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BY STEVE COOK
Back in the ’70s and ’80s, a lot of guitarists and bassists knew Ibanez as the Japan-based maker of “lawsuit guitars” because of its high-quality instruments that borrowed rather heavily from the designs of industry mainstays. Today, the company is an undisputed worldwide powerhouse with a long and interesting history of making excellent instruments with unique designs and features that attract prominent players in almost every style of music. Bassists have gravitated to Ibanez instruments—from the Roadstar models in the Reagan years to the more current SR series—because of their great value and tone. With multiple bass lines in production, Ibanez has something for everyone—from budget-friendly to premium in price.
Ibanez’s latest boomer is the ATK800E Premium. In contrast with a lot of Ibanez basses that push traditional design boundaries, this mid-level 4-string (a 5-string version is available as well) has a more understated, classic look and feel—in a lot of ways, the distinct and practical ATK Premium looks likes something straight out of 1977. However, it still boasts modern electronics and playability.
I Like Your Style
The ATK Premium has appointments often found on boutique instruments, yet Ibanez has managed to sneak them in at a very easy-to- swallow price. It sports an ash body and beautiful rosewood pickguard that complement each other perfectly, though care should be taken with the pickguard, as it will likely be more prone to scratching than plastic. The strikingly enormous bridge envelopes the bridge pickup (and adds more anchor points to connect to the body), which yields a massive amount of sustain potential. The unfinished maple neck has black dot inlays and silky smooth fret edges, with Hipshot tuners finishing off the matching headstock. It’s really easy to appreciate this bass.
When I first picked up the relatively light ATK, I was amazed at how comfortable and solid it felt. Fingerstyle and slap players alike will dig the response and feel, as well as how blazingly fast the neck plays—the action was low and fast right out of the included gig bag. The ATK800E is strung through the body and sports a 5-bolt neck that adds even more contact between resonating surfaces. Unplugged, the bass rang true and sustained wonderfully.
Noon Sounds Good
Plugging in the ATK Premium with everything in the straight-up position, I was immediately impressed with how the 12 o’clock tone sounded. The active CAP pickups—a single-coil-sized humbucker in the neck position and a switchable, double humbucker at the bridge—have ceramic magnets and provide a nice variety of tones. Ibanez took it another step by tacking on a 3-band EQ that allows further exploration of a multitude of sonic landscapes.
From shimmery harmonics to driving, pick-fueled punk or Louis Johnson-esque slap, the ATK Premium welcomed it all. It’s a great-sounding bass—although I will also say that I expected a bit more from an active instrument. The EQ helped me get the bass closer to certain sounds, but the real control is with the pickup blend—and a little goes a long way. Favoring the bridge humbucker with some extreme EQ and blending, I got close to a slap-happy StingRay sound. Rolling up the neck’s pickup control and darkening the EQ, I was happy with the more mellow tones, but it missed the mark when trying to dial in something I would consider really warm. It’s just not that kind of bass.
I used the ATK800E through an Eden WT-800 paired with a couple of 410XLTs and an Avalon U5 direct box at a theater gig, and it sounded really good for the rock show—full and beefy, with just the right amount of punch and clarity—though I craved some of the round, vintage warmth I get from other basses. That said, the ATK has its own identity, and our FOH engineer loved the tone—he went out of his way to let me know he didn’t have to do much to my signal and that I made his night easy.
I love it that Ibanez released this body style. “Vintage” and “old-school” are terms that are thrown around a bit too much these days, so for the ATK, let’s call it “classically inspired.” Ibanez has raised the bar for mid-level instruments with the ATK Premium, and it would be hard to beat at this price point. In fact, I’d even put it next to a number of models twice its price, and the ATK would probably win. If you’re in need of a well-made, versatile bass, the ATK Premium is worthy of a long look.
Watch our video demo: