Recorded direct using a PreSonus FireStudio and PreSonus Studio One 3
Clip 1 - Neck pickup soloed.
Clip 2 - Bridge pickup soloed.
Clip 3 - Both pickups full/equal volume.

For decades, Yamaha has had its hands in scores of different musical products, effectively being able to outfit an entire band with everything from guitars and drums to PA gear. And while the venerable company continues with this approach, there seems to be a bit of a modernization of sorts within its product lines. One example is the BB bass.

The BB has a cult following running across all levels of players. It seems that at some point in every player’s career, he or she owned or at least played a BB. The basses are known for a midrange snap that makes them practically jump off records, and they’ve served heavyweights from Nathan East to Michael Anthony—just to name a couple—for many years. So, what happens when you start changing what maybe shouldn’t be fixed? To help answer that question, we took a long look at one of the brand-spanking new BB offerings from Yamaha with the BBP34.

King BB
I can almost hear the Yamaha purists gasp at the thought of a BB redesign, but I’d like to think the Yamaha designers didn’t enter this decision lightly. All products will inevitably evolve—some for the better, and some falling flat. I personally look at these renewals as a good thing, especially if a company can learn from almost 50 years of building basses to roll out a more efficient and overall better product.

When I opened up the included hardshell case, I let out a little “whoa” when I saw a bass that was leaner and meaner, and yet somehow more sophisticated than its predecessor. The first thing that grabbed me were the “normal” pickups. Yes, Virginia, you mod freaks can now drop standard-sized pickups into the new BB—a difficult process in the past because of the Yamaha’s oversized pickups.

The sound with all controls maxed serves up a rich, mid-bark tone that captures the essence of a BB of old.

The alder/maple/alder body of our test model was finished in a tobacco burst, and the headstock finished in black. The reasoning behind the maple-sandwich laminate is for increased midrange, which is the BB’s calling card. The brushed-nickel hardware adds some satiny class to the bass. The 34"-scale BBP34 houses a Vintage Plus bridge, which angles the strings at 45 degrees, thereby reducing string stress and allowing for a better transfer of vibration to the body. Plus, the bass can be strung through the body or topside, which is always a nice option.

The 5-piece, 6-bolt neck is a maple/mahogany combo and was designed to blend snap and warmth by utilizing that combination of tone woods. The neck—which measures 1.57" at the nut—will likely appeal to a broad range of players. It feels thinner and more refined and streamlined than previous BB models I’ve had my hands on. And happily, the BB’s setup at arrival was just the way I like it: a silky smooth neck with action that’s both low and fast.

This bass sings volumes when unplugged. It had the feel of a new-yet-broken-in instrument and the tone was even from fret one to 21. That broken-in feel might be thanks in part to Yamaha’s Initial Response Acceleration, a process where the company hits instruments with specific sonic frequencies to open them up sonically. (Although less scientific, acoustic-guitar players have been placing instruments near their stereo speakers for years to mimic this process.) However it’s accomplished, Yamaha apparently did it well.

Ratings

Pros:
Well-crafted. Great tone. Standard-sized pickups!

Cons:
It’s not your dad’s BB. Not a fan of the pickguard design.

Tones:

Playability:

Build/Design:

Value:

Street:
$1,499

Yamaha BBP34
usa.yamaha.com

A BBeast
For a small-space test, I plugged the bass into an Eden WTX500 head with a matching 2x10 cab. The BBP34 has a few directions to go with the P/J set up, so I started with both pickups dialed all the way up and the tone dimed as well. With P/J setups, I am typically a one-volume/one-blend-knob kind of player, so if you’re like me, the controls might take a little getting used to since the pickups are controlled with individual pots. Again, because the engineers at Yamaha installed standard-sized pickups, they can be easily swapped out if desired.

But not so fast. This bass is powerful as is. The sound with all controls maxed serves up a rich, mid-bark tone that captures the essence of a BB of old. If you really dig in, the bass snarls like a junkyard dog, and a more delicate approach brings out the refinements of the instrument. Who is going to like this tone? I think many players will, whether they use a pick or fingers.

I also tested the bass for a full show with an Eden WTP900 paired with D410XLT and D212XLT cabinets. After various combinations of volume and tone adjustments, I found my favorite settings with the neck pickup all the way up, the bridge pickup about halfway, and the tone around 75 percent. For me, it provided a big, P-like rumble with just enough J point. The tone knob is quite usable, which takes the sound from subdued to sharp without getting sizzle-y, and doesn’t get overbearing when dimed. Beyond the great tone, the bass felt like I had owned and played it for years. It was very comfy and familiar on the big stage.

The BBP34 also shines when serving as a P-style bass with just the neck pickup engaged. The vintage-type voicing delivers a tone that will likely make traditional players take note. Soloing the neck pickup projects a rich sound, and when boosting the tone knob, I got a nice little slap contour as well.

The Verdict
Though I can’t consider this bass a BB in its purest form, that isn’t a bad thing. The BBP34 is a different beast than its predecessor. The model has gone from a functional, likable instrument to a streamlined creature that still has as much soul as the BBs of old. If I had to get nitpicky, I’d figure out a different design for the pickguard. It sort of just cuts itself off, but that’s an easy fix. The BBP34 is nicely assembled in Yamaha's facility in Japan, arrives set up like a dream, and can give a player the sense of hanging with an old friend right out of the box. Yes, the price is steep, but it’s not too steep for the only bass you’ll have to buy for the next few years.

Watch the Review Demo: