The Lowdown on the 2017 EB Bass
By Anderton |
The Lowdown on the EB Bass
Four or five strings, eight different sounds
by Craig Anderton
(Editor’s note: Harmony Central’s offices are located about 300 feet away from the Gibson USA factory, so when the 2017 guitars were introduced, we just had to check them out. But luckily, we were able to hold on to them and in the process, found out there are considerable differences among them. So, rather than “review” them in the traditional sense, we thought it would be helpful to analyze what the differences are so the HC community would have an idea of what was going on “under the hood” with these guitars. This sixth article in the series covers the 2017 EB Bass.)
Gibson’s EB bass for 2017, part of the Traditional line, is available in a 4 or 5-string version. It’s a different kind of bass for Gibson, with perhaps the most obvious improvement being the balance—it’s easy to hold and play. Aside from the design, part of this is due to the swamp ash body, which is relatively light (also, the fingerboard is rosewood). However, another advantage is that swamp ash gives a high-end “snap” as well as a solid low end, so the balance extends from the physical bass itself to the tone.
Tuning. Accurate tuning that can last throughout long gigs is always a design priority. The neck is maple, and being a very resilient wood, it can handle the tension of bass strings while holding tuning well for extended periods of time. The Grover tuning keys also contribute to tuning accuracy, as does the Babciz bridge—which also helps with accurate intonation.
The look. The EB has a nitrocellulose satin finish that exposes the swamp ash and maple with the Natural Satin model. It’s not a fancy look; even the extended horn, while eye-catching, has the practical purpose of providing proper balance when wearing a strap. The black pickups provide a stark contrast to the blond wood, as do the knobs and bridge. If it weren’t for the look of the swamp ash body, this is one of those basses that would probably fade into the background on stage. On the other hand if you’re more into sunbursts, there’s a Satin Vintage Sunburst look as well.
The electronics. I’ve always loved the sound of the “sustain forever” Thunderbird bass. The neck-through-body construction is a big part of the full, round sound, but it’s a physically as well as sonically heavy bass. In 2013, I made friends with the five-string EB. It was easier for long sessions than the Thunderbird, but the killer feature for me was being able to get eight distinct, different bass sounds without active electronics. Whether I wanted a bright, more pop sound, a percussive “plonk,” something with highs to cut through a mix, or a big bottom (apologies to Spinal Tap), I need to carry only one bass to the gig.
The 2017 EB carries on that tradition. Even though it has only three knobs (volume for each pickup and a control for tone), the two volume knobs are push-pull types that activate Gibson’s Tuned Coil Tap circuitry. The “native” pickup sound is a big, growling tone with a fair amount of midrange “bark”; the Tuned Coil Tap voicing scoops the midrange somewhat, which can emphasize the low or high end more by de-emphasizing the mids. This is clever, because if you start with sound that doesn’t have much midrange, there’s nothing you can do to add something that’s not there. The EB pickup’s solid midrange means you can use it as it, or reduce it.
Here’s an admittedly subjective rundown of the type of sounds available.
- Neck pickup: Balanced tone, most bass, mids give some “bark”
- Tapped neck pickup: Scoops some mids, rounder sound, retains low end
- Bridge pickup: Less low end, more midrange bite
- Tapped bridge pickup: Scoops mids, lighter low end, defined highs, good “pop” bass sound
- Neck and bridge pickups: Retains strong low end, adds midrange but there’s an apparent slight scoop in the lower mids because the higher and lower frequencies are louder
- Tapped neck pickup and bridge pickup: Major scooping around 500Hz-1kHz, good lows, a hint of brightness, lays back in a track
- Tapped bridge pickup and neck pickup: Adds some upper mids back in compared to the tapped neck pickup and bridge pickup
- Tapped bridge pickup and tapped neck pickup: Like the tapped neck pickup and bridge pickup sound, but adds slightly lower midrange frequencies back in.
Of course, these are the “bass-ic” (sorry!) sounds. Once you start using the tone control and varying the pickup volume controls, there are even more possibilities. I also like that you don’t have to deal with a forest of switches or controls to get these sounds, nor do you need batteries.
The bottom line on the bottom end. A bass always has to fight the laws of physics. Given the frequencies strings have to hit, they should be longer—there’s a reason why a 9 foot grand piano has bass strings that are so long. Granted, a piano goes down to 27.5 Hz, but a bass goes down to about 40 Hz and trust me, the strings on the EB are not 7 feet long. Because of the string length, a bass’s headstock ends up being quite a distance from the body, and that’s where your balance issues begin.
However the EB’s compact body, with the extended horn for your strap, takes care of obtaining a good balance while the swamp ash wood also helps reduce the overall weight. I was surprised by how much more comfortable the 2017 EB is compared to the 2013 version, but not surprised that Gibson elected to keep the same tonal versatility. I’m very happy with the 2013 EB…however there’s no doubt that the 2017 is a major step up. . - HC -
Visit the rest of the series on the 2017 Gibson Guitars:
Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.