Taking the SG-inspired EB basses in a new direction, and putting some misconceptions to rest
By Phil O'Keefe
The more I got into writing this review, the more it felt like I was writing an episode of Mythbusters. When I write a review, I like to have a look around various forums to see what comments people are making, and to make sure that I have not overlooked any questions that people are asking about the instrument. In this case, I noticed that there are a few misconceptions about Gibson basses, as well as a few comments and opinions being shared about this bass by people who have obviously never had the opportunity to try one. Some of the comments about Gibson basses that I saw included statements that Gibson's a guitar company and basses really aren't a priority for them (considering the wide variety of bass models they've offered over the years, I think we can dismiss that myth immediately), as well as comments about their basses all sounding muddy, or complaints about them being neck-heavy, or not very versatile from a sonic standpoint. Are these comments based on facts that apply to the EB Bass, or just examples of the uninformed and baseless opinions you sometimes read online? We'll be considering all of those things, and much more, as the review progresses.
Gibson's first bass, the EB-1, was a violin-shaped instrument that was first introduced back in 1953. Later EB series basses like the EB-0 (1959) and EB-3 (1961) both featured more SG-inspired body shapes after the SG-Les Paul's introduction in 1961. Although the EB-3L was available for players who wanted a 34" scale length, both models more commonly came with short scale (30.5") necks. While some of these earlier basses did indeed sound rather dark, their original goal was to replicate an upright bass tone, which is darker too. As time went on, Gibson's basses also changed, and many models that were introduced in the 70s or later are far from dark or muddy-sounding, so there's another myth busted.
Gibson claims the new EB (which stands for "Electric Bass") has an "SG-derived body", and while there may be some hints of the SG shape in the elongated horns of the EB body's asymmetrical double-cutaway, it's still quite a departure from the SG itself, or the earlier EB series basses (such as the EB-0 and EB-3) that were more obviously SG-inspired. To me, the body contours and cutaway shape is almost more of a cross between a traditional EB-3 and a mid-70s era Gibson Ripper or Grabber. The horns are less pointy than the SG-shaped EB-3, but not as thin and elongated as the Grabber, and there are subtle hints of Mosrite also thrown into the mix in the way the back of the body is curved. I think it looks pretty cool, and while opinions about the looks of the bass are going to come down (as always) to the tastes of the individual, the questions remain - how does it perform, and is there any truth to the rest of the myths? Let's find out…
What You Need To Know
- The EB Bass features an ash body (with beautiful grain figuring) coupled to a glued-in grade A maple neck.
- The EB Bass is finished in nitrocellulose lacquer. The finish on the ash body is "grain-textured satin", with the grain of the wood easily visible; there are no rough edges, and everything still feels smooth, but you can subtly feel the grain in the finish if you run your hand over the wood. I suspect a grain filler was not used as part of the finishing process, allowing the grain texture to be more prominent.
- The body has both forearm and "tummy" contour curves, both of which make it very comfortable to hold and play.
- The smooth satin nitrocellulose-finished maple neck has 20 medium jumbo frets that are perfectly dressed, with no sharp edges anywhere. They're anchored into a great feeling unbound rosewood fingerboard. The rosewood is nice and dark, and very consistent in shading and grain. The fretboard radius is 12", and simple acrylic dot inlays serve as position markers.
- The tuners are sealed Grovers with a 20:1 ratio, and they're exceptionally smooth and hold tune great.
- The neck isn't tiny, but it's not a gigantic monster either. I suspect players with a wide variety of hand shapes and sizes will like it. It has a rounded profile, and it's nice and thin from the fingerboard to the back of the neck (I measured .812" at the first fret, .905" at the 12th fret) and not too narrow or wide - the neck on the review unit is 1.650" wide at the nut, and it widens out a bit as you move up the fretboard, measuring 2.185" wide at the 12th fret according to my digital calipers. The satin nitro finish on the mildly-figured maple feels really good, and you can fly around this neck quite easily. Best of all, there were no noticeable dead spots to be found anywhere.
- The neck features a volute on the back where it meets the headstock. Volutes have been used on some Gibson models in the past (particularly from 1969 to 1981), and generally their purpose is to strengthen the headstock / neck joint to make it less likely to break. The headstock is angled back a few degrees, but it appears that there is no second piece of wood glued on to form the headstock; rather, it's a continuation of the same single piece of maple that forms the rest of the neck. The face of the traditional Gibson "open book" shaped headstock is satin black, and adorned with a simple Gibson bell shaped truss rod cover and a gold Gibson logo.
- The nut is Corian, and once again I must point out the excellent Plek assisted setup job on this instrument - it plays fantastic right out of the case, with great intonation, excellent buzz-free action, and no need for adjustments of any kind. Gibson's set-up work on all of the instruments I've tried lately has been simply superb.
- The new EB Bass comes equipped with two humbucking pickups. There are two volume controls (one for each pickup) and a master tone control. No pickup switching is available; instead, the pickups can be used individually, or combined in various ratios by adjusting their individual volume controls.
- The pickups in the EB Bass, which were designed by Gibson luthier Jim DeCola, are really beefy humbuckers. They feature Alnico V rod magnets and have a thick, rich tone with great fundamental and lots of bottom; but there's also great definition and brassiness to the mids and highs, and the rich bottom isn't there at the expense of the rest of the sonic spectrum. The pickups also feature a coil tap - by pulling the volume control for the associated pickup away from the body, you kick it into single-coil mode. Gibson refers to this as a "frequency compensated coil tap", and it really does sound great - there's not a huge volume drop when you go to single coil mode, which is very nice. The timbres are definitely brighter and more focused in single coil mode. All Gibson basses are muddy? Not this one, so let's put that myth to rest too. Noise is very low when running either pickup alone in single coil mode, and when running them together, they're hum canceling, even when coil tapped.
- The 2013 EB Bass also comes with a chrome plated Babicz Full Contact Hardware bridge. This is a really well engineered bridge and its solid, fully-adjustable design no doubt contributes to the excellent sustain of the EB Bass.
- While some of Gibson's earlier basses have had a tendency to be neck-heavy due to their design, their strap button locations, and the way they balance on a strap, that's just not an issue with the EB Bass. To test it, I used the thinnest (2") and slickest (nylon-backed) strap I could find laying around instead of my usual wide (3"), rough suede-backed leather bass strap, and when I took my hands away, the EB Bass stayed wherever I had last positioned it, without the neck heading immediately for the floor. In other words, it's a well-balanced bass that's very comfortable to hold and play, even when using a strap. All Gibson basses are neck-heavy? Well, not this one, so that's another myth busted.
- I honestly don't have any significant complaints. Sure, the satin finish was most likely done as a cost-cutting measure so Gibson could bring this bass in at the highly competitive $1,000 "street" price point, but the looks of the bass are still quite nice, regardless of the lack of gloss. In fact, some players may prefer the satin - it certainly is less likely to show fingerprints than a gloss finish would, and it does look quite nice in its own right.
- I guess I could complain about the stark white color of the plush lining that Gibson is now using inside their hardshell cases - as I've mentioned in earlier reviews, I suspect it will tend to get dirty over time and may not look as nice after a few years as it does now... but again, that's a minor quibble. The Canadian-built case is rugged and well-constructed, fits the EB Bass like the proverbial glove, and at this price, it's nice to see a solid case included with the bass instead of a gig bag.
Sonically, this is a really versatile bass. Rolling off the tone control and using the neck pickup results in a darker tone that is similar to what you'd hear on an old Motown record, while opening it up reveals much brighter and more articulate timbres that can really cut through; especially when using the bridge pickup. While the EB Bass can get big, beefy tones, it's by no means limited to them. Both pickups have a lot more output than you might expect from passive pickups - even when coil-split for single coil sounds. Various combinations of the two pickups can easily be blended with the separate volume controls, and the coil tapping works wonderfully, giving you even more tonal options.
The EB Bass is well-built, extremely comfortable to play, balances well (it doesn't fight you when worn on a strap), and I think the new shape looks cool in a retro/modern sort of way. It's definitely something a bit different than the earlier EB series basses from Gibson, and yet not too far out in left-field either. If players can get past some of the myths and misconceptions and give the EB Bass a fair try, I think a lot of them are going to be quite impressed with it - I know I was.
Musician's Friend Gibson EB Bass online catalog page ($1,599 MSRP, $999 "street")
Gibson's EB Bass web page
Babicz Full Contact Hardware bridge manual (PDF)
Harmony Central Gibson EB Bass Review Preview video
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.