Ibanez is well known by many for their range of more affordable instruments. For others, the guitar juggernaut is also renowned for the boutique offerings from their custom shop in Japan, where players seeking added amenities to Ibanez templates can request whatever their hearts and ears desire. Over the last few years, the unhindered minds in the custom shop have collaborated with Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner, arguably one of the most creative bassists in modern music. His singular style and aesthetic unpredictability inspired Ibanez to develop an instrument with classic looks and contemporary components that would satisfy his sonic needs. Originally intended as a one-off signature instrument, Bruner’s growing popularity and the growing curiosity of gearheads encouraged Ibanez to release the TCB1006.
Maple is the wood of choice for the imposing hollowbody, with quilted for the top and curly for the back and sides. A substantial maple tone block stabilizes the body and transmits string vibrations. Equally large in stature is the TCB’s 5-piece maple and purpleheart set neck. A rosewood fretboard balances the brightness of the maple body while providing visual and sonic warmth. The bass is finished in a matte autumn leaf burst, and the binding, acrylic blocks, and gold Hipshot hardware are also nice decorative touches.
There are a wide variety of bass sounds in Thundercat’s music, which often incorporates effects. And the TCB’s electronics package provides him easy access to his tonal palette. A pair of EMG 45HZ humbuckers are at the core of the sonic command center and they’re controlled by the selector switch located on the upper bout of the body. Volume and tone are managed with the top two dials.
The lower pair of dials are a part of the Graph Tech Ghost modular pickup system. It’s a unique interface that manipulates the TCB’s magnetic and piezo pickups, and doubles as a MIDI controller. The aforementioned lower dials are assigned as volume controls—one for the piezo and one for MIDI. A trio of switches is the main control set of the system. The first switch acts like an input selector by toggling between MIDI-only mode, pickups and piezo (no MIDI), and a mix of all signals. In the center is the MIDI program switch, which allows efficient navigation of one’s effects. A piezo color switch rounds out the trio, and it transforms the piezo sound from a dark acoustic tone to a mid-friendly timbre that conveys more finger attack. (It should be noted that a 13-pin input jack for a player’s preferred MIDI device is located next to the 1/4" input jack.)
The Sword of Omens
Hopefully, I’ve made it clear that everything about the TCB is big. It was somewhat of a challenge to wrap my large hands around the wide neck when I first pulled the 13-pound beast from its case. While I did feel some initial trepidation wielding this mighty instrument, my concerns were alleviated by the TCB’s construction. Our bass had excellent balance and easily held its position, whether seated on my thigh or hung on a strap.
It did take a little time to adjust to the string spacing, but the fretboard design catered to the shape of my fretting hand and encouraged stress-free motion.
Not only did this allow me to focus on navigating the expansive terrain of the fretboard, but I could also incorporate a floating thumb technique with my plucking hand to suppress sympathetic string vibrations on the 6-stringed monster. Ibanez set up the instrument quite nicely, with low action and nearly flawless intonation.
Although the width of the neck was intimidating, its flat profile made it easy to move around the fretboard. It took a little time to adjust to the string spacing, but the fretboard design catered to the shape of my fretting hand and encouraged stress-free motion. The TCB came strung with flatwounds, which felt great and enhanced string shifting.
After some study of the TCB’s electronics, I plugged the bass into a Bergantino B|Amp pushing an HD112. This cat had a mighty roar, with thick tone and acoustic snap. The passive EMGs delivered stout mids and lows, and the tone control provided presence or warmth at the turn of the dial.
Combining the magnetic pickups with the piezo certainly expands the TCB’s tonal flavors. To my ears, the piezo’s mid setting worked best when using the piezo on its own, as the EQ setting conveyed the acoustic properties of the large-chambered body. I felt the dark EQ setting worked best with the EMGs engaged, finding that it gave bass notes a bigger foundation.
I took the TCB1006 to a songwriter show where its giant presence drew the eyes of many onstage and off. Teaming the bass with an Ampeg SVT made for a mighty pair—full sounding but not obnoxious. It supported the original music with authority. Soloing the bridge pickup while turning down the tone control and piezo volume made 16th-note runs punchy, which blended well with some of the more synth-friendly tunes. Meanwhile, ballads were dynamic and full with the piezo in dark mode and the neck pickup engaged. This configuration also made the TCB’s 6th string an absolute sonic stage-crusher by providing power and drama to the climaxes of a few songs. Despite a few “clunkers” that were a result of me not playing 6-string basses very often, I still found the TCB to be intuitive, with a beautiful hollowbody voice.
Allow me to cut the internet trolls off at the pass: Yes, the Thundercat bass is very big, very heavy, and very expensive. It also sounds great, looks beautiful, and represents the excellence of the top craftsmen at Ibanez. This is a signature bass—made to Mr. Bruner’s specifications—not designed to accommodate the physique of every player. That said, this versatile hollowbody could be a powerful tool for the professional bassist or the enthusiast unhindered by price.