All in the Fingers?
I started playing bass when I was 14. My dad bought me a used ‘no-name’ bass from the local thrift shop; a Fender Precision copy made from plywood with a big, shiny, and very noisy, single-coil pickup. Once I was experienced enough to know good tone from bad, it became apparent that this bass sounded pretty awful. Yet I successfully auditioned for a band with it when I was 16.
I bought what I would say was my first ‘proper’ bass when I was turning 18. (Yep I played ‘the plank’ for nearly four years!) My new bass was a relatively low-end Aria Pro II. I remember playing it when I got it home – it felt amazing and to my young ears – it sounded just like some of the players I was emulating at the time. Suddenly the big wide world of tone had opened up to me.
I had now reached the next rung in the ladder of owning a playable, quality instrument. This bass was to see me right for the next 3 years… Then I unfortunately fell foul of the wanton vixen that is, ‘Gear Lust’.
A dedicated bass store called ‘The Bass Place’ had opened up in Birmingham UK and was run by some local musicians I respected at the time. This, along with the holy grail of panning for ‘bass-bargain gold’, the Birmingham-based ‘Musical Exchanges’, meant that I had a direct supply of gear to keep my new addiction well-fed.
From aged 20 to around 29, I must have swapped my bass guitar on an average of around once every two months. I went through SO many brands: Hohner, Aria, Washburn, Yamaha, Fender, Tune, Jaydee and Status to name just some. As my musical taste expanded and I listened to more and more different players and genres, I had an insatiable desire to ‘sound-a-like’. So on I went. It got ridiculous.
Eventually, almost overnight as I remember, I grew out of it. I settled down with a Yamaha BB1100S; a fabulous bass. Then it hit me… over all the years of experimentation, gear swapping and losing money hand over fist, I had arrived at a sound. MY sound. I have of course changed my bass guitars since and no longer own my Yamaha. I’m now 42 and own an Ibanez Soundgear SRX500 4-string fretted bass and a CJM 6-string fretless bass. These two great basses give me a nice breadth of tone and are versatile enough to see me through whatever style of music I find myself playing.
The point of all this though is that now, whatever bass I pick up – my own or borrowed – I sound like me. I’ve learned I no longer have to lust after better and more expensive gear all the time. Heck, I even own a cheap Jazz copy I bought on eBay for $100 which I’ve de-fretted. I can get a decent sound out of that too because it’s in the fingers, the ‘touch’ (and for that matter the soul) of the player where the real sound is.
So gear-heads, maybe have a rethink. Owning an Alembic won’t make you sound like Stanley Clarke or a Zon like Michael Manring (nor will it necessarily do your bank account any good!). The player is what makes great bass.