Review round-up: semi-hollow and hollowbody basses

Warwick StarBass
(Image credit: Warwick)

Whether it’s the woody whoomp of Paul McCartney’s Höfner 500/1 or the woofy thump of the Epiphone Rivoli bass Paul Samwell-Smith, Jimmy Page, and Chris Dreja rocked in the Yardbirds, the sound of semi- and hollowbody basses is as big a part of the rock & roll bass lexicon as roundwound-strung Rickenbackers or P-Basses with flats.

A bunch of manufactures debuted new hollowbody and semi-hollow basses have been debuted in recent years, and here’s a quick look at a few that are out now from D’Angelico, Ibanez, and Warwick.

D’Angelico EX-Bass

Formed in the 1930s by native New Yorker John D’Angelico, continued through the 1960s by onetime apprentice Jimmy D’Aquisto, and purchased in 2011 by guitar collector and businessman John M. Ferolito, Sr., the D’Angelico brand of guitars has long been regarded as one of the world’s finest, especially in the realm of arch-top instruments. This year, D’Angelico has shown some love for the low end with the introduction of its EX-Bass , a set-neck, medium-scale hollowbody. While D’Angelico offers a premium of American-made guitars built by luthier Gene Baker at the Premier Builders Guild Workshop in California, its Standard Series instruments—including the EX-Bass—are manufactured in Incheon, Korea.

From its arched flame maple top and back to its wooden knobs, block inlays, crème-colored body binding, and distinctive headstock bling (an Art-Deco nod to the famous the New Yorker Hotel), the EX-Bass oozes elegance. Unlike a semihollow bass, which would have a center block running under the pickups from the neck joint to the bottom-side strap button, the EX-Bass is a true hollowbody.

Played acoustically, the D’Angelico has sustain and resonance unlike any other hollowbody I’ve played; notes sounded rich and full, and felt as if they could ring for days. The bass’s 32" scale length, rounded neck profile, and Jazz-like width at the nut make for a comfortable combination, particularly when played while seated. On a strap, the bass hangs reasonably well, but it does have a tendency to neck-dive.

The bass’s overall construction quality seemed excellent, with smooth fret edges and solid hardware. The saddle-and-tailpiece style bridge looks elegant and intonates relatively easy, but only allows for gross saddle height adjustments, with no set screws to change individual string height.

Finding the sweet spots for pickup placement on a semi- or hollowbody bass can be tricky—too far in and it’s overly woofy, too far back and the bark turns thin and clacky. Here, D’Angelico nails the formula. The neck pickup, placed roughly at where the 23rd fret would be, is woofy but not wheezy, warm but still articulate. Similarly, the bridge pickup, which sits a bit further inland than many basses of this style, has the punch of a Musicman-style pickup with none of the nasal characteristics of so many solo’d bridge pickups. Despite the EX-Bass’s tremendous acoustic resonance, I had no problems with feedback when I plugged in and turned up.

Style goes a long way, and the D’Angelico has that part down in spades with its entry into the bass market. But where it matters most, payability and sound, D’Angelico is equally on the mark. For that, we give it a BASS PLAYER Editor Award.

Ibanez ASB180 & AGB205

We’ve been trying to keep up with all the new products coming from Ibanez this year, from its Premium ATK 4-string to its Nordstrand-loaded, 35"-scale Premium BTB 5-string. This month we turn to two new additions to the company’s Artcore line of semi-hollow basses, the Gibson-esque ASB180, and the short-scale 5-string AGB205. Both feature set-neck construction, laminated maple tops, backs, and sides, 3-piece necks of mahogany and maple, and dual humbucking pickups.

If semi-hollow basses are known and loved for one thing, it’s big bottom, normally coming courtesy of a big ol’ neck-position humbucker. In this department, the ASB180 delivers. Solo’d, the ASB180’s neck pickup doles out delicious low end that’s a little on the dark side, but still retains enough clarity to keep from muddying the mix. Bringing the bridge pickup into play—a mere switch flick away—helps even out the edges of the single neck humbucker, as if knocking down midrange peaks in favor or a more rounded sound. I found the ASB180’s bridge pickup to be a bit barky to use on its own, but I dig how it plays well with its humbucking bro. There was a pesky wiring anomaly with our tester ASB180: depressing the neck pickup’s metal cover into the body caused the output to stutter and cut out.

The AGB205 semi-hollow 5-string is another new addition to the Ibanez Artcore line. Though it shares several key features—construction, materials, electronics— with the ASB180, the AGB205 is certainly a creature unto itself. With its 30" scale length and close string spacing (1.75" at the nut), the AGB205 feels as much like a Bass VI-style axe as it does a typical 5-string.

Reaching down into the short-scale 5-string’s lower register, things do begin to sound a tad murky—at least compared to a full-size solidbody 5. If pianistic clarity and a quick, tight response is what you’re after, the AGB205 might not be a match. That said, the AGB205’s loose, rootsy thump is a cool sound on its own, and one that could sit well in a number of settings.

Warwick RockBass Star Bass 4- & 5-Strings

When Warwick introduced its semi-hollow Star Bass II back in 2008, we were fortunate to review one. Though named after the 1956 Framus Star Bass made famous by Bill Wyman, the reintroduced Star Bass II was actually quite different from that shortscale hollowbody, sporting a 34" scale length and semihollow construction. With its figured bubinga laminate body, ovangkol neck and wenge fingerboard, the Star Bass II was a wood-lover’s dream, but the price tag of the German-made bass put it out of reach for many bass players.

By bringing the Star Bass design to its RockBass line of instruments and changing some of its materials, Warwick has brought the cost of the Star Bass down to a much more competitive price point.

With its RockBass Star Bass, Warwick has again tweaked the formula in terms of scale length; the 4-string version has a 32" scale length, while the 5-string is 34". Taking the 4-string out for a spin, I quickly acclimated to the medium scale length, and appreciated that it made the bass less susceptible to neck-dive when hung on a strap, a common issue with basses with this body shape. Still, I find the Star Bass more comfortable to play while seated.

Despite their wide footprint, the Star Bass’ two pickups are actually single-coils. Though I thought I’d miss the big bottom that comes from a semi-hollow’s neck-position humbucker, the airier single-coils actually complement the Star Basses quite well, lending extra clarity in the high end. Solo’d, the neck-pickup— positioned in a Precision-like sweet spot—offers fullbodied thump, while the bridge pickup barks without sounding too harsh.

Swapping the 4- for the 5-string, the only thing more striking than our tester’s über-cool Daphne Blue finish is the bass’s lively low end; acoustically and plugged in, the 5-string Star Bass’ lower reaches feel taut and speak clearly. The added weight and scale length make the 5-string a bit more cumbersome to play while standing, but the instrument’s overall ergonomics are good. Like most high-end Warwick basses, the RockBass Star Basses feature fully adjustable saddles and the company’s Just-A-Nut III adjustable nuts, which make intonating and setting the action relatively painless.

We’re looking forward to following up in a future issue with looks at new semi-hollow offerings from Guild, Lakland, Höfner, and more. In the meantime, check these out and get your thump on!


D’Angelico EX-Bass
Street $1,420
Pros Extraordinary resonance; full, open voice
Cons Limited saddle adjustability
Bottom line D’Angelico’s entry into the bass market is a strong one that raises the bar for instruments in its class.
Construction Set-neck hollowbody
Top, back, and sides Laminated flame maple
Neck 2-piece maple with walnut stringer
Fingerboard Rosewood
Pickups Two dual-coil
Electronics Passive
Width at nut 1.5"
Scale length 32.25"
Weight 7.25 lbs
Made in Korea

Ibanez ASB180
Street $500
Pros Bargain-priced big-bootied thump
Cons Problematic pickup wiring on tester
Bottom line Wiring anomaly aside, the ASB180 cops old-school semi-hollow thump at a remarkable price point.
Construction Set-neck semi-hollow
Top, back, and sides Laminated maple
Neck 3-piece mahogany and maple
Fingerboard Rosewood
Pickups Two dual-coil
Electronics Passive
Width at nut 1.65"
Scalelength 30.3"
Weight 9 lbs
Made in China

Ibanez AGB205
Street $600
Pros Short scale length and tight string spacing make for a comfortable feel
Cons Murky low register
Bottom line The AGB205’s low end is a tad flaccid, but the bass nonetheless has a certain rootsy charm.
Construction Set-neck semi-hollow
Top, back, and sides Laminated maple
Neck 3-piece mahogany and maple
Fingerboard Rosewood
Pickups Two dual-coil
Electronics Passive
Width at nut 1.75"
Scale length 30.3"
Weight 8.75 lbs
Made in China

Warwick Rockbass Star Bass
Street 4-string, $900; 5-string, $950
Pros Good clarity courtesy of twin single-coil pickups; taut, articulate B string on the 5-string
Cons None
Bottom line Warwick’s RockBass version of the Star Bass lacks the bling of its German counterpart, but maintains every bit of the boom.
Construction Set-neck semi-hollow
Top, back, and sides Laminated maple
Neck Maple with ekanga stringers
Fingerboard Rosewood
Pickups Two MEC single-coils
Electronics Passive
Width at nut 4-string, 1.5"; 5-string, 1.75"
Scale length 4-string, 32"; 5-string, 34"
Weight 4-string, 7.9 lbs; 5-string, 8.7 lbs
Made in China

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