Sunday, May 25, 2008

UPDATED: Yamaha RBX 375: Is it really that cheap?

This whole fiasco is updated-the RBX 375 failed me and went back. Read here for more info. The upshot: buyer beware.

George Bush bought me a bass. Well, sort of. The economic stimlulus money burned a hole through my pocket, and I happened to be standing near a Yamaha RBX 375 bass when it did. Good thing; I like it! (Special Thanks to Tod Eliot at Washington Music Center for his imcomparable help with this purchase.)

The RBX 375 is a 5-string bass, in Yamaha's cheapie RBX line. The upside is that the bass is on par with anything out there. The neck is very nice, featuring wider fretboard dimensions, for those of us who like that (I play fast as all get-out on wider necks; go figure). Sound is clear and strong. Fit and finish are good; however, only 3 colors are available: Black, red and silver, the last having a cheap look, to my eye. I wish they made a satin black finish, like the finish Yamaha puts on the back of the neck; that would be cool!

The RBX 375's sound is deep and powerful; the neck pickup has a decidedly P-bass tone (a good thing). The active electronics work well, with the frequency locations for the treble and bass well-positioned. To my ear, the low frequency Q is lower, and the high frequency Q higher than comparable basses. Again, that's a good thing, because it leaves the midrange more or less alone, allowing one to adjust the tone well using only two active tone sections. Other controls are master volume and pickup balance.

Overall, the RBX 375 is not really so much a great value, but a really good bass at any price up to about $1000; yes, it competes favorably in that category. The fact that it's less than half that price is really astounding. How does Yamaha do it? Now for the downside: It's made in China.

I guess Chinese-made things are just part of life now, and we have to accept it. But we don't have to like it, considering the negative impact on overall global economics, and especially local prices of pretty much everything. Allow me to diverge:

By the time you read this post, gasoline prices in the US will be around $4 per gallon. People with no economics background will mistakenly blame greedy oil producers for the price rise. In actuality, it's the speculation taking place in the oil futures market that's causing the price increase. The speculation is taking place because, as China becomes more and more of an industrial powerhouse, and as more of the Chinese population forms its budding middle class (meaning they can afford things like cars), the thinking among speculators is that oil even at the record-breaking price of $135 per barrel will be cheap compared to that in the coming months and years. The trading price increases, actual price goes up with that, and voila - unprecedented oil/gasoline/energy price inflation. I'll reserve comment on this being a self-fulfilling development, caused by the traders themselves.

It's all happening because we want cheap goods. I've said before about this: pay now or pay later. We're in a pay later mode.

Doing the math, I can buy a $1000 bass made in China for $400, saving me $600 right now. Then pay an extra $200 per month for gasoline, which eats up the savings in three months, then starts to drain my wallet quickly. Or I can pay $1000 for a $1000 bass, save the $200 per month, and then save serious cash in gasoline over the life of the bass. Using these numbers, I'll be saving $2400 per year, all by paying the proper price for something made in my own country. If the bass has a useful life of 10 years, it actually costs me more like $24,000 for the cheap bass.

This is a very simplified example, because the actual monetary impact will save even more money; things like an increase in local jobs and the impact on transportation costs (which also affect food prices) are not accounted for here. But you get the idea.

Well, we live in the now, and it is what it is. The RBX 375 is a really nice bass, and I'm enjoying playing it in my house. I play it at home because I can't afford gas to get to the gigs.

UPDATE: After mortgaging my house for a tank of gas, I played a gig yesterday using the RBX 375 through a SansAmp Bass Driver DI and Ashdown C115-300. Really nice rig. It sounds like bass (not guitar-esque as many modern basses do), with deep lows and defined midrange. The high end is not mentioned because the amp doesn't really do crisp top end well, so that will remain for another day. Overall, however, the bass played well, with a fast, comfortable action. It even garned a compliment from my keyboard player. Of course, the amp ws immediately behind him, so perhaps we was afraid of what I would do with the volume if he said bad things. Nevertheless, the bass performed well and felt good.

Of course, all was not pefect. In the Harry is Sometimes Stupid Department, in the second set I was having immense trouble getting a sound; I was losing volume, it seemed distortion was increasing, and the punch had gone from the sound - all signs that the battery might be dying. On break, I discovered that, in my mind, I had reversed the locations of the active bass and treble controls; when I thought I was turning down high end, I was actually turning down the low. So the problem was fixed with a simple turn of the knob. Sheesh. In defense of myself, my prior main bass, a Spector, had these controls reversed from the Yamaha. So there.

Ok, Play on...

Zebron and James