Yamaha’s much-loved BB (Broadbass) line is back, with some great new tweaks and touches! There are a number of models in the series, made both in Japan and abroad and aimed at a wide swath of target demographics. The BB735A is their upper-entry level/mid-market, Indonesian-made, active/passive 5-string offering, retailing for $799.99 (MAP). And to cut right to the chase, it is a seriously impressive instrument at that price or significantly more.
It’s been said so many times in industry product reviews it hardly bears repeating, except for that when you experience this again firsthand it seems to beg mention: the quality of southeast Asian-made instruments – musical products in general – has risen dramatically in the last 10 or 15 years. While I love getting into the vibe and feel of a new bass, no matter the origin or price point, I’m also a stickler for attention to detail. Although I expected to find some rough fret edges or less-than-perfect finishing on the body or neck, I couldn’t find any construction-related or playability-hindering flaw that bears mentioning. In my experience, that’s a rare thing for a bass in this price range, no matter where it’s made. Kudos are due to Yamaha for excellent production and QC practices.
The BB735A is composed of a 5-ply maple and mahogany neck (though the thickly black stained finish on our tester all but obscured the laminations) and interesting sandwich-style body that sees a thick section of alder on the front and back of the bass, with a very narrow core of maple – bucking the trend of thicker core construction with thinner laminates on the outsides or just on the top. The neck sits on the stiff maple mid-section in its pocket, and the line from Yamaha is that it helps to provide additional rigidity and string-to-body vibration transmission. The neck pocket itself is fairly unique, employing a 6-bolt design with the aft-most two bolts countersunk into the body and attaching into the end of the neck at roughly a 45 degree angle in a miter joint. This is said to not only help the neck couple to the body by means of mating it from front to back, but also to pull it strongly into the neck pocket – an unusual tactic that my non-luthier mind can imagine making a difference in neck/body coupling. The truss rod adjusts at the heel end, accessible through a well-appointed cutout in the pickguard. I found the unique control knobs to be really fun and aesthetically pleasing; the volume and blend are roughly as wide as Gibson LP speed knobs, with the EQ controls each being maybe 5/8 the size, and all feature a thicker band towards the top of the knob, rather than towards the bottom, making for a nice tactile experience.
Yamaha uses their YGD Custom V7 pickups in this model; a pair of humbucking P-style pickups paired with a non-hum-canceling J-style single coil pickup, all using AlNiCo magnets. A bit to my surprise, there actually wasn’t a preponderance of 60-cycle hum with the blend control centered and the single coil fully in the mix, but of course that hum becomes more noticeable as the bridge pickup is favored. An effective 3-band EQ circuit is included, along with an active/passive bypass switch – especially useful as the tone circuit is at unity gain for smooth transitioning back and forth from passive to active with the controls at their center detents. The controls are mounted a little counter-intuitively, or at least in a way less common, with the bass control nearest the neck and treble control nearest the jack, the mid laying appropriately between them. You get the option of stringing through the bridge’s tailpiece as usual, or going the through-body route, but that too has an interesting twist. Rather than making for a hard, 90-degree angle in pulling the strings up through the bridge from the back of the bass, the string-through ferrules and channels are placed at a 45-degree angle and accessed at the butt end of the instrument. Bonus points for the coolness factor here, too. The B string’s saddle is beveled backwards to allow that string to be intonated properly, even if the saddle should be unable to retract far enough to do the job with a standard saddle.
One feature I’d like to hone in on is the dual-function active treble/passive tone control – I’ve enjoyed having one of these as part of a Noll preamp in another bass, and I love them! They just make so much sense. Actually, with the specialty dual-ganged pot, you can add this functionality to any bass that has or can be made to have a passive tone control along with an active treble pot (see photo). The active treble wires are connected to the appropriate value pot, which is specially made to offer no change in resistance for half the rotation until the center detent, then to vary resistance from that center point until the end of the pot’s rotation. The other pot gang uses an appropriate resistance for a passive tone control, and varies its resistance in the same way, but opposite from the active control’s pot, making for one single knob you turn that functions as a whole rotation of a passive tone control from 0 to 5, and active treble boost from 5 to 10. Very cool feature!
The control cavity was well-shielded, using both conductive shielding paint and aluminum foil. This seemed to be effective in this bass, although my personal preference is to use copper foil tape. I have measured hundreds of Ohms difference or more across two random points on paint-shielded cavities in the past, but never more than a couple Ohms with copper. Copper is also a superior conductor to aluminum. One of the only and admittedly very minor flaws I could find with the makeup of the BB735A was with the screws that hold on the electronics cavity cover; a couple were seated at an angle, rather than perpendicular to the body, and at least one spun in its hole. However, the necessity to ever open that cavity is pretty well mitigated by the very convenient low-battery LED indicator that peaks through the cavity cover, allowing for quick visual confirmation of a battery reaching the end of its useful life – which can, itself, be changed easily and quickly via the separate pop-out battery compartment.
On The Job
I took the BB out for a date with one of the show bands I play in, whose repertoire consists of a large portion of the modern American pop/rock song book, trading off with an MTD throughout the show for comparison. I was not disappointed! There’s something special about the P/J combination of pickups that makes for a very useful, multi-dimension tone; one that for me far outshines the typical P-bass configuration’s thing. I tend to far prefer two-pickup basses in general for the tonal complexity that pickup scenario provides, but that seems somehow to be even more evident with a thick and chunky P pair at the neck and a slim and surgical single J at the bridge.
The BB735A sounded full and authoritative, without the typical P-bass tubbiness and with more body and smoothness than the typical wiry J-bass snarl. While it didn’t balance quite as well on a strap as I might have hoped, it certainly didn’t have bad balance, and is a relatively lightweight bass guitar in the first place. I found I played it on more songs that night than I’d planned – perhaps the best form of flattery. I tended to prefer the bass in active mode, with the treble control boosted slightly to produce a little more attack and the bass boosted just a bit to provide a little more oomph. The composition, type, and placement of the pickups made for plenty of that all-important midrange; a region that this bass really speaks in.
Playing this kind of music, I really didn’t miss the extra three frets my MTD offered, and I wasn’t slapping up a storm with this bass, either. And that felt just right for this one – it seemed to ask to pound out solid, clearly audible, but never outspoken, bass lines that lent themselves to the content and context. While I’ve seen and heard some great slapping and more advanced technique happening on BB model basses (see early No Doubt with Tony Kanal), I didn’t get that vibe from the 735A. While expertly made, it didn’t scream “performance machine” to me, excelling instead at the rich and powerful presence it felt made for.
SAS (Short Attention Span) Summary
This bass is a bargain for the price. It’s well made in Yamaha’s Indonesian facility, features 5 strings spanning 21 frets on a rosewood fretboard, topping a 5-piece mahogany and maple neck mated to a 3-piece (front to back) alder/maple/alder body, employs a great 3-band EQ circuit (switchable to passive) fed by passive Yamaha AlNiCo P/J pickups, and offers some interesting new takes on tried-and-true bass guitar design. The styling is killer, the matte black finish that’s somewhere between a stain and paint is somehow simultaneously classic and modern, and oh yeah … it happens to sound great, too. The BB735A may lean a little more towards the classic side of the spectrum tonally and in feel, but it definitely has some real brawn and bite. If that sounds like what you go for, I’d recommend it as a competitor with a few basses twice its price.