Though Paul Reed Smith’s name is most often associated with electric guitars, the basses PRS has built since the mid-’80s have been widely praised for their designs and playability. In 2003, Paul Reed Smith, Joe Knaggs, and Gary Grainger began collaborating on a signature 5-string for Grainger. The resulting instrument caught the eyes and ears of many bassists, but for a decade it was only offered as a pricey PRS Private Stock instrument. But now the ideas spawned by that think tank are available via two instruments in PRS’s Core series, the 4-string Grainger 4 and the five-string Grainger 5, reviewed here.
It’s easy to appreciate the beauty of the Grainger bass. The mahogany body of our tester features the 10-top flame-maple option, enhanced with a warm, autumn-sky finish. The body shape shares the aesthetic of such PRS guitar models as the 513 and 305, but it has a deeper cutaway on the treble side for easy access to the upper fretboard.
The maple neck has a smooth satin finish and a custom shape based on Grainger’s specifications. The browns of the rosewood fretboard complement the body colors nicely, but players who prefer a brighter look and tone can order the bass with a maple ’board. Flying across the 24-fret landscape are bird inlays, a PRS trademark.
Paul Reed Smith explained during a 2013 NAMM show demo that their bass pickup and preamp systems are the result of input from bassists, sound engineers, and other audio specialists. The Grainger’s two GG pickups feature a dual-blade design, with contours that follow the radius of the fretboard. This shape aims to deliver a fat, clear tone with a balanced string attack.
The 18-volt preamp appears conventional at first, with controls for neck volume, bridge volume, bass, mids, and treble. However, the two volume knobs are also push/pull pots that engage active EQ in their downward positions. With both pots pulled up, the Grainger is in passive mode. If a player wants to solo one pickups, all they have to do is pull up the corresponding volume knob. (The only caveat: Popping a knob up disables the active EQ along with the other pickup, putting you in passive mode.) The cool thing is, there’s no volume difference between active and passive modes. This lets bassists immediately change their tonal character within a song. For traditional pickup blending in passive or active mode, both pots must be up or down.
Home on the Grainge
After marveling at the curves and colors of the test bass, I strapped it on. The medium-light Grainger felt balanced and comfortable. I was able to speed around the neck thanks to the flawless satin finish and comfortable neck profile. For some players, the string spacing at the lower frets may initially feel a bit narrow, but I found that it relieved left-hand stress while inspiring adventurous runs and string-skipping lines.
It’s always cool when you pluck a bass’s strings and perceive instant, unhindered vibration, and that’s definitely the case here. Whether playing vibrato-laden upper-register fills or full, focused 5th-string notes, I could feel PRS’s craftsmanship at work.
Next, I tested the Grainger 5 with several studio rigs: an Epifani AL112 combo and a Genz Benz Shuttlemax 9.2 pushing a Glockenklang Quattro 410 cabinet. I checked out the primary tones of both pickups in passive mode. The neck pickup sounded smooth and deep with a slight growl—not so much a P-bass sound as that of a rich baritone voice. Soloing the bridge pickup delivered the expected bark, but the notes were slightly fatter and edgier than what you might get from a soloed bridge pickup on a J-style bass.
The Grainger is not a clone aiming to replicate an existing instrument. You have to hand it to Paul Reed Smith for creating an original bass voice: a somewhat scooped sound with warm, slightly punchy lows and crystalline highs.
On the Stage with Gary
Like most great performers, the bass shined when it hit the stage. Whether plugged into the Epifani combo or an Epifani UL 501 head with a Glockenkang cab, the bass found its place in the band’s sonic spectrum. I set the Grainger to active mode with both pickups engaged and the preamp flat for a rock covers show. The brightness added a nice edge and accents cut through the mix. The firm lows established a solid foundation. Each note was punchy, with pants-shaking power.
The Grainger 5 sounded right with rock, but it ruled on an R&B/funk gig. Sticking with the flexibility of active mode, I boosted the bass and treble EQ for thick slaps and bright pops. And like a sonic boom, the 5th-string notes spread over the stage and dance floor with chest-pounding precision, perfect for ballad climaxes.
It’s rare to find a U.S.-made instrument that provides this much quality for under $3,000. The aesthetics are striking, but this axe is much more than just a pretty face. The Grainger 5 delivers with rock-solid construction, excellent playability, a dynamic voice, and a versatile preamp that permits lightning-quick tone shaping. Live or in the studio, this bass excels at most modern music applications.
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