Unique, powerful, and boundary pushing. From the headstock down to the input jack, the Ernie Ball Music Man Bongo basses are plainly a different breed from your average bass guitar. Beyond the eclectic design, however, lies a story as unique as the Bongo itself.
By the early 2000s, Ernie Ball Music Man CEO Sterling Ball was looking to subvert all the rules known for making a typical bass guitar. Running off the success of the StingRay, Sterling, and StingRay5 basses, Sterling felt an urge to explore what could be done beyond the familiar look and feel of 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 manufacturing 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 and public transit systems. With all of these projects in their arsenal, helping design a bass guitar was a challenge they were willing to take on.
When it comes to manufacturing world-class elements, Sterling said his focus is on one desire: 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 Ernie Ball Music Man we decided to question the conventional wisdom. After extensive testing with Designworks on nearly every type of commonly used wood, it was discovered that, much to our surprise, the most resonant wood was a new product made of compressed wheat. One small problem: 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. Today, the Bongo has been on the market for over 16 years and is now available in four, five and six-string configurations. It has become a favorite of many bass enthusiasts and a steadfast workhorse for veteran touring bassists such as John Myung of Dream Theater, Dave LaRue of Flying Colors, and The Steve Morse Band.