Bass Desires

So, my good and dear friend Andy Rojas came over to the house in Outer Luongolia on Saturday.  I prepped for this auspicious event by hitting the Winn-Dixie liquor store and buying a bottle of my favorite daily whiskey, Canadian Club Classic 12, favorite because of its price to taste ratio.  Sure, I’d rather sit down with the Balvenie Doublewood, a Craggenmore or even The MacAllan, but those put too much strain on the pocketbook to be an everyday sipper for me.

So, after an afternoon of doing what we always do, effortlessly talk about power,politics and ourselves, we ventured onto music.  Now, Mr. Rojas has been scratching a lifelong itch to write and play his own music and as his long-time friend this is an endeavor that I enthusiastically support and am a little envious of, all in a very good way I assure you.  Music was my first real artistic love.  It drives my writing.  During the editing process, I’m more concerned with the rhythms of words than I am the words themselves, the implied melodies and all that.   But, you’ll note that for all of the writing I’ve done there hasn’t been any soundtrack accompanying it.  Good writing should flow like a good piece of music.

Over the holidays I spent a bit of time over at Andy’s site.  This post, in particular, hit home for me.  I stopped playing the bass somewhere in the mid-90’s. Lack of purpose and a crushing inability to search for new collaborators eventually proved too much.  I played daily and with great vigor for nearly 10 years.  I have a very much worse-for-wear 1985 Rickenbacker 4003, which has had only the bridge pickup for most of the time I’ve owned it.  Now, after 2 years of improper storage during the building of the house, the lacquer is  cracked, the pots are shot and it needed a fret job 15 years ago.   At one point I may have been a good bassist, but it was always the second choice instrument because at heart I was a drummer.  My approach to the instrument was always through a drummer’s sensibilities.  I didn’t study bass players, I studied drummers.  My musical idols, with the exception of Tony Levin and Geddy Lee, are all drummers: Bill Bruford, Neil Peart, Joe Morello, Vinnie Coliauta.

During my most intense phase of being a ‘musician’ I didn’t go to workshops given by bass players, I went to see guys like Simon Phillips, a man I can only describe as the love-child of Howie Mandel and Eric Idol.  I did meet Tony Levin outside of the Meadowlands before a Peter Gabriel concert…. I was speechless, my friend and high-school band drummer Pete Ladka, the truly gregarious one, did all the talking.

I have an electronic drum kit that, while there are things I don’t like in it, is more than enough instrument for my capabilities.  It is not the impediment to my further improvement, my right hand technique is.  I am left-handed and play traditional grip, for clarity.

I’ve never had the confidence to seek out other musicians.  I still don’t.  But, I felt confident enough to offer my services to Andy on Saturday because I trusted him and felt I could perform well enough for the type of music he was creating.  Wander over to the poetry page here and you will see evidences of Mr. Rojas’ influence as my editor.  So, how happy was I when he not only accepted my offer but was overjoyed at the concept of collaborating with me.

Of course, what caught me blind-sided was his bringing up my putting down bass tracks as well.  I’d only been considering putting together drum parts.  Unfortunately, at this point I realized I didn’t have a bass that would be anywhere close to acceptable for the job.  But, my enthusiasm was piqued and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  Artistic ideas have been circling through the aether that is my head for a few months now, they are being worked on privately.

So, of course, after he left Saturday evening I spent two hours researching low end bass guitars and recording equipment solutions that fit my life.  On the way back to my home away from home yesterday I stopped into the Best Buy in Gainesville, which has a pretty functional musical equipment section.  I was looking for something sub $300 that had a bridge and nut that didn’t suck.

I started at the top of my price range with a Schecter that had a through-body bridge design, which I figured would be better than the massless bridges found on most low end basses.  It was okay, but I really fought with it.  Action was high, the neck was too thick.  It wasn’t my bass.  I played a Peavey Millenium that was $50 cheaper and I nearly bought it until I found a buzz on the E-string in 1st position.  It wasn’t action or truss related, there looked to be a small hump around the 3rd fret that couldn’t be worked around.  Damn it was pretty.

Then, for a lark I pulled down a Dean that cost…. ready for it…. $179.99.  Unfinished maple neck, just the way I like ’em (I sanded the back of my Rick’s neck ages ago), low action, P/J – style active pickups and a big fat bridge.  It was smooth and fun to play.

My jaw hit the floor.

I checked for buzzes…. none that I could find.  So I said to myself, “Okay, but can it hold a note?!”  I plucked the E-string once and counted…. after 15 seconds or so I muted the strings and shook my head.  Basses are not supposed to be this good for this price.  They just aren’t.   A new Rickenbacker 4003 lists at $2195.  The low-end Steinbergers, which was a fall-back plan knowing that the hardware on them was excellent, start at $400.  It’s amazing what can be achieved through the free market.  It was unthinkable when I was a kid to buy any electric guitar for that price and get something a half-competent musician could use.  And today?  They come in an endless variety of colors and hardware.

I bought it and a hard shell case for less than the Schecter I’d gone in to buy in the first place.  I’m still in a bit of shock.  I did uncover a small buzz on the G-string but that can be worked out in about 15 seconds with an allen-wrench.  Whatever.  I now have a perfectly functional bass with which to begin remembering how to play competently again.  Moreover, I also have a purpose to work towards in a medium I’ve never worked in.  All the flaws in my playing will be uncovered during the recording process.  Good.  I’m scared, excited and itching to get to work.

Ta,

The Picture above is of the Dean Jeff Berlin Signature bass.  That thing, which is just gorgeous, is only $450.  That may be my next purchase.

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