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Gear Review: Ibanez SRF700 Portamento Fretless Bass

Ibanez SRF700 Portamento Fretless Bass

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.

Ibanez SRF700 Portamento Fretless Bass Custom bridge for AeroSilk Piezo SystemPiezos 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.

Ibanez SRF700 Portamento Fretless Bass Custom bridge piezo level controlIt 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.

Ibanez SRF700 Portamento Fretless Bass CavityThe 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:

Construction:Neck-Thru
Scale:34″
Neck:5pc Maple/Bubinga
Body:Mahogany Wings
Fretboard:Rosewood
Frets:Fretless
Neck Width at Nut:38mm
Bridge:Custom bridge for AeroSilk Piezo system
Pickups:Bartolini® MK-1
EQ:Ibanez 2-band eq
Hardware Color:Cosmo black
Strings:Flatwound
Case:Not Included

For more information:
Ibanez

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Share your thoughts

Brian Sullivan

Brian Sullivan

I take issue when you state “blending the pick ups with the piezo”. I was VERY disappointed after I ordered bought and “ordered” this bass on that assumption…”You CAN’T blend them”.

The sound and texture is awesome with the piezos. Totally satisfying. But guess what…when the piezo pot is turned on and you try to bring in the Barts…they don’t work. and neither does the EQ section so long as the piezo is in the picture.
I’ve written to the Ibanez staff to ask…”wtf?” and they responded that that’s the way it is….

Does this make sense for an instrument with 3 sources of sound?

A little help here?….

Brian

    Michael

    Hi Brian, first off I’m sorry I missed the issue you’re having regarding the blend function, or lack there of, when I reviewed this bass. It somehow went under the radar, and I’ll be sure to check for this in future reviews. You may want to contact Bartolini and see what options they offer with their pre amps that have buffers to deal with a piezoelectric transducers and a blend control is a feature they offer. It is something that a bass tech could handle. Again, my apologies for the oversight. Yes, you would think this should be a standard feature.

      Matt

      Matt

      I have the 4 string and I agree with what it says in the article about the ability to blend the pick-ups and get a wide range of sounds. The extra pick-up gives this bass a very unique overall sound and there are no limitations with blending the pick-ups. Maybe this guy got a defective bass or something.

    tellheryousawme

    Hi Brian,
    I have the SRF700 (4 strings) since February 2014, it is my main gear now, side of the double bass, and I use this Ibby quite a lot. I can ensure that the pickups can be mixed together, piezo has its own volume knob which blend in the ouput with the Barts. It’s quite strange that your bass doesn’t work like that, but more surprising is what Ibanez assistance replied.
    Luciano

      Brian

      Brian

      Thanks guys for your comments. I was wondering if was truly on Crack….but no.
      Ibanez has “confirmed” the odd characteristics of this “production” instrument, controls and preamp structure.
      Check this out (and it may not make you happy). This thing “fools” you…Try this and you’ll all see what I’m talking about.
      “YES”, you can blend in the Barts. But not the EQ properly.
      A) Turn all knobs full “left” (counter clockwise)
      B) Turn Piezo full on, turn Piezo tone knob full treble
      C) Now turn “both” EQ knobs to the halfway notch
      D) Now bring the NECK pickup full on…..

      Now watch this….
      Play a couple notes…..then….turn “up” the low-freq EQ knob (front)….”NOTHING HAPPENS”!!!
      In fact….the bass is “diminished”….(totally wacky)…turn the low freq knob “counterclockwise” and the bass is “expanded”….(again, totally wacky).
      A tech at Ibanez confirmed that when the Piezo section is “on” it has an overiding affect on the Bart “EQ” section.

      Yes…..”something” is blending…….but god knows what it is.

      Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE this totally “woody, pulsy, ballsy instrument. And in “piezo mode only” it’s a thing of beauty that you CAN make sound upright. I truly wish bit had NO other visible pickups at all.
      Brian

    JP

    JP

    Hi Brian,

    I just got my SRF700 and I can confirm that blending the piezo and the Bartolinis works perfectly on mine also.