At close to three grand, this five-string ought to be pretty F-ing special. Joel McIver gets to grips with this classy Canadian…
F Bass’s products occupy an interesting price point, neither down among the densely-populated, mid-budget zone around £1,000, nor up in la-la-land with the super-luxurious instruments we feature in this magazine on a regular basis. At £2,800, F’s slick-looking BN5 should be pretty much flawless in design and all encompassing in tone, but then again, it’s half the price (or less) than certain models by Status, Rikkers, Fodera and Ritter, which we’ve reviewed in recent times. Go figure, as our transatlantic readers say. Whatever you get for your money, though, it had better be a lot. Let’s dig in!
Hoist the BN5 out of its chunky, padded gig-bag and you’ll be struck by the body, a beautifully shaped slab of ash – not exactly a lightweight wood, but not the heaviest on the market either – that has been not so much chamfered as completely rounded off. The upper horn is pretty much cylindrical in profile, an aesthetic touch that we rather like. The body is slim, but not in any way insubstantial. The pickup covers are the same colour as the body and the units beneath them are, we are told, handwound. The control knobs are handmade too, from African blackwood, a material used in clarinets and bassoons – apparently because it is close to unbreakable. The tuners are solid, the four-bolt neck joint and battery compartment tightly sealed with no visible gaps, and the bridge a chunk of immovable black metal.
Note that the BN5 comes equipped with F Bass’s own Stainless Steel Exposed Core strings, which might give you the fear a bit: the clue is in their name. The point at which the strings contact the bridge is literally the exposed core, a hair-like bit of wire, which may make nervous readers want to moan ‘It’s going to break!’ Don’t worry, though: the level of craftsmanship that has gone into this slinky five-string is obvious. Even the slightly unconventional bottom end of the bass, where the jack socket is positioned to allow the cable to extend horizontally rather than downwards, is a player-friendly idea. Finally, access to the truss rod is unparalleled thanks to the carved-out chamber leading up to it. All very encouraging.
Playability And Sounds
The BN5 has two main strengths: its neck and its electronics. The usefulness of the former is obvious: it’s highly playable, with 22 stainless steel frets and a super-low action which gives you that welcome sensation of being a far better bassist than you actually are. The 34.5” scale gives the low B string a firmness that conventional scale lengths lack, say F Bass, and in this case the B string is certainly a thing of beauty, with absolutely no sag or flappiness and delivering a sustained, clearly voiced note. The neck profile is solid but fast, refusing to sacrifice gravitas for speed: groove lines and slap parts are wholly at home here.
As for the tone circuit, a lot of high IQs have obviously been at work in F Bass’s workshop. The top three controls are neck volume, bridge volume and passive/active tone, the last of which is this instrument’s secret weapon. Ignore the active bass, mid and treble boost controls underneath for a moment and pull the tone control out. The range of tones, even in passive mode, is astounding. Dial it up and there’s the big sound you want, modifiable with either pickup volume and ranging from a thunderous low end – and we do mean thunderous, especially on that low B – to a crisp, brand-new-strings top. Helpfully, the six controls all have clearly visible centre detentes: my personal bugbear is tiny, impossible-to-see-on-stage control knob markers, so the BN5’s tone range is a pleasure to navigate for that reason alone.
Of course, the active mode is what you’re paying for, so slap that tone control back into place and have some fun. The three-band EQ is boost-only, so the lowest setting for each frequency range is essentially the natural sound of the instrument. Wind up the bass and you’re given a truly monstrous bottom end, the kind that kills cows at 100 yards: take it easy with that one. The mid and treble boosts are pretty polite in comparison: in fact, if you’re looking for truly ear-bleeding top end that shatters glasses, this isn’t the bass for you. What we have here is a subtle treble rather than a venomous one, and a good thing too.
There’s also a coil tap, activated by pulling out the bridge pickup control, which gives you the expected reduced power and sort-of-vintage tone. This might come in useful if the bass boost gets slightly out of control, as it might do in the hands of an inexperienced engineer or amp tech. Or you could simply flip into passive mode, disabling the boosts completely. What’s great is that BN5’s controls have been designed with the working, performing bass player in mind: a bassist who doesn’t have the time to fool around with switches (or, heaven forfend, microswitches) because the next song starts in three… two… one…
The BN5 is a great bass. F will let you tweak it for an upcharge (options include a 34” scale length, a five-piece neck, 24 frets, various alternate bridge designs and string spacings, plus a neck-thru construction) so there’s plenty of leeway for customising it to your exact spec. Our only minor criticism, and it really is a minor one, is that it’s not a massively exciting bass. The tones are too familiar for it to stand head and shoulders above its contemporaries, so shop around before you buy. If you do decide to take the plunge, though, you won’t regret it.
Price | £2,749
Made in | Canada
Body | Ash
Neck | Three-piece quartersawn maple
Fingerboard | Quartersawn maple
Scale length | 34.5”
Frets | 22
Width at nut | 45mm
String spacing | 19mm at bridge
Pickups | 2 x F Bass stacked, single coil/hum-cancelling magnetic pickups
Controls | 2 x volume, passive/active tone, three-band EQ, coil tap, all in handmade African blackwood
Tuners | Gotoh
Bridge | Hipshot B Style
Strings | F Bass Stainless Steel Exposed Core
Weight | 4kg
Case/Gig bag included? Gig bag
Left-hand available? Yes
What We Think
Plus | B-string sounds great; ace truss-rod access; a very playable bass
Minus | Doesn’t necessarily stand out from its contemporaries
Overall | A superb, versatile instrument, the BN5 should supply all your tonal needs