Gear review: Ibanez Grooveline 4 and 5 String Basses
- Alder/ash body
- 5 piece Wenge/Bubinga bolt on neck
- Rosewood fingerboard
- CAP Sonic Arch J style humbucking pickups
- Ibanez 3 band EQ, tailored for 4 or 5 string
- Ibanez “Tight End” bridge
- 34” scale
Very few of us bassists are unfamiliar with the wide range of electric basses Ibanez has been cranking out for decades. From their inexpensive student models all the way up to their masterbuilt signature series (ala the Gary Willis and Gerald Veasely models), they have been firmly rooted in the bedrock of all things bass for a while now. Their new Grooveline series represents the upper end of their product spectrum, and showcases some of cool recent innovations. With its eye-catching original body shape, and outfitted with new proprietary electronics and hardware, the Grooveline represents a unique branch on the extensive Ibanez family tree, and a curve ball for those who think they “know Ibanez”.
The Groovelines sweeping body is sculpted from a piece of alder, accented and capped with a very tasty swamp ash top. Both basses have a 5 piece wenge and bubinga neck, anchored via 6 bolts to the body. Wenge is a very dense, darkly colored African hardwood, with a rigid feel and an open pore structure that feels great under my hands and looks wonderful. Bubinga is another dense African hardwood with great structural rigidity and a strong midrange character. The well laminated combination of the two felt rock solid on both basses. While some may prefer the traditional feel of finished maple under their left hand, the natural beauty and texture of the wenge/bubinga formula has a very organic, boutique-y feel.
These new basses show off a couple of new and exciting developments regarding Ibanez’ electronics and hardware, giving this bass some distinctive features. Ibanez’s own CAP “Sonic Arch” pickups may look like your normal jazz bass pickups at first glance, but in actuality they are noise free humbuckers, engineered to produce single coil tone, without single coil noise. The arched pickups covers are a very cool and modern touch; their curvature follows the radius of the fingerboard, which looks slick and feels great under the fingers. Realizing that the low B string on a 5 is a game changer for a preamps EQ requirements, Ibanez outfits the 4 and 5 with slightly different preamps, each tweaked and optimized for the specific parameters and needs of a 4 or 5 string bass. Each preamp features a master volume, blend knob, 3 bands of EQ, and an “EQ bypass switch” which functions as a usable passive mode. I dug Ibanez’s patented “Tight End Bridge”, milled from solid brass, which is a very beefy yet streamlined bridge design. It adjusts smoothly, looks great, and certainly provides a very strong contact point for transmitting vibrations from the string into the body. I especially liked its smoky nickel finish and rounded edges. Exposed bridge saddle height screws can be an uncomfortable nemesis for those of use who spend a lot of time palm muting over the bridge. The Tight End ‘s design incorporates a single flush mount screw for height adjustment, simplifying the process and leaving no sharp edges to dig into my palm. Nice! The bass arrived with a great setup and low action; no fret issues were detected on either bass.
Playability: Some may look at the Grooveline and think that the unique visual appearance of the bass is purely aesthetic. In fact, the Grooveline has been designed from the ground up to optimize balance, comfort and playability. Indeed, on a strap and seated, the bass fit like a glove, although I did detect a bit of neck dive on both models. I’ve always been a fan of the comfort factor of Ibanez’s SoundGear series, and the Grooveline seems to follow in the family tradition, while making its own case for ergonomics. The neck shape was slightly wider and thicker than the SR series that I’m familiar with, but by no means chunky or bulky. I really liked that there was some meat to the neck profile, but that the neck still felt sleek and fast.
On the gig: I took the Grooveline 4 and 5 to a couple of gigs, and was very pleased with both the tone and the comfort factor (having to stand for a couple 4 hour marathons). With the preamp set flat but engaged, both Groovelines cut through the mix well, providing solid bottom end. I found the inherent tone a bit bright and modern, but with some onboard eq tweaking, I was able to dial up a suitable warm, round tone for an R&B set, a slicing slap tone for some modern funk, and some nice burpy and articulate bridge pickup tone for the requisite “Jaco test”. Putting a fresh set of DR Sunbeams on the 5 brought out some additional warmth and roundness to the bass, and balanced well to compliment the inherently crisp voicing of the instrument. Both basses feature 34” scale length, and I found the low B on the 5 sound to sound authoritative and clear. Band mates and audience members alike were intrigued by the Groove line’s appearance and impressed by its solid and articulate tone.
Overall, there are very few complaints to be made about the Grooveline basses. Obviously, the look is not for everyone (people either really dug it, or couldn’t get past it). The basses play great, are well built using quality components, and are priced to be solid contenders in their range of the boutique market ($2299 for the 5, $2199 for the 4, both w/ hardshell case). I was impressed overall by the Grooveline package. It’s clear that Ibanez took some major time to dial in this new line of basses, and its well aimed at pro players wanting a reliable, solid, high quality bass without breaking the bank.
For more information, visit www.ibanez.com