This P/J hybrid offers Precision-like tone with a medium-scale build and small-scale price.
Recorded direct into Focusrite Saffire 6 interface into MacBook Pro using GarageBand.
Clip 1: Both pickups engaged. Flat EQ.
Clip 2: Slap riff with neck pickup soloed. Slight bass and treble boost.
A value-rich instrument for bassists of all sizes. Solid P-style tone, great playability, and awesome looks.
Our test bass had fret issues. J-style pickup lacks characteristic bark.
Ibanez SRMD200 Mezzo
There’s a certain level of fearlessness to Ibanez’s designs. For decades, they’ve walked the line between function and form, developing basses aesthetically distinguished from the pack. Drawing the attention of NAMM’s low-end attendees this year, Ibanez’s showing ranged from the resurrection of the cult-classic AFR to a compact adaptation of the legendary Soundgear bass. The latter is called the Mezzo, and it’s a fun hybrid of SR models with a few unique additions.
Built for Speed and Comfort
Ibanez’s latest derives its name from the Italian word for “middle.” It’s an appropriate moniker, since its 32" scale seats itself between the conventional 34" of the standard Soundgear models and the small footprint of the Ibanez miKro bass at 28.6". This reduced scale provides significant advantages in both playability and comfort.
The Mezzo’s poplar body is offered in a spectrum of colors. We received what I think is one of the model’s most eye-catching combinations: seafoam pearl green paired with a pearloid pickguard. Matching the color on the headstock also enhances the look of this bass.
Despite the shorter scale and slightly smaller body, the Mezzo shares the same neck width, thickness, and radius as the standard Soundgear basses. Ibanez selected maple for both the neck and fretboard. Add 22 medium frets into the mix, and you have a neck ready for fast passages and comfy fretting hand activity.
Ibanez went with their proprietary electronics for this bass bambino, pairing their Dynamix P- and J-style pickups with a 9V preamp. The 2-band EQ offers boost and cut in the treble and bass, and there is no passive-mode option for the Mezzo.
With its stunning sparkle finish and pearloid pickguard, I was really struck by the looks of the Mezzo, which has an unexpected vintage vibe even with its characteristically contemporary shape. When I first pulled the bass out of the box, I noticed that several fret ends were protruding from the fretboard. By no means was it a hazard to play, but it could be a bit of a nuisance with an occasional scratch against the fingers.
Despite this, the playability of the Mezzo was quite nice overall. I’m a fan of short-scale basses, and I enjoyed traversing the extreme portions of the fretboard with effortless motion. Interestingly, the Mezzo’s neck felt a bit more substantial in my hand compared to other members of its family, even though they share similar dimensions. It should also be mentioned that our test bass balanced wonderfully and held its position well while I was sitting or standing up.
I explored the Mezzo’s tonal palette in my home studio with a Bergantino B|Amp head and HD112 cab rig, through which the Dynamix pickups produced pleasing tones. The neck pickup was powerful and produced P-style sounds that oozed from the speaker. There was initially a bit of modern zing (courtesy of the 2-band preamp), but dialing down the treble gave the Mezzo a mellow, mid-friendly growl. The bridge pickup’s sound was a touch disappointing: It lacked the aggressive snarl that many bassists have come to associate with a J-style pickup in this position. I was, however, able to get closer to that authoritative tone at louder volumes and with a boost on the bass EQ. Balancing both pickups equally produced a tighter tone with a slight ding in the top end.
I also did some live experimentation in Nashville’s Broadway bars, where bands play four-hour shows with no breaks. I took the Mezzo out during a double shift, and I ended up playing it for nearly eight hours. GK rigs were provided at both venues, with very little EQ enhancement.
Whether a country ballad or pop favorite, the Mezzo had the right tone for the song. Soloing the neck pickup was my preferred setting for most of the duration, with just a slight boost in the treble for presence. I did occasionally employ the bridge pickup, which had just enough bark for disco-style numbers.
With any other bass, eight hours of playing could have been physically taxing. Thanks to the Mezzo’s balance and playability, I felt no fatigue in my shoulder, back, and hands. And it’s safe to say that musicians would rather invest in a reliable instrument than their chiropractor’s BMW.
In our quest for tone, it’s nice to play an instrument that’s, well, fun! The Mezzo’s comfortable design, cool looks, and practical tones could please just about any player. At $300, the price point also makes it a pretty guilt-free investment. Whether you’re looking for a portable workhorse or a cool beginner bass, saluta il Mezzo.
A sleek take on a time-honored bass design—with some interesting twists.
Among bassists, 10-time Grammy nominee Meshell Ndegeocello enjoys a special kind of respect. Her far-reaching talent as a sidewoman has found expression in extraordinarily diverse projects, from collaborations with Herbie Hancock to Madonna to John Mellencamp. As a solo artist, she has veered from the bubbly grooves of Plantation Lullabies to the melancholy tone poems of Bitter to her recent Nina Simone tribute record Pour Une Âme Souveraine.
Given Ndegeocello’s idiosyncratic artistry, her decision to collaborate with Reverend on her signature Fellowship bass is understandable, since Reverend also approaches its art from a unique angle. The new Fellowship bass is based on the company’s Thundergun platform—a sort of angular P-bass-esque instrument—but with some substantial departures.
The most immediately striking qualities of the Fellowship are its sleek lines, lustrous satin-black finish, reverse headstock, and pretty bound-and-blocked fretboard. The bass’s Art Deco elegance is immediately appealing. Even the single P-style pickup’s blade magnets reinforce the sophisticated aesthetic.
The Fellowship takes a unique approach to the conventional P-bass-style electronics layout. The blade-shaped magnets improve the pickup’s off-axis response, and the concentric tone/volume knob situates the frequently used tone control for immediate access.
The body and neck also take a left-of-center approach, at least as compared to a P. As on all Reverend basses, the Fellowship’s body is made from korina, a tonewood frequently associated with Gibson’s late-’50s Flying V and Explorer. Known for its balanced frequency response, clarity, and sustain, korina is also appealing for its light weight, as the Fellowship demonstrates. The instrument’s top is thicker along the center, abutted by two thinner wings. Reverend claims this design puts the body’s mass where it needs to be—in line with the pickups and bridge—while allowing the thinner wings to resonate more freely for increased sustain and harmonics. The Fellowship’s set neck also improves resonance. It’s a 5-piece design, with alternating laminates of korina and walnut.
The Fellowship hard-core hardware contributes mass to the bass’s sonically influential parts. The lock-down bridge’s Allen bolts secure the saddles to the hefty bridge plate so that the string-contact points at the saddle work in unison with the bridge plate to improve clarity and attack. Players have the option of stringing the bass through the body. The heavy-duty tuners match the bridge’s beefiness. They turn smoothly, look well-finished, and feature 1/2"-diameter posts.
The bass felt comfortable strapped or in my lap. Its subtle contours conformed to my body, and the sleek, satin-finished neck is fast and well shaped. The set neck provides easy access to the upper registers. The bass is a little neck heavy, perhaps due to the body’s light weight and the massive tuners. But otherwise the bass feels fantastic, with comfortable string spacing and just-right low action.
I played the Fellowship live through several amps, including a TecAmp Puma 1000 and a Demeter HBP1-800D with Epifani and Bergantino cabinets. At home, I tracked a few overdubs with a Tube Tech MEC 1A and a Universal Audio LA-610.
Given the Fellowship’s P-style pickup and electronics, it’s not blessed with a huge variety of tones. But that’s clearly not the instrument’s purpose. It does offer a big and immediately beguiling Precision-like thump. It’s capable of pillowy fatness, especially with the tone rolled off, but manages to retain definition, string-to-string clarity, and presence.
With the tone knob all the way up, the Fellowship has impressive high-frequency response for a P-style bass. Rather than wallop the room with the usual midrange thonk of a P, the Fellowship provides a more balanced and subtle response. Massive lows are ever-present, but a genuinely airy and crisp high end is there when needed, lending definition to pops, Paul Jackson-style vibrato, and up-tempo fingerstyle work. But the Fellowship is pure meat-and-potatoes when played palm-muted and with the tone rolled off.
Ndegeocello’s signature bass looks fantastic, brims with style, plays smoothly, and pours forth a fat-but-articulate tone that works well in most settings. Any sonic limitation are consequences of the P-style design in general, and by P-style standards, the Fellowship is remarkably versatile. Players in the market for a P-style bass that stands out visually and sonically should include the Fellowship in their search.
A sleek, light, and versatile take on the P-style bass.
Do you remember the first time you thumbed through one of Carvin’s catalogs or perused their site? If you’re like me, you were probably blown away at the wide range of products this versatile company builds. We recently had the chance to look at the newest member of Carvin’s bass family: the PB4, the company’s take on a storied classic.
Carvin into History
Opening the included hardshell case, I found a traditional-looking, P-bass-style instrument (hence the “PB” name), but soon found out that this was no mere copy. The jet-black finish of my U.S.-built PB4 looked very nice, and I dug the matching headstock.
Before we get to into the build of the PB4, we must first talk about the, well, build of the PB4. Carvin has a downright dizzying array of options for anyone wanting a bass (or guitar) that differs from a stock model. Pretty much everything can be customized on the PB4, though we requested a close-to-stock version for review. Carvin makes it easy to build the bass of your liking with a just a few clicks. If there’s anything you don’t like about a stock instrument—finish, electronics, body wood, inlays, whatever—chances are there’s an option that can make you a happy player.
Our review model has an of alder body (standard), and is outfitted with an optional P/J passive-pickup configuration utilizing two volume controls and one tone control. It should be noted that Carvin recently switched the standard control configuration on their two-pickup PB basses to master volume and blend dials instead of separate volumes. Separate volumes will now be available as an option.
Although the body shape is familiar, the PB4 felt less chunky and a bit more refined than a standard P. Some may miss that sense of mass and attitude, and some may not.
The 34"-scale bass has 20 medium-jumbo frets and a thin, almost Jazz-like neck constructed of Eastern hard-rock maple and topped with a rosewood fretboard. The 4-bolt neck, finished in tung oil, feels lightning-fast, and the string spacing is comfortable for fingers, picks, and thumbs. All joints are clean and finished, and the frets are perfect. There isn’t a gap anywhere on this bass. It was very apparent that even this “stock” model was constructed with care and excellent quality control.
Unplugged, the PB4’s sustain is remarkable (no doubt aided by the string-through design). The light yet balanced 8 ¼-pound instrument is definitely a candidate for a three-set bass.
I ran the PB4 through a Warwick CCL with the EQ flat. I started out soloing the SPC P-style pickup with the PB4’s volume turned all the way up and the tone control about halfway up. The PB4 hit me with a smooth, even tone that leaned toward vintage warmth. While the tone wasn’t quite as earth-shattering as a vintage P’s, the pickup sounded really good at this setting.
I rolled the tone knob all the way up, adding a touch of modern “point" to the sound, yet the result wasn’t overbearing. This slightly more aggressive setting is ready for a plectrum or thumb. Runs above the 12th fret remained even and full, and I probably could have played all day using just this pickup.
Next I dialed out the neck pickup and cranked the bridge pickup. With the tone knob all the way down, it’s a rather wet-blanket sound, but pushing the pot to the halfway point tightened things up and offered fingerstyle pep. However, the bridge pickup tone was not necessarily my favorite. For me, the single J-style pup is a spice for the soup, not the meat.
The bass opens up considerably when the pickups are used in tandem—so much so that it’s hard at times to believe that the PB4’s pickups are passive. They have all the characteristics of their 9-volt-sucking cousins, without all that battery cavity baggage. By maxing the three dials, I got to another tonal high with a great sound that balanced low-frequency warmth and high-end snap.
As I continued playing, I found myself switching the bridge pickup on and off. I liked having the flexibility of the bridge pickup, but with a small reservation: When combined with the split-coil, the volume control for the bridge pickup seemed almost like an on/off switch rather than a level control. If you want to truly tailor your tone with the bridge pickup, you may have a hard time here. The upside is that the bass sounds really good with the bridge pickup on or off, and at just a slight factory upcharge for the P/J configuration, you might enjoy the added tonal options. Also, with Carvin changing the standard setup to include master volume and pickup blend controls instead of separate volumes, dialing in a blended tone should be much easier.
Carvin’s PB4 is a nice take on a classic design. I was impressed by its sustain and the output of the pickups, which made me wonder how an active set would sound. The combination of a thin neck with a light body left me wanting a bit more mass, though that could just be my personal preference. The upside is that smaller-framed players and those with smaller hands are likely to dig this bass a lot.
Carvin is a great place to turn for an alternative to the usual bass suspects, and their new PB4 certainly merits consideration. The street price is budget-friendly, though tacking on custom appointments can really add up. The mail-order scenario might not be for everybody, but Carvin provides a 10-day trial period to determine if the bass you ordered is for you. My guess: You’ll probably keep it.
Watch the Review Demo: