My morning, pre-work, tea time is usually spent checking emails, Facebook messages and my Twitter feed. One query appears more than any other, and almost daily, “What kind of _______ do you use?” Be it my bass, or my strings, my string gauges, amplification, recording gear, microphones, or cables (you get the picture); people want to know where this or that sound comes from. I always answer these questions gladly and herein intend to fully present you with a comprehensive list of the gear that I use. However, I would like to share my philosophy on gear acquisition first because I feel that it is important for young musicians, and some older ones, to understand that music comes from people, not from gear.
In my book, there are a few exceptions to this rule and in these cases the musicians use their gear and the technology as an instrument, so that’s why it all works out. David Evans (The Edge) from U2 comes to mind, as does the prime example ofHendrix; Jimi’s guitar playing was fantastic and unmatched. Yes, Jimi’s contemporaries were amazed and could not keep up with his mastery of new technologies but it was his spirit, experience and style that brought his musical vision to light. Do you think that Jimi would not have reached such heights without Roger Mayer? Of course he would have. Roger’s work was brilliant, and did push everything over the top, but I do not believe that it was a deal breaker that would have cost Jimi his place in the pantheon of guitar gods. Similarly, and more recently, there are artists who rely entirely on technology for their sound, yet still have good songs and a distinct musical approach. I totally dig Sonny Moore’s (Skrillex) music because he’s got style. I guess that what I want to say is that if you put your actual music first, there are no rules, but the other way around just doesn’t work for me as a listener. Don’t go out and spend money with the thought that this piece of gear will make great music, get you famous or get people’s attention. Just be informed that purchasing a Fodera will not make you sound like Victor Wooten. You can collect all of the same elements that an artist used to create something, but it is that artists life experiences that mold those elements into their art. [Rant over].
My bass was made by Alembic in 1998, it is a Special Edition Anniversary bass (number 59 of 60). The bass has Alembic’s “Epic” body style and features a flamed maple top with a mahogany body, and an ebony fingerboard with oval pearl inlays. Oh, and there is a purple heart veneer accent as well, and all of the electronics and hardware are original.
In 1998, I was in a bit of a transitional period of trying to figure things out. I had some auditions for a couple of bands in San Francisco and just had a cheap Ibanez Sound Gear bass because I had sold everything to get out of Salt Lake City and back to California with my wife and our first child. My amazing, and eternally openhanded, mother accompanied me on a trip to a local San Jose guitar shop. I think that our journey was to procure new strings, but by the time we walked out of the store she had insisted that this little Alembic join us on the way home. “Number 59” has been my main axe ever since. My wife refers to this beautiful blonde as “the other woman” (in jest of course…I think). I must confess to spells where my eyes wandered and I did lust after others; I bought a five string Brian Moore bass that played really great and a Zeta electric double bass along with a few others, and I did enjoy their company for a while. When hard times hit my flooring business in 2008, however, I had to sell everything in order to be more mobile, and to make ends meet. “59” was the only bass I kept.
Presently, I am more content with this one instrument than I would have previously thought possible, it is a beautiful instrument with a unique character. I am so thankful to have it. Oh, and I met this amazing cat named Trip Wamsley that has one of my bass’s siblings (numbered in the 20’s I think). Anyway, I am looking for a second four string just for peace of mind. Now that I travel a fair bit, I am afraid that I may be up-a-creek should anything unfortunate happen, so it does seem prudent to get a back-up. I’ll be keeping an eye out for something at the NAMM show this weekend (2014 NAMM)
Of Mice and Mesa
I have a Mesa Boogie Walkabout Scout combo amplifier. The Walkabout earns it’s name fairly well, it is small enough to carry around and, for it’s size, does a remarkable job filling a good sized room. The tone is crisp and fat with 300 watts @ 4Ohms. The Walkabout’s cabinet is well designed and is set up as a convertible; the amp head is built to pop right out with just a couple of screws, which is really a good thing. WhenJackson Jackson and I recorded my Loose Ends album we discovered that the Walkabout’s cooling fans were just too loud for the studio environment. We ended up removing the head and putting it into the other room, which meant that we could record just the speaker cab without the extra noise. Other than the fan noise, there is only one flaw; the silk screened text on the face of the amp has fallen off. I don’t really understand why this happened because I don’t often take my amp with me, as most of the venues that I play provide sound engineers and back line gear. Anyway, I love the sound of my Mesa.
It is worth noting that my choice of amps was initially based on size. I previously owned Eden and Aguilar stacks, but I just could not keep schlepping them around.
Side note: I set about taking some pictures of my gear to accompany this blog post. My Mesa sits in a little cubby under my bed directly behind my desk. I removed it in order to get better lighting for the photos, I picked it up and it rattled as if something was inside. The sound was almost like that of a rain stick, actually, so lots of little somethings were inside. My amp was full of cat food, and a Frito! Evidently a mouse has been storing up for winter. The tuned port on the bottom has allowed it entry and provided him or her with a convenient and warm safe-haven from the clutches of my cat, Professor Frank M. Mcgonagall.
Strings are actually a big deal! When you get to be an old dog, and you’ve only got one instrument that you know intimately, anything that changes the sound and feel of your instrument is glaringly obvious. Some strings have a sticky feel and grab on to your fingers like sand paper, while others are slick as butter dripping off a hot biscuit. I like coated round wound strings in standard or light gauges. Presently, I have an aging set of Nexus 40-100’s strung up on my bass. I ordered a set of Kalium strings from my friend Chris Cardone that I will be picking up, in person, at the NAMM show later today :)
Update: Kalium Strings provided me with three sets of strings in different gauges the moment that I said I loved them (happy dance). I will be doing an in depth review, maybe a video, after I have had a chance to play them a bit more. I did one gig in Long Beach, CA this weekend with my Kalium’s and they really are fantastic.
I have a new MOTU Microbook II that I really don’t know how to use yet, but it sounds
in-frick’n-credible so far. I use a Sennheiser ($99 dollar special) vocal mic and I have a Rode NT1A that sounds fantastic for the price. I don’t really have a clue what I am doing when it comes to recording and have been learning on the job as I go along.