Thursday, August 7, 2014

2006 Ernie Ball MusicMan Bongo Bass Guitar Review


MusicMan Bongo basses have been out for more than ten years, and they are still one of the least well-known basses around. Though they are not common, but they are used by gods of the bass community, including Tony Levin, Dave LaRue, Jack Williams, Chuck Ward and Ben Alsup. Today we are looking at a lovely 2006 model that made its way through here earlier this year.

The Bongo bass was a fresh design that was a collaborative project between Music Man and BMW. The first thing that you will notice is that the shape of the body and the headstock is distinctive. By going outside the usual P/J shapes they ended up with an instrument that is ergonomically comfortable to play. The bodies on these are made of basswood (bass wood!) because it provides good tone, and also because it is a bit lighter than other woods. This is helpful because the electronics package can be pretty heavy.

The neck is a conventional 34-inch scale, with 24 high-profile wide frets. The neck on this one is rosewood, but fretless models get pau ferro and Stealth models get ebony. The fretboard is inlaid with cool little c’s, and the compensated nut is 1 5/8-inches wide. Of course the truss rod has the usual Music Man truss rod adjustment wheel at the heel for easy set-up changes. The five-bolt neck plate allow for an aggressive cut-out to access the higher frets. Who uses those frets, anyway?

The pre-amplifier and pickup packages are where the real magic happens on the Bongo basses, as they can be made to sound very aggressive. They have an 18-volt pre-amp, and the pickups use neodymium magnets. With the 3 or 4-band equalizer, almost any tone can be dialed in. There are plenty of pickup choices, including single humbucker, double humbucker and a humbucker/single coil combination. You can also throw in a piezo bridge as an option. This bass is equipped with a single humbucker with a 3-band EQ, which is my favorite option for these basses.

This particular bass is a very nice California-made 2006 Music Man Bongo 4 H. It is finished with a glossy Desert Gold (orange) poly on the body and a matching satin finish on the neck. The craftsmanship is exactly what I expect for an instrument that comes from the folks in San Luis Obispo. It is first-rate! This one is a little on the heavier side -- newer Bongos are lighter thanks to the lightweight tuners they started using a few years ago, but this one has the original style Schaller BM high-mass tuners so it comes in at just a touch over 9 pounds.

As I said the single humbucker combination is my favorite Bongo configuration, and this is due to its simplicity and versatility. With judicious use of the EQ knobs (do not dime them out!) I have been able to achieve any kind of tone that I need with minimal effects usage.

It is a shame that these do not sell very well, because Bongos are some of the best basses around. I guess too many players are stuck in 1960, and cannot get past the whole Precision/Jazz Bass mindset.


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