Up for a review is the Ibanez SRF700 Portamento, a 4-string fretless from the company’s new Bass Workshop series. The bass is fitted with some nice features for a bass under a thousand bucks, namely piezo pickups imbedded in the bridge and integrated with Bartolini active pickups. The bonus here is that the piezos actually sound great and not harsh. There’s no overbearing finger noise, grating mid range or string/fingerboard clickety clack, but a usable tone that can be blended in with the Bartolini split coil pickups. Even more rare, they sound great when used as the sole pickup, sounding much like an upright bass does when outfitted with a piezo transducer under the strings at the bridge.
Piezos have been notorious for sounding mid-rangey and harsh in years past, but the R&D has since paid off as better electronics and engineering have tamed the transducer into something you actually want to have on hand and use for better tone shaping on a solid body guitar. It’s affordable too, obviously. I was impressed by how manageable the instrument was when played with just the piezo pickups. It gave back what I put into it in terms of string manipulation and tone from the fingers. Its not uncommon to feel a little timid about how much you can dig in without volume spikes from an overly “hot” output of the piezo. This bass was very balanced in that regard compared to others I’ve had the chance to check out. I would describe the piezo tone as something similar to a typical bridge J pickup, but more responsive to hand and finger technique tonally speaking and able to emphasize the high treble range, if desired. Adding this into the mix, string and fingerboard sounds such as fretboard/string buzz, finger noise (very mild, if treble knob is turned down) and the inherent tone of the wood, you end up with a very expressive and warm sounding instrument. The lightweight body and special plastic saddles that house the transducers enhance the tonal warmth. But if you like bark and snarl in your sound, there is plenty of headroom to achieve that sound. Especially if you ramp up the bridge pickup volume. Even at the far outer edges of knob tweaking, this bass had tones that weren’t excessive or disagreeable. More like broad range and flexible, with a touch of fringe fun, but not wasted on folly.
It was really interesting to use extreme settings to see what tones could be had, such as setting the neck pickup full on, with the bass tone knob set to full blown bass boost, then slowly blending in the piezo and listening to the frequency morph as mids and highs were introduced. An over the top, and unlikely setting indeed, but there was something usable and unique to be had. The tonal variations between front and back magnetic pickups plus piezos make for plenty of tone shaping. There is a master volume knob and tone knob for the piezo, separate from the magnetic pickup controls. Each Piezo saddle pickup volume can be individually adjusted via a small screw driver and the micro pots accessible from the back. So individual string volume balance is not an issue. Both bridge and neck pickups had a volume knob for each and master bass cut/boost as well as treble cut/boost. Variables galore.
Does it sound just like an upright bass? No. What can you really expect from a much shorter scale length and a solid body when compared to upright specs. But, it does get you in the ballpark if you utilize the piezo pickup AND you know how to use your hands to milk that upright sound out via technique. Did I mention the 30 freakin’ fret marks? Yes you can get pretty high (up) on this fingerboard, thankfully each fret mark is indicated on the E string side of the neck. Coming back down won’t be so bad if you leave the lights on.
The Portamento comes set up with flatwound strings that enhance that upright vibe. Round wound strings would entirely change the sound and would miss the intended mark Ibanez is going for. If you dig that roundwound sound, then know your strings will dig your rosewood fingerboard and luthiers will dig the income. Experienced fretless players understand this trade off. The 5-piece thru-neck construction kept the sound from getting murky and the notes clear and distinguished. Good intonation is a must.
The control cavity is shielded and the pots are the common mini pot variety, so repairs shouldn’t require much effort to replace the common parts should they crap out, barring the two circuit boards. There was not much in the way of neat and tidy inside, but acceptable by factory standard assembly practices for this price range. The set up was excellent and right down the middle as for being comfy to most players. If you wanted more fretless growl, just drop the saddles and/or flatten the neck a tiny bit, or have your tech tweak it for you. String action at the nut was were it should be, making for effortless fretting in the low end.
All said and done, this bass was great right out of the (cardboard) box. Case sold separately.
Ibanez SRF700 Portamento Fretless Bass Photos:
Ibanez SRF700 Portamento Fretless Bass Specs:
|Neck Width at Nut:||38mm|
|Bridge:||Custom bridge for AeroSilk Piezo system|
|EQ:||Ibanez 2-band eq|
|Hardware Color:||Cosmo black|
For more information: