Update on my broken bass…

Anderson Page and Steve Lawson fighting over Steve's Bass. 'From My Cold Dead Hands'So, as you know, the saga so far is that British Airways smashed up my bass on the way over here back in Mid-Dec. I emailed them and rang them and was told to ‘send them the fragile tag and the bubble wrap receipt‘ – fragile tag was a generic piece of cardboard, and the request for bubble wrap receipt came off like a sick joke, if you’d seen the damage done…

Anyway, over the course of NAMM weekend, quite a few bass builders looked at it, most with a look of horror on their faces. All said it wouldn’t repair adequately, and at best would need to have the spruce top sliced off and replaced. Not good. That’s a few grand’s worth of work.

Fast forward to yesterday, and I finally get to visit the lovely geniuses at Modulus Guitars, who made the bass (and every other solid bodied electric bass I’ve played in the last 16 years). I showed the bass to their chief bass builder, designer and all-round bass building ninja-dude, Joe Perman, and he basically wrote off the body. Because the crack goes ALL THE WAY THROUGH THE BODY by the jack socket, and is right across the grain through the top, any repair is going to be a botch job at best. He said he could make it better, but not great.

So we start discussing other options, after deciding it needs a new body. At this point, the willingness of Joe and Modulus A & R guy and dude-who-sorts-things-out Anderson Page to bend over backwards to help was astounding. Ideas were thrown around, including putting the neck and electronics from my bass on a completely solid body until they had time to build a new one, and even shipping me the body to have Martin Peterson assemble it in London…

First Touch of my new bass bodyBut then a Joe has a light-bulb moment, remembering that there was in fact a semi-hollow Q6 body that had a tiny blemish (I couldn’t even see it!) that meant it couldn’t be sold (their quality control is exceptional). I looked at it, and loved the idea…

‘can I take it home on Thursday then?’ – er no, it’ll take a coupla weeks to get it finished and sprayed and for the lacquer to dry… which reminded me of a conversation I’d had last week with Steve Azola, maker of the incredible Azola upright basses, who was wondering what my bass would be like with a rubbed finish, rather than the heavy lacquer finish. “if we did that kind of finish, would that work?”

Joe’s eyes lit up – it was a plan that allowed them to use a body that couldn’t be sold, to experiment with a new finish for their basses AND I get a perfect working bass to go home with. The old body on mine becomes a write-off, but the new bass will be a whole other bass adventure for me. The wood combination is different (walnut top on an alder body) so will add a different flavour to my music. Always a nice game to play 🙂

As you can see in the photo at the top, part of me is loathe to let go of the bass that has been MY sound for a decade. It’s what happens at the end of my arms, a new limb… But that’s not going to happen, it’s not going to be fixed, BA saw to that by completely trashing the old one.

Good job bass manufacturers don’t function like airlines.

We’ll be heading back to Modulus tomorrow morning to see how they are getting on with it… More photos and blog posts then!

California part II

NAMM was over as soon as it began. It was definitely one of my favouritest NAMM shows ever. Getting to play all the Looperlative demos (and a Modulus demo) with Lo. and getting to hang out and play a lot with Claudio was just great. Having set times to play at Looperlative made the days much easier to plan, and thanks to a food intolerance, we didn’t make any trips over to Subway (about a 45 minute round trip), so stayed nearer the convention centre for food and coffee, thus giving us more time on the show floor.

As usual, the magic of NAMM was in the lovely peoples – the rest of it is 100,000 music gear makers and sellers lying to each other for a weekend to the atonal accompaniment of slap bass, poorly executed paradiddles and 80s guitar shredding. Thankfully, in 10 years of visiting NAMM, I’ve accumulated a circle of friends and acquaintances so lovely and so numerous that there were quite a few I didn’t get to see this year, or saw for such a brief time that it was actually more frustrating than not seeing them at all! So for those of you that I missed, I’m REALLY sorry. Hopefully we’ll be out in CA in the summer for some stuff – watch this space…

It was a really great NAMM for Looperlative, partly because most of the ‘competition’ were conspicuously absent from the show, but largely just because in its third NAMM show, the product has proved itself, there’s a solid user base who swear by it, Bob’s proved he can do the customer service and support required for a product in that market and price range and a lot of people are realising that to get a dedicated laptop looping set up that’s stable enough for stage usage, fast enough for low latency audio, and especially if you want to use it for processing your sound too, costs a heck of a lot of money. The software part of it may be a free download, but trying to run a looper on a laptop alongside all your other stuff and expect it to not crap out on you on tour is asking a heck of a lot from your gear… 2008 could end up being an amazing year for Looperlative…

In other gear news, Accugroove launched a new amp, that sounded great, and certainly bodes well for the hopefully-finally-on-the-way powered cabinets…

From NAMM, we spent a day in and around LA with Claudio and Alex Machacek – who inevitably found that had hundreds of friends and musical acquaintances in common. Alex gave us a copy of his new album, Improvision, a trio record with Matthew Garrison and Jeff Sipe. Really amazing stuff.

Then it was the long drive north to Oakland for a couple of days with Michael Manring, before our last gig of the tour at Don Quixote’s in Felton, near Santa Cruz. Things were looking really great attendance-wise before the show – threads on discussion boards with folks arranging to meet up at the show. Then the weather went to shit, and a snow and ice warning quite understandably curtailed the travel plans of quite a few people. And yet we still managed to pull a decent crowd, and played some of the most satisfying music I’ve been a part of in ages. I started the show solo, then Lo. joined me for a duo set, then after the break was Michael solo, then he and I duo, and finally a trio improv piece. The improv stuff both duo and trio felt really really great, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the video and hearing the recordings that were taken on the night… we’ll see if there’s anything useable in there… Also worth a mention is that the soundman at the venue, a guy called Lake, was one of the finest club engineers we’d ever worked with. A really friendly guy, with great working gear, and just fantastic sound! It was one of the best sounds I’ve ever heard Michael have, and the on-stage sound was amazing too… it makes all the difference.

And then we flew back to Ohio, and both Lo and I fell ill. Proper ill. Fever and shaking ill. Yesterday was a wash-out – having hardly slept on an overnight flight, I slept pretty much all day, and then all night too. Feeling much better today.

So tomorrow we drive to New York, and I fly home on Wednesday – feel free to email me now if you want to sort out teaching stuff for when I’m back! :o) It’s time to start booking some UK gigs now too.

NAMM over for another year




Me and Lee Sklar

Originally uploaded by solobasssteve.

Wow, a crazy NAMM weekend – very little time for anything outside of NAMMness, hence the lack of blogging, but a great weekend nonetheless. One of the things I did this year that I always forget to do was to take a few pictures with people I like, such as this one with Lee Sklar – Lee’s an incredible bassist, and very very lovely man, who has been very complimentary about what I do for a long time. A great bloke and an amazing musician. go and check out my other Flickr photos for some others, including one of me with Alex Webster, the bassist from Cannibal Corpse – a lovely friendly guy who bought a CD and I gave an impromptu lesson to… completely at odds with the utterly sickening lyrics on a lot of their stuff… Never judge a book by it’s cover, or a bassist by the twistedness of his band’s album covers (sensitive readers are advised not to do a google search on CC’s album sleeves)…

OK, let’s catch up on the last few days – Thursday daytime was spent playing on the Looperlative and Accugroove booths, then the evening was The NAMM Bass Bash, where I was playing with Trip Wamsley. I was told it started at 7, but I got there at about 6.30 and TRip was already on stage playing!! So I set up next to him and joined in – we did a rather cool spacey version of Behind Every Word, which went into a huge sprawling ambient thing that briefly morphed into Radar Love… not sure what happened there. Still, Trip was on top form, playing beautifully. The rest of the evening was spent with friends – Doug and Vida, Claudio Zanghieri, Jeff Schmidt, Todd Johnson and Kristin Korb (whose duo set was amazing), Steve Bailey, Gary Husband and others… Much fun.

Friday day was more playing for Accugroove, Looperlative and Modulus, and in the evening a bit of a bass player hang for dinner with Peter Murray, Claudio Zanghieri, Dave Freeman, Chris Tarry| and Yves Carbonne – all great musicians and lovely people. Then late night I drove up to Hollywood to see Doug Lunn and Alex Macachek play with Terry Bozzio’s trio, which was excellent as always.

Saturday back at the show, yadda yadda, and in the evening was invited to play a house concert with the delightful and truly wonderful Vicki Genfan, which as with most of those kinds of gigs involved playing gorgeous music and wonderful people in a great house. What a fun night!

And today, the last day of the show, demoing the Looperlative, playing with Claudio at Modulus and catching up with more friends that I hadn’t seen over the rest of the weekend. All good nothing bad.

So all in a great time – here’s a partial list of the lovely people I got to catch up with, albeit briefly in the case of some of them – Claudio Zanghieri, Peter Murray, Kerry Getz, Anderson Page, Chris Tarry, Dominique Di Piazza, Hadrien Ferraud, Jonas Hellborg, Markus Setzer, Trip Wamsley, Jeff Schmidt, Gary Husband, Vicki Genfan, Thomas Leeb, Doug Wimbish, Yves Carbonne, Stu McKensie, Scott Panzera, Todd Johnson, Kristin Korb, Jake Kott, Mark Wright, Bob Amstadt, Lowell Packham, Jerry Watts, Doug and Vida, Lyle Workman, Jeff Campitelli, Lee Sklar, Leo Nobre, Alex Webster, Lynne Davis, Ron Garant, Justin Medal Johnson, Ed Friedland, EE Bradman, Bill Leigh, Terry Buddingh, Jean Baudin, Jeremy Cohen, Max Valentino, Norm Stockton, Joe Zon, Seth Horan, Marcus Miller, Monster, Steve Bailey, Alessandra Belloni, Joe Perman, Muriel Anderson, Alain Caron, Tony Levin… the list goes on and on, and I’ll add to it if you email me and remind me that we met and I’ve left you off – it’s 1am and I’m getting sleepy!

So, NAMM over for another year, lots of follow up to do now for gigs, teaching and new friends. All good nothing bad.

How Music Gear Endorsements Work…

It’s one of those perennial questions on bass forums and in emails I get – how do you get an endorsement deal with a bass company? The latest endorsement related discussion revolved around a very friendly chap on on of the bass forums I post on sending me a message to say he was friendly with the owners of a particular company and could put in a word for me for an endorsement deal with them.

Which was very nice buy wholly unnecessary, given that

  • a) I knew the company owner already,
  • b) don’t really like what they make b) wouldn’t switch from what I’m using now just because I was offered lots of money (something that’s really not going to happen to a player in my position) and
  • c) LOVE the stuff I’m using.

Let’s make it clear, getting paid to play someone’s particular product is very rare indeed. Becoming a demonstrator happens occasionally to lesser known players, but that’s just a job like any other – it’s not really a perk, more a cool job. It involves a lot of work, and usually pretty grueling sessions at trade shows. There’s rarely a retainer, and the rate of pay is pretty good, usually, but certainly not something most people could live on…

The Big Boys (probably about 5-10 of them in the world) are on a retainer – signature product sales often incur a royalty for the person whose name is on the front, and there are all kinds of deals struck to get HUGE name players using the gear, which range from split ad campaigns (promoting the gear and the artist’s new album) through to high profile clinic tours that follow the band’s tour, and even stands at arena shows for the company.

Next down are those that get instruments – these are rarely ‘free’, even if you don’t pay for them. They are in exchange for promotional services. They are usually there because the company in question can’t really afford to pay what you’re worth for clinics and appearances and being in ads, so instead they give you gear, which is worth a lot more in hard cash terms to you than it is to them. So I’ve had a few bits of free gear, and in exchange they get the exposure for me using the gear on clinics and masterclasses… it’s more of an acknowledgement thing for what actually happens – my students get to see the gear cos it’s what I play through…

When I left my previous amp deal, and started using AccuGroove, I was offered ‘deals’ of sorts with a host of companies. It was rather nice being courted (no one actually phoned me to schmooze me, but it happened to be around the time of a couple of trade shows and at those trade shows, word got round that I was no longer using the amp I had been using, and I was told by the owners and A & R people from about 6 companies that they would like to ‘work with me’. One of them offered a paid position as demo guy as well. Most of them were much higher profile than AccuGroove, but all had one thing in common – they didn’t get close to the sound I was looking for in my new rig. I knew it had to be stereo and MUCH higher fidelity than it was before. Add to that that I already knew the AccuGroove guys and was friends with them, knew what their speakers could do, I decided to go with quality and friendship over (potential) money and exposure.

Is this because I’m some kind of puritan? No, it’s as much a longer term commercial decision as it is one of ‘integrity’. The guys on the high dollar deals with companies that mass produce cheap crap in China tend to switch fairly often – when someone comes along offering more money, they jump ship, and every time they do, their reputation slides just that little bit further. If I was play in a Nu Metal band to 10s of thousands of people a night, that wouldn’t really filter through, the kidz would just go out and buy the new signature bass and all would be happy.

However, if you’re a solo bassist, you tend to be scrutinised more by the tech-heads. I got loads of emails when I changed my amp set up, asking me what was wrong with the old one, people who’d bought the old one because of me, and wondering if they’d make a mistake etc. The geeks were watching, and I realised that if I was changing every 18 months or so, my credibility was going to disappear pretty damn quick.

So I went with the one that offered me the best possible sound. To get any better, I’d have to go to the pro audio world, and start using studio monitors on stage. Problem with that is, they’d be WAY too heavy, and far too fragile. There genuinely is nothing that could do what I’m doing with these speakers. The nearest direct comparison would be PA companies like Mackie and JBL, but they both tend to optimise their speakers for vocal projection, sacrificing low end and tonal sweetness. They work fine as PAs, not so great as bass amps.

Same with Modulus – I’ve been playing a Modulus bass for over 13 years, the only non-Modulus bass I’ve owned (still own) in that time is my Rick Turner, and their instruments do just about everything I need them to do. They like what I do, I love what they do, and the relationship is mutually agreeable. Add to that that Modulus are, as far as I’m aware, the only bass building company who are striving to use 100% independently certified eco-friendly wood, and you’ve got yourself a match made in bass heaven. it’s the same all the way round.

So if you’re thinking about such things, have a bit of a profile and something to offer a company, my advice would be to forge a friendship with the people who make the gear that you LOVE, rather than just trying to schmooze the A and R people at companies that take out huge ads in magazines.

For the record, the companies that I have some kind of ‘deal’ with [as of Oct 7 2006] are:
AccuGroove Speakers
Modulus Basses
Looperlative
East UK Preamps
Bass Centre Elites Strings
Evidence Audio cables

Comments down…

Comments are down on this ‘ere blog at the moment. Problems caused by the scumbags who keep trying to spam it (the spam gets filtered, but it doesn’t stop them trying 100s of times a minute!)

So if you want to comment/discuss stuff on here, you’ll have to do it over in The forum – the new signup thing there is that you need to put the word ‘MODULUS’ in the space for the VIP code on the signup page. Another measure to stop spammers from signing up automatically…

see you over there…

Postcard from SF Airport

I’m officially on my way home, sat in San Francisco airport, waiting for my flight.

The last few days have been fantastic – catching up with friends around the bay area, and then Saturday’s masterclass and gig.

Friday night was spent firstly having dinner with Rick Turner and with two lovely new friends from Third World Guitars in the Dominican Republic. I also got to try out Rick’s brand new 6 string Renaissance bass, which was just as fantastic as you’d imagine (John Lester is going to be wanting one of these, for sure…)

Then it was out to see another friend’s band play – a rock/metal covers band called Mr Meanor – great players, who’ve clearly put a heck of a lot of time, energy and skill into what they do – it’s great to see a bar band that plays with such conviction. The weird thing was how few of the songs I knew – the US and UK rock charts in the 70s and 80s were clearly very different!

Onto Saturday – It’s the third time I’ve taught a masterclass here, and the biggest so far – I set a limit of 20 people and we had 20 people, which was good – two long sessions of almost three hours each with an hour off for lunch and trying eachother’s basses etc. it was, as is my usual teaching approach, a lot more about the mental approach to playing than it was about ‘licks to play over a D minor chord’ – I probably only played for about 15 minutes total in the class, but spent most of the time answering questions, and dealing with a lot of the misconceptions that we’ve all grown up with about the music making process. the feedback thus far from the people who came along has been great, and hopefully the discussions will continue on the forum.

From the masterclass, we headed over to the espresso garden – this was my fifth gig at the Espresso Garden, and possibly, sadly, my last, as the venue is being sold, but doesn’t have a buyer as yet. It’s a great venue that has hosted gigs by some of my favourite musicians – John Lester, Kris Delmhorst, Muriel Anderson, Martyn Joseph – a great listening room for acoustic music. It’s the fourth time that Michael and I had played there together, and the second time that we filled it, which felt good. We also had Jeff Schmidt along with us, who played a lovely opening set, and joined us for a cool improv at the end of the gig.

I think the most startling thing about the gig was Michael’s sound – due to the logistics of the gig, he had Mark Wright from Accugroove bring him a couple of speakers to use, which meant that all three of us were going through Accugroove stereo rigs – I’ve NEVER heard Michael’s bass sound that clear or focussed. It was incredible.

It was also a lot of fun for me to be using the Looperlative on a solo gig – it’s the first time I’ve done it, and it sounded great – I even tried a version of ‘Despite My Worst Intentions’, which I’ve never played with that box (and it has some pretty complex looping stuff going on with it) and it worked a treat, it made sense, and felt good.

All in, a marvellous day!

Yesterday was another magical day – the morning spent with Mark Wright, the afternoon with Michael Manring, the early evening teaching a great bassist called Arianne Cap, then dinner with Arianne, her husband Wolfgang, and with Jeff Schmidt and his wife Valerie, followed by late evening with Anderson Page from Modulus and his wife Laura – a day chock full of encounters with fantastic inspiring lovely friends. California is like that for me – I get to see so many great people, who energise me, inspire me musically, politically, spiritually… I really don’t think I could ever live out here (maybe that’ll change), but some of my favourite people in the whole world are here. Thanks to all of you for what you feed into my life.

California catch-up

So what have I missed from NAMM?

Well, I posted about Thursday night – that was fun.

Friday – er, can’t remember much about during the day, other than doing some Looperlative demos, and playing on the Accugroove stand. Oh, and did a set at Modulus as well, though where Modulus is stationed, it’s all but impossible to play anything due to them being flanked by hair-metal amp companies and opposite the Taylor booth who have a stage set up with acoustic bands playing all the time. Accugroove and Looperlative are both down in Hall E where the noise level is much lower, so more people could stop and listen to what’s being played. And on both those stands I had AccuGroove speakers to play through, which made all the difference. I just don’t like using regular bass amps any more. The only bass cabinet company that comes close to AccuGroove is Glokenklang – they make some really lovely uncoloured speaker cabs. Great stuff.

Anyway, what else? Ah, Friday evening, Sabian had a big show, featuring some celeb drummers – Dave Weckl, Terry Bozzio and Joey Heredia. Terry being the interest, not just because he’s already more interesting than the others, but because he had the wonderful Doug Lunn on bass. Doug’s one of my closest american friends, and him playing also meant that his wife Vida was at the show on Friday, so we had lunch – that’s what NAMM’s pretty much all about for me, catching up with the lovely people here that I only get to see once a year.

The gig itself started and was unintentionally funny – I was there with three lovely bass people – Peter Murray, Jeff Schmidt and Janek Gwizdala – Weckl came on and it took us a while to work out what it sounded like, but we hit the name on the head with ‘game show themes’ – not my bag at all, I’m just not into clever twiddly fusion like that…

So we wandered outside, and hung out, chatted, laughed a lot – all good.

Back inside for the Bozzio band, which was a whole different proposition. Some seriously dark, difficult music, that owed more to Pierre Boulez or Edgar Varese than to the usual guitar trio reference points. Alex Machacacek who wrote most of the material is a remarkable guitarist, writing incredibly dense structured music, with multiple time and tempo changes each bar. Scary stuff. Doug acquitted himself admirably, playing this scary mathematical music with a serious amount of groove and flair.

Saturday at NAMM is mayhem – way too many people there, lots of celebs showing up (eg Gene Simmons shows up with film crew in tow – I saw him there up close last year and he looks like a pile of offal from a butchers floor that someone has mushed together and re-animated. Not a good advert for ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ living.) So I stayed down in Hall E for a lot of the time, and escaped over to Subway for lunch. Didn’t even think about playing on the Modulus booth, but did a fair amount of stuff down at Looperlative, including some fun duets with Tal Wilkenfeld – a fab Australian bassist living in NYC – I blogged about seeing her play last year.

Saturday night at NAMM means ‘Muriel Anderson’s All Star Guitar Night’ – one of the best gigs of the show. Sadly this year, I missed a lot of it due to heading up to Hollywood to see Bozzio’s trio again at the Baked Potato. But not before I’d gone in to meet Patti Larkin – Patti’s a huge favourite of mine, a stunning singer/songwriter who has worked a lot with Michael Manring over the years and I’ve been wanting to meet for years. A few connections were used, and I got a chance to say hello and briefly discuss the possibility of her coming over to play in the UK – that’d be great!

then off up to Hollywood for more Bozzio/Lunn/Machacek craziness. top stuff, but a very late drive back to Bob and Alison’s in Costa Mesa.

And then Sunday – the quiet day, I arrived late at the show, and left early, but not before filming the Looperlative demo and saying goodbye to some lovely friends for another year. And I headed off into Hollywood again to see another old friend, Tanya, who I’d not seen for three years, feeling dried out and exhausted (me, not Tanni) by four days of vicious air conditioning and walking miles.

Soundtrack – in the car here, I’ve been listening to lots of music by friends of mine, to keep me from feeling homesick – Juliet Turner, BJ Cole, Mark Lockheart, Thomas Leeb… it works.

Day one of NAMM proper

So the mayhem started today. Having a US mobile phone has proved to be an absolute God-send, keeping me in touch with all the disparate groups of people I need to meet up with.

A mellow morning, wandering around, seeing friends, explaining the Looperlative to a few people, Lunch with Laurie and Janek, then back to do some playing, first on the Looperlative stand, then Accugroove. Headed up to Modulus to play too, but there was a guy playing Stick in the booth next door, so it wasn’t going to happen.

Then BassBash – v. nearly late getting their thanks to traffic, but we found a way through. Got there, set up and played some duet stuff with Trip, which went down great. Then had to run off to do my second gig of the evening with Jason Feddy – no rehearsal, really shitty charts, but a whole lot of fun. Jason’s songs are great, and he’s one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet (a Leeds lad living in Laguna Beach… oh yes.)

Jason’s set was v. late, and it meant that I was held up at the hotel til way later than expected, which lead to my first let down of NAMM – NAMM is all about let downs, people arranging to meet up and missing eachother etc. This one was that I was supposed to go and pick up Jeff Schmidt again from the BassBash, but couldn’t cos I was playing! Here’s hoping Jeff got back (it was walkable, but it’s a way!) – sorry Jeff!

And the evening ended watching Dave Pomeroy playing bass for Doyle Dykes. Great stuff.

The one stupid thing I forgot to do today was drink enough water, and I’m feeling a little dehydrated now. Must do better tomorrow.

The privilege of making gorgeous music for a living.

Had a fantastic studio session today – overdubbing bass parts on some new tunes by BJ Cole and Davy Spillane. The tracks so far feature BJ on pedal steel, Davy on a collection of low whistles and pipes, and Guy Jackson on piano and keys. The combination of just these three is pretty intoxicating – gorgeous evocative sounds whirling around each other, both Davy and BJ embellishing all the tunes so they weave in and out of each other’s space even when they are playing in ‘unison’.

It was really nice to have such a full canvass on which to put what I do – so many recording jobs are bass and drums first, so there’s no knowing what’s going to happen on top. Here, the arrangements are pretty fixed, so the spaces that I had to play in were already in place. I did some stuff where I was playing one note in a bar, just playing the roots deep down on the B string of my Renaissance fretless, and other places where I was playing melodic fills and nice twiddly stuff up the top end of my Modulus fretless 6. Much fun. Now I’m looking forward to the gigs, when they happen!

Soundtrack – The Cure, ‘Greatest Hits’.