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Vintage 1979 Ovation Magnum II Bass Guitar

Let’s Give Up A Hand for Lumpy Gravy (Vintage 1979 Ovation Magnum II Bass Guitar)

No matter what you think of Ovation guitars, you have to hand it to them for trying, and I mean trying hard. Their application of helicopter technology to acoustic guitars is the stuff of legends. I’m always blown away by how good the synthetic materials sound when you just don’t expect them to compare to traditional timbers. I confess Ovation’s choice of aesthetics has often been baffling, but some of that is attributable to the times in which they emerged. All of the above certainly applies to Ovation’s Quixotic attempts to break open the solidbody guitar and bass market.

Vintage 1979 Ovation Magnum II Bass Guitar

Vintage 1979 Ovation Magnum II Bass Guitar

So naturally I’ve always been attracted to Ovation’s solids. I mean, what’s not to like about a battle-axe-shaped guitar like the Breadwinner and Deacon?! Or those nifty Ultra Kaman UK IIs with an aluminum frame and urethane foam body (finished up in really ugly sunbursts)! As you’d expect, the workmanship was always first rate on those guitars. Unfortunately, I was one of the very few who ever liked Ovation solidbodies, because they were notoriously bad sellers. I guess Mr. Robinson liked them too because he’s got a couple of Ovation inspirations in his line offered here, the Eastwood GP and Breadwinner models.

In any case, when I found this Ovation Magnum II Bass with a built-in on-board 3-band graphic EQ, I had to have it! That it was/is exceptionally, well, homely with its lumpy potato shape certainly added to the mystique!

Actually, there’s so much going on with this bass it’s mind boggling. Not only does the neck have a regular truss rod, it’s also got three carbon graphite strips for additional stability/reinforcement. One down the middle of the back and two more under the fingerboard. It’s got that big honking neck pickup which would be cool enough, but it has 4 individually adjustable volume trim pots built in under the cover. You need a little screw driver to adjust them to your liking, picking your sweet spots. Of course the brass saddles on the cast bridge/tailpiece assembly are micro-adjustable so you can noodle your intonation to your heart’s delight, and you can even adjust the tension of the whole tailpiece using an allen wrench. This bass has only mono output, which is a shame! A similar Magnum I was also offered that gave you stereo output, but didn’t have the EQ. So many bells and whistles!

 

Vintage 1979 Ovation Magnum II Bass Guitar

Vintage 1979 Ovation Magnum II Bass Guitar

Maybe too many bells and whistles, truth to tell. I’m always infatuated with being able to adjust the heck out of technology, but maybe Eddie got it right when all he needed was a volume knob. I mean do you really want to be fooling around with trim pots in between songs? You might get electrocuted messing with a screw driver on stage. And is that tail tension just right? Sometimes you can overthink things and that may have been what happened with Ovation’s Magnums.

As I’ve said before, I’m not really a bass player, even though I indulged in playing one briefly back in the day. Still, you just don’t pass up an opportunity to adjust volume pots for each string AND get to play around with a graphic EQ. The Magnum I (1261) and Magnum II (1262) were introduced in 1977 and lasted until around 1982. This one has a serial number B 01259 which dates it to 1979, right in the middle of the production run. I have no idea if these Magnum basses—indeed the entire Ovation solidbody oeuvre—were ever very plentiful, but I suspect there weren’t that many made, and even fewer sold.

Vintage 1979 Ovation Magnum II Bass Guitar

Vintage 1979 Ovation Magnum II Bass Guitar

Ovation had actually begun making electric guitars—as distinct from its acoustic-electric guitars—way back in 1968 with its Electric Storm series of thinline semi-hollowbodies, the Thunderhead and the Tornado. They tried valiantly to plant the flag for close to 15 years, to no avail. They finally pulled that plug in 1983 and just said no to making their own solidbody electric guitars and basses. Ovation did pick up a few endorsers over the years. Jim Messina and the Strawbs briefly endorsed them. Johnny Graham of Earth, Wind & Fire was seen playing a white Breadwinner on the 1976 album Gratitude. And Eddie Hazel offers a glimpse of a Deacon or Breadwinner on the back of his album Games, Dames & Guitar Thangs. Slim pickins. As in “not so great,” not as in the country western singing star.

In 1985 Ovation imported some Korean necks and bodies and finished them up in the U.S. plant. These were the Hard Bodies series that featured the aforementioned GP model. In 1987 they imported a line of Celebrity solids completely finished in Korea. In 1988 Ovation just gave up and bought Hamer guitars and finally had a successful solidbody guitar and bass line on its hands.

Still, I love all the techy stuff with this Magnum II bass, even if it’s not always all that useful. Hmm, where’d I put that screw driver?…

Vintage Domino Beatle Bass Guitar

Back Catalog Memories: 1960’s Domino Beatle Bass Guitar

In keeping with the Domino theme this month, let’s take a look at the Domino Beatle Bass. Imported to New York by Maurice Lipsky Music Co., these Japanese guitars were part of a series of models branded “Domino” throughout the 1960’s.

Vintage Domino Beatle Bass Guitar

Vintage Domino Beatle Bass Guitar

This model was an obvious take on the Hofner Beatle Bass from the same era. The Hofner brand were German made guitars and basses and had been making top quality instruments for many years without much popularity in North America. However, once Paul McCartney surfaced with his lefty Hofner bass, everybody on the planet wanted one. Hence, once again Lipsky was quick to jump on the opportunity with the Domino brand.

The California was available in 2 pickup configuration, 3-way switch, volume and tone. Main color was Sunburst, but I’ve seen them in White, Redburst and Greenburst. They all sported a wooden floating bridge and single f-hole.

Vintage El Degas Ricky Bass Guitar

Back Catalog Memories – El Degas Ricky Bass

Growing up outside Toronto in the early 1970’s, El Degas was a very popular brand in most guitar shops. Made in Japan, the quality was great, the price was right, but that is about all we know about them. The internet is surprisingly thin on threads to the origins of El Degas. I’ll take some educated guesses from owning a few. I’d guess they were made at the same factory that was putting our UNIVOX guitars from Japan at the same time. I’d guess there was an importer in USA somewhere that sold to a smaller distributor in Canada. Most El Degas models were tight replicas of Les Paul’s and Strats, and all the ones I have owned over the years were exceptionally good quality. I’ve even seen a Les Paul Recording model with the El Degas brand! So it was not a one trick, one year pony.

Vintage El Degas Ricky Bass Guitar

Vintage El Degas Ricky Bass Guitar

This Rickenbacker Bass replica is very good, and likely sold for 1/4 the price of the original at the time. I took this in on trade some time back, and remembered my younger brother in the mid 1970’s playing one of these in his band “Drama”. How dramatic. Good player – at the time he could peel off Chris Squire riffs blindfolded – later Barry Adamson riffs from each Magazine LP, but then switched to guitar to form Surf Cinema. Last year he was up here in Toronto from California for a visit. I showed him this El Degas bass. As you might guess, it went home with him where it belonged.

But as for the history of the brand, who knows? When it comes to El Degas, we’re all pretty much guessing. Would the real original importer please stand up? Or maybe his nephew? Somebody out there must know something about this brand…

Vintage 1980's Aria Pro ZZ Bass Deluxe

Back Catalog Memories: Vintage 1980’s Aria Pro II ZZ Bass Deluxe

Aria was formed in Japan in 1953 by Shiro Arai as Arai and Company. They began retailing acoustic guitars in 1960, although the company didn’t actually start manufacturing their own until 1964. Aria arranged for Matsumoku, the musical instrument maker, to build the guitars for them under contract. Arai and Matsumoku started building acoustic guitars in 1964, and then electric guitars in 1966, using Arai, Aria, Aria Diamond, Diamond, and much less frequently, Arita brand names. The Aria brandname was changed to Aria Pro II in late 1975, though this has been used mostly (but not exclusively) for electric guitars and basses. All guitars were made in Japan until 1988, when production of less expensive models was switched to Korea.

Vintage 1980's Aria Pro II ZZ Bass Deluxe

Vintage 1980’s Aria Pro II ZZ Bass Deluxe

Aria Pro II did some copies of famous American guitars like the Fender Stratocaster and the Gibson Les Paul though it also did its own style of guitars. In the 70s and early 80s the company came into its own in the United States with a series of high end professional instruments. The company had professional endorsements from Herb Ellis, Yngwie Malmsteen, Neal Schon, John Taylor, and many more. Cliff Burton of Metallica used an Aria SB Black N Gold I as well as an SB-1000 bass but was never an official endorser.

Here is the Aria Pro II ZZ Deluxe Bass. These were manufactured between 1982-1987.

1960's Ampeg AUB Bass Guitar

Back Catalog Memories: Ampeg AUB Bass

1960's Ampeg AUB Bass Guitar

1960’s Ampeg AUB Bass Guitar

Although better known for their monster SVT amps from the late 1960’s, Ampeg made a family of electric basses that were quite unusual and advanced for the time from 1966 through 1969. There were four basic models, each of which was available in fretted and fretless versions.

The model designations are:

  • AEB-1
  • AUB-1
  • ASB-1
  • AUSB-1
  • AMB-1
  • AMUB-1
  • SSB
  • SSUB

The letters seem to follow the following pattern – “AEB” means Ampeg Electric Bass. The “U” means Unfretted, the “M” probably means Magnetic pickup, and the SSB is the Short Scale Bass. In the late 2000’s, Canada’s Eastwood Guitars began to reissue two of these models, naming them EEB-1 (Eastwood Electric Bass) and EUB-1 (Eastwood Unfretted Bass). However, the re-issue simplified the headstock somewhat.

Here is a nice example of the original AUB-1. This one has had been modified with a modern bridge.

 

(L to R) Bob2 with Gibson L6-S Custom, Bob1 with LaBaye 2x4 Six, Jerry Casale with modified Gibson Ripper, August 1979

The Devo Guitar Guide

Devo have always taken an unconventional approach to their music, videos, and striking fashion sense so it’s no surprise that this attitude would also apply to their choice of guitars. While many think of them as a synthpop band with the occasional guitar thrown in, in their early years they were precisely the opposite – at times featuring three guitarists in their line up (guitarist Bob1 [Mothersbaugh], guitarist/keyboardist Bob2 [Casale], and singer/keyboardist/guitarist Mark Mothersbaugh). By the early 80s, however, Bob1 was the only member with strings on his instrument with Bob2 and bassist Jerry Casale having mostly switched over to playing their parts on synths. They seemed to have not only enjoyed unusual choices in guitars (shying away from the all too common Strats and Les Pauls) but rotating through many different models as well.

(L to R) Bob2 with Gibson L6-S Custom, Bob1 with LaBaye 2x4 Six, Jerry Casale with modified Gibson Ripper, August 1979

(L to R) Bob2 with Gibson L6-S Custom, Bob1 with LaBaye 2x4 Six, Jerry Casale with modified Gibson Ripper, August 1979

  • Bob Mothersbaugh
    Bob Mothersbaugh’s early guitar of choice was the (never particularly popular) Gibson L6-S Custom. A bit of an ugly duckling looking like a misguided copy of a standard Les Paul, it was designed by Bill Lawrence and was originally intended to be “a multi-sound system for the SG Standard” before morphing into an entirely new model. Initially embraced by players with jazz fusion leanings including Al Di Meola, Pat Martino, and Carlos Santana it was equipped with a six way chicken-head rotary knob to select any combination of the two pickups in series/parallel or in/out of phase. It’s likely that Mothersbaugh utilized many of these settings to get some of the distinctive Devo guitar sounds. He can be seen playing it in during “Secret Agent Man” in the short film In The Beginning Was The End: The Truth About De-Evolution from 1976 as well as numerous other videos and live performances. Also, Devo’s appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1978 saw both Bob Mothersbaugh and Bob Casale playing L6-Ss.Bob Mothersbaugh also used the striking (and extremely rare) LaBaye 2×4 “Six”only 45 of which were produced in 1967 in Neodesha, Kansas. An obvious forerunner of the Steinberger in design if not playability and sound (the original pickups were notoriously weak). He can be seen playing it in the “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” video from 1978 and some of their earliest live shows outside of their native Akron, Ohio in New York. He still plays the guitar during live versions of “Mr. DNA” and, in a bit of showmanship, breaks all the strings at the end of the solo by violently pulling up on the vibrato arm.Perhaps his most famous guitar is the custom made Ibanez that was originally supposed to look like a potato but came out looking more like a cloud and can be seen in the Devo – Live 1980 DVD (and on the cover) as well as the “Girl U Want” video from 1980. He sold the guitar in the mid-80s while not in the best state of mind and set out to find it again years later. After over a decade of fruitlessly searching, it was finally found in the possession of pro skateboarder Jason Jessee who reunited Bob with the guitar.Over the years he’s been spotted with a variety of other guitars including a blue Ibanez Iceman (played on “Gates of Steel” on the late night TV show Fridays in 1980), an Olympic White Fender Musicmaster (as seen in “The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprize” video from 1979 and “It Takes A Worried Man” in Neil Young’s Human Highway film), a Wine Red Les Paul – only acquired to be compatible with the 360 Systems Spectre Guitar Synthesizer which he described as “horrible” – with a “reverse horn” (done by Bob himself) as seen in the “Whip It” video from 1980 and even a Kay K1962 (played in the “Time Out for Fun” and “That’s Good” videos from 1982).

    He’s currently playing a Gibson Custom Shop’59 Les Paul reissue (modeled after Mike Bloomfield’s guitar), a 1964 Gibson SG Standard with P-90s and a Gibson Vibrola, and several entry-level G&L SC-2s which he has described as “probably my favorite guitar.”

    (L to R) Jerry Casale with custom-made bass with Gibson EB-3 neck, Bob1 with Ibanez “cloud” guitar, 1980

    (L to R) Jerry Casale with custom-made bass with Gibson EB-3 neck, Bob1 with Ibanez “cloud” guitar, 1980

  • Bob Casale
    Bob Casale’s main guitar seems to have been a red Hagstrom PB-24-G which he played at Devo’s first performance (as Sextet Devo) at Kent State University in 1973 as well as the “Satisfaction” and “Come Back Jonee” videos in 1978. Occasionally played by Mark Mothersbaugh as well as on Saturday Night Live in 1978 (with his trademark pedals duct taped to it). He can also be seen playing a Gibson Marauder at early shows in New York. During recent shows he has been playing a green Ibanez Talman TC420 with a red pickguard.
  • Mark Mothersbaugh
    Mark almost exclusively used Fender Telecasters which he liked to duct tape his pedals to. This choice was not only aesthetic but practical as well as he can often be seen twiddling the knobs on the pedals while playing. He played what seemed to be a stock Telecaster in the “Satisfaction” video with what appears to be an Electro-Harmonix Frequency Analyzer mounted on the body though it looks like at times he had up to three pedals. Live footage of Devo in Japan in 1979 also shows Mark playing what appears to be a different Telecaster modified with a humbucker in the neck position. During current live shows he plays a left-handed Fender Stratocaster with a pedal duct taped to it, of course.

    Mark Mothersbaugh with Hagstrom PB-24-G & duct taped pedals

    Mark Mothersbaugh with Hagstrom PB-24-G & duct taped pedals

  • Jerry Casale
    Left-handed bassist Jerry Casale has always played right-handed basses strung for a right-handed player (with the E string closest to the ground). At early live shows in Akron and New York he played a Gibson EB-3 before switching to a Gibson Ripper with the horns sawed off (and thick black arm padding added to the top side) supposedly to look more like a potato. This “Spudbass” can be seen in the “Satisfaction” video and on their Saturday Night Live appearance in 1978. He later had a plywood custom-made red rounded cross-shaped body fitted with two DiMarzio Model J’s and the neck from his EB-3 (as seen in Urgh! A Music War filmed in 1980). He then became an early adopter of the Steinberger L2 which he used since its release in 1981 (as seen in the videos for “That’s Good” and “Peek-A-Boo!” from 1982) and he continues to use in concert.
(L to R) Jerry Casale with Steinberger L2, Mark Mothersbaugh with left-handed Fender Stratocaster & duct taped pedals, Bob1 with G&L SC-2, Bob2 with Ibanez Talman TC420

(L to R) Jerry Casale with Steinberger L2, Mark Mothersbaugh with left-handed Fender Stratocaster & duct taped pedals, Bob1 with G&L SC-2, Bob2 with Ibanez Talman TC420

As Bob Mothersbaugh has recently said, “Twenty years ago, someone in the band decided that guitars were obsolete and nobody would be using guitars 20 years from then, and they tried to make that a reality, which really didn’t work for us.” It’s good to see the guitars back.

Mike Watt & The Missingmen at SXSW 2011

Friday March 18th – SXSW Austin, TX – I was in Austin for only one day of SXSW this year, but as luck would have it, so was Mike Watt. His is in the middle of a grueling 51 shows in 52 night tour.

Shortly after 5PM I worked my way up front, minutes later Watt took the stage, looked as the back-line BASS AMP and started laughing as if to say, “How am I going to light up this crowd with that little thing?”. Another minute later, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind. This three piece band (Tom Watson on guitar and Raul Morales on drums) proceeded to kick-ass like no other 3-piece ever has. I not suggesting you go catch the them live – I am DEMANDING you do – do not miss this show. What a trip, and hats off to Mike Watt once again, D. Boon would be proud.

Mike Watt & The Missing Men at the Ginger Man in Austin, TX for SXSW 2011

Mike Watt & The Missing Men at the Ginger Man in Austin, TX for SXSW 2011

Mike Watt & The Missing Men at the Ginger Man in Austin, TX for SXSW 2011

Mike Watt & The Missing Men at the Ginger Man in Austin, TX for SXSW 2011

Mike Watt & The Missing Men at the Ginger Man in Austin, TX for SXSW 2011

Mike Watt & The Missing Men at the Ginger Man in Austin, TX for SXSW 2011

Mike Watt & The Missing Men at the Ginger Man in Austin, TX for SXSW 2011

Mike Watt & The Missing Men at the Ginger Man in Austin, TX for SXSW 2011

The 10 Most Important Electric Basses in Rock & Roll History

Hello fans of all things strings, I hope you are all playing and learning and most of all enjoying your guitar experiences. The marriage of the electric guitar and electric bass has always been an integral part of the fabric that is rock and roll. I believe that the model and subsequent sound of the bass of choice for a group is actually more important then the guitar and its sound. Case in point could you picture James Jameson playing an Alembic bass, or Chris Squire playing an EB0? Me neither. So lets get into this, and I will give you my opinion on in what I believe to be THE 10 MOST IMPORTANT BASSES IN ROCK & ROLL HISTORY!!!

Joe Cocker at Woodstock (Fender Precision Bass Guitar in background)

Joe Cocker at Woodstock (Fender Precision Bass Guitar in background)

1. Fender Precision Bass
This is the bass that started it all. And all through its many incarnations the P-Bass is, and will always be the industry standard and the safe choice for any application. The bass was so damn popular that you would see ads that read “Band Looking for Fender Bass Player”. It was a distinction that grew out of a way for band leaders to let the bass player know that he could leave his upright at home. It also denoted a preconceived style of music that the bandleader or producer wanted. The “Precision’’ had one pickup and basically one sound, but that sound kicked ass! If you want to hear a few of the P-Basses signature sounds check out James Jamerson’s Motown recordings, and the edgy Precision bass sound on Joe Cocker live at Woodstock’s “With a Little Help from Me Friends.” Even in today’s world of 5, 6 and 7 string basses the P Bass makes a statement when it is produced at a gig or an audition. It says “I understand and respect the roots of bass playing.”If you’re a bass player of any serious stature and you don’t have a Precision Bass, then you better have a Jazz Bass.

1964 Rickenbacker 4001S Bass Guitar

1964 Rickenbacker 4001S Bass Guitar

2. Rickenbacker 4001 Bass
Rickenbacker instruments have been paired with Vox amps over the years, evidenced by the Beatles, Tom Petty (Mike Campbell), and REM to name a few. Interestingly I believe that Ricks are to Fender and Gibson guitars what Vox is to Marshall and Fender amplifiers. Okay point made, now onto the 4001. The first time I saw the Rick 4001 was on the cover of Magical Mystery Tour. There it was, right next to George holding an early rosewood Strat. I listened closely to the record that was included with the cover and could hear a discernable difference in tone from Paul’s previous bass sound. Actually it wasn’t that different because again Paul’s Rick was strung with flatwound bass strings. But unlike the Hofner bass the Rickenbacker’s fate did not lie solely in the hands of the man from Liverpool. Chris Squire armed with a Ricky and some roundwound Rotosounds quickly became the captain of the good ship 4001. His playing on Fragile is mindblowing, and I know it is safe to say that his playing influenced players like Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorious, as well as a generation of checkerboard wielding Rickophiles. Again the bass was equipped with two single coils and a very cool pickup cover over the back pickup reminiscent of the old Rickenbacker “Frying Pan” lap steel. Even the great Lemmy from Motorhead played a 4001, adding another sound to the palette offered by the great bass from Cali.

1977 Fender Jazz Bass Guitar

1977 Fender Jazz Bass Guitar

3. Fender Jazz Bass
Leo sure must have loved jazz and as any of us in the guitar business know, you ain’t gonna make a million dollars selling instruments made for jazz. But, Leo’s second offering in the world of basses was sure a home run. Unlike his Jazzmaster which was as unjazzy an instrument as you can possibly imagine, the Jazz Bass actually sounded great playing jazz. Legendary jazz player Ron carter played a JB with great style and dignity, but it was Jaco Pastorius that brought the Jazz Bass to another level. Jaco utilizing the back pickup on his defretted JB created a lyrical smooth sound that was truly magical. Years later another bass master the great Marcus Miller played the Jazz Bass with great distinction. Rock players as well enjoy the J Bass, like Geddy Lee, Dave Brown (Santana) and John Paul Jones.

Mike Watt with his 1963 Gibson EB3 Bass Guitar

Mike Watt with his 1963 Gibson EB3 Bass Guitar

4. Gibson EB3 Bass
The bass that Jack Bruce played, and played so well, was an also ran in the bass race of the rock and roll era. I personally believe that the EB3 was destined to die a fiery death if not for the great Jack. In reality the EB3 was a victim of the amplifiers of the era. The high output of the massive neck humbuckers over drove the preamp section of most of the era’s Neanderthal bass rigs. It never sounded clean, but it was Jack Bruce that went with it, and played with the back pickup, which is a smaller mini humbuckers design. This growl became Jack’s signature sound. Any of you who want to hear Jack and his EB3 at their best you must go out and get his first solo album after Cream called “Songs for a Tailor”

Jack Casady with his Guild Starfire Bass Guitar

Jack Casady with his Guild Starfire Bass Guitar

5. Guild Starfire Bass
Often copied but never improved upon, the semi-hollow Starfire bass was to my ears the best sounding semi of them all. Guild instruments are and always will be underrated and a best buy for the buck. This bass, made famous by Jack Casady of the Jefferson Airplane had two versions, the first produced from 1965 to 1969 sported a single coil pickup, and the latter featured humbucking pickups. The one Jack used was the single coil version, and it sounded chunky and percussive. I am sure Jack’s technique had something to do with it, but it was an awesome sound. This is one bass that begs for round wound strings, to enhance the bite of the single coils. The Gibson EB1 was a muddy version of the Starfire basses.

Steinberger XL-2 Bass Guitar

Steinberger XL-2 Bass Guitar

6. Steinberger XL-2 Bass
I gotta tell you, when I saw this monstrosity for the first time I thought that’s it the world as we know it has changed, and not for the better. Then one day my bass player Ted Silverstein came to rehearsal with Ned’s evil spawn. I said okay plug that sh*t in, he did and it sounded smooth. It was fat and clean, and when we recorded with it, oh boy it was even better. I had never heard a bass that sounded so good in the mix next to multitracked guitars. It sounded so much like itself and clashed not with any of the other instruments I was converted to the dark side. I said let me try that bass, it felt weird in my hand, and it didn’t sound right, especially when I realized I was playing in A when the tune was in G!

Paul McCartney with his 1963 Hofner Model 500/1 Bass Guitar

Paul McCartney with his 1963 Hofner Model 500/1 Bass Guitar

7. Hofner Model 500/1 Beatle Bass
Paul McCartney, Paul McCartney, Paul McCartney. What the hell was this guy doin’? What was he playing through? What kinda strings was he using? Now I think Paul would have sounded great if he was playing a cigar box strung up with rubber bands played through a transistor radio but that’s my hang up. Paul was the man, and that little bass sounded great in his capable hands. The 500/1 premiered in 1956 and it featured a set of mini humbuckers and a spruce top. That combination would usually spell disaster especially at higher volumes, but it didn’t. And by the way I’ll finish like I started, all you aspiring Paulie Mac’s use flatwounds, use flatwounds, use flatwounds.

1959 Danelectro Longhorn Bass Guitar

1959 Danelectro Longhorn Bass Guitar

8. Danelectro Longhorn Bass
No matter how cheap you think this bass was, it was a killer sounding low frequency machine for sure. Those anemic “lipstick” bass pickups sounded so good, whether coming through an amp (preferably a big one) or through the console in a recording studio. Legend has it that the bass part for “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” was recorded with a Longhorn by 60’s electronic wiz Dan Armstrong. (his son Kent told me). The Danny was light weight, and as sexy looking as Phoebe Cates getting out of the pool in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”. And great news is that the reissue ones sound as good as the originals.

1977 Music Man Stingray Bass Guitar

1977 Music Man Stingray Bass Guitar

9. Music Man Sting Ray Bass
Well Leo you did it again! This bass was the first mass produced active electronic bass. It was made available in the summer of 1976, to rave reviews. The massive pickup produced a sound never heard before, and the pole pieces were the size of a dime. The Sting Ray had a volume control and a bass and treble control as well. This way you could add or cut bass and treble separately, way snappy. You could for the first time get a sound that wasn’t a Fender or Gibson sound. This bass became synonymous with cats like Bernard Edwards of Chic and Tony Levin (of everybody).

1970s Acoustic Black Widow Bass Guitar

1970s Acoustic Black Widow Bass Guitar

10. Acoustic Black Widow Bass
This weird bird was initially made available through dealers who carried the popular Acoustic line of high powered solid state amps. The Black Widow was released in 1969 as a semi-hollowbody with a fretted and fretless version, the fretless IMHO was a slam dunk great bass. The “Widow” was made up of a lot of Mosrite parts, and was reminiscent of a Rickenbacker bass as well. I saw the bass player for Doc Watson play a fretless version on a video of Doc and Merle Watson playing in the 70’s. The early versions had an “Ebonite” fretboard, the same material that bowling balls were made of. The pickups were also very cool single coils with adjustable pole pieces. The BW is still available at a reasonable price.

My 5 Most Influential Bass Guitar Players

Hello fellow guitar nuts, I just returned from the Eastwood guitar complex in Toronto. While sunning myself in the Great North I performed some tasks for Eastwood, some of those tasks were the video clips of some of Eastwood’s basses. I actually was a bass player for many years before switching over to guitar. As I was playing the basses, I thought back to the guys that influenced me and some of my friends in the bass genre. So…this months column will focus on the electric bass and some of its most influential players.

Sir Paul McCartney: Bass Player for the Beatles

Sir Paul McCartney: Bass Player for the Beatles

#1. Paul McCartney [The Beatles]

Main bass: Hofner violin bass, Rickenbacker bass

Sir Paul was and will forever be the first rock bass player who stepped outside the realm of covering the roots or arpeggiating the chords in the traditional intervals. Paul played what we used to refer to as “piano bass”. His use of the thumpyHofner violin bass was a two-fold application, as he covered the bass frequencies, never leaving John and George hanging out there without the low end support. But, he did this while creating counter melodies and tension and release within the music, a technique you find in more complex musical forms like jazz and classical music. And of course he did this while singing his ass off!. Check out Pauls playing on “Lucy in the Sky”, “Old Brown Shoe” and “Fixing a Hole” just to name a few. Bass players study Paul’s playing closely and learn from the master of tasty, yet up front bass execution.

Jack Bruce: Bass Player for Cream

Jack Bruce: Bass Player for Cream

#2. Jack Bruce [Cream]

Main bass: Gibson EB-3, Wal bass

When I came up back in the late sixties and early seventies Jack Bruce was the default choice when asked “so who’s your favorite bass player”. Jack was an outstanding instrumentalist and singer, but his bass playing was so groundbreaking that he intimidated the great Eric Clapton and frequently blew him off the stage during some of Cream’s extended jams. Unlike McCartney’s clean sound, Jack’s sound was distorted and barky. He accomplished this by using Marshall amps for his amplification, and utilizing the bridge pickup on his bass of choice the Gibson EB-3.

Obviously, Jacks playing on the Cream records are the ones people go to immediately when looking for Jack Bruce virtuosity, but you must check out his playing on his first solo album after Cream called ‘”Songs for a Tailor”.. Check out “The Clearout”, To Isengard” and “Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out of Tune”, truly amazing!

Chris Squire: Bass Player for Yes

Chris Squire: Bass Player for Yes

#3. Chris Squire [Yes]

Main bass: Rickenbacker 4001

Chris Squire played bass for the great progressive British band Yes. He along with guitar player par excellence Steve Howe was as formidable a pair in the history of rock ever to share a stage. Chris’ cutting tone on his Rickenbacker bass was a benchmark for all future bassmen. “Long Distance Runaround” form Yes’s first album called Yes Album still impresses after 30+ years of being in the dictionary of rock instrumental hooks. Chris continued to blast away and the foundation of what a bass player could and should play for many years after Yes’ first records.

Jack Casady: Bass Player for Jefferson Airplane

Jack Casady: Bass Player for Jefferson Airplane

#4. Jack Casady [Jefferson Airplane]

Main Bass: Epiphone semi-hollow, Fender Jazz bass

Playing bass in 60’s bands was not really a safe place for cats trying to make a name for themselves based on their playing and not their hair. Although Jack Casady had some great hair, his percussive, thumpy sound was break from the mostly low-endy studio recordings heard in the mid sixties. Jack played a melodic, linear style that helped to define the style that was to be called “lead bass”. I am sure the likes of Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorius were influenced by Jack. If you want to hear Jack at his best listen to his playing on “The Other Side of This Life” from the live Airplane offering called “Bless its Pointed Head”.

Jack also showed great diversity while playing in Hot Tuna with guitarist Jorma Kaukonen. Hot Tuna played electric and acoustic blues as well as some of its own music, and Jack always was solid and interesting. Many imitators have been out there, but none can compare to the original California bass rebel Jack Casady. By the way he was never married to Shirley Jones and was not the father of David Cassidy.

Tim Bogert: Bass Player for Vanilla Fudge & Cactus

Tim Bogert: Bass Player for Vanilla Fudge & Cactus

#5. Tim Bogart [Vanilla Fudge, Cactus]

Main Bass: Fender Precision Bass (50’s Model)

Tim’s style although great has been controversial at times. While playing in the Vanilla Fudge Tim alongside drummer extraordinaire Carmine Appice layed down some very solid bass lines, while also stretching outside the realm of what a bass played had played up to that point. After leaving the Fudge Tim and Carmine was the rhythm section in Cactus a much underrated band. Cactus recorded some very heavy records in the early 70’s and Timmy’s playing was distorted and atypical. Cactus was a departure from the Vanilla Fudge in that Cactus boasted a very strong guitar player in former Detroit Wheels axeman Jim McCarty. The chemistry between Bogart and McCarty was strained, as neither one was used to the role each other was playing, but as frequently happens the music thrived under adverse conditions.

Timmy went on to play with Jeff Beck in the short-lived Beck, Bogart, and Appice. They only released one album, although there was a second LP in the can that was never released. If you can get your hands on it, there is a “live” album recorded in Japan that is a very good record, showing BBA at there live best.

Although Tim Bogart’s playing is controversial there is no doubt he is one of the most influential bass players of rock and roll.

That’s it for now y’all – now slap that bass!!!

Rob’s Crazy eBay Finds: 1960’s Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

The Short-Scale Bass is a versatile and wonderful instrument. It packs enough punch to be used as a part of a bassist’s gigging set-up. Its shorter scale (anywhere from the super duper short 25 7/8″ of the Valco/National/Supro/Airline pocket basses, to the 30″ of the classic Fender Mustangs and Musicmasters) makes it comfortable to play for beginners, small-handed adults and guitar players more familiar with guitar scale. Plus, a lot of very cool ones have been made over the years.

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

Enter exhibit A: A late 60’s KENT short scale variation on the very popular (then and now) “Beatle” violin shaped bass. As you can see from the photos, this isn’t your average violin bass. While many, from the classic Hofner that Paul McCartney turned a few kids on to, to the Teisco and Black Jack Japanese models, didn’t stray far from the violin shape, this Kent takes a few attractive and stylish liberties with the standard template.

While clearly inspired by the violin basses, notice the cool horn flares and the distinct cut aways. Also of note on this model is a stunning triple (TRIPLE!) bound side and a highly figured and eye-catching sunburst on the back (!?) side.

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

This, like many (most?) Kents has a history that’s a little difficult to trace. This one is from 1967 or 1968 and was probably made at the Kawai factory. Some sources also credit the earlier slab bodied models to Guyatone and/or Teisco. A tangled web they weaved, these Kents.

Also of note about Kents is that both the amps and guitars vary wildly from model to model – perhaps more so than any other brand from the era. They made some truly crappy guitars (the slab body models mentioned above among them. Most I’ve seen, actually, are low-grade crude one pickup models with very little to recommend them as players or collectables). Yet, they made beauties like this and many other higher-end semi-hollowbodies. And while most of the Kent amps I’ve ever seen are the basic three and four tube crapboxes without Power Transformers (i.e., ones you don’t want to play barefoot on a cement floor with a moisture problem), there are a couple of models that are very sweet. These include a 2 EL84 output model with tremolo and a single 12″ speaker in a primitive basket-weave faux-tweed (or, paper, if you want to be exact-ha), and a REALLY cool piggyback model (with single 12″ cab). They may not be collectable, but their cool factor is very high and no one wants them, so they can be had on the cheap (which, for the frugal tone gourmet, only increases the cool factor).

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

Back to the bass at hand, though. This model has a zero fret and plays really well up the neck. With a good setup, these are truly sweet playing basses. If you were going to use it as your main bass, you’d probably want to get some higher-grade machine heads and also probably replace the pickups (which are pretty aenemic and flat sounding). However, the pickup covers are so radically cool, you’d probably want to find something that fit so you could put this beauty back to stock. No permanent mods on something this nice looking. For just looking and the odd recording bass and quieter(er) jams, leave it as-is.

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

One thing to look out for (especially if buying via on line auction and/or through the mail): I’ve seen a few of these over the years and nearly half had a warped neck. The truss rods are not the most reliable, so ask questions and don’t pay too much if you have any hunch there might be something hinky about it.

Other nifty features: Dig the 60’s Japanese top-hat Tone and Volume knobs (with the stylish “T” and “V”), the funky script on the headstock and chunky block mother of toilet seat inlays on the neck.

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

What does one of these cost? These are pretty rare and, as a result, they don”t show up on eBay or in music stores a whole lot. As a result, there seems to be more variation on the price- I’ve seen them go as low as $150 (not including shipping…which of course we never do include when discussing what we paid for a neat vintage guitar, right?) and as high as $450. There is a corresponding guitar model, so be the hep cat on your block and, like they used to say about Hot Wheels, “collect ’em all.” Happy hunting, yee vintage freaks.