Fernandes APB 5

Construction: 8.5/10: good woodwork with quality hardware. The finish was murky.
Playability 9.5/10: very comfy neck. The bass feels light, but you can really dig in.
Electronics: 8.5/10: EMG-style active pickups + 2 band EQ works well for this bass. No shielding.
Tone: 9/10: Great overall "growl" to the sound, all the way down to low B. Works well for fingerstyle and slap.

These days, Fernandes seems to be known for it's budget line, but back in the early '90s, they put out the APB series of basses, which were very ambitious. The APB-4 received rave reviews in Bass Player Magazine, where they speculated that the initials APB stand for "A lot like a P-Bass". Case in point: Francis Rocco Prestia was wooed away from Fender P-basses for awhile, to favor Fernandes.

HeadstockIt's true that with the neck pickup on full and the treble knob turned down, my APB-5 does, indeed, sound a lot like a P-bass. But that's just the beginning. The high quality active electronics provide more modern versatility than any Fender I've ever tried. Cosmetically, the APBs have a more generic '90s look, with the compact, highly rounded body and the small 3+2 headstock with gold Gotoh tuners.

The pluses of this bass outweigh the minuses by a very wide margin.

I like the 2-piece ash body. It has a very attractive grain pattern, and I know that the light weight will make a huge difference for my aching shoulder on those 6-hour marathon gigs.

BridgeI like the bridge. It looks a bit unusual, but it's very solid and it has some nifty bonus features, like single-screw saddle height adjustment and quick-change string slots. (Saves a lot of time changing strings, especially now that there's 5 of them.) I like the string spacing. At 18mm, it's not quite standard 4-string spacing (19mm), but it feels more generous than many of the other 5-strings out there. (Some people prefer tighter spacing; I'm definitely not one of them.) For me, the 18mm spacing provides a nice balance of comfort and speed, with ample room for slap style playing.

The electronics are simple and effective: volume, blend, treble and bass boost / cut. The pickup blend knob is wired the opposite from most basses, but I'm getting used to it. All of the knobs feel solid with good, stiff action. Sutrdy center detents provide a handy reference. I like the neck pickup, a lot. By itself, it provides plenty of everything: lows and highs. Predictably, the bridge pickup sounds a bit thinner, and with both blended, the sound is more refined and mellow. The active EQ is very intuitive and useful. With new strings, I backed off the treble a hair, even for slapping, and for old-school tones, I simply turn the treble down all the way. Slapping with older strings, some treble boost may be in order. The bass knob adds nice low end or cuts back on boominess, depending on your setting.

The control cavity is tidy and all the soldering appears to be well-done. The mini-pots are connected to the EQ circuit with wires, which will make any replacement much easier. There's no shielding on the cavity walls, but I didn't notice any noise. The pickups have shielded output cables, and they appear to be active. This makes the signal much less vulnerable to degradation and outside noise. It also makes a passive bypass option out of the question. The improved audio fidelity seems to be worth it, and the quick-change battery compartment should keep dead-battery down time to a minimum. (Just make darn sure you've got a spare 9V battery handy at all times.)

BackThe neck is made from 3 pieces of nicely-figured maple. It's not AAAA grade, but there's some light flaming and even some "bird's eyes" in the top section. (In my experience, figured maple seems to sound slightly better than many plain maple necks.) The rosewood fretboard looks very attractive. Cool bonus feature: the metal nut is adjustable. Speaking of adjusting, the truss rod is effective and very easily accesible. The neck is very comfortable to play, and fret buzz is minimal.

The Achilles heel of every 5-string and 6-string I've ever owned has always been the low B string. I hate it when I try to play one of the lower notes, and it's not 100% there. Alas, even some very expensive basses behave like this. The good news is that on the Fernandes APB-5, the low B string is 100% there. All of the low notes sound clear and true and never lose their growl. Some low B basses require you to use a lot of bridge pickup and just the right attack to get that low note out strong,but the APB cranks them out with any pickup setting. Yes!!! Finally, a low B string that really earns it's keep. The only fussiness I noticed was for slapping. You need to find that certain sweet spot to really make the notes blossom, and then you're all set.

NutOverall, with the active pickups and the nice blend of woods, the Fernandes has a character of it's own: fairly thick with lots of growl, and as much or as little treble as you want. It sits very nicely in a mix, and supports a band very well. Those low B string notes sound gorgeous on ballads.

Complaints? There aren't many. The transparent purple finish seems to be a bit murky, to my eyes. You don't get to see that lovely ash grain unless the lighting is really good. This is not a big thing.

The Fernandes APB-5 listed at $1400. It easily matches and/or exceeds most of the basses I've seen that retail at that price! I can't vouch for their current budget offerings, but I can safely say that the old APB models sound great, play great, and are a superb value for the money. They are an obscure, underrated classic.