Stylish, practical and very keenly priced, Gibson’s latest solidbody bass raises the eyebrows in more ways than one. Review by Gareth Morgan
Description: Solidbody bass. Made in USA
Price: £779 with hard case
Contact: – Gibson UK – 020 7167 2144 – www.gibson.com
Gibson were relative latecomers to the world of the electric bass, downright tardy if you narrow the classification down to include the word ‘versatile’. While Fender launched their workhorse Precision in the closing months of 1951, Gibson’s first offering was the EB-1 in 1953, violin-shaped with one pickup butted up against the neck, meaning that the most you could hope for in terms of sound was any degree of definition whatsoever.
The semi-hollowbody, ES-335-shaped EB-2 followed in 1958; this had the same single pickup butted up against the neck, but at least offered a ‘baritone button’ to give a more midrange-oriented tone. In the following year Gibson finally introduced a solidbody bass, the EB-0, with a shape akin to the double-cutaway Les Paul Special, and when this morphed into the SG-shaped EB-3, an axe favoured by Jack Bruce and Free’s Andy Fraser, they finally had a real footing in the electric bass world.
In recent times we’ve been treated to a steady flow of Gibson basses based on models ostensibly from the ’70s, such as the Krist Novoselic RD (see review in our April 2012 issue, Vol 23/7). All well and good, but it doesn’t look like Gibson has done anything to advance the concept behind their basses for decades. However, change is afoot, if the brand new EB Bass is anything to go by.
Well, it’s certainly different-looking, although it easy to trace the inspiration: the bottom half is much like a Gibson RD bass, while the top half – and the forearm chamfer and ribcage cut – takes its main cues from a Precision. In a seated position the EB is as well-balanced as you’d hope… not always something that could be said about previous basses from this company (Thunderbird, anyone?). Gibson has used ash for the body, the satin cream overcoat being one of four nitro finishes, all ‘grain textured’ to allow the natural patterning of the wood to show through; nice touch. Elsewhere, the rambling, wave-like tortoiseshell pickguard adds some retro kudos and a touch of class. Overall, it’s an interesting and appealing design.
Gibson employs maple for the neck, attached to the body in classic Gibson fashion using the set-in method. Up until recent times, as little as 10 years ago, maple would be viewed as an unusual choice, but RD and Ripper reissues have been kitted out in the same way. The profile is a shallow ‘C’ contour that’s really slim and feels comfortable and ultra-fast under the hand – again, not something you might expect from a Gibson bass. There’s a strengthening volute on the back, and the black-faced headstock is the traditional thinning oblong with handle-bar moustache detail on its furthest edge. We not sure it entirely goes with the EB’s modern styling, but it underlines the Gibson heritage. The headstock also bears the Gibson logo, a bell-shaped trussrod access cover, and a set of gleaming chrome Grover tuners with a 20:1 ratio and small, T-shaped buttons.
The white nut is made of Corian (a solid material created by American chemical giants DuPont and composed of acrylic polymer and alumina trihydrate), and the rosewood fingerboard carries white acrylic dot markers (a further set line the top edge) and 20 medium jumbo nickel frets. There is one minor issue: the edges at the tang are a little too flush to the side of the neck for best playing comfort. For the bridge Gibson has chosen the Babicz FCH 4, which promises full contact or ‘direct coupling’ between the string and the body of the bass. You need a Phillips screwdriver and small Allen key for adjustment purposes.
The EB is kitted out with a pair of passive Gibson humbuckers with Alnico V magnets that have been designed in-house by head honcho luthier Jim DeCola. Their twin lines of exposed poles puts one in mind of a Music Man, and pulling up the Volume controls ignites single-coil mode. Gibson says this ‘accesses a new frequency-tuned coil tap for a fatter single tone and better output balance’.
The EB continues to exceed expectations when you plug in. The humbucking tone is fat and growly with plenty of lively harmonics at the bottom end, with a tight, solid and punchy midrange with excellent definition and a zingy, high-mid sheen that provides clarity and almost heads in the direction of a StingRay. Overall, it’s a good, versatile, old-school rock, blues and soul tone, a tone which gradually gets smoother and more rumbly when you back off the tone control.
As Gibson promised, single-coil mode is pleasingly volume-matched. It’s a brighter and snappier offering, and the E string has a more controlled growl. It’s well-endowed with bottom end; a little tighter and brighter and less aggressive in the midrange, but this time the highs are far more open, making this setting sound almost funky – you could even, shock horror, obtain a decent slap sound. Again, cutting back on the tone will give a more controlled sound and one that’ll work well for more contemporary pop applications.
The various humbucking/single coil combinations aren’t hugely varied, but each combination has a slight but noticeable effect on the basic tone. The single-coil bridge/neck humbucker option gets you tighter, sharper low notes with less of a woolly thud; up top, the trebles are cleaner and more open. Reversing this setting produces a scooped mids effect on lower notes with smoother, fatter lows and a feeling of less stature – you’ve just become less audible in the mix by notch or two. Thinner strings are a fraction tighter and brighter, although not brittle, and the high-mid zing remains to add that slightly modern edge.
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If this is not the best bass that Gibson has produced for a very long time – or ever, in fact – it’s certainly their most versatile. It’s a handsome instrument, doing very much its own thing. It’s traditional without being dated, it’s a reasonable weight and, fret issues aside, is great fun to play with plenty of practical, if a tad zingy, variations on tap. And, hang on a minute: a Gibson bass, made in the USA, for less than £800? With their reputation? Are they mad? Well, if you’re looking for a top-notch passive bass to act as a stylish workhorse, you’d be mad not to try Gibson’s new EB.