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Palatino BILLY BASS

A unique aspect of the ¾-size upright Billy Bass design - a cutaway treble bout that provides players handy access to the upper register - is easy to see. Less visible is its aesthetic appeal: let's call it the cool factor. A half dozen pierced teen psycho-billy musicians huddled around our review model agreed enthusiastically with a young friend who plucked the Billy Bass and gushed, "This is the coolest bass - ever!"

That appeal- fueled by the Billy Bass's black lacquer finish and white purfling - is matched by strong projection, likeable payability, a tight setup, (the low action on our review model's setup worked well for jazz, blues, and rockabilly), high-quality materials, and solid construction.

It's not the least expensive bass in the Palatino product line, but it is the coolest - an affordable instrument that commands respect.

Palatino Billy Bass VB-015-BK:

* Spruce top

* Maple back, sides, and neck

* Adjustable maple bridge

* Ebony fingerboard

* 24:1 geared, single-plate tuners

* Padded carrying bag

* Made in China; set up in the USA

Price: $1.499 (MSRP); $1,125 (street)

Overture ULTRA Violin Strings

The teacher recommends synthetic strings, but your budget recommends the less-expensive steel. What's a parent to do? These affordable new synthetic-core strings fill a gap in the string market. Overture keeps quality up and prices down by combining high-quality German materials with low-cost Chinese manufacturing. The Syntheloncore strings produce a simple but smooth-sounding tone at a price that won't break the bank or hurt your ears. …

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