the pleasure of owning the real deal.
Sadowsky 5-string basses
The Sadowsky NYC 5ver costs 4x the price of an EBMM, Fender Deluxe or a Lakland DJ5 with only a slightly better value in tone.
However, the Sadowsky is more versatile and approximates the tone of all those brands to 90% – that is like owning three great bass guitars in one build.
The Sadowsky fiver is a stellar instrument that cuts through the mix and has one of the best low-B strings in the category.
When you compare it to similarly priced basses e.g. the Mike Lull M5V, the Dingwall Super J 5, or the F Bass BNF5, however, it boils down to personal tonal preference since they are all meticulously handcrafted instruments.
Sadowsky vintage 5vers are broad, their necks are wide and the playability isn’t as good as some other basses in that price bracket ($5000+). If you have small hands, the chunky necks and 19mm string spacing of the Sadowsky may not be for you.
The NYC Modern might be a better option because of the specs – 8lbs weight with 12” fingerboard radius and 1.875 nut width – though still a tad broad for tiny hands.
The cost-to-value surges drastically in favor of Sadowsky when you compare MetroLine and MetroExpress models because the price drops significantly but the quality doesn’t.
For instance – Check out the Moon JB5-OX ($3000 Japanese boutique build) in a head-to-head battle with a Sadowsky MetroExpress (MIJ $2000):
A used Express model goes for even less and can definitely be worth the cost.
Sadowsky Customer Service
Most bassists agree Sadowsky scores very well on customer service and relations. Roger Sadowsky is very determined and passionate about the needs of his customers.
Sadowsky offers a fail-safe warranty on new bass guitars and ensures the highest quality product and utmost attention to detail.
Don’t get a Sadowsky bass if…
There are oomph basses and there are twang basses. Sadowsky is a twang bass. If you prefer the warmth of passive pickups, don’t go for the mega-bright Sadowsky super-jazz sound.
This doesn’t mean you can’t dial vintage tones with it – but that is not what it is famous for. Other boutique brands can do this better.
In such cases, you might want to look for a used AVRI Jazz bass or a passive Moollon Vintage Classic.
While the Sadowsky is a great super-j bass, it could certainly use more control over the mids. They’ve achieved this with the Will Lee Model but the other basses should have this as a permanent feature.
You can remedy this with your EQ pedal or Amp but at this price, you might expect a flawless product.
Some players opine that Sadowsky is only 10 – 20% better than a high-end Fender Jazz Bass albeit more than twice the price.
Some also like the size and neck of Fenders. It’s possible to get the best of both worlds by buying a Sadowsky Preamp Pedal and using it with a Fender. The end result will the an ‘almost there’ tone at significantly lower costs.
Fenders are omnipresent. Every live or studio engineer knows exactly how to deal with them in a mix. The Sadowsky is more aggressive and assertive than the passive AVRI or a vintage J-Bass.
For some, passive Fenders just sound warmer with drive and are easier to EQ in a mix.
The Sadowsky NYC is a great bass that can (subjectively) justify the extra 3k over an EBMM or Fender.
The MetroLine, on the other hand, struggles to justify the cost unless you are hell bent on owning a Sadowsky. You can get a P-bass and a J-Bass for little over that price. Though neither of them is likely to sound like a Sadowsky.
- Sadowsky MetroExpress 5 String demo (Japan Build)
- Low B comparison on some boutique builds – Ken Smith, Lakland, Sadowsky, MTD
- Warwick website with the Tigerstripe Fretless Hybrid P/J Sadowsky MetroExpress (China)
- Sadowsky’s 2020 NYC Instrument Price List.
Featured image: courtesy of Sadowsky