In a world saturated with Fenderstyle basses, it’s always cool to encounter an alternative take on the age-old formula. Sometimes it comes in the form of a boutique bass, sinuously sculpted and blessed with exotic figured woods that scream “expensive.” Then there are basses like the Musicvox MI-5, a mid-priced instrument that’s more a vintage Fiat than a classic Ferrari: exotic, yes, but quirky and lovable to a select few.
Given the beautifully subjective nature of bass love, I’ll qualify my take on the MI-5’s look as being merely the opinion of one person: It’s not my thing. But it could be yours! With that out of the way, I can comfortably move on to the fun part—how the MI-5 felt, sounded, and all the other good stuff.
DON’T JUDGE A BOOK
Given the MI-5’s origins in the Far East, and its idiosyncratic style, one might expect a form-over- function level of construction quality. But that wasn’t the case. Whatever you think of its contour, the Musicvox is beautiful up close. The striking sunburst was well applied and smooth. I dug the strange triangular pickguard, and thought its pearloid finish was particularly striking and apt. The slab-like top is an excellent candidate for binding, so I’m glad to see it included here. The fit and finish and construction were excellent for the price range. Sure, the hardware is generic and lacking a bit in the posh-ness department, but it worked and felt rugged.
The MI-5’s electronics are straightforward and passive. The choice to keep the bass passive makes sense, especially given the mediocre active systems often found on import basses in this price range. A simple 3-way switch governs pickup selection, and it’s bookended on the top by a volume and tone knob, each of which rotated smoothly and noise-free. The Musicvox’s control cavity was a little messy, but there was nothing truly concerning there.
Strangely shaped bodies sometimes lead to strange balance issues, but not so on the MI-5. It felt poised on my lap, resisting the urge to neck dive, in spite of the chunky headstock. On a strap it hung well, too. The neck needed a quick trussrod adjustment on arrival, and it responded perfectly. I dug the neck’s narrow width and shallow- C profile. It was easy to get around, especially in the high register, where the sculpted heel and unusual horn are well out of the way.
Before I plugged in the Musicvox, I knew I’d be intrigued by its sound—not just because of its singular look, but because of the neck humbucker’s position. Humbuckers slammed up against the end of a neck like that are sometimes politely called “mudbuckers,” a not entirely derogatory term, given that many bass players love playing in the mud.
With the bridge pickup soloed, the MI-5 had a burpy yet still thick sound. It wasn’t so much J-style as a hybrid between a soloed J pickup and a P. It was a sweet mix, especially with some treble rolled off—cutting enough to feel midrange-y and articulate, but also blessed with healthy low-end response. Blended, the pickups were aggressive and remarkably full-bodied. There wasn’t a ton of sparkle on offer, but the firm, rich sound is the epitome of supportive— an excellent vehicle for big wholenotes on a ballad, if you catch my drift. Now on to the “mudbucker.” Soloed, it’s actually not as sloshy as you might expect. It retained a decent amount of focus and definition, and it also had some of the woody bark one expect from a neck pickup. But still, the position means its output will tilt in favor of the bass end, and that was in fact the case. If you play reggae, big bass-y slow jams, and the like, it’s the tone: pure fat with a gentler technique, and complex (without losing the fat) with a more aggressive plucking hand. It’s a killing sound, and not one you find on many more traditional basses.
In terms of its look, the MI-5 is obviously a love-it-or-hate-it bass. No getting around that. That said, it is a well constructed and serious-sounding instrument, especially well suited for those who want a strong, straightforward sound in an unconventional package.
Pros Excellent construction; fat and supportive sound
Cons Look not for all; neck-pickup position beautiful for some, potentially limited for others
Bottom Line Whether or not you like its quirky looks, the MI-5 sounds great and is solidly built.
Scale length 34"
Pickups 8-pole humbuckers
Hardware Gotoh-style tuners; cast adjustable bridge
Made in China