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Ibanez SR505 BM 5-String Bass

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This is easily the sweetest bass I’ve ever played, although it took some time to get that way. It was cool right out of the box, but I needed it to do something other than what it said on the box.

Traditional electric bass guitars are somewhat limited instruments, especially for six-string guitar players, in that they only know how to deal with four strings. In playing bass, I often find myself running out of strings – my fingers clearly anticipate finding two more of them. The bass equivalents of the high B and E strings of a conventional guitar are notably absent on a bass.

A five-string bass addresses the absence of one of these missing strings – or at least, it can – and it expands the range of the instrument. The direction in which it expands said range is a matter of some contention. Most five-string basses are tuned with an extremely low B below the low E. Such a string is just this side of subsonic, and it can probably set off near-by seismographs if you play through a sufficiently powerful amplifier.

I suspect that death-metal head-banging music would benefit greatly from such an instrument, as would any enterprise that involved demolishing unwanted buildings.

In a less frequently-encountered configuration, a five-string bass can be set up for “tenor” tuning, in which the lower four strings are tuned like those of a four-string bass, and the highest string is tuned to B or C. Such an instrument probably won’t kill small mammals at a range of fifty feet or less, but it’s profoundly cool to play. The high string can do all sorts of things that would be difficult, impossible or annoyingly squeaky on a traditional bass

The Ibanez SR505 BM five-string bass emerges from its packaging set up to have a low B string. It’s actually a blast to play this way, although the tectonic stress it’s capable of inflicting upon nearby continents gets old after a while. You’d need an amplifier the size of an adult Indian elephant to truly appreciate what it’s capable of.

Unfortunately, tuning the SR505 up to a tenor bass entails considerably more that twisting its machine heads. Its neck isn’t designed to deal with heavy strings at this tension, and the resulting instrument would require profoundly muscular fingers to play. Playing the SR505 as a tenor bass requires a set of tenor bass strings… which don’t actually exist, as far as I could tell. This is something of a drawback.

A six-string bass is a serious monster of an instrument – it’s essentially a traditional four-string bass with both a low B and a high B or C string. Playing one calls for really big hands. I wouldn’t have mentioned these things at all, save that they offer a solution to the tenor tuning problem for the Ibanez SR505 BM five-string bass – to wit, buy a set of strings for a six-string bass, install the upper five strings on an SR505 and use the orphaned low B string as a flexible saw for limbing trees. In practice, this calls for a bit of filing to get the nut to behave itself as well.

My SR505 is now strung with D’Addario ENR71-6 half-round strings.

With somewhat lighter strings in place, the SR505 can be adjusted to a tenor tuning, and its neck can be adjusted to laser-straight precision under these strings. The result is a truly exceptional electric bass.

The Ibanez SR505 BM is impeccably crafted, and it’s clearly the apogee of decades of instrument design. It has a mahogany body and a rosewood fingerboard with abalone inlay. It’s small, light and nicely balanced for a bass, and as such it won’t turn you into a hump-backed bell-ringing mutant if you play long sets. It has machine heads that almost move by thought control, a bridge that couldn’t be any more solid if it had been machined from the core of a collapsed neutron star and frets that appear to have been adjusted to the nearest molecule. Its neck is laminated from jatoba and bubinga woods – in Indonesia, where they probably know how to pronounce names like these – and once it’s been set up, it appears capable of staying that way until at least an hour after the end of the world.

The electronics that are wired into the SR505 bass are every bit as slick as the instrument’s woodwork. They use an active preamp, which allows the bass to pump out a lot of sound and very little noise. The on-board three band equalizer – or the “tone control,” should you be feeling retro – has an impressive range. The only drawback to the SR505’s active circuitry is that it’s powered by a potentially treacherous nine-volt battery. A few spare batteries and a small battery tester would be worthwhile accessories.

Two Bartolini MK1 humbucking pickups give the instrument a fat, textured sound.

The neck of the Ibanez SR505 is among it’s best features, in that it’s unusually thin. Despite its five strings, playing it doesn’t feel like trying to wrap your hand around the forearm of a gorilla, a common apprehension for bass guitars. It’s quick and comfortable to play, even for extended sessions.

The laudable range of the equalization bolted into the SR505 affords it a wealth of voices. It can sound dark and jazzy, obnoxiously pop, laid back and funky or sufficiently aggressive to get you arrested for possession of it.

It’s arguably worth mentioning that the body shape of the SR505 is unique… to the extent that it’s not a particularly good match for generic bass cases. Ibanez does a custom hard-shell case for it, called the MB100C, which is easily worth what it costs. They also offer a number of soft gig bags for it, but this instrument is way too fine to live in anything less than full body armor.

One of the curious aspects of the Ibanez SR505 bass is its name – while it sounds like it embodies the lush, piquant tradition of Spanish stringed instrument building, Ibanez is a Japanese guitar maker, and it has been for a long time. It’s owned by Hoshino Gakki, in Nagoya, Japan. Back in 1929, when Hoshino Gakki was one Matsujiro Hoshino, a Japanese bookstore owner, the company began importing Spanish guitars built by Salvador Ibáñez. The workshop of Ibáñez – by this time run by his sons – was later destroyed during the Spanish civil war. Hoshino Gakki bought the rights to the Ibáñez name, and began building its own guitars.

Ibanez instruments seriously rock as a rule, but the SR505 bass is truly exceptional. It clearly has decades of design and tradition behind it, and yet every aspect of it seems to have been re-imagined and perfected for this bass alone. It very nearly plays itself.

My Ibanez SR505 came from Cripple Creek music in Huntsville, Ontario. They also tracked down the unusual strings required to transform it into a tenor five-string bass, and subsequently performed the grand restringing and final setup with consummate artistry.

Comments (2)

Karl TenneySeptember 25th, 2012 at 10:21 pm

I recently bought one of these beauties and I love it. It is a blast to play. Thanks for the suggestion on the string set up.

Robert Landon McelrathMay 9th, 2016 at 5:23 pm

I purchased the Ibanez SR506 3 years ago and it is my one and only bass. I love everything this bass has to offer. Although it was not my initial choice I fell in love with it at when I played it at Guitar Center. I run through an Acoustic B300 bass head and a matching Acoustic 410 cabinet with the bass tuned to BEADGC and the range of tones I get from the Bartolini MK1 pickups are amazing. Needless to say I am an Ibanez man for life an amazing bass guitar. I give it five out of five stars in all categories.

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