Former BMX racer turned guitar designer Bill Ryan and his company Dream Studios recently unveiled a fifth model to their collection of basses with the vintage-vibed M5. It’s a 5-string version of the SoCal company’s Maverick bass, which itself was spawned from their guitar model that bears the same name.
My first impression of the 8 1/2-pound M5 was that of a solid and sturdy bass without the bulky weight that can burden other models in its class—especially 5-strings. With an offset body crafted from one piece of 1.75"-thick swamp ash, a bolt-on hard-maple neck topped with a rosewood fretboard and 22 jumbo frets, and a Hipshot Vintage bridge, the 34"-scale bass boasts excellent materials and construction.
Perhaps the most thoughtful elements of the body design are the contours and curves that give the M5 a comfortable shape that naturally fits the body when worn at most any height. The sexy curvature at the top of the bass makes for comfy arm placement and elbow relief, whether you’re employing finger, pick, or slap techniques. Another body detail worth mentioning is the placement of the output jack: It’s located in a recessed cutout in the back of the bass, which keeps the cable firmly in place and out of the way.
With its two volume knobs, a balance knob, and a tone control, the M5 offers plenty of versatility and sound-shaping power. Two Seymour Duncan alnico SMB5-a humbuckers deliver an array of both active and passive tones. Speaking of, the standout feature of the M5’s electronics is the pair of active/passive slide switches located on the pickguard near the upper horn. Yes, a player can switch between passive and active modes, but can also run the two pickups in different individual modes. (More on this shortly.)
I plugged the M5 into an Ampeg SVT and matching 8x10 rig with both pickups in active mode, the volumes wide open, pickup balance equal, and the tone knob dialed to about 75 percent. The bass produced a booming low-end with great clarity and a powerful midrange punch. The high end was tremendously bright and clear, and while quite pronounced, it balanced nicely with the girth of the low and mids. The M5 is sonically pummeling at intense volume levels and the 5th string’s low registers held an impressively strong and bright sustain.
Compared to an active Music Man StingRay, the M5’s booming resonance contains less metallic mids, but its punch still sounds severe enough to cut through any mix. The M5 probably sounds closer to a Fender Jag, though I found that the M5 growled more. It has a distinct bite, and that bodes well for metal or alternative music.
Engaging only the neck pickup and playing fingerstyle directly above it yielded a full tone with round highs in the upper registers. I preferred using a pick and playing back towards the bridge with the bridge pickup soloed. The resulting treble tones proved to be spot-on for faster punk and rock lines.
When I switched both pickups to passive—again balanced evenly—the tones took on an expected character change. There is still quite a rumble, but the brightness is cut significantly. The passive mode produces more of a thumping effect than the wall of sound generated by its active alter ego. This made it my preferred setting when I wanted to slap and pop, though some might prefer the hotter active tone in this context.
In passive mode, the M5 can deliver a vintage R&B thump (I found myself gravitating to the 3rd and 4th strings and playing between the 3rd and 9th positions with a muted plucking technique), but it can also conjure alternative flavors if you use a flatpick or aggressive fingerpicking. The tone knob covers a pretty wide sonic range, but my favorite sounds were with it dimed.
The Dream Factor
The M5 lets you individually select whether each pickup is in passive or active mode, and this opens up many more tone-manipulation options. Collaborating with the crew at Seymour Duncan, Dream Studios spent months designing the electronic circuitry to be able to make this work effectively. The upper-horn slide switches could be inadvertently grazed if you’re not paying attention, but their location makes it quick and easy to make adjustments on the fly.
I spent some time going through different active/passive pickup configurations to see how the M5 would respond when I played in various registers and used different hand positions. One cool application is playing in a reggae/dub style with an active neck pickup and passive bridge pickup. Working the 4th and 5th strings closer to the fretboard, I got a deeply rumbling modern dub tone. Picking back toward the bridge pickup instantly turned this into more of a vintage dub sound. I generallyfound myself engaging both pickups in the same mode, but having this split-mode functionality is a bonus, especially for finding unique tones in the studio.
If you’re in the market for a sexy looking 5-string with a diverse set of tone options and customizable sound, the M5 is worthy of a meeting. At a few clicks under a couple grand, it’s not inexpensive, but it’s priced fairly considering its build, DNA, and playing comfort level. Whether you kick it fully into active mode, crank the EQ, and push the volume while ripping some aggressive picking, or switch to passive mode and groove out with some satisfying thumb plucking, the M5 has you covered—and then some.