BY ROD TAYLOR
IN 1990, MY DAD DECIDED I WAS serious about this “bass thing,” so he took me into the local music store in Rolla, Missouri, and told me I had $800 to spend. I went straight for the Jewel Blue Ibanez Soundgear SR800, a bass I’d been drooling over since spotting it in a magazine (probably this one). It was new, it was shiny. Did I mention it was blue? Inspired by my sleek new bass, I began another stage of development as a bassist. Well, a lot has changed since then. The music store has changed hands, I’m a bit less distracted by shiny objects, and Ibanez has branched out from the early bass design that pretty much put the company on the bass-world map. At this year’s Bass Player LIVE!, Ibanez unveiled a new line of basses that represents its most radical departure from the iconic SR body style. I was captivated by the shape and colors of this new line, but two decades of playing has taught me to dig deeper before I make a judgment. Recently I got the chance to do just that, with two Grooveline basses.
Shouldering the 4-string, I immediately noticed how well the bass balanced, and I began to understand the logic behind its unique shape. While dozens of basses I’ve played over the years tend to suffer from some degree of neck-dive (where the headstock dips), the Grooveline neck actually raised up ever so slightly as the bass settled in, coming to rest in an ideal playing position. The bass retained its slightly elevated neck position when I sat down, thanks to the lower horn’s position against my thigh. This balancing act is no accident; Ibanez spent three years working with numerous prototypes in an attempt to reach a productive equilibrium with the new body design. “A bass has to feel good before you play it,” offers Ibanez Product Specialist Pete Chiovarou. The Grooveline’s body—made of alder and ash—felt a little on the large side, but was comfortable nonetheless. Similarly, the basses’ five-piece wenge/bubinga neck felt a bit meatier than other Ibanez necks I’ve played; if you’re the kind of player who’s found traditional Ibanez necks to be too slim for your tastes, you’ll want to check out the Grooveline.
Gettin’ Into The Grooveline
To test the basses, I invited over a couple of guitar-playing buddies, plugged into an Aguilar AG 500 and DB 412 setup, and played through a variety of rock, blues, and funk tunes. Bypassing the EQ on the 4-string, I channeled Sir Paul on renditions of “Come Together” and “Band on the Run.” The bass performed well in this context, offering up smooth tones that varied appropriately depending on which pickup I favored. The bass sounded fat and full in passive mode, and I appreciated that the EQ bypass switch was wired to offer a true passive option, should my battery die on the fly. I stand by my earlier review of Ibanez’s Sonic Arch pickups [August 2010], where I noted that these double-coiled pickups in single-coil housing provide meaty lows and crystal-clear highs.
Halfway through our jam, I switched to the 5-string and spent a bit more time manipulating the sound via the active preamp. To address the unique challenges 4- and 5-string basses present for an onboard EQ, Ibanez has created distinct preamps for each model: the E4 for the 4-string and the E5 for the 5. Essentially, the E5 preamp targets the specific frequencies of the B string, working to provide the same warmth and fullness enjoyed by the E on a 4-string. Full-range consistency is the goal here, and Ibanez seems to have nailed it with the Grooveline basses. The only problem I noticed— and it was evident in both instruments—was that the volume control lacked a consistent, gradual slope. It took about a 15 percent turn to engage the volume at all, and then it seemed to peak at about 50 percent, leaving little manipulation in the last 35 percent of the rotation.
With its eye toward ergonomics and practicality, Ibanez has done bassists a solid with its Grooveline series; these new groove tools felt as comfy as house slippers, and the EQ bypass option and distinct preamps will appeal to the more discriminating players among us. Though not as much of a bargain as some other Ibanez basses, Ibanez’s Groovelines are welcome additions to the market. These instruments are just hitting the streets; check one out for yourself and see if it doesn’t help you get your groove on.
The Grooveline’s Tight-End bridge offered easy one-screw height adjustment and a saddle lock function.
IBANEZ GROOVELINE BASSES
Street 4-string, $2,200; 5-string, $2,300
Pros Extremely good balance
Cons Testers’ volume controls had uneven taper
Neck Five-piece wenge/bubinga
Top & back Ash
Bridge Ibanez Tight-End
Pickups Ibanez CAP Sonic Arch
Electronics 4-string, Ibanez E4; 5-string, Ibanez E5
Controls Volume, blend, bass, mid, treble, active/passive switch
Neck width at nut 4-string, 1.5"; 5-string, 1.7"
Hardshell case Included
Available finishes Natural, Deep Espresso, Transparent Orange (5-string only)
Weight 4-string, 8.5 lbs; 5-string, 9.5 lbs
Made in Japan
Warranty One year limited