My first bass that I ever owned was an Ibanez which I picked up second hand. Even then, I couldn’t believe how well it played for the price.
Times have moved on and the Ibanez GSR200 series includes an even better set of features compared to their older models, which is impressive to say the least.
You might expect that a bass guitar in this price range might be weaker in its construction but the build quality is on par with more expensive models, and the sound quality is not bad either.
The active bass boost is a nice touch too, although it can be a little too much for most applications. Adding in a touch of boost every now and then does certainly expand the sound profile.
How does it stack up against the best bass guitars out there? It’s not bad considering the price tag.
To get a better idea of all the good and bad features included on this highly popular Ibanez series, let’s take a closer look at the nuts and bolts.
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Ibanez GSR200SM 4-String Electric Bass Guitar
The solid mahogany body is a good base (pun slightly intended) to give you a warmer, vibrant tone and decent low end punch.
The natural wood grain finish and glossy paint job really stands out with the colors fading into black on the borders, so it certainly wins in the beauty department.
Ibanez are renowned for their sleek body designs and even at the low price range, the GSR200SM doesn’t disappoint.
The double cutaway is especially useful as it gives easy access to the higher frets which helps. The objective overall is to have something that won’t break your back or leave your arms reaching for the strings, and Ibanez always seem to get it right.
I do wish there was a pick guard with this bass, but we can’t get Filet Mignon dreams on a USDA Choice budget now, can we?
Neck and Headstock
The majority of bass necks are made from Maple which is great performing wood on both tone and strength.
Over the top is a Jatoba fretboard which is becoming more popular with instrument makers as a sustainable replacement for rosewood. The tonal characteristics are similar, and in this case works nicely when combined with the Mahogany body.
The overall neck finish is pretty good, no excessively sharp frets to speak of which is rare in a guitar within this price range. The medium-sized frets should give beginners a good space to learn how to easily fret notes too.
On the technical side, you get a slightly wider octave range with a total of 22 frets end to end. The length is a standard fullscale 34” size with an easy-to-adjust truss rod.
The Ibanez GSR200SM comes with two pickups in a Precision Jazz (PJ) configuration. It’s a relatively simple design which is found on beginner and advanced bass guitar models.
As you may expect, the quality and dynamic range of budget range pickups is nothing to get excited about, but they do a decent job.
Both pickups are passive with a split coil on the neck and single coil on the bridge. Passive pickups are known to produce a slightly more vintage tone, but adding in the active Bass Boost EQ punches up the low end significantly.
Do these pickups do a good job? Yes, for the most part. Having a solid wood frame from the get go is the main advantage, you can always swap out pickups later on for something more high end.
But do you have to? Not really.
Robert Smith of the Cure famously purchased a Fender Jazzmaster and decided to replace one of the pickups with one from his old Woolworths Top 20 guitar that he got when he was a teenager.
Needless to say, his manager (Chris Parry) was perplexed at Smith’s idea of using a dodgy dirt cheap pickup but if you look at The Cure’s success in the 80’s, it just shows that it doesn’t matter what you use but how you use it.
Phat II Bass Boost and Hardware
The main talking point on this model is the Phat II bass boost EQ. Turning this knob up full blast does serve a limited purpose, it’s nice to experiment with especially for more aggressive music styles but works better in small doses overall.
You also have two volume knobs for the individual pickups which gives you the option to blend bridge and neck individually or together. The last knob controls the master tone which adds treble for more clarity and brightness.
The tuner pegs on the headstock are a bit flimsy when trying to make micro adjustments, and the bridge is also not the best quality. But for an inexpensive bass, you’d expect some imperfections.
It’s certainly not going to get in the way of your playing, it just may be something you consider upgrading at a later stage if you want a more stable tuning.
Overall, it’s a simple configuration which appeals to those who are just starting out.
How Does it feel to play?
The Ibanez GSR200 series as a whole gets a ton of good feedback and positive reviews online. It’s also one of the best selling beginner bass guitars on the market, which does signal that there is a lot to love about how this bass guitar plays.
In terms of handling, this is a surprisingly lightweight model (it weighs around ten pounds) which is great for beginners, unless that beginner is Arnold Schwarzeneggar, whom I would imagine would start off with a Fender VI Bass made from solid gold.
As with all bass guitars, if the setup needs a little tweaking to get the perfect balance on the action (string height), it’s easy enough to adjust the bridge saddles. If you’re not confident in making adjustments, you could always pop over to a local music shop to get a tune up to fit your playing style.
Overall, this is an easy bass guitar to get along on the neck, the body shape is comfortable and it won’t break your back or bank account either.
How good is the sound quality?
You can have a Ferrari bass but still have a Yugo sound and nobody wants that! Overall, the GSR200 series falls more towards the former than the latter in the sound spectrum. It’s capable of producing a decent range of tone and punchy-ness.
Passive pickups can potentially produce more noise at high volumes, this is just the reality of passive pickups. Humbucker pickups are designed to cancel out that high gain hum but it’s not a dealbreaker by any measure.
If you plan on doing some recording, balancing the input gain keeps the noise down for a cleaner signal.
Overall, it’s not perfect in every way but it’s a strong platform to begin with. Improving the sound is not too hard to do if you fancy modifying the electronics further down the line.
How does the Ibanez GSR200SM compare?
There are a lot of interesting entry level bass guitars out there, here are two more you could look at which have some interesting features.
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Yamaha TRBX304 4 String Electric Bass Guitar
The Yamaha TRX304 is somewhat of a surprise all round in both tone and construction.
It’s not the cheapest model but includes a few extra components normally only found on the higher budget range bass guitars.
The pickups are a pair of noiseless humbuckers powered by a 2-band EQ and includes a clever preset switch which automatically selects the best sound profile for different techniques.
Overall, if you have a little more budget available or willing to save a little longer, the TRBX is certainly worth taking a closer look.
Squier Affinity 4 string Jazz Bass Guitar
Fender’s Affinity Jazz bass guitars are another reputable brand and series which does a great job on both tone and playability.
Compared to the Ibanez GSR200SM, the styling is a lot simpler with those trademarked Fender looks, while the pickups and tone controllers are also kept in line with the original passive, simple design.
The body, neck and hardware are all pretty good quality, the neck is easy to play and sounds good too.
The positive with standard dimension pickups is the option to upgrade later, if you fancy taking on a DIY project to make subtle improvements.
If you add up all the positive feedback Ibanez have gathered over the years, the Ibanez GSR200SM is clearly a popular option for beginners who are looking to get started.
It’s certainly possible to spend a bit more and get a few more flashy features, but the line between budget and expensive bass guitars is becoming more and more blurred as we go on.
What this bass definitely has going on is it’s good looks, and it feels good to play. Bolting on some finer quality components when you’re ready for a change is an easy project, and you’ll end up with a completely unique instrument too.