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If you ran a survey asking folks to name the most iconic electric guitar manufacturer ever, you’ll get a variety of answers, but the majority may likely end up being a split between Gibson and Fender. Change the question to most iconic electric guitar and bass manufacturer ever, and that number will probably skew heavier in favor of the company Leo built.
That’s not to say Gibson hasn’t been making some killer basses for almost as long—because they have—though a number of them have been a bass version of an existing guitar in their line. Gibson has kept busy on the bass front over the last couple of years, but it’s the new incarnation of the EB that could break the mold about what a Gibson bass can be. It’s got a totally new body style, a pair of newly designed pickups, and a vibe that’s all its own.
Elements of Style
When I initially pulled the curvy bass out of the included hardshell case, the instrument that was revealed just didn’t quite shout Gibson. The new body shape for the EB—which the company says draws inspiration from their SG—actually has little resemblance to other basses with the EB moniker. Its shapely cut seems to draw more flavor from a few models outside the Gibson line, including some sort of reversed-horn Mosrite.
While the satin finish of the EB is also available in creme, ebony, or fireburst, our test bass was done up in Gibson’s fourth option, au naturel. And in contrast to the dark red-tortoise pickguard, the clean and simple finish highlighting the grain of the ash body pushes the vibe of a classic, woodsy instrument from the early ’70s.
A 34"-scale maple neck is glued to the body and is topped with an unbound rosewood fretboard and 20 medium-jumbo frets. And moving up the neck took me to the traditional and recognizable headstock that houses a quartet of 20:1 Grover tuners, letting me know I was indeed checking out a Gibson. The EB appeared to be put together well: I didn’t detect any finish blemishes, the neck matched up in the pocket cleanly, and all the hardware was installed nice and tight.
Getting a strap on the 8-pound bass and myself into the standing position, the feel of the EB was comfortable with its 12" fretboard radius and middle-ground 1.6" nut width. And it was weighted nicely with no hint of the neck wanting to do something it shouldn’t. As I explored the landscape up and down the semi-chunky neck, both it and the fretboard’s topside felt smooth and pit-free, and around back the satin finish was inviting. But while sliding my cupped hand up and down the sides of the fretboard, however, I did find a number of sharpish fret edges along the way, sharp enough to tear up a paper towel with just a couple of passes.
Anchoring the EB’s strings is not the 3-point bridge we’re used to seeing from Gibson. Instead, they outfitted the EB with a full-contact, top-load bridge from Babicz. User-friendly for intonation and string-height adjustments, this big bridge also excels in vibration transference. Even with the instrument still unplugged this was evident—not only to my ears, but my body as well.
Aforementioned similarities to other basses seem to end when you get to the EB’s electronics. Newly designed by Gibson luthier Jim DeCola with the intention of providing both power and versatility, the passive pickups loaded into the EB bass are a pair of beefy alnico 5 humbuckers. Pretty straightforward, they share a master tone pot and each of the pickups has its own volume control. However, each of the volume knobs is also a push/pull control, which allows swapping from humbucker to single-coil tones via a pop of the black top-hats.
EB Tone Home
Ready to hear what this recently minted 4-string sounded like plugged in, I set the EB up through a Gallien-Krueger 800RB matched with a TC Electronic RS410 cab. With the GK’s EQ set relatively flat, I started out by soloing on the neck pickup with its volume knob rolled to 10 and the master tone at about 3. I was hit with a wall of thick and dark gravy-esque bottom end, but some quick tweaking was in order as it was a bit too muddy for any meaningful articulation. Rolling the tone knob to about 6 and blending in the bridge pickup’s volume about halfway got me to a nice, rich and smooth sound with defined mids—spot-on for taking on ’70s classic rock or punk, to thick blues runs and whatever else between. And switching the neck pickup to single-coil mode with these settings did add a bit more girth and slicing kick to the tone. The notes were articulate, even with the thick bottom end the EB delivered when I hung out on the fretboard’s lower landscape.
Almost disengaging the neck pickup and leaning heavily on the bridge pickup’s volume takes you to brighter territory and where you want to be if slap and pop is your game. And while the EB’s tone isn’t blindingly bright or biting here, there’s plenty available for covering funk, dance, and anything else in need of more aggressive punch and definition. There was just a hint of hum when soloing the bridge pickup with the coil tap engaged, but for the most part, it was relatively minimal. And blending in the tapped neck pickup swallowed any hum considerably. As much as I liked the humbucker tones, I did find myself favoring the tones with both pickups coil-tapped and adjusted to pull most of the sound from the neck.
Whether you’re a long-time Gibson bass fan or a bassist who, for whatever reason, has shied away from the company’s 4-string offerings in the past, the EB is worth taking a look. The dressing work on the frets was a little disappointing, but overall, the bass was put together well. The classic vibe of the EB and the versatile tones it’s capable of delivering make it a solid option for all types and levels of players, be it an intermediate looking to make a move up, or an addition for a regularly gigging player.
Actually, at just less than a grand for a U.S.-made, set-neck bass with quality appointments from Gibson, just about any player should feel pretty good about what they’re getting for the coin. And though the EB is most definitely a bass that leans towards rock and darker sounds overall, its sublime design and spectrum of achievable tones—which is a lot wider than, say, a T-bird—will allow it to sit in on a variety of gigging situations.