You may have noticed the number of semi-and electro-acoustic basses on sale of late.
Here, we’ve been relieved by these modern instruments’ playability and modest dimensions; no longer are they reliant on unwieldy, deep bodies for resonance and delivery, as this new Ibanez illustrates. Equipped with an adjustable piezo system, a chambered body and sleek, slimline dimensions, this Bass Workshop-branded bass promises much. If acoustic basses have seemed a little daunting in the past, have no fear - this bass could just be the ticket if you want to join the unplugged brigade.
Resplendent in a Dragon Eye Burst finish, the SRH500’s mahogany and spruce body looks typically organic, the F-hole on the upper bout offering function as well as eye-candy. Its 55mm depth allows the chambered body to resonate, giving it a woody sustain. The elbow contour on the upper body edge is comfortable for the player, while the contoured neck joint improves accessibility to the upper frets alongside the deep cutaways. There is no contouring to the rear of the body, but it still sits well against the player’s body.
This easily-managed bass weighs 2.8 kilos, with a minor headstock bias that disappears when the instrument is put on a strap. Both the body and five-piece jatoba and bubinga neck are finished in a satin polyurethane coating that allows the timbers, and especially their open grain, to be felt across the whole instrument. The neck profile is to die for, like many other Ibanez models. You’ll enjoy the 19mm string spacing, D’Addario flatwound strings and generally excellent setup. A couple of fret ends were slightly sharp, but not finger-cutting.
The warm timber colouring and tasteful burst finish are complemented by the black hardware and wooden controls for volume and tone, and generally there is a simple, unaffected visual aesthetic going on. Sensibly, the piezo gain pots are accessed from the rear of the instrument with a medium-sized Phillips screwdriver.
Unlike solid-body instruments, the unplugged sound of an acoustic instrument is critical. Although its modest dimensions prevent the SRH500 from delivering a booming acoustic performance, it still sounds impressive. The bass is naturally very resonant, and the flatwound strings help to keep its inherent brightness in check. If the tone is still too bright for your tastes, the tone control can reduce the resonant overtones.
There’s a touch of fretless ‘mwah’ from this bass, even with its frets in place, so we’re intrigued to know how this would sound as a fretless; indeed, a fretless model is available should you prefer that option. Plugged in, there is none of the boominess that can sometimes blight piezo-equipped basses, but the signal from the AeroSilk system is still strong, bold and powerful, with a smooth midrange, authoritative bottom end and sufficient top-end sizzle.
Although it’s active, this bass has no real need for multiple EQ options. There’s some silky glassiness on offer, but its core sound is woody and warm. The gain pots for each string are easily adjusted, but we found we weren’t able to assess what adjustments were needed until we were in a live situation. The SRH500’s sound felt strong enough in a quiet room, but certain strings needed a push to cope with the sonic onslaught from a band setup.
This is an impressive bass from top to bottom. It’s a real joy to play, exceptional value for money, and with four-string, five-string and fretless options, there is something for most players here. We used it for several gigs instead of our regular solid-body basses, such was its tone and general playing performance. Highly recommended.