Arguably the best starter basses available.
by Ron Zunino
The world teems with "so-called" starter basses costing around $200, but only their low price makes them suitable for this designation. Otherwise, most are completely wrong for the beginning bassist. When you're just starting out, the last thing you need is a bass that adds to your difficulties with inferior pickups, an imperfect neck, poorly dressed frets, and slipping tuners.
As a beginner you want an instrument that works for you, easily gets a good tone, and makes playing as natural as possible for fingers in training. Such an instrument will cost a little more, but will be more economical in the long run because you won't have to buy a better one to replace it in just a short time. It makes more sense to go for the step-up bass first. The better bass will make learning to play easier and more enjoyable so you'll learn faster.
RBX, the real bass experience
The new Yamaha RBX models, the RBX374 four-string and RBX375 five-string, make perfect basses for beginners. Admittedly, they are closer to the top of the affordable price range than to the bottom, but you get what you pay for. The real trick is to get more than you pay for, and with a Yamaha RBX bass, you do. Yamaha has always been known for solid, high-quality gear, and the new RBX374 four-string and RBX375 five-string will only add to this reputation.
They are well crafted of high-quality tone woods, fitted with very respectable electronics and quality hardware. They also have a distinctive style. Even an experienced player could choose one as his main axe, or the five-string as a second. For the beginner, an RBX will assist learning, not impede it.
Though I have had my hands on a number of Yamaha basses, I was unfamiliar with the RBX until this hands-on, but found it easy to like the moment I strapped on the four-string. It isn't an overly weighty bass but it does have a substantial feel—compact and comfortable. It is nicely balanced and stays level when you take your hands off.
I like to first play a bass unplugged to get an idea of its true character. The RBX374 proved to be lively and resonant, with snappy attack and good sustain, and the neck, though a little thicker than what I'm used to, was immediately hand and finger friendly. I did have to lower the action a little to suit my taste but the bridge adjusted quickly and smoothly.
The neck has a number of worthy points. First of all it is rock maple, which transfers vibrations well, and on the thick side which also contributes to resonance. It is two octaves or 24 frets in length and the very top ones are accessible. The frets are fat ones, which makes playing easier. They are well-dressed. The truss rod is also accessible without removing strings, which is a handy feature. The back of the neck has a flat black lacquer finish, which is unusual and a different look. I thought it might be some kind of graphite at first because it is so smooth. It allows the thumb to glide up and down very freely.
The 3-D headstock is another distinctive feature. It complements the sleek, contemporary body design, and also carries good quality tuners, something that many affordable basses lack. They work smoothly, have a good ratio, and are slanted back towards you to make tuning easier.
Nice tight body
The body on the RBX basses is made of premium alder, an excellent bass tone wood, and is given a thick lacquer finish (the two that Yamaha supplied me were metallic red and pretty flash). The body is relatively thick which is what you want for good tone and sustain, yet the instrument isn't especially heavy.
Sculpting around the edges keeps the weight down and makes it comfortable to rest your arm on. It also doesn't have a lot of wood beyond the bridge which makes it compact. When you're wearing it, it is nicely balanced—you can take your hands off without the neck heading for the floor. I like its overall design—sleek and modern.
Bridge, pickups, and electronics
The bridge is hunky - as a good bridge should be - and it's fully adjustable so you can dial in the intonation and raise or lower the action. The RBX374 I got was fine for intonation, but the action was higher than I like. I dug out the Allen wrench that comes with it and in a few minutes had it just right.
The pickups are where most economy basses let you down, but the RBX has two big fat humbuckers, double polepiece-style. They are good ones judging from their output and the individual polepieces can be adjusted. I especially liked one little feature of the pickups. The ends are scooped out to fit the end of your thumb. This really anchors your hand and will help the beginner learn to maintain proper hand position. Yamaha came up with this elegantly simple idea, and it's one of those things that makes you wonder why it wasn't thought of long ago.
In addition to good pickups, the RBX374 and 375 have active EQ circuitry. This means more output before distortion and tone knobs that change the sound more as you turn them and that allow boosting as well as cutting. You have to buy nine-volt batteries, but it makes for a better, brighter, and more tonally versatile bass. A little thing I like about the controls is that the volume knob is close to the strings so you can easily reach down with your little finger and tweak it without getting your hand completely out of position.
The sound of the pound
The important thing about any bass is how it all sounds and plays. After riffing for awhile, I found I liked the RBX's sound a lot, both for big, dense, deep clean bass tone and for a brighter, edgy rock tone. I could detect no weak notes or flat spots. It also has loads of sustain when you let notes ring.
All in all, the RBX374 and the RBX375 are cool axes that any bass player will find likable. Priced as low as they are, either one makes a fantastic bass for beginners, one that will make learning easy and one you won't soon out grow. For experienced players wanting to jump from four to five strings, the RBX375 offers an attractively easy way to make that move. I give the RBXs two thumbs up.