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Upgrading Ibanez GWB35 - Worth it??

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by MoireBass, Oct 8, 2010.

  1. I've got one of those inexpensive Ibanez GWB35s and am trying to decide whether or not it's worth it to upgrade the electronics. There was a previous thread on this topic that was informative and useful, but hardly anyone posting had actually done the discussed mods and posted results - so I'd like to revive the topic for another go-round and see if there's more response.

    Bartolini makes three pickups that would fit w/o routing out a larger pickup cavity: the BC5CBC, the 72BC5C, and the XXBC5C, and each of these has a neck-pickup and bridge-pickup version. The BC5CBC has two coils around blades, the 72BC5C and XXBC5C have four coils. I guess the additional coils would give you the ability to wire two of the coils together in series to get a hum-cancelling single-coil pickup and then put two of those hum-canceling coils in parallel or series. You could even offset the coils similar to P-Bass pickups (the nice folks at the Bass Emporium pointed that out). The BC5CBC wouldn't have a hum-canceling single-coil option, but could be wired humbucking series or parallel. Which way would be better?

    Does anyone know what the difference between neck-pickup and bridge-pickup versions is? More windings in one? Are they 'voiced' differently? The pickup position on the GWBs is about where a bridge pickup would be positioned. On the other hand, wouldn't you generally want a bassier pickup if your only pickup is close to the bridge, to compensate?

    Replacing the pickup and preamp w/ Bartos for the GWB35 would add something like $240 (assuming NTBT-918 preamp) to the $780 original cost (plus eventually a HS case). There are stories around of poor quality control on the GWB35s, but I seem to have gotten one of the relatively good ones, action and playability are really nice. But it still is a cheap basswood body, not the ash body of the GWB1/GWB105/GWB1005s. Is it silly to put that much money into upgrading such a cheaply-built bass? Should I just try to get by, and maybe eventually buy one of the used GWB1s that occasionally pop up, then try to sell the GWB35? I've never played GWB1/GWB105/GWB1005, but body wood can make a big difference in sound. Even if I were to somehow obtain one of the Willis-special Barto pickups, the bass still wouldn't be a GWB1 (though it'd be closer). I think GWB105s and GWB1005s are going to be out of my budget range for the forseeable future, though.

    Thoughts? Opinions?
  2. danomite64


    Nov 16, 2004
    Tampa, Florida
    I have an old basswood SR800 that I just put Barts in and the NTNB-918 preamp in, and it really improved the tone. I say go for it.
  3. Thanks for the input.

    I was kinda hoping to get some response from people who have done this exact upgrade, with this exact Bartolini pickup, as to how much improvement they heard (or didn't hear). And maybe even how they wired it.

    Anyway, I found a good deal on a new Barto NTBT-918 on eBay and will go ahead and install that soon. There's a lot less chance of getting a great deal on the pickup though, I'll probably just have to special-order that. Gary Willis broadly hints on his website that the Ibanez preamp is comparatively worse than the Ibanez pickup anyway.
    Oh well, looks like I'm committed to a plan of action, hope it works out OK.....
  4. A "This thread needs some attention" bump.....
  5. darkstorm


    Oct 13, 2009
    After looking at one available thru MF to see what the model has etc. And its price. Good grief, if your wanting Barts you can easilly afford to get one of the Ibanez SR models that have barts for that price. Why not go that route instead?
  6. Because I've got one of the GWB35s now and because it's always seemed like this bass is just really close to being a really sweet bass, but is missing something.

    This bass sits on the multi-stand for months at a time without being played. Then I'll pick it up and play around on it without plugging it in and it seems great. The sound vibrating through my belly sounds/feels good and like the bass should sound great, it's very comfortable to play, nicely ergonomic, smooth low action, the Ebanol seems an OK material. The ramp isn't so much to me - I can keep from digging in w/o the ramp. I think "Wow! This is a GREAT bass! Why don't I play it more??" and then I plug it in and am immediately disappointed in the tone. The bass just seems like it's just *almost* a really nice bass, but that the nice vibrations aren't being captured and sent to the output jack...

    I'm not really familiar w/ the Ibanez SR series, the only one I've played was on the floor at a NAMM show, not a good place to evaluate an instrument. They seemed pretty good. I'm not sure though that looking at the list of features really gives someone a good feel for what is so nice about this kinda odd little signature bass. Gary Willis is a great bassist, very knowledgeable, has strong opinions about how a bass should be designed, and the upscale GWBs represent what he thinks is the world's best-designed bass. The three-lobe tuners and the dual lower strap buttons are true steps forward. I'd rather have a GWB1, but that's not economically possible for awhile at least - I'm just wondering if it's worth the time and money to put a better pickup and electronics into this down-scale bass or if I'll still be unhappy w/ it $200 later.....
  7. raymondl3


    Dec 10, 2007
    I've owned the GWB-1 for 10 years. It's such a great bass, I would save the money and get the new model or look for a lightly used GWB-1. It's worth it.
  8. dmonroe


    Jun 16, 2010
    Augusta, GA
    Well said. Pretty much exactly what I think of mine. Interested in the results of this and of others thoughts on the matter. Subscribed
  9. trowaclown


    Feb 26, 2008
    +1 on the GWB1. I love mine and it's cheap second hand, compared to how much they're asking for the GWB1005s now.

    On the other hand, it'd help to stop looking at the GWB35 as a compromise. I mean, basswood isn't 'cheap' per se. It has worked in so many guitars and basses, even the high end ones like the musicman bongo, so you gotta stop looking at it as a pariah wood.

    See the GWB35 for what it is: a unique instrument that has features many other basses don't have, such as a ramp with adjustable screws (the GWB1 doesn't have that, by the way), a thin and narrow neck with 16.5mm string spacing, special tuners and a good lined ebanol fingerboard. It's not 'cheap' in my opinion, certainly. It's a good value for money bass that a little further investment could turn into something great.
    BlueAliceOasis likes this.
  10. jcrobso


    Dec 9, 2009
    I also have one, but at close $700 I would not call it inexpensive.
    Yes, the tone controls suck and are noisy. Yes, it would be nice to read about some one who has done an upgrade. I'll check out the pickup and pre amps.
  11. raymondl3


    Dec 10, 2007
    Although the new model is suppose to be high end in terms of craftsmanship/construction, the GWB-1's construction is the high end of mid-priced IMO. I've never had any trouble with it. The neck is stable but not extremely so. Still, I'd imagine the construction and parts are of a higher quality than the 35. The main point I want to make is the pickup for the GWB-1 / 1005 is a big percentage of the sound. To get that on the 35 would mean routing and I wonder if it would be worth for you. The bridge is also a big contributor. I once tried a Shaller and was surprised how thin the tone was. Plus the ebony board will sound better. Phenolic is overrated and not as durable as some people think.
  12. trowaclown


    Feb 26, 2008
    The pickup rout for the GWB35 is wider than both the GWB1 and GWB1005. It's not radiused as well, which I feel is the biggest plus on these models, since the player will have a consistent surface from ramp to pickup. So changing the pickup to the highend model will leave you with gaps on both sides.

    @raymondl3: How is ebony any better than phenolic soundwise? I never thought much about my ebony board actually, and I remember Willis saying that the phenolic board stands up to abuse better.
  13. raymondl3


    Dec 10, 2007
    I'll retract that statement because I haven't played the 1005, but here's an article on phenolic boards:
    BTW good luck finding the pickup for the gwb-1 / 1005. I've been looking for ages.
  14. trowaclown


    Feb 26, 2008
    Yeah it's virtually impossible to. A more appropirate solution is to order a custom pickup from a suitable maker, in a custom shell that is radiused.
  15. Beta


    May 9, 2007
    I did the upgrade three years ago. I was, and remain, pleased with the results.

    This is all you need to consider:

    1) Do you like and enjoy playing the bass? Seriously, forget all the other rubbish and answer that question alone. If the answer is yes:

    2) Do you think upgrading the electronics will achieve your sonic goal for the instrument?

    All the tl;dr stuff:

    I installed the BC5CBC bridge (and you want the bridge version, if applicable, of any of the pickups) and a NTBT.

    You will NOT get the same sound as Jaco or Willis out of these pickups. Willis wanted a single-coil sound in a hum-canceling pickup. The Bart custom is not a traditional humbucker. From what I've read, it has a separate coil with two pole pieces for each string. The one in my GWB2 sure sounds more like a single-coil than a humbucker.

    Someone asked Willis in his column in Bass Musician about upgrading the pickup/preamp in the GWB35. Willis said he didn't know of anything that would fit. Well, I'm the guy that emailed him and told him about the BC series pickups. (It was some time early last year, and is probably not archived because I couldn't find it on Bass Musician's site.)

    Part of his reply to me was that you'd "lose the single coil aperture" sound. I don't care about that. I don't like that sound anyway.

    I tend to believe that if you upgraded only the preamp, you might still be happy with the results. The main complaint I've heard, and experienced for myself, is that the stock electronics don't have enough output and sound small/thin/weak. The NTBT has a gain trim pot on it, and that fixes your output problem right there.

    As for the phenolic board, I can't compare it to ebony (never owned a fretless with an ebony board). I just got mine planed a couple of months ago, after three years. I'm a fairly heavy fretter. Marks on it are easily seen because they are a slightly different, lighter color than the unmarked board.

    Search here for other threads on the topic. There have been quite a few.
  16. Oh, I'd definitively be willing to route, or leave gaps around the pickup, if I could get one of the GWB1/GWB105/GWB1005 pickups - or any pickup that I thought would sound great there. The GWB1* pickups are Not Available from Bartolini and only available from Ibanez as replacement for damaged ones though, I tried.

    The radiusing of the pickup coils seems like a good idea to make the response more even, but manufacturers like Barto use blades that are arced to match the fingerboard radius, and flat-top pickups are the norm today. The Ibanez pickup in there right now sure looks flat. This alone doesn't explain why this bass is so unsatisfying to play.

    Same with the Ebonol fingerboard. The GWB1005s use it, so while i think i'd probably still prefer ebony, the Ebonol by itself doesn't explain why the GWB35 so misses the mark.

    The neck is the same on the GWB35 and the GWB1, a three-piece maple laminate, identical dimensions. The remaining differences between the two models are the bridge, the pickup, the preamp, the body material, and of course personal attention & quality control.

    Don't know enough about basswood to have a opinion either way really, did assume that it must be inexpensive since there seem to be a low of low-end guitars and basses using it. Didn't know that the Bongo is basswood, but the folks at Ernie Ball are pretty sharp (the SUB basses are great for the cost MIA).

    There's a whole lot I like about the GWB35, and upgrading the electronics is easy enough. Changing the bridge is a little harder, but if the bridge is the problem, could do that. It's even possible to pay a luthier to carve a new body out of ash or some other wood, but that seems a bit silly.
  17. I like playing the bass unplugged, and do not enjoy playing it amplified.

    Don't know. The sound of the bass transmitted through my stomach (aka a gut feeling) seems to hint that the problem with the sound of this bass isn't the body. Maybe the bridge is also part of the problem.

    Overall, I like the instrument enough that I want to stay with a GWB for my main fretless, either upgrading this one and/or eventually buying a used GWB1.

    Thanks VERY much for your insight.
    I'm OK with it not sounding like Willis or Jaco, I just want it sound good enough to be fun to play, and to be useful on a gig. I believe the Willis pickup is five individual coils (w/ narrow aperture) wired in a humbucking configuration, with the coils progressively staggered so that the G coil is 1/2" or so further from the bridge than the B coil. Is that right?

    I prefer single-coil pickups, so I guess I like the narrow aperture. The Bartolini XXBC5C has four coils, so it could probably be wired in a single-coil, narrow-aperture humbucking configuration so that the B, E, and A strings were covered by one coil, and the D and G strings by a second coil (half an inch further from the bridge) to get some of the same tonal compensation.

    Oh, saw your email, or one very much like it, in the archives on his OLD website. Jan or Feb 2009 maybe? That was the very letter that got me thinking that maybe this bass was resurrectable after all.

    You could be right about that, and Willis kind of hinted that the Ibanez preamp was comparatively worse than the Ibanez pickup. The problem is not just the output volume though, if it was, could just turn up the amp and get a good sound. The Ibanez preamp may be rolling off the low end and the high end, but it isn't only lack o' volume that makes it sound wimpy.....

    Did search, and possibly missed some threads, but only found one real good thread on this and it didn't answer all my questions. Include or PM me some thread pointers if I'm missing some relevant ones, please.

    Did you change out the bridge as well?
  18. Beta


    May 9, 2007
    I don't know that the stagger of the coils on the GWB custom pickup place them that much farther from the bridge. They'd have to be pretty small coils if that was the case, and how would you get enough wire around them for reasonable output?

    I did not change out the bridge. I'm fine with it.

    Willis' reply to my email was from April of last year, so I guess the column was probably either Feb. or March.
  19. Ahh, I misremembered, sorry, my apologies. Here's the video:


    About 40% in, Willis talks about how Bartolini changed the coils to compensate for the curve of the pickup, then next he talks about how the 'sensing points' for each string are staggered across the pickup for a total offset of 5 mm. 'Sensing points' would likely mean the center of the magnets, not the center of the coils. I mixed up two different facts, oops.

    [And the video is a reminder that I'll never sound like Willis, even if playing his bass through his amp, sitting on his stool - with him coaching! :( ]

    Glad this thread is getting some good discussion.

    Beta, at this point, you're the pioneer with most experience. Did you upgrade your preamp and pickup at the same time?
    If you were to do it again, would you go with the same pickup, or maybe something else? Thanks.
  20. Beta


    May 9, 2007
    I did change both at the same time. Were I to do it again, I'd probably go with a 72BC5C, but, again, I'm satisfied with the choice I made.
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