When i received the review list for this month's gear, I was very interested to see this fine instrument included. The Yamaha BB series basses over the years have been well received by amateur and professional alike. Given the amount of gear that I've had the pleasure of playing over the years, I do like to wonder at which instrument or amplifier will knock last month's review favourite off the 'top spot'. Thankfully everything we have had arrive down at my dungeon of low end has been pretty great. This example of Yamaha build quality is no exception. The BB NE2 celebrates the 30th anniversary of Nathan East's relationship with Yamaha and what a way to party! I was first in to the studio, bright and early, so knowing the Bass had arrived, I helped myself to cracking open the well packed box - I thought it'd be the right thing to do ;o) . Inside a quality hardcase with all the catches still protected with plastic.
The case is well padded inside too; no signs of cost cutting straight away! Included with the Bass is a nice pile of 'case candy' including a Nathan East embroided quality leather strap, tools, spare battery, paperwork and Nathan East plectrums. Also included is a very nice 'picture book' featuring images of Nathan and the various Yamaha basses he has played throughout his career. But the thing that really catches my eye is a large orange hand print in the book! Nathan has individually 'signed' every single book with a print of his palm! - There are images of him doing this inside too. A very nice touch and makes the whole package a little more personal I feel.
EDoes all this really make the bass itself any better though? Well I couldn't wait to dive in and find out. Straight out of the case, the bass was perfectly in tune! Not bad as it would have been out in the cold then in to our warm offices prior to the review. I noticed the action was set to 'comfortable low' with no buzzes from the bright sounding resonant strings. Acoustically, the bass already sounded great. I do judge a bass acoustically and have been known to dismiss an instrument without plugging in if it doesn't sound good before it gets amplified. I'd describe the NE2 as having a very nice piano tone, rich but not 'twangy'. Lots of girth in the low B too!
Prior to getting in front of the camera I spend a fair amount of time getting used to a review instrument. I like to play all the kinds of things that I would do in front of the camera!! (After all, the review isn't about my playing, it's about the sounds of the instrument) I have to say it feels great. Very comfortable and so easy to navigate.
Here's a nice touch!! - I sat the bass on my knee, plugged in the studio's leads and before powering up the amp I checked the settings on the bass. All the controls were centred flat and ready to go. This is attention to detail! Great stuff! I am happy!
In the video review I run through each of the sounds and settings available to demonstrate how flexible this instrument is and I have to say, I am really impressed. We've already had some stonkingly good gear to review but this bass I didn't want to put back down. Indeed it crops up elsewhere in the magazine!!
The Bass has two Jazz Alnico V stack bass pickups that feature a hum cancelling coil. They are silent even under the studio lighting and electrics. The three band EQ centres were perfect for this instrument. I have found that sometimes a generic EQ system will be popped in to a bass and it doesn't really help accentuate the best frequencies for the type of pickups used. In the worst cases a bad choice of preamp can make an 'ok' tone sound incoherent and confusing, leading to ear fatigue. Back to the Yamaha, check out the part of the video where I add bass boost to the bridge pickup. It sounds fat and modern. You could actually play just on the bridge pickup and not feel a loss of low end. Boosting the mid range instantly adds a bit of those 'Jaco' type growls in too.
Speaking of the EQ, The BB NE2 includes a version of Nathan's 'Magic Box' pedal on board, the Yamaha NE1. The two controls on the bass are simple. A switch that engages the function is sited near the bridge above the bass control. Above the switch a knob that as you advance round cuts out an amount of mid frequencies. I pointed out in the video that I have to admit to being a little perplexed as to why the knob has to be a little plastic one when the rest are really nice knurled metal types. The function is really effective at quickly pulling those mids out for an instant switch in tone, for slap style or by also pulling back a bit of treble too, some nice dub bass tones. My reservation about the plastic knob is minor, but I do have a little niggle. The position of the switch is really hard to see when you look over. It's small and hides behind the plastic knob when you look down at the bass. I guess you'd get used to finding it by touch, but I'd have preferred to either be able to see it straight away or indeed to have included a knob with a push-push switch integrated instead. One less thing on the 'flight deck' to worry about.
Sitting the bass on my lap, it was instantly comfortable. So well balanced and the size of the body itself meant that the height of the playing area from my leg was pretty perfect. Sometimes if the distance from the strings to the lower bout of the body is large or small you end up either having the bass under your chin or feeling like you can rest your knuckles on your knee! - If you understand what I am saying!
In playing, the neck is slim. Not the slimmest I have played and I am more used to very thin necks on 6 and 7 string bass widths. I'm pleased to report that I felt at home quickly. There's enough mass to get hold of but certainly not feeling like a club. The neck is adorned with an ebony fretboard and tasteful block markers over a maple and mahogany 5 piece neck. The body comprises of Alder and Maple. 24 perfectly dressed frets with not a sharp edge to be felt on the 34" scale. For those who like to geek out further, the specifications say the fretboard is 19 11/16" radius, which is very comfortable too: Not too rounded and not too flat.
I have to say that despite knowing this Bass was a great contender, it was only until we compared it againstanotherbass we had nearby it became obvious justhowgood it was. I mean, It can be difficult going in to say, a music shop to try a new bass through an unfamiliar amp. Even plugged directly in to our monitoring foldback system the BB NE2 delivered a rich and full tone. Looking at the price tag of this instrument, i'd certainly expect it to be of the very high quality that I report, that should go without saying. I can confidently say that it is actually better than some boutique instruments costing more. I understand that Yamaha made a one off 6 string version for Nathan - a prototype of one of the earlier NE models. Had that instrument have found it's way out in to the 'wild', I have to say that following this review, it would be very high on my shopping list. I've been a fan of the smaller bodied BB models for some time, but the illusive 6 string never arrived. How 'bout it Yamaha? A 6 string BB NE2? With my name on?