Launched in 1973, the Grabber was intended to put Gibson basses on the map. Gareth Morgan tries one of the unlikeliest reissues of 2009 to see how it stacks up today
Gibson‘s press release for the Grabber II bass reissue claims that when the original Grabber was released in 1973 it was ‘a rock-minded four-string that grabbed the attention of bassists everywhere’, but the reality was a little different.
True, the Grabber was a 34.5" scale bass and thus offered a more focused tone than the likes of the much-loved but rather muddy-sounding short-scale EB-3, but whether its popularity was ever as high as Gibson claims is, well, open to question.
It did fairly well and sold a fair few thousand before its demise in 1982. In later years Gibson‘s Grabber, the two-pickup Ripper and three-pickup G3 basses were adopted by players like Krist Novoselic and Mike Dirnt.
So we’re dying to get this Grabber plugged in and find out how it shapes up. Before you get too excited, there’s some good news and not-so-good news.
The good news is that the GII is proudly made in Nashville, Tennessee. The bad news is that they’re only making 350 of them.
The first thing that strikes you about the Grabber, other than its silky satin ebony overcoat, is the sheer size of the double-cutaway body with its vast expanse of black scratchplate.
Measuring from the top to the bottom edge of the rear bouts proves that the body is around 380mm wide, which is close to 30mm bigger than a Precision. This added width is made bearable by a solid maple body that’s only 35mm deep and because the edges are heavily chamfered in the style of the SG – though the rear chamfer isn’t as effective in protecting your ribs as a really deep tummy-cut would be.
The pair of pincer-like horns offer plenty of access to the highest fret on the G string.
Gibson employs its traditional glued-in set neck – a method which purports to help sustain and promote a warmer tone. Rather than super slim and fast, the maple neck is a model of comfort and playability and feels very classy under the hand.
A reinforcing volute below the white Corian nut leads you to the recessed, arrowhead-shaped, Flying V-inspired headstock: it’s really huge and, for some, it might spoil the look; if you love the GII this probably won’t be much of a factor, but for us, the same shape with 20 per cent less mass would have clinched it.
The bridge is really old-school – a chunky, three-point adjustable unit, heavily chromed and requiring a couple of radically different gauges of flathead screwdriver to move it in the various desired directions. At the other end, four Grover chrome tuners line the headstock, while the rosewood fingerboard bears 20 jumbo frets with acrylic dots on its face plus edge dots.
Just like its GI forebear, the Grabber II is passive with one volume and one ‘more treble, please’ tone control hitched up to a sliding Gibson humbucker. When Gibson says the pickup can be moved ‘between the end of the neck and the bridge’, what they mean is that it will slide over a distance of about 95mm in a section in the middle of the body, never getting closer than 35mm to the bridge and 30mm to the neck.
It isn’t hard to adjust: you only need to loosen the four retaining screws and the pickup will slide quite easily. However, on our review model, moving it closer to the neck resulted in the strings choking out on the pickup as it’s been factory-set a little too proud of the body for comfortable clearance.
With the GII‘s humbucker slid to the ‘bridge’ position and the tone knob on maximum treble you get a lively, growling sound with a beautiful chiming, piano-like edge to the bottom end that’s packed with harmonics.
There’s a solid feel to notes on thinner strings, with a well-balanced midrange producing a sharply defined note – more than fat enough for grooving along but it’ll also cut through effortlessly, although in a manner that may be a tad lively for some.
Nudging the pickup 10-15mm closer to the neck (all that’s possible without lowering the pickup) adds a noticeable silky width to proceedings. We’re not sure you’d want to perform this adjustment on the fly… it’s possible, but the Grabber‘s sliding pickup really is a ‘set and forget’ affair.
A much easier way to sanitise the lively rock tone of the original near-bridge pickup position is to back off the tone knob to ‘6′ on the handily-numbered dial. Even though the underlying and highly funky vibrancy is still detectable, there’s less harmonic fizz and a higher degree of versatility.
Dialling the tone down to ‘4′ hints at the serious soupiness to come, but here it gives a fat, rootsy sound… a great setting for filling space, so much an essential part of the bass guitar’s role, with just enough definition for dub or reggae.
As we suspected, turning the tone to zero creates a soupy mire. Unless you really need to produce a woolly, indistinct rumble, it’s best avoided.
Sampling other pickup positions does suggest that purist rockers, blues players or soul fans will find some decent variations available, provided they’re prepared to tinker with the GII‘s set-up. In neck position with tone on full the GII‘s snarl approaches ‘rabid dog’ level, and in a more central position the combination of barking definition and smooth width is really satisfying.
Cutting the tone here is all about increased note size and impact, and if you play a little closer to the neck you’ll unearth plenty of subtle but pleasing acoustic details.
If you like the styling and aren't put off by the cumbersome headstock or the fairly steep asking price, the Grabber GII has plenty to offer. Sound-wise it's meat-and-potatoes stuff but of a very high quality, with lively width and decent, practical tonal variations. Most of the sounds head in the P-Bass direction, but the chiming note edge is married to a well-realised bottom end that sets this 1970s Gibson reissue apart from the legions of other basses out there.