While it doesn’t summon visions of yesteryear’s Gibson EBs, the newly reimagined EB 4 offers up impressive construction, playability, and modern tones.
Clip 1 - Bridge pickup soloed, full humbucking mode, playing with pick.
Clip 2 - Neck pickup coil-tapped and bridge pickup humbucking. 40/60 (neck/bridge) blend.
Since its introduction in 1953, the Gibson EB has been no stranger to change. Its original short-scale build included a solid violin-shaped mahogany body (complete with painted f-hole and telescoping endpin), mahogany neck, and an oversized single-coil butted up against the neck. Its loose and bottom-heavy tones weren’t necessarily a huge hit with bassists at the time (Fender already had a two-year head start with the venerable Precision), but the EB did offer a unique palette of tones that set its path for decades to come.
Gibson continued to tweak the EB formula—most notably in the ’60s by using an SG-derived body shape and then a complete rework in 2013 by incorporating an offset-style design and modern electronics. Fast-forward to today and the new EB 4—the company’s most focused attempt at building an EB that excels in tone, clarity, playability, and versatility.
Old Dog, New Tricks
The new EB’s body shape is even less “Gibson-like” than its 2013 predecessor, and nothing like other past iterations bearing the EB name. If anything, the elongated upper horn, offset compact body, and pickup placement struck me as more Tobias-esque after I pulled it out of its included gig bag. While on the subject of cases, I was a little disappointed that it didn’t come with a hardshell case like the previous EB model did—especially since they’re the same price.
The EB’s swamp-ash body is available in two satin-lacquer finishes: vintage sunburst or natural. Our review bass was finished in natural and I really liked how the satin sealer made the wood grain pop while still looking somewhat raw and understated. Gibson says on their site that the body is “2-3” pieces, which could give some players pause—especially if you are considering spending a grand on a bass and want to know exactly what you’re getting before placing an order. Our tester had a 3-piece body and was assembled very well with no bumps or ridges in the finish or at the joints.
The 3-piece, glued-in maple neck is capped with a rosewood fretboard that’s lined with 24 medium-jumbo frets (which adds four frets to the previous model’s 20). The smooth and natural texture of the EB’s neck felt great in my hand—like the handle of a broken-in Louisville Slugger. The frets were even, well dressed, and their edges perfectly flush with the fretboard. Topping the bass is a Thunderbird-shaped headstock with a black-paint cap that sports a set of high-quality 20:1 ratio Grover tuners.
A string-through, Babicz Full Contact bridge holds the strings down firmly at the body, and individual Allen screws lock the saddles in place to prevent intonation drift and help vibration transference. For electronics, the 2017 EB uses the same pickup and control appointment of the previous EB model, which consists of dual alnico 5-powered passive humbuckers that are governed by two individual volumes (with push-pull coil taps) and a single master-tone control.
An Axe to Grind
A big advantage that the new EB has over its older brethren is balance. I detected no hint of neck dive, which is a not-so-uncommon gripe from players about ’60s-era SG-style EBs. Gibson’s 2013 EB addressed the issue, but the 2017 version perfects it thanks to the elongated upper-horn helping to redistribute the weight across a longer area. It also helped in making the bass feel lighter than it really is. I had a hard time believing it was over 8 pounds until I weighed it.
After I plugged the EB into a Gallien-Krueger 400RB and Ampeg 8x10 pairing, I dimed the bridge volume and master tone, and lowered the neck volume to about 30 percent. The cabinet roared with a bright and articulate sound that was supported by an ample amount of thunderous low end. The EB’s upper-midrange frequencies were particularly responsive to changes in my pick attack. When I gingerly fingerpicked delicate passages, the frequencies tended to relax and put less focus on the sound of my fingers striking the strings. Likewise, when I switched gears and struck the strings with more force, the upper mids jumped out and focused the attack—instantly morphing the tone’s vibe from bluesier rock to a more aggressive, prog-friendly thump.
The neck felt so good that it distracted me from moving on to explore the neck pickup and coil taps for a while. Both its rounded contour and gradual taper felt like they were perfectly in sync as I deployed quick scale runs up and down the fretboard. At the same time, the neck had enough mass for my fretting hand to quickly grab onto for box-position riffing. Those details—combined with its great fretwork—caused me very little fatigue and made the next-generation EB a joy to play.
With the volume settings reversed (neck pickup dimed and bridge at 30 percent), the tone naturally became much more ample in the low end. The walls shook as I played molasses-slow grooves on the neck’s lower registers, and there was a noticeable clarity in the high end of the tone that was—in my experience—uncharacteristic of a passive bass that produced this much output and power. The low end, however, did show a mild case of “EB-itis” (a nod to the muddy low-end intrinsic to older EB basses), but I was able to dial it out quickly and effectively with a few adjustments to my amp.
The coil taps were effective in regaining definition if I found my lows getting out of hand. For example, one of my favorite heavy rock tones started with the master tone rolled off slightly, the bridge-pickup volume maxed, and the neck pickup dialed in right at the point where it would fill out the low end enough without becoming excessive (about 75 percent). Pulling on the neck-volume knob to engage its single-coil mode cleared up the congestion and gave me the perfectly balanced tone I was looking for, and also tightened the low end at the same time. I noticed only a minimal amount of noise when using either pickup coil-tapped, and that disappeared immediately after blending in a touch of volume from the opposing pickup.
The redesigned 2017 Gibson EB moves even further away from the models that predate it. Its new getup makes it a wildly different bass than the ’60s-era EBs known for being heavy in terms of their necks, excessive lows, and congestion. On the flip-side, however, the characteristically warm, mountain-sized growl that made the EB famous was the result of a combination of things that the EB 4 doesn’t have—namely a short-scale neck and a thumpy pickup placed so close to the neck that clarity could be difficult to achieve. With all that said, the new EB’s balanced weight, crystal-clear pickups, and superb neck make it a much more versatile, comfortable, and playable instrument for modern bassists.
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