With its drop-dead gorgeous looks, the Ibanez SR-1600-NTF Premium promises to be a monster. We sent Dan Veall out to do battle with it.
Well, isn't this a gorgeous looking instrument?! We're not supposed to have favourites as reviewers, but I think I can safely reveal that we're all rather keen on Ibanez down at GI Towers - mostly because so many of us have owned them down the years and always had great service from them and also because the review samples that we've had - both guitars and basses - have always been such really nice, playable instruments. And this one is no exception. The (perhaps a bit cumbersomely named) SR-1600-NTF Premium is from Ibanez's 'Premium' range. According to the Ibanez website, it is also a limited model, too. It feels every bit as good as it looks, so without further delay, it's time to find out if this instrument can deliver what its looks promise.
Usually, I try to ease you in to the instrument, dealing with the headstock end first, but really, you can't ignore this tasty top wood. You are looking at a slice of poplar burl, tastefully matched to a mahogany body, with a pinstripe outline between the pieces. I'm a big fan of mahogany for its tone and was expecting great things from this instrument, even before I plugged in.
Atop the body, which has a natural flat finish, are four individual mono-rail bridge pieces in gold. I really like these, too. The Ibanez units are smooth edged, as well, rather than some sharper types I have seen on 'premium level' instruments. This shows attention to detail. Similarly, high quality gold tuning keys set off the classy look of the instrument. Speaking of the headstock, the neck construction certainly is a “cut above”. We have a five piece wenge and bubinga combination - which in itself promises strength and resonance. Ibanez doesn't stop there, though. This neck is super-jazz bass slim, so inserted in to the neck are 'KTS Titanium Rods' to further add strength and substance. Yes, this is clearly a professional-class bass, intended for serious use!
The neck features a rosewood fretboard with 24 spotless and perfectly fitted frets. There's not a sharp edge in sight and the playing sensation is great thanks to Ibanez's 'Premium Fret Edge' treatment, which means the fret edges have been rounded and smoothed for a comfortable playing surface. Again, I like this a great deal. It has that comfort that a rounded neck bass would and it doesn't feel like the edges of a super flat skinny-necked bass.
Finishing off the neck is a black Tusq XL nut - nicely cut and an optimum height. A matching gold logo at the tip of the headstock is tasteful as are the abalone oval inlay fret markers across the neck.
It's a well-balanced instrument that sits perfectly on your knee and, as I expected, greeted me with a punchy mid-present tone acoustically. That's usually a very good sign, suggesting the amplified sound will be good too, as long as the electronics on board complement that natural bass tone. And they do. And how! On board is a wonderful pair of Nordstrand 'Big Single' pickups. Without dwelling on the details too much, Nordstrand has rotated the pole piece 45 degrees, which it says increases the size of a traditional J style coil by 50%. It's wider and fatter, resulting in a larger aperture. The larger aperture captures more string content, which in turn rewards us with a fatter tone. Well, I can certainly agree that these pickups sound rich, even with the on board EQ set 'flat' or bypassed!
The EQ system is simple and easy to use - Bass, Middle and Treble controls are part of Ibanez's own EQP-IIISC circuit, featuring a mid frequency adjust switch that I demo in the video. There’s a great sweet spot on the EQ for me that really lifted the bass and complimented its natural tone.
The bass came in an Ibanez case but also featured a quality Ibanez 'guitar tool' too, which I thought was a very nice touch!
All in all, this is an unusual bass. It's beautifully made and equipped, to such an extent that it's more like something you might find from one of the specialist builders and it's a far cry from the 'back to basics' approach that some favour. Let's put it this way: if you are a fan of Tele-bass necks, this one feels tiny in comparison but I am really pleased at how much resonance and tone still comes off it.
Our Editor says it reminds him of some of the better bespoke basses from the 1980s and '90s and certainly Ibanez has put that level of attention to quality, materials and finishing into this one. I can hear some fundamentalists calling this a 'coffee table bass' but that's just a style thing and has nothing to do with the quality of the instrument.
And this makes the price of this Ibanez a bit strange. It's much, much cheaper than a luthier-built bass and yet it shares that level of quality, with its lovely figured wood top. In fact it's cheaper than a lot of really basic, Precision-like instruments. On those grounds it's fantastic value for money.
In the end, I'd say if you like basses with thin, fast necks, superb pickups and luxurious woods I'd say this Ibanez is a steal. If you don't...well, you don't. And Ibanez, of course, offers that kind of bass, too. The choice is yours!