Lightwave bass guitars, Sabre VL4 and 5 string, fretted fretless - UK Basses specialist, Bass Direct, Warwick, UK, USA, EU, for sale, on offer, Guitar


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Developed in the 1990s by Chris Wilcox in California, these bass use a unique "Optical pickup" technology rather than the more traditional magnetic pickups. This gives a purer and more natural tone with amazing sustain and sensitivity. This range of basses features advanced build quality and electronics with really playable instruments and are both unique and special in the way they react to a player.


Traditional Body, More than Traditional Tone

The Saber's high performance design makes it ideal for gigging, the sonic demands of digital recording, or long hours of playing and practising. And since the LightWave Pickup does not rely on body mass for its extended bass response and long sustain, the Saber is exceptionally light in weight and designed with a natural, familiar feel. If you're considering a fretless, the Sabre Fretless delivers truer 'mwah' and 'growl' due to its LightWave Optical pickup – the ideal way to get the most fretless tone.

The Bass for All Styles

The Saber is designed for outstanding performance in all styles of music, from hard rock and heavy metal, to pop and jazz. Top professional bassists have already added LightWave instruments to their arsenals. Now you, too, can own a high performance bass featuring a sonic palette unlike anything you already have. Unless, of course, you have a Saber.

LightWave Saber SL5 Fretless

the future of bass is here, says Joel Mciver –but how does it compare with the present? Bass Guitar Magazine September 2011

Bass guitar technology has come a long way since Uncle Leo Fender had the bright idea of putting a long neck and thick strings on a guitar back in 1951. Today’s players have a wide range of woods to choose from, with multiple string and hardware options at more or less any budget. However, we’re still sending our signals to our amps via a magnet, just as we have been for almost 60 years – and this part of our instrument is the one that LightWave are suggesting we update. Here’s their Saber model to show exactly what they mean …

Body & Neck

This 5-string fretless is one of a range of Sabers, but despite the fretted and 4-string alternatives the core of the LightWave approach is its custom pickup and bridge system, which we’ll come to in a moment. Before we even plug this slinky instrument in, it feels immensely playable – thanks to its lightweight body, superflat neck, and the  deep cutaways which allow genuine access to the 24th fret in the lower bout and the 21st at the upper side. We confess we’re not clever enough to handle unmarked fretless fingerboards, so it’s a relief that it’s a lined board.

Notice that the neck has an extended reinforcement strip – a miniature ski slope for bassdwelling Smurfs, if you will – that reaches down the body as far as a bridge pickup would be. Flip the bass over and you’ll see the reason for this: the five-bolt neck joint goes all the way down the body, leading to a neckbody join of enormous strength and stability. While we’re looking at the underside you’ll notice that the usual battery compartment has been replaced by a very large translucent panel, through which you can see what appears to be enough computer equipment to handle the average missile silo. One slight concern here is that the panel doesn’t seem to be very strong; if you’re the kind of bassist who likes to dive into the audience, you wouldn’t want to risk someone sticking their knee through it. The panel also requires five screws to remove it – not a quick task should something go wrong with the electronic brain behind it. Which brings us neatly to the remarkable technology hidden away in the innards of this instrument.


LightWave’s theory is that conventional pickups, which sense the vibration of your strings within the magnetic field that surrounds them, actually impede the motion of the string in doing so. Like a tiny magnetic finger touching the string to see how fast it’s moving, the pickup stops your string from doing its job. This makes a lot of sense, of course, and although we haven’t actually conducted a field test by comparing the length of a string’s sustain with and without a pickup in close proximity, we’ll take LightWave’s word for it. The Saber certainly enjoys very long sustain: pluck a string, go and put the kettle on, and by the time you’ve come back with a cup of tea it’ll still be making a sound. Well, not quite, but you get our point … The thorny problem of magnetic pickups has been neatly sidestepped here in not one but two ways. Firstly, and most dramatically, LightWave have invented a whole new kind of pickup. We dread to think how much the researchand- development budget was, but the result is that their design boffins have come up with a bridge made up of five individual units (yes – one per string, Sherlock). Inside each string unit is an optical gizmo that shines a weeny blue light on each string and ‘sees’ how much each string is vibrating. Depending on the pitch and the power with which you apply pick, finger or thumb to the string, this reading translates into a signal which comes out of the bass, down your cable and out of your amp just like a standard pickup would. Clever, eh? There’s also a red LED on the bridge that lights up when you plug in, which obviously shows that the thing is operational but whose equally relevant side effect is to make you look cool. The second pickup method isn’t new as such, but it is cunning: LightWave have installed piezo pickups into the bridge as well as their optical reading system. The piezos only apply to the top frequency range, for reasons that we don’t fully understand, but the manufacturers are clearly proud of them and have given them their own name – the ‘iceTone’ system. So far, so pretty damn impressive. With this much innovation going on under the hood, you’d expect a price tag of wallet-threatening proportions, and while eleven hundred quid is a fair wedge, it’s not up there with the custom luthiers and their Lehman Brothers-sized prices.

The downside, insofar as it is one, is that adjusting the action isn’t as easy as it used to be in the days when a bridge was a chunk of rusty steel and an Allen key was never out of range. With the Saber, when you raise or lower a string you move it out of ‘sight’ of the bridge unit ‘eye’ that is watching it with unblinking attention, a bit

like Sauron in the Lord Of Th e Rings but not as bad-tempered. LightWave have thought of this, however, and tell you to open up the rear compartment, pick up a screwdriver and turn the appropriate screw head to put the eye in the right position again. If the eye is not aligned with the string, a red LED lights up; when it’s in the correct position, a nice foresty-green one appears. This is intelligent design, folks, so let’s hope that your bass tech isn’t drunk when he’s tuning up before the show. Oh, and one other thing: all this RAM sucks up a fair bit of

power, so the on-board battery – which LightWave estimate will last 16 hours, or about seven Grateful Dead songs, if you prefer – will need a regular charge. They supply a charger for this purpose, which – and this really is cool – can be plugged directly into a second jack socket in order to charge the battery while you’re playing.


Obviously, putting a space shuttle’s worth of computer hardware into a bass is pointless if it doesn’t yield results,

but have no fear: the Saber sounds splendid. With five tone controls to play with – including the ‘iceTone’ – and a toggle switch which can be set to ‘warm’ (middy) or ‘cool’ (mids plus top), there is a wide range of tonal options. The basic sound of the Saber with all tone controls fl at is excellent:with resounding sustain, thanks to the lack of an interfering magnetic pickup, and no noise to pass down the chain, this fretless produces a classic funky, rounded tone. The ‘Jaco growl’ is readily available if you pluck near the neck and fire up the bottom end (skidding across the stage on your knees is optional), and should you have the courage to slap on a fretless, the ‘iceTone’ will be a friend for life.


To sum up, this is a bass for people who care about sustain and resonance, both of which the Saber SL5 offers in abundance – particularly if your playing involves a lot of fundamentals. There’s a version of this bass with a chambered body for extra resonance if you need it, but quite honestly there’s more than enough here for all but the most demanding player. Whether the optical pickup offers a huge improvement over standard

magnetic pickups is down to the individual’s perception, but we think there’s a strong argument for this system to be made more widely available, especially if you’ve got a bass tech to take care of adjustments to the action. If this is the future of bass, we’ll take it.

LightWave Saber SL5 FretLeSS




Made in: South Korea

Scale length: 863 mm (34 inches)

Frets: 24

Neck: Rock maple, bolt-on

Fingerboard: Rosewood

Body: Alder

Pickups: 1 x LightWave optical pickup

Tuners: Open-gear

Controls: Volume, bass boost/cut, mids boost/cut, mids sweep, ‘iceTone’ treble boost/cut, ‘warm’/‘cool’ toggle


Preamp: LightWave Active Preamp

Bridge: Custom GraphTech Monolithic bridge incorporating ‘iceTone’ saddles with piezo pickups

Colours: Black, blue, red

Weight: 3.4 kg (7.5 lb)


Plus: Very playable; great looks.

Minus: Value of optical pickup system is hard to quantify

Overall: This superb bass will suit session and pro players perfectly, although it won’t be essential for less demanding players.


Bass Direct Ltd


Submitted on the 5th December  2013 by Ian who purchased a Lightwave SL5 fretless 5 bass

Hi Mark


Thanks for all the help yesterday. I spent about an hour when I got home setting it up from scratch – the intonation was well out, the optics needed re-adjustment , and the string-to-string level differences were also pretty big (up to 7dB) – but after doing all this the sound is *fantastic*, I stayed up until midnight playing it.


It’s a great piece of kit and I’m a very happy bunny J


The Jazz Flats made a big difference to the sound and playability, and removed that weird zinging noise we heard through headphones (which also comes through when using a DI straight into a PA, which is what I do). I’m pretty sure this is very high-frequency sound bouncing back and forth the along the length of the string, it’s the same swishing noise you get if you hit a taut wire rope. The all-metal round-wound strings don’t have anything to damp this longitudinal noise and the wide bandwidth optical pickups show it up, but it’s damped by the silk winding on the Thomastiks.


Without trying to tell my granny how to suck eggs, all this made such a huge difference you might want to do the same on the other ones you’ve got in stock when you have a spare hour or so…