« A real rocket bass! »Published on 06/03/18 at 09:18
When talking about bass players, the stereotype which generally comes to minds is that of a beanpole with huge hands: as far as I’m concerned, I’m rather tall indeed but I have small hands – you can think I’m strangely made, but since my shoe size is not monstrous either I can live with it.
So, a bass player is supposed to be a guy who can use a pickaxe handle to go dum-dum. But in the 80s, when your average rocker was rather a thin guy wearing jeans and a fluo outfit, Ibanez had the brilliant idea to make very thin instruments: the Sabre and RG series for guitarists, and the SoundGear models for bassists – they’re most often referred to as the "SR", or "SDGR".
Endowed with a thin, narrow and ultra-fast neck, these basses are real jewels in finesse and ergonomics. These are “technical”, “modern”, “fusion” instruments – which for those not fluent in marketing speak means they were “designed with a great care for ergonomics”, “equipped with active electronics” and “able to respond to both a classic finger play than to slap”.
The SR-800 LE was made in Japan, here are its specs:
- Massive Tilia wood body
- Painted (back and head) maple neck with a 24-fret rosewood fingerboard
- Two Regulated Lo-Z pickups
- Omni-Adjust bridge
- Self-lubricated tuners
- Controls: Volume / Balance / EQ boost-cut for the Lows / EQ boost-cut for the Highs
A few words on workmanship
Some will regret that the body is made of tilia: I consider they’re wrong.
Indeed, many a high-end instrument is made of tilia, including the great MusicMan guitars for instance. There are several reasons for choosing tilia. Soundwise, it does is part as we have a “modern-sounding” instrument with nice mids, and tilia has a part in it. But ergonomical questions make it even more appreciated, as it is easier to work on than ash and lighter than mahogany, allowing to make refined shape guitars like this SR.
The neck is a real masterpiece, even compared to two basses which can be considered high-end instruments: a Japanese Fender JB Marcus Miller (almost industrially produced) and a Neuser Crusade Signature (handmade by a luthier). These two beautiful instruments have reference necks both in terms of comfort and stability, and now I’m considering this SR800LE up to par with them in that regard due to its neck which is thin, narrow and stands up very straight.
The wood is a beautiful solid maple with a quality rosewood fingerboard.
Back to the body now: with tilia being a rather soft wood, it shows marks from a few bumps it has taken over time. On the pictures, you can see what looks like a “bite” on the upper body. This to me is the main cons of using this type of wood, though it is very efficient sonically.
Hardware and electronics
When it comes to Made in Japan instruments, Ibanez is very careful. No soft alloys and speckled iron, it’s all massive and sturdy.
The tuners look like Gotoh (though they’re not), the bridge is perfect and so is the fretwork, so in the end a great MIJ Ibanez, as all bass lovers know and like it.
I’m less enthusiastic as to the electronics.
The Regulated Lo-Z pickups are quite peculiar, their output level is not awful and the 2-band preamp allows to glue the sound smoothly.
Let’s start with the best part – the (inverted) P-pickup. It delivers all that you’d expect from a modern P-Style model, and it alone nearly suffices for all playing techniques.
With the balance at half (P+J), the result is also very good. Big sound for slap, for instance.
Using the Jazz pickup alone is, in my opinion, useless. Not much mojo, too sensitive to hits to play very close to the bridge, plus the sound lacks roundness.
The P alone and P+J combination are really what makes this bass shine – and overall it really does.
It works well in every styles, but really gives it all with percussive playing techniques [Slap/Pop].
Where do we plug it?
So far, I’ve tried two combinations. First, into a Hiwatt B60 and its 12” cab: the result is nice, but you can’t say this is the most modern-sounding amp around and you’re far from a 90s Hartke with its aluminium cones. Adding a more vintage grain to this bass is pleasant and tends to moderate its “modern-fusion” spirit.
I’ve also tried it using amp simulations (Amplitube 3/Fender/SVX), and it’s really fine within the range of expectations you can have from such pieces of software. If you aim for a “studio” mix, it’s very coherent.
I expect to try it with two other amps in the near future: a Trace Elliot GP12SMX and a Hartke Kickback 15, both made within the same period of time as the SR800LE. I’m not too fond of the Markbass sound so I’ll avoid trying this, however I expect to try a Gallien-Krueger stack soon.
In the end...
Clearly, this is a good bass. The workmanship and ergonomics are perfect, and the sound is rather versatile with a typical Ibanez touch.
It’s all the opposite from a lumberjack’s bass and far from the standards of fat-sounding rock – closer in mind to the spirit of rather expensive “technical” basses.
A great occasion to taste of a dream neck for a guy with small hands like me. This bass is very easy to play and sounds immediately good, which is nice with me.
The one I own is in a Candy Apple Red finish – a nice metal red, well nice provided you like red of course. I’ve always wanted a bass in that color and I was happy as this was given to me by a friend who no longer used it – needless to say value-for-money can only be exceptional.
What’s even more curious, I had been several times on the verge of buying one in the past years and finally delayed the purchase.
This bass is clearly as good as comparable new models, it’s up to par with the high-end Tune. When holding it, you can feel that it’s not just another low-end Asian-made bass, but a real fine and racy Japanese instrument.