Over the years, we’ve reviewed quite an array of different Ibanez basses, but the Soundgear range has consistently performed very well, particularly in the comfort and playability stakes: the tones are not to be sniffed at either. Weighing in at a pocket-friendly £319, this fretless four-string is priced very favourably, but being a fretless, the tones on offer are very important. The timbers and electronics package will have a big part to play in conveying the natural sound of the instrument. The SR design has been around for 25 years now, but remains a perennial favourite. With its slim neck dimensions and less than bulky headstock, does this model continue the traditions of the SR range?
This is the archetypal Ibanez SR bass, with its extremely slim and sleek body: there is very little contouring, due to the very thin body depth around the top half of the body. The rounded body horns have deep cutaways that allow good access to the dusty end of the two-octave neck. Although listed as being Iron Pewter in colour, it looks more like Metallic Black to us: the slim, lightweight design is aided by the use of agathis as the body timber, which is noted for being a relatively light wood. It comes as no surprise that this bass balances very well both on and off the strap, although some players might want a little more weight to give the instrument a feeling of being a little more substantial.
The five-piece, multi-laminate, bolt-on neck is also remarkably thin. Its profile is similarly shallow across its entire length, as per the SR range’s existing reputation. The 38mm nut width means the bass has a Jazz-like accessibility around the lower regions of the neck. However, the 19mm spacing at the bridge reduces to 10mm by the time you reach the nut, so if tight string spacing in the lower regions is not your thing, this probably isn’t the bass for you. Due to the price, it comes as no surprise that rosewood has been used for the lined fingerboard. Quite how well this will hold up over time should you use roundwound strings is open to debate.
The neck joint, although solid, could be better, as there is a noticeable gap between the body and the neck, but this doesn’t affect the instrument’s playability. Whether it affects the transfer of the fretless tone may be a concern. The headstock, with its familiar sleek shape and matching finish, is fitted with die-cast tuners in what is described as a cosmo black finish. This has also been used for the controls and bridge. The Accu-Cast B120 bridge is a solid unit, allowing for action and intonation adjustments to be made while the knurled metal controls on offer include volume, pickup pan, bass, middle and treble.
The set-up is generally very good (the neck joint aside) and the fresh D’Addario strings have been slightly played in, taking away some of the harsher bright tones. The action is excellent, making it relatively easy to skip across the strings, and the CAP humbuckers have a camber that matches that of the fingerboard, giving the bass a natural feel in terms of playability. The control cavity looks well shielded, although the cable layout is quite messy despite them being tied back.
You would expect this bass to possess all the characteristics that a fretless bass needs to produce that identifiable sound. Strangely, with the EQ set flat, the bass sounds quite unremarkable and restrained with not a lot going for it. It sounds like a fretless, sure, but without guts or bite, as though it is lacking its own voice, much like a fretted bass with the tone controls turned down. The fresh strings give it a singing response, lively but warm, yet the natural tone sounds muted to a certain degree. However, add EQ to the proceedings – some bottom end and mid – and the SR displays good sustain and a gritty presence. Panning across the pickups brings the signature fretless tones we know and love to the fore. The bridge pickup in particular puts on a powerful display. When cranking the volume up and adding a touch of treble, this bass really starts to zip along. The lower register tones are rich and powerful without being overbearing while moving across the neck, and the strings retain a fairly equal volume without the D and G strings sounding too thin or flimsy. There’s no doubting that this is a powerful and highly effective EQ and it works very well in bringing out the natural resonance of the instrument. However, the extremes are quite full-on, so use the EQ with a bit of taste.
Digging in brings out a real fretless rasp, but if a low action is what you’re after, we strongly suggest dropping the pickups down a tad. Their cambered profile is a nice plus point, but they will probably be susceptible to quite a bit of string wear. Harmonically, the SR rings out very well indeed. Whether this is down to the construction, the electronics or a combination of both is hard to ascertain, but when you play the harmonics across each string they sound full and clear. The lined fingerboard is easy to play, with a slick response: our only concern is that the 24 fret positions are a little tight for room at the upper end of the neck.
If you are a beginner in terms of fretless, or if fretless is your ‘dabble on the side’ to regular fretted playing, we can highly recommend the SR300. In terms of comfort and playability, it fits the bill perfectly and, at this sort of price, it’s a reasonable investment without breaking the bank. Tonally, it has much going for it, and the flexible EQ is the icing on the cake with plenty of power on tap. The level of finishing is good and, neck joint aside, there really isn’t very much to complain about, certainly not given the £319 price-tag. Some players may argue that the lightweight feel detracts from the playing experience, and certainly this is no heavyweight affair, but that should be a bonus not a drawback. We doubt there’s a better bass at this price with which to dip your feet into the murky world of fretless bass, so track one down, give it a try and see what you think.
PRICE | £319
FINISH | Iron Pewter
BODY | Agathis
NECK | Five-piece maple and rosewood
FINGERBOARD | Rosewood
PICKUPS | Ibanez CAP EXF N2 humbuckers x 2
ELECTRONICS | EQB-IIID three-band active EQ
CONTROLS | Volume, pickup pan and 3 band EQ (bass, middle, treble)
TUNERS | Ibanez die-cast
BRIDGE|Accu-Cast B120 bridge, two-way adjustable
MADE IN | Indonesia
NUT WIDTH | 38mm
NECK JOIN | Bolt-on, four screw attachment
SCALE LENGTH | 34” (864mm)
FRET MARKERS | 24
CASE/GIG BAG INCLUDED | No
LEFT-HAND MODEL AVAILABLE | Yes
What we think
PLUS | Relatively cheap, well set-up bass that makes playing a fretless enjoyable from the start
MINUS | May be too lightweight for many players
OVERALL | A great introduction to fretless bass at a pocket-friendly price. Go for it.
BUILD QUALITY | 7/10
SOUND QUALITY | 7/10
VALUE | 8/10