Saturday, 23 July 2011

Time for some bass

 For a blog that's supposed to be about life through the eyes of a bass player, there's been little or no mention of basses or bass playing so far.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Number one I'm really busy at the moment getting ready for my wedding so my thoughts are more on what our first dance is going to be and how much ale I need to order so my friends can get absolutely hammered, and number two is that I've had a bit of a bass holiday in the past few weeks. My mate Harry who runs one of the bands has gone to Italy so rehearsals for the new album have been shelved while he's been away. A significant part of the other group I play in - a Russian music band in which I play contra bass, the large triangular three-stringed bass - has been away in Sweden at a balalaika festival and try as I might I couldn't justify spending the money when I have all that ale to pay for. Dave, Harry.. I hope you're reading this.

Anyway, my instrument of choice is a Fender Jazz bass and I'll post a few pictures of it in various poses over the next few weeks. I've been playing bass since about 1982 but I'm not exactly what you'd call a virtuoso.. more of a riff-merchant. I haven't improved much, you might say.

As you'll notice from the headstock, it's an American Jazz, which makes it in my opinion ten times as good as the cheaper Fenders, mostly made in Mexico. I have a rule of thumb: if a bass comes to life in my hands and I feel it connects with my soul, then that's the bass for me. That's what happened with this one. But let me tell you a story first about one that I didn't buy.

I was travelling across Norway with a mate on a red wine and fjords odyssey: see the fjords, then get hammered kind of operation. We were in Bergen with an hour or so to kill to wait for that fantastic coastal steamer the Hurtigruten to leave for Alesund, so we had a look round the town. I was between groups and not playing much - this was about 2003 - but we saw a music shop so went in to have a look. I'm not really one for playing instruments in music shops - that's more for flash w*nkers who like to show off their Nirvana or Chilli Peppers riffs, but I picked up an American Jazz and started to play.. and the thing started bucking round like a fish trying to get back in the water. At least that's how it felt. Really, sometimes these things happen. So anyway, it's not really realistic for me to buy a pretty expensive guitar then lug it all round Norway via bus and boat then back on a plane, so I put it back on its stand and walked out of the shop. But.... I never forgot that black Jazz and what it felt like.

 When I started playing regularly and seriously again about three years later I decided to treat myself and - with the memory of the black Jazz in my mind - I set off round the music shops of Manchester to see if I could find anything that did what the black one had done. And blow me if the first American Jazz I picked up didn't do exactly the same thing!
I put it to one side and went round a few more shops just to try a few more out, but they weren't as good, and no other bass gave me such a connection. Not even a Rickenbacker, and I'd always wanted one of those.
So I made an offer on the sunburst Jazz and as happens in these cases walked out of the shop with it twenty minutes later.
Every time I strap it on, it feels absolutely brilliant. I love playing it. It's a beautiful, resonant, responsive instrument, not just some piece of wood with bits of wire stretched across it.  It's marvellously contoured, smooth and shiny and wonderfully weighted and the tone on it is phenomenal. The fretboard is firm and the neck's long but not too long: the low F and the G growl like guard dogs. Maybe it's because I've had it since new but it feels like it looks after itself.

It's been across Europe and to America and thankfully escaped any type of damage. Once I lent a previous bass to a friend and it came back with a massive chip out of it: he'd dropped it. And he didn't even have it repaired for me. The chunk is still out of it to this day, but I would never, ever lend a guitar to anyone else ever again after that. It's too upsetting when they get damaged.

So I consider myself lucky to have such a terrific relationship with this bass, and to have the opportunity to play it regularly: usually between 7pm and 10pm on Monday nights. I love the big fat bass strings, even though when I first started playing they used to take the skin off my fingers, but they don't now. And when I lift the thing out of its case, it's like a magical moment - and how many people can say that?
I'd have to say that I consider myself pretty lucky to have something like this in my life. It's an other-worldly experience to play a top class instrument, so any budding bass players out there take note: just buy an American Fender Jazz. I guess I'm what you'd call a satisfied customer.

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