Are Ibanez bass fans getting a raw deal? Those with a taste for the company’s highest-level wares might say so. Over here, we see plenty of the budget-to-middle range gear – and we’ve reviewed many of them in G&B, from the EBD700 (which at that time was only £429 and sounded like a bass of twice the price) and the Artcore, a £299 semi-acoustic that really did the business.
Then there was the excellent SR700, the flagship of the Soundgear range, which retailed at just over five hundred quid. But where were the high-end wares such as the Gary Willis (Tribal Tech) and Gerald Veasley (Zawinul Syndicate) signature models? Like all the high-ticket models, they were nowhere. But this month, ladies and gentlemen, we give you the Japanese-made Grooveline G104 – at just over two grand, Ibanez’s latest foray into the top end of the market.
If you’re making a statement with price, you might as well make one with looks as well. The G104 is bulgy, quirky, carved and scalloped, with a deep lower cutaway and a ‘thumbs-down’ horn. Ibanez has used alder for the body core and capped it both top and back with ash.
The dark brown finish (Ibanez calls it deep espresso) is expertly applied, and allows a pleasing grain pattern to show through. If you feel the colour is a bit too understated, then your tastes might run to one of the two alternatives – a funky transparent orange and a clean-looking clear natural.
To go with the G104’s all-new body aesthetic is a new-design neck. Anchored to the body by a super-secure six-bolt system, it has a sandwich construction with three chunks of wenge separated by bubinga stringers, and the whole thing is reinforced with titanium (although whether this is in the form of a truss rod or a supportive layer, we cannot accurately tell you). Wenge and bubinga are both African hardwoods of superb structural rigidity and strength, and in this bass they come together to create a profile that’s a little fatter than the usual Ibanez offering.
All the same, it feels ultra-comfortable and reassuringly substantial in the hand.
Traditional rosewood is the choice for the fingerboard, which houses 22 expertly-seated medium jumbo nickel frets; the face is blank, but there are small white position markers on the top edge.
A black composite Tusq XL nut separates the neck from the G104’s distorted hourglass headstock, recessed for break-angle purposes and loaded with four Gotoh Res-O-Lite 350 tuners with small buttons, made from aluminium alloy and finished in cool black. Being light, they’re designed to help improve the instrument’s balance by cutting down weight at the end of the neck.
A lot of thought has gone into the G104’s balance, and it’s paid off – this is one of the most stable basses you’ll rest on your leg, and it’s very comfortable hanging off your shoulder.
The other major piece of hardware is Ibanez’s Tight End bridge, also in black. It’s recessed, and features include saddle locks and string anchoring points which are also sunken down in an effort to ensure maximum transference of string vibration to the body.
The G104 is kitted out with active electronics – an E4 preamp hooked up to a pair of CAP-SAH4 pickups. On first sight these look like a pair of standard Jazz Bass units, but they’re noiseless humbuckers with single-coil characteristics.
You might also notice that they have an arched profile to match the curve of the fingerboard – another neat design touch. For controls you get volume, balance, a three-band EQ (bass, middle, treble) and also a switch to select EQ on or off… or, put another way, active or passive mode.
The G104 has a pleasing growl at the bottom end with decent width. The midrange is solid with plenty of body and mercifully free of high-mid bias, while the highs are musical, fully realised and explode when you get nasty with the thinner strings. The G104 speaks clearly across the whole range, so it’ll really cut through.
Engaging the E4 EQ uncorks a bunch of excellent variations. Adding bass induces old-school warmth, with full boost giving seriously weighty notes – perfect for ’60s pop and soul. On the front pickup this adds real solidity, hinting at the familiar P-Bass sound but bringing a softer version of that classic earthy rasp a little bit further forwards.
Rock and blues fans will enjoy this variation. A dash of bass EQ also increases the practicality of the bridge pickup; when set flat the sound is a fraction thin and bright, but upping the bottom end produces a punchier, more incisive sound with just a little nasal honk for clarity.
The treble boost doesn’t give quite as much headroom as the bass control, but there’s still enough for snappy aggression. With added middle, the variations range from deep and moody to a lively, acoustically detailed sound. The Ibanez is capable of delivering a distinctly jazzy sound, but it’ll also do the warm, detailed fingerstyle funk thing with aplomb.
While traditionalists are likely to be shaking their heads in disapproval, we reckon Ibanez’s attempt to produce a bass that utilises modern materials, electronics, design concepts and looks a bit different should be roundly applauded… especially when the resulting instrument sounds as good as the G104. Tonally, it scores heavily with open highs, fat, growling lows, a clean, even midrange and plenty of easily accessible variations on tap: the G104 really can cover most stylistic turns.
The main issue here is price. Add to this the current state of the market and the fact that the UK has been programmed, you might say, to expect to pay certain prices for Ibanez basses, and you’ve got a bit of a problem. Let’s hope some people take the plunge with the G104: they won’t be disappointed.