IF YOU ARE A FAN OF FRETS, PERHAPS THE NEXT step is to see is if you are a fan of fanned frets. The concept of splaying out frets in a fan pattern was patented by Ralph Novak, who builds instruments under the name Novax—but most bass players’ first exposure to this eye-catching concept was through Dingwall Basses, a high-end builder that has focused on fanned-fret instruments since 1993. Other boutique luthiers have licensed this technology for specific models, but the entrance fee to fanland has always been steep, until now. With the patent on fanned frets expired, Ibanez has taken the opportunity to introduce this concept applied to its highly popular SR series with the SRFF805 (a 6-string version is also available), bringing it to market for just under a grand. Are fanned frets for you? There’s never been a better time to find out.
EXTENDED SCALES, EXTENDED RANGE
When comparing the low B string on various instruments, it is hard to deny that 35"-scale basses have more clarity than 34"-scale fivers. The inside of any acoustic piano proves that longer strings produce better-sounding low notes. The fanned-fret design gives the lower strings a longer scale length, while maintaining an average length on the top strings. The SRFF805 clocks in at: 35.5" for the B, 35.12" for the E, 34.38" for the A, 34.25" for the D, and dead-on 34" for the G. Although some people feel that a 35" scale is too big for them, the offset angle of the frets makes it easy to play the SRFF805’s extended scale lengths. If you examine your open palm, you will notice your fingers fan out from the center—similar to the fret pattern. This contributes to the surprisingly natural fit this fingerboard gives. It may look weird, but adapting to the neck is easier than you think.
At the heart of the SRFF805, we find an instrument with specs on par with the top-tier of the SR Standard series, although the FF sports a more advanced electronics package, and a Mono-rail-style bridge. The black stain finish over ash makes the grain really pop, and the smooth, sexy feel of the natural wood will have you fondling this baby for hours. Although the fingerboard is a drastic departure, the SRFF805’s neck has the same sleek profile as its non-fanned relatives, and the five-piece jatoba/bubinga assures stability. The elongated pearloid inlays are a nice cosmetic touch that looks even cooler with the outspread frets. The Mono-rail bridge gives each string its own separate unit, countersunk into the body—an elegant approach to the engineering challenges this design brings.
The SRFF805’s power plant features Indonesian- made Bartolini BH1 dual-coil pickups, angled like the frets to give greater string-to-string consistency, and powered with a new active/passive circuit that gives you ±16dB for the bass shelving control, ±14dB for the midrange (250Hz, 400Hz, and 700Hz selectable via mini-toggle), and ±16dB at 9kHz for the highs. In passive mode, the treble knob acts as a typical passive tone rolloff through the first half of its rotation. The slick, inset jack makes yanking your cable out with your foot a thing of the past, but it does make the otherwise orderly and well shielded control cavity a bit cramped. My previous experience with fanned-fret instruments is limited to checking out the finely crafted Dingwall product line. I found that the relatively steep angle created by the Dingwall’s whopping 37"-scale B string required close attention to my fingering, particularly in the nosebleed zone above the 12th fret. It took a little time, but once acclimated, I fully enjoyed the benefits of the staggered scale lengths and was able to play freely. I found that SRFF805’s slightly less pronounced fret angle cut my transition time to almost nil. I played the Menuetto from Bach’s Cello Suite #1 in G Major with my eyes closed, and after the first few clams, I was able to recalibrate my hand position to play the rest of it, sans seafood. I repeated the piece to make sure it wasn’t a fluke, and it confirmed that I was already dialed in to the fretboard. The basic Ibanez SR design is well-balanced on a strap, and somehow the SRFF805 maintains this comfort, even with a 35.5"-scale B string. For further proof, I jammed out on a sampling of the 5-strings I have at my disposal—both 34" and 35" scale—with my strap height set in “non-jazz gig” position. After grooving away on five different axes for about 20 minutes, I hung the SRFF805 on the same strap, and everything fell right into place. Any concerns I might have had about the playability and fit of this bass were assuaged.
The tone profile is fairly consistent with the higher-end SR instruments. The exotic hardwood neck gives it a tight, focused sound that exhibits a bit of compression when slapping. The 3-band EQ is versatile enough to get the bass where you need it to go, and at this point, Ibanez is offering only the 3-way selectable midrange on its FF and BTB33 models. The ceramic Bartolini BH1 pickups are a solid choice for the price point, but their 5" case length makes replacing them a challenge should you choose to upgrade.
One of the claimed benefits of the multi-scale- length design is improved note consistency, and the SRFF805 certainly played evenly throughout its range. I have found that some B strings can overpower an instrument, but the SRFF805’s low register is massive and well balanced—it sounds like one instrument, not a 4-string with a drop-the- bomb attachment. The lack of obnoxious overtones on the B string was refreshing, and it made me more inclined to use those very handy positions on the neck.
Ibanez uses its Bass Workshop line as a place to introduce innovative ideas, and the SRFF805 is well placed there. The fanned-fret concept offers a big advantage if you’re the type of player who lives in the dungeons of the deep. The low B has the kind of authority shorter scale lengths can’t deliver, and makes the bass super attractive to the low F# or C# crowd—you know who you are. The SRFF805 is a versatile, solid-playing axe, and a breakthrough for those who have waited for an affordable bass with fanned frets.
Bass Workshop SRFF805
Pros Fanned frets at a bargain price
Cons Pickups difficult to replace
Bottom Line The SRFF805 is easy to play, and the benefits of the 35.75" B string will thrill denizens of the deep.
Frets 24 (fanned)
Nut Synthetic resin
Neck width at nut 1.75"
Bridge Mono-rail V
Scale length 35.5"–34"
Pickups Bartolini BH1 dual-coil
Electronics 3-band BMT, 3-way mid frequency switch, passive bypass, passive tone
Hardware Cosmo black, die-cast zinc Weight 9.5 lbs
Made in Indonesia