Gibson 2017 EB5 Bass
By Chris Loeffler |
Gibson 2017 EB5 Bass
Get the low down ...
by Chris Loeffler
Bass players have always been a bit more adventurous than guitar players when it comes to the gear they’ll play, with diverse instrument shapes in particular being something they’re ready to embrace. Part of this flexibility no doubt comes from the realities of creating an instrument that has the physical size and construction to support bass strings. As such, even though Gibson EB series basses have been overshadowed by their Thunderbird siblings they have cultivated a faithful following over the years for several reasons.
What You Need to Know
The Gibson 2017 EB5 bass sent for review had a natural satin finish with a tortoiseshell pickguard, and showed up in a standard Gibson gig bag. It's a 5-string model, but a 4-string is also available. Originally inspired by the SG shape, the EB series has a significantly rounder, offset double-cutaway shape to its solid ash body that provides better balance and extra access to the glued-in maple neck’s 24 medium-jumbo frets. The rosewood fretboard is unbound and covers the entirely of its 34” scale length.
The EB5 drives two Alnico V pickups that can be coil-tapped via their individual push/pull volume controls and share a master tone control, effectively giving the EB5 eight distinct, different voices without active electronics. The Babicz Full Contact bridge creates full contact between the vibrating string and the instrument body, with over 50 times the contact surface per saddle for improved tone and sustain.
Compared to much of the Gibson line of guitars and basses, the 2017 EB5 is incredibly stripped down visually; you could even say it's a little plain looking. The swamp ash body is an appealing blonde color with nice figuring that screams “acoustic,” and it plays well visually against the black and chrome hardware. A transparent nitrocellulose lacquer finish lets the wood breath a bit, and in theory will continue to improve with age. I’m pleased to report the satin finish has neither the tackiness nor raw feel that turned me off from similarly finished instruments in the past. The entire instrument seems to be constructed to wear in well.
The EB5 is lighter than I expected (around 8.5 lbs.), especially considering all the metal and wood involved in its construction, and the extended horn seems to have hit the perfect balance for an average strap wearer. The body is extremely resonant (even unplugged, the instrument sings), creating an incredibly comfortable and expressive playing experience even after an hour or two of playing.
Tonally, I found the 2017 EB5 to be much more versatile than most American-made basses I’ve played. Whereas many basses have “a sound,” the EB5 really has quite a few sounds to dig into. Running with the neck in humbucker and the bridge split, I was instantly in the world of classic P sounds with a growling midrange. Reversing that configuration to a split neck and humbucker in the bridge created a satisfying J-style tone that had the classic articulation of a strong low end, slightly hollowed mids, and bite in the high end. The neck and bridge pickups sound fantastic individually, and together and I found more classic bass tones available than I would be able to pull out in a live performance.
The EB5’s design is based on getting the best playing and sounding instrument, but to keep the price point low, there's little visual flourish. The term “doesn’t look finished” came to mind, and others who spent time with the bass articulated similar first impressions. Fortunately, that doesn’t translate to its feel or performance, and the moment someone played it an eyebrow would raise, their head would nod, and they would get a big grin.
A lot of the under-the-hood tech details of the EB series were documented thoroughly by Craig Anderton in an earlier article, in which he gives his take on changes to the 2017 models and provides his impressions of the various pickup settings. My take on the Gibson 2017 EB5 bass is they knocked it out of the park in terms of comfort, playability, tone, and versatility. Sacrificing high-end visual appointments is a bold move that anyone with a preference for function over artifice can appreciate, and speaks to the workhorse ethos that’s made the EB series an under-sung hero of the bass world. An amazingly playing, amazing sounding, incredibly versatile bass that’s made in the USA for just over $1,000? Yep.
Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.