Ah… a blast from the past. I used to own an Ashbory bass. It is definitely one of the most unusual instruments I’ve ever had in my bass collection. It’s the tiny bass that thinks it is a giant upright. It does deliver that URB acoustic bass sound, but in a most unusual way.
In true upright style, it is fretless, but with frets markers and standard dot markers up the neck too. Because it has an increadibly short-scale (at 18 inches – compare that with a normal bass scale length!), it can be quite hard to get the intonation right – a little bit of a wobble puts you half a semi-tone out. I did use mine live, but I think that it is a rather brave soul that does. Have a listen to the clips here.
The strings do tend to break fairly frequently, but are still available. They are silicon rubber, with quite a floppy feel. Sound pick up is via a piezo pick up built into the bridge. Putting the strings on is rather fun, you tie a knot in them at one end them wind like mad. As you can tell from the second sound clip, it does sound good in a full band context. Definitely the most compact way to get that upright sound! Check out the reviews on harmony central and you’ll see that it has some pretty passionate users.
It has a long story, you can read the Ashbory history here. These days it is usually seen under the DeArmond Fender brand (the old link with the official history seems to have disappeared for now – it was sold under a few different names). Alun Ashworth-Jones (co-inventor, along with Nigel Thornbory) passed away last year (2008), but he leaves us a wonderful and curious instrument behind as his legacy.
It lookslike you can still buy them (via the http://www.largesound.com/ site). And here is a tour of the Ashbory itself: