Yamaha John Patitucci Signature Electric bass

There is much to admire in the superb workmanship and surfeit of tone-shaping options in this upgraded edition of acoustic-electric virtuoso John Patitucci’s signature instrument-the Yamaha TRB JP2 Electric Bass. Opening up the case and taking in the luminous amber glow of this six-string bass’ quilted maple cap (and matching headstock), was enough to take my breath away-this instrument is simply gorgeous.

But handsome is as handsome does. And whether or not jazz players gravitate toward this instrument is as much a matter of personal taste, musical comfort and acquired technique as it is a reflection on the instrument itself. First of all, this instrument is not, strictly speaking, a six-string bass in the tradition of the original Fender VI from the mid-1960s, which was essentially tuned just like a guitar, only an octave down, with a 30-inch short scale neck. The Yamaha TRB JP2 is a contrabass guitar-essentially a long-scale four-string bass guitar, tuned in fourths, where the range is extended by the addition of an extra high-C string and an extra low-B string.

And while the TRB JP2 is hardly a day at the beach as far as size and weight are concerned, I was pleased to discover how playable and well balanced this instrument really is. It features a bolt-on style, 35-inch scale, 26-fret laminated maple neck (maple/mahogany according to the press release) with an ebony fingerboard sturdily bolted-on to a seven-ply hardwood body with two sets of bolts (not surprisingly the neck also features twin truss rods). Fancy gold-plated Gotoh tuners (with some sort of pearloid pegs) and a crescent-style inlay finish off the neck, which while quite wide, is shallow enough in depth so that someone with smallish hands can get around with a reasonable degree of facility.

I’m not entirely sure what the sonic reasoning was behind the ash-alder-maple sandwich of tone woods, save for sex appeal. To these ears, the foundation of this bass’ sound is in the mids and upper midrange, with a quick, snappy response, a strong, focused fundamental tone-and a fairly dry mix of overtones. A J-Bass styled pair of Alnico V magnet-equipped pickups have a hot detailed output, and an upgraded new preamp (replacing that on the original TRB JP model) features three-band EQ with a parametric-style midrange control, plus volume and blend controls for a wide range of user-adjustable voicings.

Playing as I do in a fairly simple rhythmic style, my preference is to employ a strong percussive attack with a bit more height and resistance to the strings, and more relief in the neck-so the manner in which this bass was set up was not entirely pleasing to me. While the intonation was fine, there wasn’t enough clearance to the low B string for me to get much use out of it. I’m not saying it was wrong, and players with more advanced technique than I posses can routinely achieve enormous velocity with this style of slap-happy setup. But given the low-action feel, I was never quite able to achieve the attitude adjustment necessary to transcend expectations based on years of four-string playing where you conclude a descending phrase by slam-dunking that low E string. I was much more comfortable on top, where the bass spoke with a sparkling, brassy voice, and the high C string offered an appealing range of cellolike articulations and melodic phrases in the upper registers.

I was impressed by the tonal versatility of the electronics and found that the parametric midrange offered a wide range of musical adjustments for room acoustics and amplifier matching. Both pickups had a hot, vibrant response, but I tended to favor the fuller sound of the front pickup: By dialing in some midrange warmth and plumping up the low frequencies I was able to achieve a more seamless transition between the D and the G strings, which otherwise didn’t seem as smooth or natural as I’m used to-as if I’d had stacked a pair of three string instruments (with discrete bass, tenor and alto registers) one atop another. Perhaps a single humbucking pickup, more centrally placed above a harmonic sweet spot would produce a more natural transition to these ears.

This is a very sophisticated, well-made instrument, but in a sense, it is way more bass than I want, need-or am man enough to handle. To me, the Yamaha TRB JP2 is more suited to function as a lead instrument than as a rhythm instrument. Mega-bassists, such as Doug Mathews, Victor Wooten, Anthony Jackson, Trey Gunn and the estimable Mr. Patitucci, who are capable of deploying a high-speed, quasi-keyboard style, will be readily drawn to the full-range expression and low-action response of this six-string monster, with its potential for an orchestral pallet of thumb-slapped harmonics, two-handed tapping, dense chordal strumming and quicksilver runs. Less virtuoso types, who are content to lock down with the bass drum and delineate a more elemental groove, needn’t apply-a “normal” four-string will do.

For those in between, an audition is definitely in order, and while many of you will be gassed by the Yamaha TRB JP2, I suspect for others a five-string would be more your speed.