In our never-ending quest to find affordable bass gear that really delivers, we came across the Traben range. Can it really deliver at such a low price? Tim Slater set out to see just how much bass you can get for a surprisingly affordable price.
Traben is a US-based brand whose most internationally famous endorser is none other than psychedelic funk legend Sir Bootsy of Collins. Bootsy, however, stands alone among a plethora of heavy metal bassists who seem to form the majority of Traben's users and the Traben TS4 we were sent for review certainly reflects this, courtesy of its markedly aggressive styling.
Traben's marketing makes enthusiastic claims regarding the tone enhancing qualities of its 'Big Bridge', which takes the form of a huge solid steel base plate that is screwed down onto the front of some of its models. Part tone-booster, part aesthetic statement, the Big Bridge also plays a role in pigeonholing Traben as basses for the HM purist but by ditching the Big Bridge in favour of a still substantial but more conventional Tech-4 bridge the Traben TS4 immediately feels like an instrument with a much wider appeal.
For starters its double cutaway body, which is substantially trimmer than a conventional P-Bass design, feels very agile and comfortable; long gigs or recording sessions shouldn't induce any significant neck ache. The tiny dot inlays might disappear under some types of stage lighting but the neck's black side dots should help to alleviate any sudden panics about losing one's place on darkened stages.
The bolt-on maple neck features a very slender and nimble modern profile with plenty of access to the full run of the 24 fret rosewood fingerboard. The neck features a conventional truss rod but two walnut laminates running the entire length of the neck also help to add extra stability, whilst providing a pleasing visual touch. Our review sample was well set-up: the action was sleek whilst not too low and the fret ends were uniformly smooth and comfortable.
The TS4 is an ergonomic success, so how does it sound? The large chrome plated Traben Tech-4 bridge features substantial saddles that are adjustable for individual string height and intonation, held firmly in place by the baseplate's 'tray' design that sees a ring surrounding the saddles to prevent any sideways slippage during heavy picking. The TS-4 demonstrates a pleasing amount of natural resonance and sustain and the electronics help to translate these qualities admirably.
Besides the conventional rotary passive master volume and tones controls, the blend knob functional similarly to a standard pickup selector switch, enabling the player to select either pickup in isolation or to combine both by rotating the blend control until it locks into its central detent. The active three-band EQ features a pair of stacked control knobs, the lower knob substantially boosting and cutting the low end whilst the slimmer top-mounted rotary control boosts the mid-range for a punchy old-school Rock tone. Cutting the mid-range dials-in a scooped sound whose enhanced bass and treble - aka the classic 'smiley face' graphic EQ setting - is the archetypal slapping/popping tone, its powerful low end thump complimented by a crisp biting treble. The twin active soapbar humbuckers have the typical clear articulate voice that characterises active pickups, they are almost surgically clean and precise, but you can squeeze some pretty convincing growly old-school passive tones out of this bass too.
I liked the Traben TS4's sleek and user-friendly contemporary design. You can really chuck it about without risking a dislocated shoulder and its forgiving playability means that smaller players and female bassists should feel equally comfortable wielding this axe without sacrificing any of the necessary rock and roll attitude.
Sound-wise its super clean active circuitry may lack the sheer raw grunt of a classic Jazz Bass or a Precision but the TS4's electronics nevertheless offers plenty of power with a quiet and stable delivery. Sat in a decent recorded mix or holding down the low end amidst the hubbub of a live rock gig, we can see no reason why the TS4 wouldn't make a great bass for the aspiring Rock bassist on a budget. And, as such, it's really very good value for money.