It’s perhaps a trope, but I have occasionally noticed an abstract relationship between a luthier’s location and their design philosophy. The oil-finished alt-woods that often constitute a contemporary MTD bass exude the upmarket lumberjack-chic vibe that represents the urbane side of Upstate New York. By contrast, the flamboyant and quasi-psychedelic flourishes and filigrees of a top-of-the-line Alembic are as Northern Californian as redwoods, vegan bakeries, and $3,000-per-month “studio apartments.” This relationship between place and perspective hit me as I got to know the L.e.H. Offset bass. Built by longtime Sadowsky shop manager L. Ellis Hahn in New York City, the Offset is so New York.
New York defies description, sure, but my point demands I try: NYC is a place where hard-working people go to compete with other hard-working people, but unlike in other hard-working places like West Virginia or Guangzhou, many New Yorkers are conspicuously fashion-forward. New York City is a utilitarian place, but with aesthetic panache. People go there to do stuff and look the part. Which gets me to the L.e.H. bass. It is a draft horse of a bass, capable of dutifully nailing just about any gig — but unlike most instruments, the Offset oozes the sort of poised, Instagram-ready design knowhow that adds a few extra points to your fashion quotient every time you strap it on.
The Offset gets its name from its Fender Jaguar-like body contour, which offers an elongated upper horn and blunted lower cutaway. Its cloverleaf tuners, bulky headstock, and pickguard exude a trad vibe, but its beautifully flamed top, modernist-typeface logo, and fader-based EQ controls are très elegant. The electronics package also shows a design knack that’s sorely lacking in a lot of high-end basses. A pair of excellent Nordstrand Audio pickups (a P-style NP5 and a soapbar BigRig) are mated to a Nordstrand preamp that L.e.H. modded to be boost only. In one of the coolest touches I’ve seen in a while, the 3-band EQ is controlled via three high-quality faders, rather than knobs. Super styley.
Our test L.e.H. was flawlessly constructed. While it’s not an especially exotic design (save the aforementioned faders), it is obviously the work of an expert. The instrument’s fit and finish were top-notch, as was the delicate contour of its ergonomically beguiling body. The electronics installation was neat and orderly, and the control cavity screws utilize threaded brass inserts (I love threaded brass inserts). The hardware was excellent, too, although if I’m being nit-picky — which is my job — I’d say that it’d be cool if the gloss-finished bridge matched the matte finish of the Hipshot tuners.
L.e.H. nailed the Offset’s playability and balance. The body contour, coupled with the appropriately proportioned upper horn, made the bass sit just-right on a strap or in my lap. The gently radiused fingerboard felt familiar and comfortable, and there was superb high-fret access for a bolt-on bass. My only gripe — and this is subjective — is with the depth and general chunkiness of the neck. While the neck was expertly shaped, with perfectly rounded corners and well-filed kerfs, I personally prefer a shallower neck contour. The L.e.H. neck is definitely on the beefier side of the continuum.
The L.e.H. proved itself an exceptionally competent companion on a couple of gigs and in my studio. Moreover, it earned more than a few approving nods and comments from bandmembers. People like the way this bass looks, as do I. Thankfully, it sounded just as good. Overall, the instrument is more versatile than many. Between its P-style pickup, beefy bridge humbucker, and well-voiced preamp with accompanying tone control (this should be a standard feature on all active basses, FYI), the instrument can cop an impressive array of tones, from thumpy and dark to authoritative and bright. No matter the setting, the Offset is articulate and clear. There’s a shimmering texture and dense overtone palette throughout the instrument’s range, but it never feels fussy or harsh. I like boost-only preamps when they sound good, and the Nordstrand sounds as good as any. There’s something about boost-only preamps that makes you less sensitive to your settings’ technical impact, instead allowing your ears to guide where to set the controls. L.e.H. emphasizes this further by placing them on faders — it’s a remarkably intuitive system that I’m sure more builders would copy if it weren’t for the challenge of its implementation. The Offset’s clarity and burnished sound makes for an excellent B string, too.
The L.e.H. is a lovely instrument. It’s just eccentric enough to be stimulating, while firmly grounding itself in tradition. It exhibits an attention to detail that never compromises its utility. It’s sophisticated enough to hobnob uptown, and more than hip enough to mix it up downtown. L.e.H. Guitars is an exciting new brand, and I look forward to seeing what comes next.
L.e.H. Guitars Offset 5-string
Pros Gorgeous; clever and thoughtful design; super-versatile tone
Cons Neck might be a bit chunky for some, but they do offer a slimmer profile option
Bottom Line The L.e.H. Guitars Offset is one of the more appealing instruments I’ve played in a while. Its clean and thoughtful design is backed up by flexible, gig-owning tone.
Frets 21 medium
Tuners Hipshot Ultralite
Scale length 34"
Pickups Neck, Nordstrand VP5; bridge, Nordstrand BigRig
Weight 8.8 lbs.
Made in USA