Review: Markbass F1 Navigator Black 5 BK MP

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Review: Markbass F1 Navigator Black 5 BK MP

Markbass F1 Navigator Black 5 BK MP
Words by Paul Blomfield

Markbass F1 Navigator Black 5 BK MP | CMC Music | RRP: $5195

You probably know Markbass as an Italian manufacturer of stylish, high quality bass amplification products. Not only do they make heads, cabs and combos, but they round out the arsenal of homegrown bass gear with their new F1 line of bass guitars. The F1 range is inspired by Formula 1 racing, embodying ultra-luxurious Italian design and high-performance Italian technology. I tried out the new Markbass F1 Navigator Black 5 BK MP— a lightweight, tone-precise, luxury 5-string powerhouse.

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The guitar comes in a universal one-size-fits-all heavy duty gig case, fitted with shoulder straps for easy transportation, a removable (velcro) padded neck-rest, padding to support the bass guitar’s caboose when the case is stood on its end, two external zipper compartments for accessories, and the trademark Markbass brand yellow trim accents. Also included is a black Markbass branded microfibre polish cloth and an informative info tag listing the guitar’s material components and an explainer for the six (yes, six) volume & tone control knobs.

F1 Navigator Black 5 BK MP

The original Navigator design is the epitome of classic Italian luxury, with its smooth contours and low profile. This is the Ferrari 360 of bass guitars, and I’m not sorry for saying it. The body is made with Val di Fiemme Spruce, a wood sourced specifically from the Fiemme Valley in the Dolomites (a UNESCO world nature heritage site in Italy) and finished in a sleek and simple black gloss. Even unplugged, the body resonates with presence, clarity and a satisfying low-mid growl. The C-profile neck, 20-fret 34” fretboard and Mark Double Shape Matching headstock are made from a single, gorgeously pale piece of maple with a exquisitely comfortable satin finish, lending the instrument an air of premium quality reminiscent of elegant handcrafted furniture. It’s the featherweight maple in the top-end that makes the Markbass F1 Navigator Black 5 BK MP feel surprisingly light in the hands, borrowing from a tenet which the brand uses to describe its amplifiers: “amazing power-to-weight ratio”. Combining these premium materials with superb craftsmanship, the F1 Navigator Black 5 BK MP sports an artisanal, custom-shop vibe with limitless potential for tone crafting in its electronics.

Markbass Navigator

Turning the F1 Navigator Black 5 BK MP over a few times in my lap to scope out the specs, the only component I found that wasn’t Markbass branded was the Duracell battery. They manufacture their own electrical components (pickups and preamps), hardware (tuning machines, bridges, ramps and pickguards), and even their own accessories (cases, strings, fretwraps and straps), all using eco-friendly materials, with an unmistakable Italian luxury aesthetic. Markbass is a truly self-sufficient operation that does it all. I particularly enjoyed the precision of the Markbass Res-o-Lite tuning machines: the tuning pegs felt very light and were finished in smooth satin black that gave them an almost graphite feel. The bass stayed perfectly in tune even under the strain of aggressive riffing.

Humbucking bridge pickup

The F1 Navigator Black 5 BK MP comes with a Markbass humbucking bridge pickup and a split neck pickup for wider tone range. There are three EQ knobs (bass, middle, treble), a master tone knob, a neck pickup volume knob and a bridge pickup volume knob. The master tone knob is also fitted with a push/pull function: the pickups run active by default with the knob pushed in; pulled out, they become passive. The bridge tone knob is also push/pull: pulling the knob out deactivates the humbucker and switches the bridge pickup to single coil for a more scooped J-bass style tone. After playing in the passive voicing for a while, I found that switching on the active voicing gave not only a nice gain boost, but also woke up the presence in the 3-5kHz range and added a colour-rich saturation that almost felt like there were vacuum tubes tucked away in the wiring cavity. With the master tone knob at max, there is a delightful string rattle and presence in the trebles and a snarl in the mids that make this ideal for heavier styles of music, although those percussive inflections are easily tamed by rolling back either the master tone or the mid/high EQ knobs.

I’m a metalhead at heart, so I wasn’t going to return the Markbass F1 Navigator Black 5 BK MP to the office without running it through a few modern high-gain tones. Of course this inherently caused me to play a little more aggressively, to which the guitar responded like a Ferrari taken out of the narrow streets of Rome and pushed to red-line on the Autostrada. The maple fretboard provides a nice clarity and snap in the high-mids, and that tube saturation vibe from the active pickup voicing provided a great platform for some delicious driven metal bass tones.

On 2 December 1942, the world’s first artificial nuclear reactor, the Chicago Pile-1, went critical. The reactor’s creator, Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, infamously telephoned the National Defense Research Committee at Harvard to inform them of the experiment’s success, using the cryptic code phrase: “the Italian navigator has just landed in the new world.” It was with this quote in mind that Markbass CEO Marco De Virgiliis dubbed the F1 Navigator bass guitar: a dramatic name for an instrument worthy of a dramatic entrance.

For local enquiries, visit CMC Music.