Paul Reed Smith really needs no introduction to the guitar playing fraternity as his instruments and reputation have preceded him and his company for the best part of 30 years. Though hugely better known for his guitars, Smith and long time collaborator and primary designer Gary Grainger already have beautiful examples of 'Private Stock' Grainger basses on offer, but last year the Maryland based manufacturer brought two new models to their core product line, namely the Gary Grainger 4 and 5 string basses. We had a sample of the former in the studio for review.
Even if it doesn't wear the prestige PRS 'private stock' tag, this is unquestionably an expensive instrument - just not in the 'superstars only' league. The Grainger 4 and 5 string models have all the character of the private stock models but with “a more universal appeal” according to PRS, though a healthy degree of customisation is offered, including '10-top' flame or quilted maple body caps and the choice of the rosewood fretboard, or maple. Our sample came with the rosewood option.
Starting up at the headstock, the bass has a standard two-a-side design featuring Paul Reed Smith stamped tuning keys. The five string model has three on top and two below. The keys have the smaller sized posts for string windings. I prefer the larger type, personally, but these keep the weight down a bit!
The neck on our sample was maple with a rosewood fretboard featuring the traditional PRS bird inlays that can only be described as superb. The fretwork was also very, very good. There's something about this bass neck too. I really found it a total joy to navigate. You know some bass necks feel like they are actually helping rather than fighting you? Well, this has one.
Moving down the instrument and on to the sumptuous mahogany body curves, I tip my hat to luthiers that can turn a flat top into something comfortable that looks sexy as well. I like that long contour around the controls and that the knobs follow that line. It's one of those nice touches that lifts an instrument from just being 'a great player' to an absolute joy to pick up.
Around the body edge is a natural maple binding, bringing the maple neck colour through to the body as a highlight. I've always liked the outline of the PRS guitars and I am very pleased they have taken that look straight to the bass, maintaining the familiar outline. Thumbs-up for the mahogany body too - it's a great tonewood. This bass has a full balanced tone acoustically and it's actually a very loud instrument too. The gorgeous cap is an option as I'd mentioned earlier and it is stunning!
Moving down to the bridge and it's an interesting one! - a cross between a vintage style configuration and a modern high-mass design. It has a bigger base plate and quick release 'key holes' for the bass string ball to lock in to, but the whole unit has more of a vintage vibe with the more familiar looking cylinder saddles. Simple and functional.
In the electronics department things really start taking shape. To add some more detail to my video, the pickups are actually four single coil passive types arranged in two humbucking units. PRS says that in this configuration the pickups deliver a depth and clarity and adds to the mid range voice of these basses. I agree wholeheartedly, but for me the really beauty in tone was really obvious when the active circuit was active. The circuit is a three band system running on 18v which gives added headroom and there are two compartments on the back of the bass for each 9v battery. It's worth mentioning that the bass will still work, even without batteries installed.
The pre-amplifier features a 3 band EQ for cut and boost of selected frequencies with a pair of volume controls for each of the pickups. These two controls also feature a rather cool setting for extra tone options: by pulling up one of the volume controls you instantly get the passive sound of that pickup. If you pull them both up you get both pickups in passive mode, though you can't have one active and one passive unfortunately. It's a clever idea, offering further tonal choices but for me, the power really lies in the active settings. I like a little bit of boost on each of the three controls and I found that with frugal boosting, the PRS delivered a superb, big, clear and raspy sound that filled the room with tone! I'd love to get a 5 string version in for review to hear how the Grainger bass deals with a low B!
So there it is. The PRS Gary Grainger 4 string sounds great and is incredibly comfortable to play. It is quite the looker and the electronics deliver a wide palette of sounds that would be useful in all manner of musical genres. It's a well balanced instrument that I feel will be comfortable for most people and certainly isn't heavy. The body is a little taller top to bottom, so if you are used to very slim bodies, you'll notice it under your arm, but that said it is in no way a hindrance. For me, I prefer just a single master volume control and a pan or pickup selector, especially for live use.
That's about as brutal as I can manage to be with this instrument. Far from being just a useful addition to a guitar manufacturer's main range, the Gary Grainger bass is a world class instrument in its own right that can compete with just about anything. To sum it up? It's just beautiful!