Recorded direct using Focusrite Saffire 6 interface into GarageBand
Clip 1 - Full volume, full tone
Clip 2 - Full volume, tone at 80 percent. 3Leaf Audio Octabvre in signal chain with tone set at 1 o'clock.
Dr. Jonathan Schwabe, a bassist and professor I studied under at the University of Northern Iowa’s music program, affectionately refers to the upright bass as the “king of instruments.” When you consider the physical challenges in playing the acoustic juggernaut, it’s an appropriate label. Many electric bassists have attempted to make the transition to playing the unforgiving axe, only to realize the upright bass’ beautiful timbres require significant adjustments in technique and aural facility. Thankfully, there are options for these dejected players seeking more of an acoustic sound—including this new offering from the Ibanez Bass Workshop. Labeled the SRH505F, it’s a semi-hollow adaptation of their classic Soundgear series design that features a fretless fingerboard, chambered body, and piezo electronics.
Into the Woods
To achieve their sonic goals with the SRH505F, Ibanez constructed a somewhat thicker body—comprised of mahogany and topped with spruce—to accommodate the chambered design. Two large chambers enhance resonance and reduce weight, and a forearm contour provides comfort while adding subtle styling. Speaking of looks, the “natural browned burst” finish delivers an organic vibe, and the carved, bass-side f-hole is a classy touch.
The jatoba and bubinga combination for the 5-piece neck helps deliver midrange complexity and add mwah to each note while providing neck stability. The fretless, bound-rosewood fingerboard complements the warm woods of the bass, and as a friendly guide, Ibanez installed black line-markers and offset white-dot inlays to minimize intonation issues.
Ibanez was also savvy to carve a thumb rest at the end of the fingerboard. Not only does it provide a convenient anchor for string crossing; it keeps the thumb from resting on the resonant spruce top.
Instead of conventional magnetic pickups, the SRH505F is outfitted with the AeroSilk piezo system in the custom bridge. A volume knob and active tone control provide subtle sonic flexibility, while trim pots located in the back of the body adjust the gain of each string and optimize tonal balance.
If you’re a fan of the sleek design of Ibanez’s Soundgear series, you will appreciate what the SRH505F has to offer. Despite the thicker body, the semi-hollow shape is not cumbersome. Our test bass rested nicely in a seated orientation—particularly when using classical-guitar positioning. It also maintained a comfortable playing angle on a strap.
My favorite features of the SRH505F are the neck and fingerboard. Some might argue that the neck is a bit thin, but I found that it caters to a comfortable hand position. The 16.5 mm string spacing felt great and helped provide effortless navigation of the fingerboard. The position markers and side dots were useful in approximating note intonation, but I felt that the offset dots on the fingerboard were difficult to see and likely not even necessary.
Tonal descriptions can be subjective, but after listening to the SRH505F through a Bergantino B|Amp and a Bergantino HD112, I can confidently say that the bass brings thick lows with a wide delivery of mids. The tone control tempers finger attack well by providing air to each note, or warmer fundamentals when dialed down. I can’t say that the SRH505F totally replicates the sonic complexities of a double bass, but it effectively captures the over-amplified tone that many upright players were using in the ’80s and ’90s. All said, the SRH505F has an impressively articulate, semi-acoustic timbre.
I took the bass to a country/rock show and plugged it into the Bergantino B|Amp paired with the venue’s Gallien-Krueger 4x10 cabinet. While the bass can’t be called an exceptionally versatile instrument given its DNA, the SRH505F performed quite well in specific situations. For example, its inherent tone was perfect for the Alannah Myles hit “Black Velvet,” and its 5th string came in handy since the song was played in a key that took advantage of the deeper portions of the fingerboard. Speaking of the 5th string, I was impressed with its strong projection of notes that were devoid of any floppiness.
Dialing down the tone control brought out the instrument’s warm mids that were ideal for sensitive takes on Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” and “Tears in Heaven.” What also impressed was the way in which the bass worked with an octave pedal. Adding a 3Leaf Octabvre Mini to my signal, the SRH505F transformed into a synth machine by giving my bass lines a rubbery elasticity that made slides and vibratos buzz and quiver. When I cranked the tone controlon the Octabvre pedal, it created a sound that nearly replicated Stevie Wonder’s synth bass heard on “Boogie on Reggae Woman.” All said—despite my few cringing moments of suspect intonation—I found the SRH505F to be an attractive tool for expanding my tonal palette.
The Ibanez Bass Workshop has been hitting their stride with ambitious projects and the SRH505F is a great variation on the Soundgear theme. The SRH505F won’t fit the bill as a singular workhorse bass for all, but rather a specialty instrument with excellent playability that delivers a sensitive, warm tone. And while it also won’t replace the “king of instruments,” it conveys an impressive acoustic character without breaking your bank account (or your back hauling it around). If you’re looking to explore the expressive world of fretless bass and have upright-esque tones available to add to your repertoire, you might find your voice in the SRH505F.
Watch the Review Demo: