IT'S ALL ABOUT THE BASS...
Updated: Jun 5, 2019
A lifetime obsession with the low-end instrument of joy!
I make no apologies for the length of this article. It’ll no doubt extend far beyond the normal 2-3 minute read but I’m a bass player, I have an extraordinary obsession with the instrument. Get me talking bass at a party or in the pub and I’m afraid you’re stuck with me for ages!
Whilst whiling away one of the many hours I spend on the road with the band I thought I’d try and recall all of the basses I’ve owned over the years. I think it’s fair to say that I used to be quite obsessive and owned 14 basses/guitars at one time. My collection is now restricted to just four basses (plus a couple of six string acoustics and a Squier strat). I keep two at home and two out on tour but that’s not to say there won’t be any additions in the future!
This blog is basically a catalogue of my various basses (wake up at the back!) with a few stories to add colour. I’ve managed to find pictures of most of them so strap in… we’re off!
There was something magical about picking up my first bass. It immediately felt comfortable and ‘right’. It’s difficult to describe this unless you’re a musician but I still get a certain feeling every time I open one of my guitar cases on tour... it just doesn’t go away and I’m lucky to do a job that allows me to indulge myself so regularly. There’s always a bass to hand at home too and I never tire of picking this beautiful instrument up and entertaining myself with its endless capabilities.
So, where did it all begin? Not with a bass actually. I got my first guitar for my 8th birthday in 1970. It was a lovely sunburst colour with a white teardrop scratchplate. I can’t recall the make. I loved it, even if it was very basic and the steel strings hurt my fingers to play it – all guitarists have been there! The pic is of me posing in my neighbour, Martin Ryan’s, garden. Martin had also acquired a guitar – we were committed to being pop stars inspired by the likes of T.Rex and David Bowie on Top of the Pops.
My only method of tuition at the time was the ‘Play in a Day’ book by Bert Weedon. Much later in life I’d get to meet and spend some time with Bert (see The Father of Loud) but sadly the book was long gone – I would have loved him to sign it!
I never really took any lessons, preferring to teach myself – I think the first thing I could ever ‘play’ properly was the riff to Sunshine of your Love by Cream and Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones. I did have a couple of lessons at school but learning ‘Show me a home where the buffalo roam’ just wasn’t cutting it!
I’d later upgrade my first guitar with a beautiful Eros Dakota that I bought from the small ads in the local paper for just £12. I still have this guitar today – it’s a beauty (you can just see the back of it in the main picture) and I don’t think I’ll ever part with it.
My first bass experience came when I was about 10 when the brother of a friend lent me his bass for a couple of days. Thanks Dave Reynolds; at the time we had no idea how things would pan out! It was an Audition bass, from Woolworths, and Dave taught me how to play a Bb boogie on it. I still use the fundamentals of that riff today – it’s a must-learn for anybody picking up the bass. I was hooked and so the quest for my first bass began.
Now, this is where I’ve had a bit of a memory fade. I think I got my first bass on my 12th birthday. I can’t be sure of the year but I’m 100% sure of the bass. It was made by Kay - a Kay 1B SG short scale and I know it cost my parent’s £30 at the time which was a lot of money in 1974. I’ve struggled to find a picture of me with it – there are some around somewhere and one day they’ll turn up. But I googled the one seen here. Just looking at this picture fills me with utter joy – the memories it evokes are beyond belief. This would be my bass until I was 17. It did however undergo a few facelifts along the way and was sprayed an array of colours over time. The final chapter came when I decided I’d use my newly honed school woodworking skills to craft a Burns Flyte style body from mahogany and bolt the neck and electronics from my Kay to it. It was unplayable… RIP my beloved Kay 1B SG.
Just before my 17th birthday in 1979 I’d started work as a marketing apprentice at Vauxhall Motors and within a month or two I headed off to Shaftesbury Avenue in London with my hard-earned cash where I’d pick up my next beauty. £130 got me an Aria Pro II Jazz bass. This thing was the real deal. Simply leagues ahead of anything I’d owned or played previously and it would be my trusty bass for many a project up until the mid 90’s.
Career and family slowed down my involvement in music from the mid 80’s to the mid 90’s but the Aria was always there. Come 1995 I was eager to get back playing regularly. A good job and a bit of disposable income led to my next purchase, which incidentally would be the start of my bass collecting obsession.
The Aria was traded in for a Fender Stu Hamm Signature P Bass at Coda Music in Luton. It was a delight to play but I fell out of favour with the shorter scale neck and soon felt the need to exchange it for something a bit different. This would be my last part exchange for a long time as I was about to start adding to my collection rather than exchanging old basses for new. First in the armoury was a beautiful bubinga Ibanez SDGR SR800 with gold hardware. This thing was so cool… I couldn’t find any pics of me using it but trust me, it was very, very slick. I picked it up from Machine Head in Hitchin which sadly, like so many music shops, has now closed.
With the Ibanez getting used on a regular basis I felt it time to expand the collection somewhat and in pretty quick succession I’d add a beautiful limited edition (one of only 100 made) Trace Elliot T-Bass in sea-foam green, a Washburn AB20 acoustic bass (simply wonderful), a Yamaha fretless bass (never gigged it, but had to have it) a Tanglewood 5 string (never got on with it – if four strings were good enough for messrs Currie, Entwistle and Pastorius then four was gonna be plenty for me… and still is to this day!) and an Epiphone violin bass (again, never gigged it but I just had to have a violin bass in the collection!).
Things really stepped up a gear on my 40th birthday in 2002. As was my wish, my wife managed to get hold of a Musicman Stingray 3EQ Piezo finished in natural wood. It was just perfect and would be my go-to bass for many years, especially when I started gigging with the Chris George Band in 2003 as demonstrators for Marshall amps. I’d add another Stingray to my collection also, a black 1980’s model with a beautiful birds-eye maple neck. These would travel with me on gigs to Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine as well as pretty much every corner of the UK.
Next in line for my collection was a stunning USA Fender Custom Shop ’54 style Precision bass – the one with the ‘Tele’ headstock. I saw it in the window of Coda Music in Luton one day and had to go in and have a closer look. It turned out the bass belonged to none other than Gary Day who originally played for Morrissey from 1991, until he was fired in 1994. He was then re-hired in 1999 for Morrissey's Oye Esteban tour and remained the band's bassist until they parted ways at the end of the 2006. Gary was ‘between gigs’ at the time and was actually working in the shop. Now, it’s no secret that I’m a huge Morrissey fan and this bass simply had to be in my collection, so I bought it. Gary had picked it up whilst touring in California with Morrissey – but now it was mine. I removed the vintage bridge in favour of a Badass IV bridge and boy did this thing sing. It soon became my fave bass for many, many gigs.
Being with the Chris George Band and Marshall opened up many an opportunity to acquire additional ‘axes’ or ‘bats’ as we’d call them. We’d play at all of the major guitar shows so visiting various manufacturer stands in your downtime was something that inevitably ended in a purchase, or an opportunity shall we say.
My next acquisition would be a Lakland Darryl Jones signature bass – for those that don’t know, Darryl Jones is the pretty much unknown bass playing member of the Rolling Stones, he has been since 1993 but never features in any band promo. Loosely based on a Jazz Bass this thing was gorgeous, finished in pearlescent white. I was trying it out at one of the many guitar shows we did. They offered me the opportunity to take it away and use it at our next performance that day. I did and the guitar never got returned, although money did exchange hands. I loved it. The action was low and fast and the tone perfectly complimented the Marshall VBA bass rig I was using at the time (and still use to this day!).
I’d get my first taste of Sandberg basses in 2007 whilst doing a Marshall gig at PMT music in Birmingham. They had just started stocking these German masterpieces and they very kindly leant me one for part of the gig. It was a California JJ, hardcore road-worn and very reminiscent of Jaco’s (Pastorius) famous Jazz bass. The tone and playability was incredible. Sandberg were looking for endorsees at the time and PMT very kindly introduced me to them and a deal was struck for my first Sandberg. I ordered one just like the one I had played that night in Birmingham and would pick it up a few months later at the London Guitar Show. If you’re into the hardcore aged look this thing was incredible. Tobacco sunburst with the sh*t beaten out of it. On it’s first outing at the Guitar Show I had someone ask me ‘how old is that bass man?’ they were shocked when I told them I’d literally just taken delivery earlier that day. I’m astounded that so few bass players have, even today, heard of Sandberg. These things are killer and winning huge and deserved praise around the world. They’re not cheap either and there is also a waiting list if you want one. If you’re a serious bass player and you’ve never tried one I urge you to, you’ll thank me.
It’ll come as no surprise then that I ordered my second Sandberg directly from the factory very shortly after. I’d pick it up some months later on my next visit to the Frankfurt Musik Messe with the Chris George Band and Marshall. This time it would be a beautiful and pristine (no ageing) mustard yellow California JM (a different pick-up configuration to the JJ). It was stunning and played and sounded great but for some reason it didn’t win me over like the JJ and a few years later I’d end up swapping it with a guy on a bass forum for an aged red JJ which I still own today.
About the same time as my Sandberg acquisitions I also got friendly with the lovely guys from Vintage Guitars distributed by John Hornby Skewes in Leeds. I got invited over to their offices to try out some basses and they fixed me up with a lovely V1004 active bass. My ugly and pouting mug would also appear in their 2009 brochure and advertising as a product endorsee. These basses were exceptional value for money and it became a very welcome part of my collection for many years.
Around 2010 life took a bit of an unexpected turn for me when my regular job (as owner and MD of a large creative agency) came to an end. The Marshall gigs also dried up about a year later and I took the decision to trim down my collection substantially, selling everything but my two Sandbergs. In the process I did pick up a Fender P Mike Dirnt (Green Day) signature bass which I took in as a part exchange on my Custom Shop Precision. I didn’t hang on to it though, it was excess to requirements and soon found its way into the hands of a very happy buyer.
I continued to gig my Sandbergs for the next few years and then the opportunity to join T.Rextasy came up – I started with them in October 2015 and it was the perfect excuse to indulge my passion in the sacred instrument once again. This time it would be strictly Fender Precision basses. Not just because it was Steve Currie’s bass of choice, but these things really are a no-nonsense workhorse and perfect for the job in hand. There was a small dalliance with a Fender Jazz bass on the way, but it didn’t last long. I picked it up for a song from a guy in Southampton. He’d used it in a dub band and it was in a pretty poor state with some mean low end booming pick-ups. It had a replacement but original Fender neck and was in desperate need of some tlc. I got a luthier friend of mine to fit it with new pick-ups and electronics and generally clean it up and set it up nicely. It was my ‘triggers-broom’ of basses (Only Fools fans will get what I mean - just about everything had been replaced!). I never gigged with it and parted company with it about a year later.
In the meantime, I acquired three Fender Precisions (all with maple necks) and used one of my Sandbergs (the tobacco-burst one) as collateral on one of the purchases. I now have a gold MIM (Mexico) deluxe with twin P/J pick-ups, a tobacco sunburst MIM standard P which is set up and plays as well as any bass I’ve owned and my wine/ruby red USA P which is my regular go-to bass. Along with my trusty red ‘berg the collection is now small, but perfectly formed.
So, there you have it, a (not so short) blog about my obsession with the bass guitar. I hope that, player or not, you’ve enjoyed this little meander into bass heaven. Thank you for indulging me.