Old School: 1986 Westone “The Rail” Bass
Dave Swift shared his Westone “Rails” basses on Facebook, and we were intrigued. We reached out to him for more for this edition of “Old School”.
Westone “The Rail”, circa 1986. I own two of them: an X800RD in red and an X800SW in white. (They did also make a black one).
How long have you owned it?
I’ve owned both for around 15 years.
How did you come across it?
Both were eBay purchases from the US which is where most of my bass collection has come from.
Stock or customized? Give us all the specs!
They have double octave necks and the scale length is 32.5″. The first “Rails” were produced with a black satin finish. Later ones were stainless steel. The rails were apparently “specially tuned tubes”. The “body” – what there is of it – is hard maple as is the neck, and the fingerboard is rosewood.
Any special characteristics?
Each bass had a single “Magnaflux RB pickup” and the idea was that instead of having two pickups in the traditional neck and bridge positions, you could loosen a quick release knob that held the center block of wood in place and slide this block containing the pickup and jack socket back and forth along the rails to locate your desired tone.
As you’d expect, if you move the pickup nearer the bridge you get a very focused, punchy, mid-range J bass type tone, and nearer the neck, a fatter, deeper, more gnarly P bass type sound.
They are of course headless instruments but you can use traditional bass strings and just cut the ends off, which overlap from the “headstock” end. No tone knob, just a master volume control. They came in a silver vinyl gig bag with WESTONE stenciled on the front and looks like something from an early Star Trek episode!
What’s your favorite story about the gear?
I have on occasions taken these basses to the studio when I’ve been recording Jools Holland’s BBC Radio 2 shows on which I’m the house bassist. More for fun than anything else, but I’ve always loved it when artists including Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and David Gilmour (who are of course used to seeing more traditional basses) have said things like “where’s the rest of it?” Or “that’ll be nice once it’s finished!” and “that’s a pretty elaborate toothpick!”
Any notable bassists (other than yourself, of course) play the same bass?
To be honest I’m not aware of any notable Rail users. I think high-profile players definitely embraced headless instruments when they first appeared but seemingly favored the Steinberger bass over the Westone. Maybe because the “The Rail” was seen to be too much of a gimmick at the time?
Any special history or story behind this instrument or the company that made it?
Here is a segment from My Rare Guitars on the history of the bass:
“The Westone Rail appeared just as St. Louis Music (SLM) was transitioning to a new brand name. During the “copy era” of the 1970s, SLM’s Japanese-made electric guitars were branded with the Electra name. The Electra name continued into the early 1980s. Most of those guitars were made by the legendary Matsumoku factory in Matsumoto City. Around the beginning of the decade, Matsumoku began marketing its own brand of electric guitars called Westone. For reasons unknown, the decision was taken to consolidate the Westone brand name with St. Louis Music. In 1984 the separate Westone line went away and SLM’s guitars became Electra-Westone, ending up just Westone in 1985.”
Do you use it on gigs?
I actually don’t. However, sound-wise it’s perfectly usable and is really a great sounding bass. Visually/aesthetically it just wouldn’t fit in with the gigs, sessions, and TV shows I’m involved with. With all due respect to these instruments, I think I’d be opening myself up to a lot of scrutiny and raised eyebrows!
What else do you want to share about your gear?
I own at least 100 bass guitars (mostly Ibanez, vintage and new) a double bass, seven electric upright basses including two vintage Ampeg Baby Basses. My amplification is Bergantino.
In the studio, I use a Bergantino B/Amp with HDN210 and HDN112 cabs. On tour and on TV with Jools Holland, I use a Bergantino Forte’ HP amp and an HG412 cab. I use Dunlop nickel Super Bright bass guitar strings and Pirastro upright bass strings. Also Boss and MXR effects pedals.
Any other vintage gear?
- Ampeg B-15 flip top combo.
- Polytone Mini Brute III combo.
- Two 1960’s Ampeg Baby Basses, including a super rare aqua marine blue one. Too many vintage bass guitars to list here!
Tell us a little about yourself.
My first instrument is actually the trombone, which I began studying at 14 at school. I still play it but when I took up bass guitar and double bass at 15, the trombone took a bit of a back seat.
I also play tuba and guitar. I’ve been a professional musician for forty years this year, and for the past thirty years, I’ve been the full-time bassist with pianist, bandleader, TV, and radio show host Jools Holland, including being the house bassist on his BBC TV and radio shows.
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If you own any vintage gear you'd like us to spotlight in "Old School", we'd love to hear from you! Drop us a line at [email protected].