Review: Kataja Guitars – three basses

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Ari Kataja’s Kataja Custom Shop is a small builder from Tampere (Finland), who has concentrated on one-offs for his clients up to now (alongside repair work).

Kataja Guitars have recently come out with their line of Fender-inspired basses, produced in small runs; the new models were also on display at this year’s Bassopäivä (the annual Bass Day at the Pop-Jazz-Academy in Helsinki).

Kitarablogi.com jumped at the opportunity to get three models for a review:

Ari Kataja’s version of a P-bass…

…a model based on a 1960 Jazz…

…as well as a ca 1962/63 Jazz Bass -based bass (current prices in Finland start from 1,920 €, incl gigbag).

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Kataja Custom basses are crafted in Finland – start to finish. Even though there is quite a number of so-called custom builders, who use pre-fabricated bodies and necks as their basic ingredients, this is not the way for Mr Kataja. His instruments start life as wood blanks, carefully dried to a correct moisture content.

Shared features among the three review basses are bodies crafted from alder and maple necks sporting rosewood fingerboards.

Ari Kataja is also a stickler for period-correct parts and hardware. Take the tortie ’guard on the white 1960 J-model, for example, which is a special item using vintage-style celluloid for its top layer.

All three models have been finished using a modern type of nitrocellulose lacquer. The resulting finish is very thin and hard, protecting the wood, but not inhibiting the instruments’ vibrations.

The P-model’s headstock comes finished in clear lacquer…

…while both of the J-models on review here…

…sport colour finishes, matching their bodies.

The tuning machines are modern reproduction of the reverse-action Klusons from the 1950’s and 60s. The keys still have to be turned the ”wrong” way around, compared to modern machine heads, but the tuning ratio is finer on these improved vintage reissues.

The review basses sport gorgeous Madagascar rosewood fingerboards.

The white 60 J comes with small vintage-sized frets…

…while the P-model and the 62 J both come equipped with medium-sized frets.

The neck joints are traditional. Following a late-50s/early-60s pattern, all basses have deep contouring for added comfort.

All three instruments come with a period-correct vintage bridge with threaded bridge saddles. This makes it possible to set the distance between the strings simply by lifting each string from one ”groove” to another.

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The Kataja 60 P and 60 J have pickups loaded with 0,195″-diameter (4,95 mm) alnico magnets with bevelled tips.

The bevelling was used to prevent the magnets from chipping the vulcanised fibreboard coil formers, when the magnets were tapped through their holes.

The guitar boom of the 1960s made it paramount to increase production numbers and production efficiency. One step was bringing down the diameter of the pickup magnets marginally to 0,187″ (4,75 mm). The slightly slimmer magnets were easier to get through the fibreboard coil formers, which made the bevelling unnecessary. Thrue to style, Kataja’s 62 J model uses this type of magnet in its pickups.

There are also other differences between the pickups that aren’t easy to spot: The P and  60 J models’ pickups are wound with the period-correct Heavy Formvar -wire, while the blue Kataja’s pickups use the Plain Enamel -variety. Also, the fibreboard coil formers are coloured differently, according to the bass’ respective ”vintage”.

The white J-type features two stacked, concentric controls, with the silver top being each pickup’s volume control, and the lower ”ring” being the pickup’s own tone roll-off.

This set-up was changed in 1962 to the control lay-out we all know and love so well – separate volumes, one per pickup, with a shared master tone control.

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These three basses by the Kataja Custom Shop are amazing, top-drawer instruments, designed for the vintage fanatic. The workmanship on display is first-rate, and the way with which Ari Kataja is able to zone in on each minute detail says a lot about this craftsman’s dedication and passion.

As is implied in the name, a Custom Shop’s forte is the flexibility with which it can accommodate a customer’s special wishes into the finished instrument. In the case of these three basses, Mr Kataja fattend up the neck profiles a little bit to his own preference.

The Kataja basses play like a dream and sound fantastic.

I recorded the following soundbites direct, using a Sans Amp Bass Driver DI plugged into a Focusrite Saffire 6 USB -soundcard. Each style has been recorded with one set of Sans Amp settings, taking care to keep the differences between each bass in terms of output level and sound intact. With the J-types each bass line is first played using only the neck pickup, then repeated with both pickups on full, and lastly recorded via the bridge unit on its own.

Kataja 60 P – fingerstyle

Kataja 60 J – fingerstyle

Kataja 62 J – fingerstyle

……

Kataja 60 P – pleck

Kataja 60 J – pleck

Kataja 62 J – pleck

……

Kataja 60 P – slap

Kataja 60 J – slap

Kataja 62 J – slap

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As you can clearly hear, the Kataja-basses deliver great, vintage tones. The pickups vintage-style medium output only helps in achieving the clear and dynamic tones the originals of yore are so famous for.

In light of the offered build quality and the tasty tones on tap, Kataja’s pricing can only be seen as truly affordable.

If you’re on the lookout for an investment-grade, vintage-style bass, you should definitely try one of Kataja Custom Shop’s creations!

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Kataja Custom Shop – vintage-style basses

current prices in Finland start from 1,920 €, incl gigbag

Contact: Kataja Guitars

Pros:

+ Made in Finland

+ workmanship

+ playability

+ sound

+ Kataja-pickups

+ satin finishes necks on review samples

+ fair price

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