Premium. That one word, printed on the access panel on the back of the bass, sings true for this instrument in every way. But you probably want to know a bit more, starting with the awesome good looks of this striking instrument. The ergonomic body of the bass is beautifully designed and carved, and the design dates back to the Nineties when a Swiss engineer, designer and luthier, Rolf Spuler, worked with Ibanez and built a very exclusive instrument: the Affirma. From 1990 – 1994, Ibanez manufactured only 900 basses, which are very hard to track down in the used-instrument marketplace. Spuler said about himself and his work:
“Why, do I do this all? I am an aesthete. I would like to reveal beauty, create it, and spread it. Beauty in form, sound and function – as an expression of the universal love. Beauty in technology appears as well flowing functions, smart mechanisms and modest appearance.”
In this bass, the curve where the ebony fingerboard and the neck meet the body, allows only 24 frets on the G string, 23 frets on the D string and the curve finishes out with 22 frets for the A, E, and B strings. Aesthetically, that is more important to have than just 24 frets on all five strings.
The late Spuler’s creativity lives on in this instrument. The maple body with the flamed maple and walnut top has a beautiful shape. The grooved thumb rest is aesthetically pleasing as well as functional, and the neck is smooth as silk. The body is so gorgeous that the black, matte hardware pops and looks clean.
We believe that back in the early Nineties this might have been or was the first Ibanez bass manufactured with Piezo pickups. And this new, re-issue, not only has a Piezo pickup system but also a Bartolini middle pickup.
Make no mistake, this is going to be a sought-after bass, and rightfully so.
When we opened up the light-weight, custom-fitted case, we were greeted with one gorgeous looking bass! This certainly doesn’t look like your traditional Ibanez Soundgear series bass—or any other Ibanez guitar, for that matter.
The AFR5FMP has a 24-fret, 34” scale, half-neck-through construction made with three pieces of maple, reinforced with two graphite rods for extra stability. This is a fast playing neck: the width at the plastic nut is 48mm, the width at the 24th fret is 78mm, and the thickness of the neck is 28mm at the 1st fret and 22mm at the 12th fret. The neck-relief adjustment is easily accessible.
The 400mm (15.75”) radius fingerboard is ebony with a pair of abalone dot inlays between the D and G strings at the 12th fret; standard fret markers (side dots) on the edge of the fingerboard. The headstock features the traditional Ibanez notch, but is otherwise unique. It’s so compact that it doesn’t even have enough room for a logo, but with enough space for the five black tuning machines to be arranged in a 3x2 configuration. The Ibanez logo actually appears (quite small) between the bridge and the Bartolini pickup on the piece of walnut that is surrounded by the attractive flamed maple top.
The Bartolini X55JX split single-coil pickup is strategically placed in the middle of the body. The AeroSilk MR5 Bridge Pickup has five single-string, top loading bridges with a comfortable 19 mm string spacing, and incorporated into the bridge are also the Piezo pickup elements. There are also trim pots for each string on the Piezo pickup system which are accessible via the backof the instrument using a mini Phillips screwdriver.
The electronics have one control each for volume, bass, and treble, and the Piezo pickup has one control for volume and one for tone. The strap pegs are located on the horn and (interestingly) on the top half of the body of the bass to help with the weight balance. The placement of the input jack is hidden on the back of the bass.
The bass was set up nicely right out of the shipping box. The low action was very comfortable to play without any annoying buzzes. The medium gauge strings were .045/.065/.085/.105/.130. The beautifully designed AFR5FP is well balanced and comfortable to play whether you’re sitting or standing. Because the strap nut is on the top of the body, though, you have to adjust your strap length accordingly.
On the body above the B string are carved-out grooves that are not only aesthetically pleasing, but are designed as a perfect place to rest your thumb. Re-stringing the bass was quick and easy, but because the real estate on the head was tight, you want to make sure to map out which side the string is going to go in on the tuning peg. It’s tight up there.
Understanding the electronics is easy. The first knob is the magnetic pickup volume, the next knob is the Piezo volume, the stacked knob is the magnetic pickup Treble boost/cut and Bass boost/cut, and the last control is the Piezo active tone. Both pickup systems work in a complementary way, and this bass has many beautiful voices. What makes this bass so playable is certainly the 24-fret neck. It was such a dream to play with the thin profile, satin finish, and overall light weight of the instrument.
We tested the AFR5FMP in a studio setting through an EBS HD360 with a matching 2x12,through a Mesa/Boogie Carbine stack (4x10 and 2x12); an Eden DC210XLT 2x10 Metro Bass Combo amp, and a variety of Markbass heads and cabinets.
Getting good sounds out of the AFR5FMP was easy. Make no mistake, this bass is a great bass with just the Bartolini X44JX split single-coil pickup system. By itself, this gave us deep lows and low mids with a nice treble growl. The Bartolini sound suits this bass perfectly. Jazz, fusion, and pop players will especially love the hi-fi character of the tone. This is one clean sounding bass.
And since it also features a bridge-mounted Piezo pickup system, combining this with the Bartolini pickup reveals a range of tones that is rather unending. Generally speaking, Piezo systems have a unique sound and can be challenging to dial in, but Ibanez has voiced this Piezo nicely.
On its own, you can get some very acoustic sounding tones from the Piezo, but when you start blending tones, a universe of sounds really opens up, like if you have Bartolini tone dialed in for a fat bottom end and then dial in the Piezo for some high-end brightness.
With separate EQs for both the Piezo tone and the magnetic tone, it is easy to dial in the bass no matter what studio or stage setting you’re playing in. This is one bass that any music producer or session player should want to have at their disposal because it’s just so versatile! It isn’t the right choice for gritty, dirty, blues rock, but then, given its modern style, you might feel a bit awkward jamming on this bass in a biker bar. This one’s for the player who craves a precise, studio-worthy tone. All in all, this is an inspiring, beautifully voiced bass with an added organic tone from the Piezo.
Documentation and Product Support
As with other Ibanez instruments, our AFR5FMP included a comprehensive manual that provides instructions (in multiple languages) for a range of bass guitars, including the feature set found here. There are some videos online as well.
Ibanez provides a standard one-year warranty.
The Ibanez AFR5FMP (MSRP $2,204.43) sells for approximately $1,600 with a custom fitted case. Make no mistake—this is one serious (and gorgeous) bass, with limited availability. The AFR5FMP is one sub-$2,000 instrument that we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to any pro-level player. This bass is a beautiful example of design, workmanship, effortless playability, and great sound.