Paul Reed Smith Electric Bass
Made In: USA
Specs: Alder body with maple top, one piece maple neck, rosewood fretboard
Electronics: 2 x PRS High Inductance Single Coils
Controls: Volume x 2, Tone x 1, high end switchable audio pre-amp
PRS haven’t really set the world alight when it comes to bass. This one comes from their second real attempt at a bass design and production lasted about five years, during which time I believe they made around 400 of these. It’s an unusual instrument as, on many levels, they got it right but there’s still something about it which doesn’t quite click, initially.
Ok, it’s a looker, the familiar PRS aesthetic mated with the venerable Jazz design. Like a Jazz it features a volume-volume tone configuration for the two single coil pickups. It balances very well, aided by the lightweight tuners and is very comfortable to play. The bridge owes much to the G&L design, a heavy baseplate which cups the saddles with a small screw in the treble side which locks the saddles together, and is placed close to the bottom edge of the bass, meaning the first fret feels close to the player. Despite the body being quite wide, actually it feels like a very compact design. The neck is quite round but, again, nicely done and feels familiar in hand. It’s contoured everywhere it needs to be and is equally at home sitting down or on a strap. Tonally, it’s a modern, punchy J sound with a smooth, clear high end, almost active sounding in passive mode. The build quality is up to the usual superb PRS standard.
That’s all great, so what’s the problem?
Well, the mini-toggle switch engages what PRS call a “high end switchable audio pre-amp” which, at first glance, isn’t too far away from the OMG switch on a L1000. It sounds like a preset EQ shape thrust onto the sound of the bass, a massive low end boost which makes the neck pickup instantly unusable unless you’re dealing in the heaviest of dub. There’s a very large and busy PCB under the backplate but nowhere on it can you manipulate what the active circuit does, so the passive circuit tends to get used and the active circuit forgotten about.
However, after spending a bit of time with it, the secrets of the electronics start to reveal themselves.
In passive mode, the tone control operates like a regular passive tone control, a high-end roll-off. In active mode it appears to function like a full-on low-pass filter. Fully rolled-off, only the lowest of low frequencies make it through. The volume controls seem linked to a low and high end boost. The higher the pickup volume, the more the lows and highs are boosted. It takes a bit of thought but is actually quite a flexible system. You can’t think of it as a V-V-T setup in active mode, as each control interacts with the next. You can’t really run the pickups wide open, it’s too much of an EQ boosted sound. The flexibility is in starting with the pickups at about 50% volume and adjusting from there, in conjunction with the tone control, which now works as a low pass filter. Really, it’s two entirely different control philosophies in one instrument; the traditional V-V-T and a not too intuitive but very flexible active system, which requires some thought when being used. It’s definitely not a set-it-and-forget-it system.
I can understand why it didn’t take off, commercially. You’ve got to get your head around what the active circuit is trying to do and, if you think of it as a boosted version of the standard passive circuit, it seems pointless and almost unusable. Spend a bit of time understanding it, however, and you’ve got a really nice contemporary Jazz type with more than a few tricks discreetly up its sleeve.