This article was publish in #Issue 18 in winter 2016
The Company Line
Yamaha is an interesting organization. It is a multinational corporation and conglomerate based in Japan, and they make everything from motorcycles to saxophones. The focus is on musical instruments – and this fact is reflected in their logo, a trio of tuning forks. In fact, Yamaha is the world’s largest manufacturer of musical instruments. They began production of guitars in 1942, with their first electric bass, the SB2, coming in 1966. Later, in 1977, they introduced the “Broad Bass” (or “BB”) series basses, and life in the low end has never been the same…
The TRBX line is actually a hybrid of the TRB and RBX series (which date back to 1990 and 1986, respectively). Consisting of seven different models in five different trim levels, the TRBX series covers a lot of ground. For our review, Yamaha sent us the 4-string variant of the premium 500-level basses, the TRBX504.
The first thing I notice when I pick up a new bass is the feel of the neck, and I am very happy to say that the TRBX504 has one of the best-feeling necks I have played. The slightly asymmetrical, relatively thin D shape, the width (38mm, or just under 1.5”), thickness and finish are all “just right.” The bolt-on neck is a 5-piece affair, with two narrow strips of mahogany setting off three wider pieces of maple. For the 500 series, Yamaha went with mahogany for the body wood and rosewood for the fingerboard.
The active/passive electronics are another hallmark of the TRBX500 series, and I really like this setup. The volume and blend pots of course work in both active and passive modes. When in active mode, the three bottom pots adjust the boost/cut for bass, mid and treble. Throw the toggle switch over to passive mode, and the bass and mid controls are predictably out of the circuit, but the treble knob now functions as a passive tone roll-off. Nice! This is a feature which I look for in higher-cost custom basses, but it is virtually unheard of at this price point. With this kind of a setup, you have an active mode option that allows for a good bit of tone sculpting and a strong, clean signal, but you also have a passive mode (for things like all-tube heads, or certain pedals which respond better to an un-buffered signal) with a passive tone control. Passive mode and passive tone roll-off are my strong preference when going for a more vintage vibe. The HHB5 humbucking pickups employ alnico magnets, and are designed to perform well in both active and passive modes. An LED (visible through the control cavity cover) warns you when the battery life is near its end.
The remaining hardware choices consist of a high-mass bridge, side-mounted output jack (with a metal plate surrounding it, so that you don’t scratch up the body), and Gotoh-style tuners. There is a separate battery compartment. All of the hardware is finished in “black nickel,” which looks reasonably nice in a modern kind of way, but doesn’t have quite the same “high quality” feel that I think you would get with a flat black or traditional nickel finish. Yamaha calls the body color “Translucent Brown,” and while I think it looks great in the right lighting, I found that most of the time, the lighting was not “right” and it looked a bit too dark and a bit too dull. Still, on stage and under several thousand watts of lighting, it does look killer!
Fit and finish
I had to keep reminding myself that this was a $500 bass. When I go over a bass that I am reviewing and looking for nits to pick, I try to do so with an understanding of the general price point (and the competition at that price point). But with the TRBX, the “competition” which I kept bringing to mind were all much, much higher dollar instruments. The fretwork is great, and the neck pocket fit is really nice. The control knob layout is intuitive and well-spaced, and the pots had a quality feel and resistance to them. As I mentioned, the black nickel hardware finish did seem to bring the overall look back towards a lower price point, and I also noticed that the finish can get a little shiny in spots where you touch it a lot. But all-in-all, this bass hits above its weight class quite nicely.
Even though the TRBX body shape has only been around for 3-4 years, it obviously incorporates elements of both the TRB and BRX series basses, and it has a familiar vibe that feels like it’s been around for ages – but somehow also manages to look fresh and modern. Personally, I think they’ve done a great job with this body shape. The contouring makes for a very comfortable hang against your body, the forearm contour is perfect, and the horn extends to the 12th fret, so the balance is excellent when strapped on. Access is virtually unimpeded up to the 22nd fret.
The “Yamaha Bass Tone”
Tonally, this bass initially impresses with its very full, meaty, yet smooth, tone. Despite its modern looks, once you start playing in a band setting, the TRBX504 reminds me of a more vintage instrument. It has a certain “polite fullness” to its tone profile, and it supports the other instruments in a mix quite well. To my ears, it sounded a little heavy in the upper lows to low mids, but that might be partially attributed to the strings (D’Addario XLs). If you want to stand out a bit, then the active EQ most definitely helps (and is pretty much required in order to do so). I like a small bit of treble boost with this bass (and these strings), though this does introduce a little noise. The midrange frequency seems to be set fairly low, but in this case, that works out fairly well, as I found myself cutting the mids a bit. The bass control seems very much in line with that found on other mid to high-end bass preamps, but with the 504’s naturally girthy tone, I did not need to use any boost.
When I first pulled the TRBX504 from the box and started playing around with it, it seemed to be a bit on the quiet side when in passive mode. However, once I adjusted the setup (by lowering the bridge height), this brought the strings closer to the pickups, and I noticed a more robust output in passive mode. The overall tone is definitely reminiscent of the big, full tone of the BB series basses, and those familiar with this iteration of the “Yamaha bass tone” should feel right at home.
The Bottom Line
The TRBX504 initially comes across as a lot of bass for the money. But after gigging with this bass in several bands, and rotating it in with instruments costing several times its asking price, I moved from thinking of it as “a great bass for the money” to “a great bass.” The tone is naturally warm, full, a little dark, and on the “polite” side, and it both fills out and sits in a mix quite nicely. The passive mode option plays to its established strong suits, and the active tone controls allow for even more versatility. Yamaha has another classic on its hands with the TRBX 500 series.