Wednesday, September 13, 2006
The Man's Bass
I've been asked about the bass in my profile picture enough times to warrant an explanation and description of what I call "the Man's bass". It earns that name by virtue of the fact that it weighs more than anything I've ever had hanging on my shoulder. But first a word about how it came to be created.Coming back from a road trip, we had thunderstorms in Florida, so we opted for another flight. I was assured by the airline personnel that my baggage, including my bass, would be delivered to my home upon arrival at LAX. To make a long and painful story short, I never saw that bass again. It was a Fender style but a five-string which I had built myself. A very painful loss...but after a month's hassle, the airline paid a fair settlement. And, as any musician with some extra money will ask himself, I did...ask myself...how to spend it. What would I buy to take the sting out of losing that bass? Easy question with an obvious answer. A NEW BASS!I had taxes due, so I decided to waste my money on the government and build something. I had been repairing and building for years but had always played it safe. This time I decided to make something special. Something that included everything that I admired in as many basses as I could fit into one gig bag. I had a pile of four string basses, good ones, so it would be a five string I started by drawing up the body shape. I love the simplicity of a Precision, but the comfort of a Jazz. I Have a Gibson Ripper that sits really nicely under my right arm. so, on a piece of cardboard, I marked the position of the bridge, measured where the twelfth fret would be, and traced all of these bodies, superimposing each on the other. I had a Ricky at the time so I tossed it in for good measure as well. I marked each point at which the lines intersected, and erased everything else. These points of intersection became a sort of skeleton for the new shape. One thing I knew from the start, this was going to be a fairly large body, but the contours would be familiar.When the shape revealed itself, I took a trip to M&M Hardwoods in North Hollywood to see what kind of wood wanted to get turned into a bass that day. I found a killer piece of Zebra wood five feet long. I also found an equally killer piece of Wenge. So I decided to cut the Zebra in half, use the wenge as the center and glued the Zebra on as wings. Now, keep in mind, this was 1 3/4" thick hardwood. Solid...solid and heavy...as hell. But I was on a mission and I decided that I would remove everything that wasn't a bass from those timbers. I just had a feeling that they would sound good.I don't like too many five string necks, they just seem to be a compromise leaning away from tone and toward comfort. So I bought a six string neck from Warmouth that was really substantial. It had two truss rods and promised to be quite stable. I re-shaped the headstock to get rid of the sixth tuning machine hole. The neck heel socket is a perfect pressed fit. I rough cut it with a router and carved the final shape with a chisel.I ordered the electronics from Alembic. As I said, I had all the vintage sounds I needed so I decided to go high tech. I was also on a bit of a Mark King jag. There are filter sweeps and Q switches for each pick up and the final result was everything I had hoped for. As to the pick up placement, I measured the space from the nut to the first fret and this was the space that the coil would be from the bridge. The neck pick up was placed at the same distance from tha bridge as the Major third hamonic is from the nut.I didn't mention that all the work of carving was done on my apartment floor, at all hours of the night... and I had downstairs neighbors, but they were pretty afraid of me and I think the sound of a router chewing its way through wenge and zebrawood at 3:00 am got to be something that they were willing to deal with.The upper bout comes to a point parallel with the twelfth fret, and the body extends further behind the bridge than a Fender, so on your shoulder, the bass balances perfectly. I assembled the entire bass to make sure I wasn't wasting my time before finishing the wood. And I have to say that this baby sounded like King Kong's ball's man. I should have stopped right there, but I had decided that I wanted a nitrocellulose finish. So I took it completely apart and shot the lacquer. After two weeks, I rubbed and polished the finish and reassembled the bass. Being the patient bastard that I am, I took this baby right out on a road gig without ever plugging it in. I mean it was bangin' before I sprayed it, and lacquer would only make it better, wouldn't it? Well shit, it sounded like every Ibanez bass under $200.00!! FUCK! When I got home, I took it completely apart and stripped every molecule of lacquer from every nook and cranny. And so I would learn a lesson about patience, I hand sanded that body with 1200 grit paper for about two hours a day for two weeks. Two rubs with boiled linseed oil and a ton of 2000 grit paper later, that's been the finish for the last eighteen years.Yeah, this guy is heavy as hell, but the sound is so solid, so tight, so huge and so very musical that it's more than worth it...if you're sitting down.