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This article was originally published in issue #23
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Yamaha's TRBX basses don’t seem to have been on the market for five minutes and yet already there's a real buzz about them - and we don't mean fret problems! Dan Veall assesses a very affordable new contender.
Launched in 2013, Yamaha's TRBX basses seem to have created quite a reaction in a short space of time. Online hounds will have seen them being featured by retailers right around the world and there has been quite a buzz from interested players, too. This isn't so surprising because Yamaha is a very well known and a dependable brand, offering everything from entry level instruments to custom shop and premium line instruments, including a number of artist signature models, some of which we've drooled over before down here in the Bassment. All the same, it has been a noticeably warm reception for these newcomers, so let's try to find out why.
First, let's establish that the TRBX series is quite a wide one, ranging from the entry-level TRBX174 through the mid-level 304 and 305 (you guessed it - the 305s have five strings!) to the 504 and 505 models. Though they vary in what's on offer, they all come with solid mahogany bodies and five piece laminated mahogany/maple bolt-on necks and solid looking die-cast bridges. It's all traditional stuff and none the worst for that!
Our sample, the mid-range 304 four string, has a great combination of features, feel and tone and a price point that is accessible to those needing a first quality instrument or indeed a good work horse bass. So - time for the details.
The 304 features a two per side headstock that is tilted back - pretty much common these days and a format that allows for better tuning consistency in the absence of friction causing string trees. All instruments should do this as standard in my opinion.
The Yamaha's 34” scaled neck is slim and fast feeling, with a 38mm nut which has a good Jazz feel to it. It's perfect for smaller hands too. As we said earlier, it’s made from five pieces of mahogany and maple laminated and if you check out the video, you can see the stripes of mahogany down the back. This neck is bolted neatly on to the solid mahogany bass body offering a strong resonant acoustic tone. I'm definitely becoming more of a fan of mahogany as a material for instruments, I have to admit. We've reviewed several basses recently that feature this excellent tone wood.
On to the sculpted body, which to me has a downsized feel to it and certainly nowhere near as bulky as a slab Precision body, for example. The contouring makes for a comfortable playing stage and I think the detailing gives the instrument a modern look but still in keeping with classic lines. This bass, if image is your thing, wouldn't look out of place in a Jazz, Pop or Metal playing environment.
Hardware on board the TRBX304 is of a high quality and robust. A suitably solid bridge is fine and does the job well, especially considering the price.
It's when you get to the active electronics that is where things get very interesting. I really like what Yamaha is trying to achieve and I think, judging from the results through our test rig, that it has achieved it well.
Firstly, the two hum-cancelling ceramic pickups with their large pole pieces have bite and character and I really have to mention those superb thumb cut-outs on the edges of the pickups. Super comfy! I think more pickup manufacturers should offer the same as many bass players like to sit a thumb on top of a pickup whilst playing.
The standard volume and pan controls have a smooth action and there is also a two band active EQ with a great amount of boost and cut available from each to sculpt the natural tone of the instrument. On the TRBX300 series, there is also the inclusion of a 'performance switch'. This 5-way toggle switch on the bass is a neat little idea that takes the guess work out of setting up your sound by selecting different 'pre-shaped' equaliser curves for different playing styles. It's fairly obvious when you look at the names of each! “Slap”, “Pick”, Flat”, Fingers” and “Solo”. You just select the position that tonally works best for you.
These configured settings were actually very good too. The finger style setting had some great upper-mids boosted for smooth definition and the slap setting would certainly cut through with those boosted treble frequencies. The flat setting is just that and can be considered a bypass position. Finally, the solo setting sounds a lot like the finger style position to my ears but has a boosted output ideal for allowing your moment in the spotlight to be heard clearly. That too is a great idea and a welcome inclusion.
The set-up on our review sample was very good - the fret-job on the neck smooth and free from sharp edges. All in all, the TRBX 304 offers great playability and excellent sound at a very accessible price - really a very fine semi-pro bass. Though we haven't tried them yet, it seems safe to assume that the less expensive 174 would be an excellent entry-level equivalent - and that the top of the range 500 that features uprated pickups, pre-amplifier and specifications, looks very tasty indeed. I'd particularly like to try one of those in a 5-string model as I feel they'll be a superb instrument for the money.