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A first look at the BB714BS

Published: Wed June 25, 2008  News Feed

When the world’s biggest musical instrument manufacturer teams up with the hottest rock bass player on the planet, you know something pretty special’s going to come out of it. Yamaha’s latest bass, the new BB714BS Billy Sheehan signature model, is the outcome of just that partnership….

With a credit list that includes Mr Big, David Lee Roth, Steve Vai and G3, 5 Guitar Player ‘Best Rock Bassist’ awards and a place in Guitar Player’s ‘Hall of Fame’ alongside Eddie Van Halen and Jimi Hendrix, Billy Sheehan is the undisputed king of rock bass.

With a formidable technique and a unique sound, the demands on his basses are pretty extreme too with his longtime instrument of choice being the Yamaha Attitude, designed by Yamaha and Billy and complete with a number of custom features including scalloped frets, stereo outputs and a unique neck joint designed to cope with Billy’s extreme playing style. Unsurprisingly, maybe, and in no small part down to the fact that one of Billy’s original demands being that the bass he played would be the bass fans could buy (other than a very small wiring mod, Billy’s stage basses are just as they come off the production line), the Attitude also comes with a long waiting list and a suitably pro pricetag - £1365rrp.

Wanting to make the unique and hugely usable sounds from the Attitude (mostly due to the inclusion of a custom wound woofer pickup at the neck) available to a wider range of bass players, Billy and Yamaha worked together to create a new model which distilled the key specifications from the Attitude bass, keeping the personality intact, but removing some of the specialist features that make the Attitude hard, and expensive, to make. The result, the BB714BS, does just that and, it has to be said, with some serious style.

Designed by Billy and Yamaha’s Hollywood-based custom shop, the new model is based on the current BB series, the shape Billy played when he joined Yamaha in 1983. Adding a custom-wound woofer pickup to the regular model’s split single coil pickup together with redesigned and repositioned controls and a solid brass bridge, the key elements of the Attitude sound are all present and correct. Billy’s latest choice of finishes is shared by both the Attitude and BB models too, classic black and the all new, custom-mixed Lava Red, so the look is just so but the big question is, how does it perform?

BB714

The answer, which comes as no great surprise, is extremely well. Using just the regular split pickup, this latest BB sounds pretty much like a regular Yamaha BB bass – punchy, full and powerful – nicely ready for a modern rock sound with a touch of classic bass grind. Winding the woofer pickup in changes things pretty drastically though and brings us straight into Sheehan territory, complete with round, driving low end and more than enough gain to push any amp into overdrive if desired. A design based on the huge neck humbuckers used in classic 1960s basses, the big pickup’s tone is a fat, dark, low-end centered sound that warms the edges of the single coil nicely making a solid state amp sound thick and rich and pushing a valve amp right towards some serious overdrive if you should so desire. Pull the tone control out and the hi-cut circuit is engaged, scooping most of the high frequencies from the sound and resulting in a huge wall of bass more than big enough to sit right in the middle of the most demanding rhythm section. Just the job for the next Steve Vai gig then…

One thing’s clear though - this is no ordinary bass. Beneath a reasonably mild-mannered vintage reissue exterior lies the beating heart of a seriously powerful, versatile instrument. Because, you see, this is not your usual signature model. It may be very firmly built to a spec that is one person’s vision, but it’s as far from a one-trick horse as is possible. Of course, players wanting to emulate Billy Sheehan’s sound will be more than satisfied, but the BB714BS has appeal far wider than that and will find a happy home with many a funk, blues, jazz, soul and fusion player. Few and far between are the basses that combine the ideal balance of modern and ultra-vintage sounds but here is one of them – wind in that woofer pickup and you’ll soon believe too.

The BB714BS has all of the things that you’d expect from a Yamaha BB – solid alder body, gig-ready setup and great hardware - and a couple of things you might not, most notably that pickup and those controls.

And regardless of what anyone else says, if Billy Sheehan’s signed off on it, it’s got to be good. After all, he knows a thing or two about basses…

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