I often gig the bar scene and prefer to bring only inexpensive basses with me so I don't have to worry about wear and tear, damage, or theft. Last year my cheap workhorse bass finally died so I began looking for a low cost replacement in the $300 range.
On the recommendation of several musician friends I ordered an Ibanez GSR200 online though I was a bit leery of the $200 price tag. I was skeptical that an electric bass of any worthwhile quality could be produced that cheaply. But my curiosity overcame caution and I wanted to see for myself if I could be satisfied making an entry level instrument my main gigging bass.
When the bass arrived, I put a fresh set of my favorite steel rounds on it and started playing.
Cosmetically, the finish was well done. The tinted clear was polished fairly smooth and flat, allowing the woodgrain to show to advantage and I didn't notice any defects.
Right away, I discovered it needed a lot of adjustment to be playable. I gave it a thorough setup and the bridge especially was way off. Once neck and bridge were set correctly, I found the pickups themselves weren't level and required removal and the addition of some sturdy foam underneath to get them so sit properly.
Once satisfied with the setup, I put the bass through a workout using my normal home practice routine of plugging into my bass DI/preamp to mixer board, then studio headphones.
I was actually amazed at how easily playable if was and how good it sounded. The P pickup was just what you'd expect from a P. A versatile and pleasantly neutral tone that can be used on most any song with no fuss. The J pickup actually sounded quite similar to the stock, non American J tone, which is also fairly neutral, but with the signature midrange bite that they're known for.
Both pickups together yielded the familiar and easily identifiable PJ sound. I was half expecting some harshness or dullness from the pickups in a bass that costs little more in its entirety than a typical set of aftermarket replacement pickups like DiMarzio or EMG.
These Ibanez pickups have an active preamp powered by an onboard 9v battery and there is a tone control that boosts the bass and treble, which results in that "scooped" tone. It's not a sound I want, although that's really a matter of personal preference and others may like it.
One thing I noticed after more extensive playing on the GSR200, is the J pickup is extremely sensitive to EM interference and just about anything nearby will cause obnoxious levels of hum in the signal. The P pickup is virtually silent and I've found that there have been gigs I've played where EM noise from stage lights or other equipment makes the J completely unusable, but the P is just fine. I haven't gotten around to trying to add shielding to the pickup cavity but since I intend to replace the entire set of pickups and electronics with EMG's in the very near future, I probably won't bother.
A few more observations: the headstock is tilt back, with a scarf joint, which I like, and the neck is very comfortable and plays fast and easy. Intonation is remarkably precise and I'm able to set the neck for very low action without buzzing anywhere.
Not so good, though, is the fret finishing work on the on last few frets, closest to the heel. The ends actually stick out a very tiny amount and they're very sharp. I actually cut my finger on the last one and had to take a file to make them flush. I guess this is where the corners are cut to make a bass for $200.
One further quibble is that after some amount of playing time (I've accepted this as my new, main workhorse bass), I've needed to remove the control plate and tighten up the nuts on all four pots because every one of them loosened up and started wobbling around. Not a big deal, and I imagine they won't loosen up again, but you'd think they would have torqued them down properly in the factory.
In summary, I'm astounded that Ibanez can produce this instrument to be so playable and so nice sounding for such low cost. It's not without flaws (the intermittently noisy J pickup is a significant one) but I'm satisfied enough to be comfortable playing full shows with it.
It's not a fair comparison to expect quality and features found on instruments that cost more than twice as much, but the Ivabez GSR200 has proved itself to me that a cheap, entry level bass can deliver respectable performance in real working conditions.