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This article was originally published in issue #33
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Well this will set the cat amongst the pigeons! (I hope). As if it's not bad enough that bass players have started wanting more than four strings (cries of “Jaco only needed four” are heard across the land) but these uppity low-enders are even contemplating moving from underneath their rocks and taking on melody, harmony and the unspeakable…chords too!
OK, so I jest of course. We’ve been doing ‘extended range’ for many years and we have (for the most part) shed negative attitudes over what the bass player ‘should’ be doing in a band setting. But here's a bass that has been designed exactly for those who are pushing the horizons of what bass playing is about and yet it still manages be a superb bass that even the most staunch four string supporter can get on with.
Essentially what we have with the Ibanez BTB-33 is a five string bass but instead of the more usual ‘low B’ followed by the standard E, A D and G strings of a four stringer, the BTB33 starts at E but includes a string that is tuned a 4th higher instead, namely it’s open string note is C.
The higher string is nothing new - six string basses have been enjoying the range for many years - and although it’s less usual to find a six string bass off the shelf strung this way, the BTB33 does mean that you don’t have to take the tools to your beloved ‘low B-er’ to enjoy a bit of upper range noodling and extended chord shapes. That is what makes this bass so enticing.
If I were looking into this territory, I’d be looking for an instrument with a live and rich tone to bring out the best of my melody ideas and overtones in chordal playing and that's where Ibanez has not let us down at all with a 33” scale neck-through design coupling bridge to headstock in a five piece laminate of maple and bubinga with a rosewood fretboard. These are great tone woods that enhance mids and top end 'snap'. The neck profile of this bass is in line with other Ibanez offerings, being slim and fast.
The body shape is made up of two mahogany wings, which is a great choice for its tone. Ibanez has gone for an ash top and that looks simply fantastic, providing a clean natural wood look that I feel is further enhanced with the inclusion of the black coloured hardware.
For hardware, Ibanez has elected to use five mono-rail bridge pieces as opposed to one single block bridge. All are fully adjustable for action and intonation, as you would expect. Over on the angled back headstock, there are five small tuning keys and they work exactly as expected. A nice smooth operation there!
The pickups are courtesy of Bartolini in the form of a pair of BH-1 passive soap bar types. Also on board is an Ibanez three-band equaliser with a mid-frequency adjust switch for a wide tonal palette. Connection to your amplifier comes courtesy of a Neutrik locking jack socket.
Your attention may well be turned to the interesting block of wood in between the pickups. This little chap is known as a ‘ramp’. Both of my own custom basses have adjustable ramps when I need them. I find them to be a useful tool and certainly not a gimmick. Essentially, we have a ‘radiused’ piece of wood that matches the curve of the fingerboard. You’ll no doubt have seen bassists playing over the top of the bass pickups (think Billy Sheehan or Jaco Pastorius for example) The ramp is an extension of this and allows you to slide your picking fingers over the top of the ‘deck’. Your fingers hit the strings at the same depth every time giving you a much smoother picking tone. Check out the likes of the superb Matthew Garrison or Gary Willis to see the ramp in action on their own instruments. Gary of course has a signature Ibanez bass himself.
In terms of playability, I found the BTB33 to be really comfortable - I’m familiar with ‘ERB’ instruments already (extended range basses) so it didn't take too long to get familiar with the 24 fret neck and tuning of the BTB33. I didn’t even feel that there was too much to worry about the bass having a 33” scale either. Coming from a 37” fan-fret machine, I still found the BTB-33 to be familiar feeling. Tonally rewarding and actually a lot of fun to play too. But even if a bog-standard four string is all you've ever played before, I don't think you'll find this newcomer hard to handle.
To sum up? Well check out the video. I think you'll agree that this is another fine sounding bass from Ibanez and the general consensus down here in the Bassment was that this is a very welcome introduction - a bass for adventurous players who want to break away from the traditional Precision-derived format but who can't afford the price of custom extravaganzas. In fact, that's what really impressed us so much about this newcomer. The Ibanez BTN-33 is a well made bass, with great hardware, top level Bartolini pickups and great electronics, looks that wouldn't disgrace a custom instrument selling for three times the price and yet costs no more than many same old, same old designs. That it also opens a door to a new level of creativity in your playing is almost a free extra. Top marks!