We should all know by now that ‘budget’ doesn’t necessarily have to mean shoddy, as the likes of Vintage have been enthusiastically proving recently, and the Traben Standard is the latest in a long line of thoroughly reliable basses that more than deliver in the boom-versus-bucks stakes. There’s obviously a precarious tightrope to walk when turning in a budget bass – deciding where best to cut costs without veering into meretricious and compromising quality. But Traben seem to have made all the right choices. They have several slightly more upmarket lines, namely the Array and the Chaos, but even with the Standard being their most basic ‘vanilla’ model, they haven’t scrimped on its construction. Pleasingly rendered in an electric cobalt blue, the tastefully sleek lines and eminent playability of this guitar would indeed put many a more costly instrument to shame.
Despite the very reasonable price tag, there have been no glaringly obvious corners cut with the build of the Traben. Obviously it hasn’t been hand-carved by naked Balinese maidens (Steady – Ed), and there isn’t layer upon layer of exotic wood to gaze at for hours on end, but it has come off a production line with some solid quality control. Even if it hasn’t been made just for you, it’s certainly been made just right.
The wheel hasn’t been reinvented in its design either, with the devilish little tail spike – a physical incarnation of the Traben ‘T’ logo that adorns the bridge – the only cheeky innovation to thumb its nose at convention. And that’s a love-it- or-hate-it flourish in itself. It’s fun, but probably not enough to tempt a full-on metaller looking for an axe dripping bloodlust and attitude, and possibly just quirky enough to deter a more middle-of-the-road traditionalist. And on top of the whole aesthetics issue, you have the simple fact it leaves the bass feeling a bit unstable when propped up against anything. We all know that spiky little heel is going to be the first thing that gets chipped. Also, the strap nut is rather close to said pointy heel, which could conceivably pose some minor inconvenience if you use a locking strap, depending on which means of locking off you use, of course. My own admittedly hefty arrangement snapped into place with a bit of persuasion, and the guitar hung just fine, once in situ.
It would be nice to have the rather dinky basswood body chamfered for wrist comfort, but the sharp edges certainly aren’t as noticeable as on some chunky guitars, rounded off just enough not to punish the player. And overall the finish of the body is more than adequate: simple, clean and modern. It won’t turn heads, to be honest, but that can be a positive as well as a negative sometimes, right? It doesn’t possess leading star good looks, but in a supporting role it more than holds its own, without its appearance foolishly writing cheques its circuitry can’t cash.
The neck is neatly finished and topped off with a compact rhomboid headstock with just enough sweep to its cut to pass a superficial coolness test. The only thing that really comes across as indicative of the bargain basement asking price is the hardware, which honestly isn’t all that. The colour and plasticky finish are two of the few noticeable areas of weakness in the Traben’s otherwise great overall aesthetic.
It basically feels like an afterthought compared to the rest of the solid design.
Sounds and Playability
Playability is where the Traben comes into its own, and it definitely punches well above its (financial) weight when you’re teasing a tune from it. The balance is where it should be, light and easy on the shoulder, and the neck slides nicely through the hand, with the frets inoffensive to the touch. Unfortunately, due to the cut of the body, the higher notes are somewhat inaccessible, and one has to wonder why Traben didn’t utilise the body shapes of the aforementioned Array and Chaos basses, which provide a much easier route to the high end of the neck.
Those last few frets aside, it basically plays quickly and cleanly, and is surprisingly comfortable despite the blocky edges to the body, lending itself well to both plectrum and finger styles. I’ve definitely slapped better basses, mind you, but I’ve slapped a lot worse as well. And that’s where the Traben sits in the grand scheme of things, really: everything you’d hope for, for the money, and then a bit more, but nothing to blow your mind either. Unfortunately it lets itself down considerably when you plug it in, with the available sounds being a tad restricted and uninspired. It sounds just fine, and I suppose ‘just fine’ is acceptable when you’re only shelling out 300 quid. But despite the three-band EQ and the double-decker volume/blend pot, the range is basic and unimaginative. The guitar is also prone to buzz a bit when you push the top end. It struggled with definition when driving the bottom end too, especially when tuning down a few steps, losing some clarity and punch, with individual low notes melting at the edges into mush. If you play in a noisy punk or metal band, you won’t have a problem with this, but if you’re coming from a funkier angle, looking for crisp percussive bass tones to lead the melody, you’ll be frustrated by the lack of sensitivity in the controls. Some disintegration when driven was especially noticeable with the active circuitry engaged, and switching the batteries of the review model didn’t really improve the problem. Aggressive chords were certainly in your face, but not really chunky enough to cut through a mix. The Traben has power aplenty for live work, but I’m not entirely convinced how well it would hold up under the minute scrutiny of a recording studio, where some space in the soundscape would leave no hiding place for deficiency of tone.
Lacking in the visceral ‘wow’ factor, this is objectively a nice bass as opposed to a great bass, but for the paltry sum changing hands to acquire it, you’ll probably think of it as the latter anyway, purely on the return you’ve got for your money. It’s also a perfect beginner’s bass: very reasonably priced, pretty sassy to clap eyes on, not too harsh on the ears and a piece of cake to play. In fact, it plays better than many a more expensive guitar, and you can’t ask for more, can you?
PRICE | £299
BODY | Basswood
NECK | Bolt-on maple FRETBOARD|Rosewood
FRETS | 24 jumbo
PICKUPS | Two Traben active soapbar CONTROLS|Volume, blend pot, active three-band EQ (bass, mid and treble)
BRIDGE | Traben Tech-4 TUNERS|Die-cast HARDWARE|Chrome
What We Think
PLUS | Very smooth to play, and not a bad- looking instrument either
MINUS | Sounds are a bit limited and a bit prone to hiss and buzz when driven hard
OVERALL | Can’t complain with that price tag, and most people will think you’ve paid at least half as much again for this guitar when they have a go on it
| BUILD QUALITY | 7/10SOUND QUALITY | 5/10
VALUE | 8/10