The evolution of the electric upright bass, or EUB, has tended since the Nineties towards hybrid instruments which attempt to satisfy the middle ground between double and electric bass players.
With this new Silent Bass, Yamaha’s aim is clearly to develop an instrument that replicates the exact experience of playing a real double bass, with a clear view to reproducing its sound as closely as possible. Simultaneously, the SLB300 may also provide valuable solutions to some of the travel problems facing the modern player. Let’s unpack it and see.
My initial impressions upon first assembling and playing this bass acoustically were extremely positive. Constructing the bass straight out of the case is a very simple task – and yes, it can be done very quickly, depending on your environment. Can it be done in 30 seconds, as Yamaha claim? I was being very careful not to damage the instrument, so for me it was a minute or two.
The shoulder brace is the best I’ve come across on an EUB. Two side pieces that represent the upper bouts fold out and are fixed into place when bolted on at the top of the body. When this leans against you, this gives it a genuinely realistic feel, just like a double bass.
It feels completely stable, sitting perfectly with good balance. There is none of the feeling that you’re holding a long neck with no real sense of where the body is for reference. It also gives the correct playing tension under both the left and right hand, without you having to hold the bass in position – a rare and valuable asset.
The SLB has a very playable standard 41.75” string length. The neck feels good for all left-hand transitioning. I would like it to be a little thinner, but a luthier could easily fix this for me. The bass comes with standard machine heads, and although these are adequate, I would prefer a higher-quality alternative with finer gearing, such as an Irving Sloane product.
The end pin fits into the body at an angle, a great idea that stops rotation and makes the bass feel stable. It fixes into the bass with an adjustable tightener that goes straight onto the pin – it has no grooves into which to fix it, which is a slight concern.
As it’s the weakest point of any EUB, I would personally prefer an end pin with a denser mass in the metal that wouldn’t bend at the joint under stress, as I think this one may do over time.
Pin slipping is unlikely to happen on a jazz or classical gig, but were I to use it in my band Lamb, where I often move around energetically, putting extra pressure on the pin, this could be an issue. I would prefer to fix it into the bass in a way that completely avoids it loosening and slipping into the instrument.
On a practical note, the SLB has an easily accessible cavity for its AA batteries. We’re told to expect 26 to 32 hours of battery life, which seems quite short to me, so make sure you carry spares.
Sounds And Playability
On playing the bass acoustically, I was struck by its superb resonance. You can feel the notes through your body, and where other EUBs can often sound and feel simply like a giant electric fretless, this bass satisfies the desire for the feel of a real double bass.
The sound is greatly enhanced by a good-quality bridge and a decent, dense fingerboard. It has a full and rich low end thanks to an acoustic chamber that supplies a pleasingly loud body volume when unplugged. The bridge is adjustable, so setting up your desired action is quick and easy.
Plugged in, the bass uses a powered electronic system that simulates the sound of three different studio microphones. You can adjust your sound by selecting one of these and blending it with the treble and bass controls, giving you a wide range of tones for different musical situations. The blend can be adjusted between the direct pickup output, with no mic simulation to full microphone simulation.
Here, though, is where I found it difficult to achieve my desired tone when playing pizzicato. With the EQ set flat on my amp, I found the tones to be too nasal for my taste.
This is a common problem with EUBs: My feeling is that by using a combination of a high-quality preamp such as a Grace Felix and a different hybrid string such as Evah Pirazzi – rather than the D’Addario Helicores that this bass comes with – you would get a richer, woody amplified tone.
This bass bows extremely well, with an even sound in all registers across the full range of the fingerboard. I enjoyed experimenting with its natural sound by running it through various effects including reverb, delay, chorus, and sub-harmonics.
It tracked these well and could prove to be a great bass to use in louder electronic or rock bands. It would be interesting to see how well you could drive the sound through a big PA at larger venues and festivals.
As a substitute for an upright, the SLB300 would work well in both a classical and a jazz context. It feels outstanding in your hands and plays very much as a double bass should. Though a large investment, it is a very impressive leap forward in the progression of this type of instrument – and in some respects, it is the finest EUB I’ve played.
- PRICE: £3,499 street / $4,575 MSRP
- MADE IN: Japan
- COLOR: Brown
- BODY: Spruce and mahogany
- FRAME: Beech, detachable
- NECK: Maple, 41” scale
- FINGERBOARD: Rosewood
- PICKUP: Piezo
- CONTROLS: Volume, active treble and bass controls, bypass selector, blend control, mic type selector
- HARDWARE: Wormgear machine heads, reverse ebony tailpiece
- WEIGHT: 15 lb 14 oz
- CASE/GIG-BAG INCLUDED?: Yes, with mute and allen wrench
- CONTACT: Yamaha