To some players, only a boutique custom-designed bass can serve as reliable evidence of a luthier’s vision and skill. For them, it’s only when a luthier executes on a singular vision for a bass design — and doesn’t merely emulate an existing one — that their true talent is on display. There’s some truth there, sure, but I tend to be more inclusive when it comes to judging bass builders. To me, it can be more impressive when a luthier takes a dead-simple existing design, like the Fender Precision, and configures it in such a way that it showcases their keen musical ear, attention to nuance and detail, and insightful ability to craft something delicious out of simple ingredients. Achieving aesthetic perfection without distracting gilding can be a display of true mastery, like when a Michelin-starred chef makes an omelet or Ray Brown walks a chorus of blues.
The Olinto Relic P-style bass is like that perfect omelet. If you have a keen eye, you’re probably looking at it and thinking, That just looks good. You’re likely imagining its buttery playability and thick, interesting tone. That you’re having these thoughts is a product of the mysteriously discerning impression our subconscious can make when we are in the presence of high quality. It’s why a fake Rolex looks fake, even if it seems to tick all the right visual boxes.
The mastermind behind Olinto is legendary New York City luthier and repair person Mas Hino. Hino got his start at Rudy’s Music Shop on 48th Street, repairing instruments for New York’s elite musician community. While there, he co-founded Pensa-Suhr guitars with another luthiery legend, John Suhr. In recent years, he partnered with stalwart string brand La Bella to launch Olinto, intending to build Fender-style basses that are every bit as capable as its highly regarded, vintage-style strings.
Our Olinto tester’s most striking feature was its exquisite relic’d finish, courtesy of another top-shelf luthier working under the La Bella umbrella, James Carbonetti. Described as Aztec Gold over Carbonetti Gold, it is one of the most impressive relic’d finishes I’ve ever seen, with a complex and deep sheen that seems three-dimensional in the right light. The gold-anodized pickguard is the perfect complement, as are the real clay indicator dots. Beautiful visual touches abound, like the matching gold headstock, candy apple red logo sticker, and Buffalo nickel string-tree. Its construction and fit and finish were faultless. Featuring handcarved neck and body woods, the Olinto boasted perfect fretwork, a deliciously chunky C-profile neck, and perfectly contoured shaping in all the right places. No less impressive was its high-end vintage-style La Bella hardware and clean and orderly electronics installation.
The electronics, in fact, reveal one of the Olinto’s most compelling features. Mas Hino and his team at La Bella go to great lengths to replicate the sound and construction of Fender’s most celebrated era, the “pre-CBS” basses of the late ’50s and early ’60s. To achieve this, Mas Hino winds each pickup by hand, resulting in what some call a “scatterwound” pickup because of the way the coil wire does not align as neatly as it would with a machine. As a result, the capacitive coupling of the coil wire (and its attendant impact on tone) is different. While there are some experts who feel this is more voodoo than science, there’s no arguing with the results in our Olinto test bass.
I’d love to say I had the chance to test the Olinto on a bunch of gigs, but alas, the pandemic took care of that. Still, I put in a lot of time with it in my studio, tracking a few sessions for clients and cranking it up through my Ampeg SVT to blow off some quarantine steam. I used the La Bella 0760M “Original 1954” stainless flats that it arrived with, even finding myself adapting to the set’s honking .052" G string.
I was in a good position to consider the Olinto’s tone in context, as I have a P-Bass of similar construction and concept in my arsenal: a Fender Custom Shop Pino Palladino Precision strung with 15-year-old Thomastik-Infeld Jazz Flats. With the tone full up, the Olinto had a slightly aggressive, mid-forward personality with a gorgeous textured hue that was rich and complex, rather than dull and boring. The front edge of the note bloomed with a compelling elegance that encouraged me to play with nuance and sensitivity. I loved the way the timbre shifted as I moved up the neck, peeling off overtones in favor of the fundamental. I also loved the instrument’s ergonomics and playability, as its wide late-’50s-style neck seems perfectly built for cooking up meat and potatoes all night. The Olinto was remarkably even and, thanks to the passive tone control, flexible. It easily went from the midrangey thrust that can activate and clip a gained-up tube front-end to the murky and dark thump that’s almost synth-like in its fatness.
If you’re in the market for a no-holds-barred, handmade P-style bass, you’ve got a remarkable number of options, even from Fender itself. But if you’re looking for an instrument built with the expertise that decades of vintage instrument repair earns — and if bespoke finishes and painstaking attention to detail turn you on — the Olinto should be on your shortlist.
Pros Exquisite finish and sound
Bottom Line In the increasingly crowded world of high-end P-style basses, the Olinto is among the very best.
Neck Flatsawn maple
Fingerboard Madagascar rosewood
Fingerboard radius 7.25"
Nut Hand-shaped bone
Scale length 34"
Neck width at nut 1.75"
Pickups Handwound split-coil P-style
Hardware La Bella nickel/chrome
Made in USA
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