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Product Review: Epiphone Viola "Beatle" Bass Guitar

Bob Craypoe (also known as R. L. Crepeau) is a musician, writer, webmaster, 3D artist, and creator of the Punksters comic strip series.

The Epiphone Viola Bass

The Epiphone Viola Bass

A Little Background Information on the "Beatle" Bass

A couple of months back, I purchased the Epiphone Viola Bass Guitar. I have been happily playing it ever since. It is modeled after the classic Hofner bass that was popularized by Paul McCartney of the Beatles, in their early years. Paul first became acquainted with the Hofner bass during the time the Beatles stayed in Hamburg, West Germany.

Paul decided to purchase a Hofner bass because it was much cheaper than a Fender and, to him, the symmetrical shape appeared less awkward for a left handed bass player. In any case, Paul is the guy that really drew attention to it and, because of that, it has been nicknamed the Beatle Bass.

The shape of the instrument is probably its most distinguished feature and is probably one of the most attractive aspects of the instrument. But since an actual Hofner these days will run you about $3,000 or so, it is a bit out of my price range. So I started looking at a few different, much cheaper knockoffs of various brands. Even Hofner had its own much cheaper version of the instrument.

Some Technical Specifications for the Epiphone Viola Bass

The scale of the neck is 30.5 inches. The standard neck scale for a bass guitar is 34 inches or so. So the neck scale is significantly shorter on the Viola Bass. You will need special strings for it. Standard bass guitar strings simply will not do. They have strings that are specifically designed for the viola bass or violin bass, whichever it is called, depending upon the manufacturer. LaBella Beatle Bass Flat Wounds are the most recommended strings for the Beatle bass.

The Epiphone Viola Bass is a semi-hollowbody bass whereas the original Hofner is a hollowbody. So the Epiphone is a bit heavier, but it is very well balanced as a result. It also gets more sustain than I had expected as a result of that as well. The neck is a set neck made of maple with a rosewood fingerboard. It has a flame maple top with a vintage sunburst finish. The finish, by the way, looks very nice when it is polished up. I like to buff out the fingerprints after each practice session. The pickups are mini humbuckers, and I am quite satisfied with the tone.

Trying the Instrument Out for the First Time

First of all, It sounds great when plugged into an amplifier with some compression. Very nice and, like I stated before, it has more sustain than I had expected.

The bass has a nice feel to it. Since it is a smaller scale neck, someone who plays guitar could easily transition over to bass if they were to purchase this bass guitar. Guitar is my main instrument so I am much more accustomed to playing guitar obviously. But picking up the Viola Bass was a very easy transition for me. Especially since I have played larger scale basses before. I think the viola bass is easier to play than those, by comparison. At least it is for me anyway, and as it would pertain to some of the long stretches your fingers might make when playing the bass.

When you see the bass sitting right in front of you, you can't help but to admire the shape of it. In my opinion, it is a very stylish looking instrument. And since I admire it so much, I wanted to get a nice hardshell case for it. I decided to purchased the Epiphone hardshell case that was specifically designed for this model. So it is the perfect fit and it has a beautiful interior with a nice sized storage compartment. It is a very snug fit, so you don't have to worry in the least about it bouncing around inside the case. Therefore, I highly recommend that you just buy the Epiphone case for it. Sure it's a bit more costly than a gig bag but it's worth it, in my opinion.

The Price and Purchasing Options

The price of it will vary from $300-375, depending on where you get it or if there is a sale on it. I purchased it for $375 but I paid no sales tax on it and got free shipping. I also got 36 months 0% financing for it. By the time you add up $300 plus shipping and the sales tax in those other places that sell it for just $300, it probably all equals out to the same final price. However, read up on all the details from the various sellers and look for the best overall deal.

My Purchasing Experience

Mine was an online purchase, so I did not actually hold it in my hand prior to purchasing. However, many companies that sell instruments online have various return policies. I purchased mine through and I am happy with the instrument I purchased as well as the way it was packed for shipping. It was very well packed, within a box that was within another box and some padding in it as well. I also purchased the case for it from Sweetwater about a week later as well and that was also well packed for shipping.

Sweetwater has what they call a 55 point evaluation they give a guitar prior to it shipping. If you go to their site you can see what it all entails. It's nice to know that they are taking a few extra steps to ensure customer satisfaction. I have to say that I am not someone who works for Sweetwater and I have no family or friends working for them either. I am just telling you about my experience with the purchases I have made from the company and they have been very positive so far.

When I got the bass, the strings were loosened for shipping. I tightened them up and tuned them and there was a slight buzz so I raised the action a little. That was a mistake because the strings only buzzed because they were new and had not fully stretched yet. So then I tried to put the action back to where it was before I played around with it and it was fine. I should have let the strings stretch a bit first before making adjustments. I take that as a lesson. Just don't make the same mistake I did.

The Bottom Line

I give this instrument a very high rating. Based upon my experience of owning two Epiphone instruments throughout the years, I can say that they make a decent quality instrument at a very good price. The Epiphone Viola Bass, plays great, sounds great and the finish and shape are beautiful. It's also a lot of fun to play. I really get a kick out of it. You might too. But don't just take my word for it. Read other reviews and check out some of the online video demonstrations for it as well. Check out some of the other models too and make an informed purchasing decision.

Questions & Answers

Question: I bought a new Hofner violin bass for about $350. It has a 22-1/2 inch fretboard. So why buy an Epiphone viola bass guitar?

Answer: The Hofner bass I looked at that is in the price range you are speaking of has a neck scale length of 30 inches whereas the Epiphone has a scale length of 30.5 inches. So not much of a difference there. They are both semi-hollow body basses, so the weight distribution is basically the same. I would guess that the feel would generally be the same. The only difference, other than the pick guard would be quality. I can't speak to the quality of the Hofner because I have not played one. However, I can speak to the quality of the Epiphone and I am quite satisfied with it and I have purchased other Epiphone guitars in the past that I have had a good experience with. My past experience with Epiphone guitars was one of the deciding factors behind my purchase. Since I have no experience with Hofner's lower end version of the violin bass, I can't really speak to its quality. I would assume that it is nowhere near the quality of their high-end versions that are over $3,000.

Question: How can you tell where a bass viola was made?

Answer: Mine had a "Handcrafted in China" sticker on the back of the headstock.

© 2017 Bob Craypoe


Bob Craypoe (author) from New Jersey on January 20, 2018:

Thanks for reading the article and your great, informative comment too.

JJ on January 19, 2018:

I second your remarks! I'm primarily a Fender man, but I own several Epiphone instruments and you simply cannot beat the quality for the price. Epiphone has greatly improved its quality control and is now producing some instruments which rival and exceed Gibson's lower end models, and will give any other make a run for its money! I'm not sure if you mentioned it, but it's the centerline wood block which adds to the sustain, which is also built into the Epiphone Dot. IMHO, I've found that flat wound strings work much better for me, are quieter and easier to play. They were very popular in the 1960's with both Motown and rock and roll. Ditto on the case! They are well worth the investment, particularly when the instrument is not in use. Set-in necks are prone to breaking from being knocked over, so the case is a must when not in use. I've got a den studio and put hangers on my wall and only use the case when I go out. Thank you for the article and it was excellent information!