Ibanez BTB33 VoloIn 2014, Ibanez embarked on one of their most experimental projects: the Bass Workshop. Taking a “why not?” approach has breathed new life into their bass designs by transforming some of their popular models into exciting, eye-catching instruments meant to push boundaries. Ibanez introduced the most recent Bass Workshop designs at winter NAMM 2015, and that included the 5-string BTB33. Opting for finesse over burliness, this bass is equipped with a high C string to facilitate fluid solo and chordal playing. Tuned E–A–D–G–C, the 33"-scale BTB33 is nicknamed the “Volo.”
Short and Sweet
The organic aesthetic of the BTB33 conveys looks rarely found at its price point. Boasting neck-through construction, the bass has mahogany body wings covered with a heavily grained ash top, a 5-piece neck/center core constructed from maple and bubinga, and a rosewood fretboard adorned with abalone inlays. Rosewood is also used for the finger ramp, which encourages consistent right-hand plucking across all strings by preventing your fingers from digging in too deeply.
Ibanez combined forces with Bartolini for the BTB33’s electronics. A pair of long BH1 humbuckers sends the signal to a 3-band Ibanez preamp with switchable 250 Hz, 450 Hz, and 700 Hz midrange settings. The 5-knob arrangement uses two sizes of dials that allow easy differentiation between the preamp and volume/blend section.
Other features include a Neutrik locking jack, Mono-rail bridge, and a Graph Tech nut. Hardware of this quality speaks to the care that Ibanez puts into every detail of the BTB33.
Learning to Fly
Volo is Italian for “flight,” and the compact makeup of the BTB33 certainly invites you to soar across the fretboard. Contributing to speedy shifting is the instrument’s balance that held its position at any angle. The 17mm string spacing at the bridge provides effortless string skipping, though some traditionalists might find it a bit cramped. Creating chord shapes was a breeze, thanks to the narrow neck.
Fans of Matt Garrison might feel compelled to copy his technique on the BTB33, and I was no different. The finger ramp was particularly helpful in keeping my right hand in check, whether I was attempting Garrison’s multi-finger strum style or plucking closed-voice chords.
The BTB33’s sounds resemble its fellow BTB models. With both pickups balanced and a flat EQ, the bass produced a voice with warm mids and a ding in the top end. Soloing the bridge pickup and boosting the mids at 450 Hz formed a barking tone that will satisfy fusion fanatics. The neck pickup on its own had a smoother timbre, but pushing the robust bass EQ helped transform the bass into a boom machine.
Onstage, the size and shape of the BTB33 made for no stress on the back and shoulder. My only real grievance is that the 1st string didn’t cut through the band as well as I had hoped. Boosting the mids helped a bit, but I still ended up spending most of the time on the bottom four strings. I experimented with chords during a jam of the jazz standard “Footprints,” which added some extra support to the guitarist playing the melody. When I played octave patterns around the upper portions of the fretboard during a bass solo, I was able to cop a nice jazz-guitar sound. The overall experience with the BTB33 was definitely rewarding, but with a 5-string bass in hand, I did find myself missing the opportunity to drop those low and deeply satisfying 5th-string bombs on the audience.The Verdict
The BTB33 Volo is a cool take on Ibanez’s BTB formula. Bassists who are developing their solo voice or experimenting with chords will find this an ideal instrument for exploration. The build and components are impressive, and when you also consider that a Matt Garrison Fodera would set you back several thousands of dollars, the $999 price tag is pretty damn easy to swallow. So if you’re seeking a smaller instrument that’ll help you push your musical voice to the front of the stage, the Volo is worth a test flight.
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