Unique. Powerful. Boundary Pushing. These are some of the terms used to describe the Ernie Ball Music Man Bongo bass. From the headstock on down to the input jack, Bongo basses are plainly a different breed from your average bass guitar. Beyond the esoteric design, however, lies a story you may not know.
By the early 2000s, Ernie Ball Music Man company president Sterling Ball was looking to take what he had learned about making bass guitars and subvert all the rules. Not content with the long running successes of the flagship StingRay, Sterling, and StingRay5 basses it was time to see what else could be done with the electric bass.
It all started with the idea to implement the following criteria: A bass that could incorporate modern advances in electronics, a lightweight and balanced body with enhanced ergonomics, and construction using resonant, beautiful sounding tone woods.
Through a chance encounter, Sterling was able to team up with BMW’s Designworks group, a division of BMW that works outside of car manufacture to inspire and create new out of the box concepts. Designworks has developed products as wide ranging as gaming laptop computers to outboard boat motors to public transit systems. Helping to design a bass was a project they were exceptionally passionate about.
In the past Sterling has said that his desire in guitar and bass building was to understand and control resonance. For years guitar makers and players were convinced that heavy and dense woods like mahogany provided the best tone, but here at EBMM we decided to question the conventional wisdom.
After extensive testing with Designworks with nearly every type of commonly used wood, it was discovered that – surprisingly – the most resonant wood was a new product made of compressed wheat. The only problem was that it sounded terrible. Within the range of instrument woods it was found that basswood provided the best balance of tonal qualities, resonance, and sustain. The Bongo was also the first Ernie Ball Music Man instrument to feature the patented compensated nut, now standard across all of our guitars and basses.
The most recognizable part of the Bongo is without a doubt the body shape, but you may be surprised to know that the body design we’ve all come to know is far more conventional than some of the ideas that were thrown around. Designs and drawings provided by Designworks range from fairly standard to almost alien. One potential design involved a body shape that would wrap around the player’s body in order to eliminate the use of a strap completely.
Next was the design of the preamp and pickups. The Bongo would go on to be the first bass to use both neodymium pickups and an 18v preamp. The Neodymium pickup magnets would provide the bass with a quick response, and represent the full spectrum of tones, giving a balanced and rounded sound. However, In order to deal with the extra output of the neodymium pickups the Bongo would need to have an 18v preamp to provide extra balance to the dynamics and allow for greater headroom.
Once all these elements came together, the Bongo was officially released in 2003. By now the Bongo has been on the market for nearly 15 years, is now available in four, five and six-string configurations, has become a favorite of many bass enthusiasts, and a steadfast workhorse for veteran touring bassists such as John Myung of Dream Theater and Dave LaRue of Flying Colors and The Steve Morse Band. Check out Vulfpeck bassist Joe Dart playing a Bongo 5 in the video below, and learn more about the Bongo series for yourself here.