REVIEW: Ernie Ball Music Man Bongo bass

The Ernie Ball Music Man Bongo 4 bass is weird. If you’re used to more vintage-style basses, or even the legendary EBMM StingRay and Sterling models, the Bongo probably looks like it’s from outer space. It has an odd shape, unusual bevelling, a rather unique headstock… but as we’ve seen amply demonstrated time and again, Ernie Ball Music Man doesn’t make bad instruments, and they don’t make derivative instruments – everything they do has a purpose and a philosophy. And while the Bongo may have to fight extra-hard to win over some players due to the sheer force of its originality, you know before you even open the case that you’re in for something pretty interesting whenever you pick up an EBMM.

The Bongo 4 starts with a basswood body. Often used in hard rock and metal guitars, basswood has a relatively even tone with tight bass, and it tends to smooth over the edges of playing dynamics to a degree, which makes it especially prized by shredders who need even volume from note to note when playing at a bazillion miles an hour. The body is finished in high-gloss polyester, which will further even out the corners of the tone and dynamics if my limited understanding of physics is anything to go by.

The neck is made of select maple with a rosewood fretboard (Pau Ferro is available with or without inlaid fret lines on the fretless version, while Ebony is available on the Stealth fretted and fretless versions). The neck is painted the same as the body but it has a satiny, silky feel compared to the body’s gloss. The frets are high and wide, and there are 24 of them. The nut is EBMM’s very clever intonation-compensated variety, and the tuners are Schaller BMs with tapered string posts. The neck attaches to the body via a five-bolt system for perfect alignment with no shifting, while a sculpted neck joint provides easy access to the highest frets.

The pickups are a pair of humbuckers with Neodymium magnets, although there are other options available: a single humbucker all on its lonesome, or a humbucker in the rear position and a single coil at the front, also with a Neodymium magnet. A piezo option is also available for those who wish to gear clear acoustic-like tones directly from the bridge saddles. Controls include a four-band active preamp (volume, pickup balance, treble, high mid, low mid, bass). The single-pickup version does away with the two mid controls in favour of a single midrange pot.

The Bongo sounds very clean and precise. It’s ideal for styles such as prog metal, hard rock, pop, and modern R&B of the club/dance variety. There’s a crispness and evenness to the attack and tone which makes it very controllable, and it sits particularly nicely in a mix where you need plenty of low-end clarity. It works great with distortion, so metal players will love it, especially when using the midrange controls to fine-tune exactly where the tone pokes through or hangs back. This is great for solos, by the way. The Bongo 4 might not be the best choice for those who need a little bit of vintage unpredictability around the edges of their tone, such as 60s-style R&B or modern stoner rock or what have you, but for the things it does well, it does them amazingly. And the sustain has to be heard to be believed.

So the Ernie Ball Music Man Bongo 4 isn’t for everyone. It’s not going to sound dirty enough for some players, but there’s plenty of control and definition for others, and sound engineers will love its listener-friendly approach to tone.