No need for a long-winded intro here: the Ibanez Gary Willis signature model bass has great tone, looks that kill, innovative features, and a price that puts it within reach of any serious bass player looking for a new five-string.
The GWB35FD bass provides many excellent features you would expect to find in a premium instrument, and all that’s really missing is the big price ticket. Ibanez routinely delivers high quality, cutting-edge basses that are affordable, and this bass impressed us with its overall craftsmanship, cool “upgrades,” and top-shelf sound.
Even if you’ve never listened to Gary Willis (and really, you should), this is a versatile-yet-straightforward bass for players in need of an articulate, speedy five-string that plays with the ease of a four. For the uninitiated, check out Gary’s new fusion release, Larger than Life, and particularly the opening track, “The Professionals.” Or, listen to anything from his fusion band, Tribal Tech.
The Ibanez Gary Willis fretted five-string bass we reviewed is a modern-looking beauty. The “flat black” finish with stealthy black hardware has an impressive vogue look. The SFR-GWB pickup, volume knob and EQB-GWII two-band EQ hardware blend beautifully into the finish of this bass. This Indonesian built bass is part of the Ibanez signature models of instruments, and the overall quality of construction and details makes it feel like it belongs in the Premium lines of Ibanez instruments.
The basswood body, ebony fretboard w/offset, white dot inlays, and the three-piece maple neck have a familiar, Ibanez signature shape and style that is in character with familiar SR-series instruments, but it’s the little details that take this instrument someplace new. Before we delve into those details, though, let’s cover the basics:
The neck is a 34" scale, the width at nut is 45mm, the width at 24th fret is 68mm, the thickness of the neck at 1st fret is 19mm, the thickness of the neck at 12th fret is 21mm and the radius of the neck and ramp are 305mm. Topped with medium frets, this neck is fast! You will fly, so please be careful and keep your fast passages musical and tasteful.
The electronics are simple but powerful. The SFR-GWB soap bar pickup is controlled by a two-band EQ (The EQB-GWII) and active preamp, which uses an easily replaceable 9-Volt battery in a dedicated compartment on the rear of the bass. The low and high EQ knobs are stacked, each with a center detent. Low frequencies can be boosted or cut up to 15dB, while high frequencies can be boosted or cut by almost 18db.
Now, we delve. This bass has three mind-blowing features that make so much sense that not only will they be the deciding factors why you will buy this bass, you will also look into making these innovative upgrades on basses you already have.
The first feature is the GWB35 tuners, Gary's extraordinary “Sure Grip Tuners.” The machine heads are almost unnoticeable at first glance, but these tuners masquerading as regular tuners are different than anything we have ever seen. They feel ergonomically correct and make tuning a bass noticeably better, for example if you are on a dark stage, or making a quick pitch adjustment in the middle of playing a song. An added bonus to the GWB35 machine heads is that your gig bag can’t inadvertently knock this bass out of tune. We believe this would be a great add-on or upgrade for any of the Ibanez basses.
Second is the boutique bass ramp! If you are a bass player who uses the pickup, neck or low B string as a thumb rest, you will be thrilled with the ramp, which provides an optional finger rest that also helps regulate the depth to which you pop strings, thus it improves your funky form the more you play it. We say optional because you can actually remove it from the bass if you prefer the aesthetics without. Once again, this would make a great option on any Ibanez bass.
Third is the “that makes so much sense” feature. There are three strap buttons: one on the upper horn and two at the bottom of the body. When you set the bass down, it rests on the strap pins instead of the body with minimal risk of a fall. This feature also helps when you are sitting down, just as it does when found on certain pricey acoustic guitars: set your strap height for the top peg, and when you sit down to play bass, simply shift your strap to the lower peg to take up the slack and continue providing support.
Straight out of the box, the Ibanez factory setup was excellent and we did not need to make any adjustments on the instrument. The triple wing tuners feel natural and make something as easy as tuning a bass even easier. Really! During a live performance when a bassist has three seconds between songs to make a fine tuning adjustment on a blacked-out stage? That bassist will appreciate Mr. Willis’s special shaped machine heads.
The playability of this bass is great! The instrument design is very well balanced both standing and sitting, and the light basswood body will make your marathon gigs not as exhausting on your neck, back and shoulder. The tight string spacing and world class setup made this particular bass very comfortable to play, and for players who primarily make use of four-stringed basses, you’ll find this an exceptionally easy five-string to master. The action was impressively low, making it a slick, “super fast” instrument.
Our team had mixed emotions regarding the removable ramp at first, but the more we played this delightful bass, the more we embraced the feel and technical playing benefits of the ramp. It does what Gary says it will do: “encourages players to not dig in too deep" and allows a more consistent finger attack with fast recovery time. Slapping and popping technique took a minute to get used to with the ramp, but by our second session with the instrument, we were perfectly poppy and slappy, not even giving the ramp an afterthought.
Having two strap buttons on the bottom of the bass is so wonderful, it makes gigging life better. Yup, we said it. We may have to install a pair of buttons on the bottom of all of our basses now.
The bass rigs we tested the GWB35 through included a Mesa/Boogie Carbine stack (4x10 and 2x12), EBS HD360 with matching 2x12, and a Fender Rumble 500 stack, each set to a flat tone. The bass sound we were getting on all the rigs was a tight, modern and clean bass tone. You won’t find that dirty, vintage, classic tone as a “P” might deliver, but the bass has its own modern voice, and it will kill in any band situation. Overdriven tones here definitely leaned more towards Muse than Motorhead (RIP, Lemmy).
The custom-wound, soap bar humbucker pickup sounds very much like a passive, Bartolini bridge-position pickup, so much so that we fully expect Ibanez licensed the design and specs of a specific Bartolini pickup and manufactured that pickup in their Ibanez plant. Well played, Ibanez. This bass sounds suspiciously amazing. The tone is exceptionally clean and clear throughout all five strings in all positions on this bass.
We played this bass live, in the rehearsal studio, and in a recording environment. Live, the bass had a versatile tone that was present and easily punched through the live mix. The low B was always tight and authoritative sounding, and it exhibited outstanding definition. The two-band EQ was powerful; its two tone controls (Lows, Highs) had a wide sweep that provided for a remarkable range of tone possibilities.
We have quite a collection of bass pedals from the likes of MXR, Eventide, Eden, SansAmp, and EBS that we used with the GWB35 bass. The clear sound and quiet electronics really let the effects pedals do their jobs.
Documentation and Product Support
As with other Ibanez instruments, our GWB35 included a comprehensive manual that provides instructions (in multiple languages) for a range of bass guitars, including the feature set found here.
The limited model Ibanez GWB35 (MSRP $1,066.65) sells for approximately $799.00 without a case. Make no mistake—this is one serious bass, and once again, it’s a rare sub-$1,000 instrument that we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to any pro-level player. With such great workmanship throughout, effortless playability, innovative features, and a great sound, you would be hard pressed to find a comparable instrument at this price point.
Overall Rating - Product Summary