Friday, February 13, 2015

Sonic Confessional: I'm Thinking Of Selling Sade

When I was in junior high, and on into high school, there were really only two mass-produced basses I pined for:  an Ernie Ball/Music Man Sting Ray, and a Rickenbacker 4001 (or 4003 - kind of the same thing).  Don't get me wrong - I'm enamored with basses in general and I always have been.  I love Fender Jazz and Precision basses, dig on the custom work of Carl Thompson, and can appreciate a good bargain brand like Washburn.  I keep a bass book in the bathroom and I've read it a million times (infer what you want from that info).  But whenever I was having fantasies about destroying venues with my virtuosic bass playing, I was almost always playing a Rick or a Sting Ray.

My senior year of high school, the opportunity for realizing one of these fantasies came up:  my bass teacher was selling not one, but two Music Man Sting Rays.  They were "sister" basses that were the same year and same specs, only one was fretted and the other fretless.  I could have each for $800, or both for $1300.  Ohhh let me tell you:  I would've carried out a contract hit if it paid $1300.  But as it was, I was able to scrape together the $800 for the black fretted 1977 Sting Ray.

What made this bass unique was that the neck had be expertly shaved (by noted luthier Ron Volbrecht) to a tiny, tiny profile.*  Of course, this kills the value of what is a highly collectible bass, but I didn't care.  It practically played itself, yo.  And hell - there was no way I was ever going to sell it.  Taking Quack's advice, I gave it a name:  Sade, after the singer of the same name, because like Sade, it sang and it was smoooooovvvve.  Until recently, the Sade has been my main bass.  She's been with me through everything - college, moves out west and back, vacations, gigs of all sorts.  She still plays great and she wears the patina of age very, very well.  I think it looks better now than when I bought it.  I've had other basses that I loved - hate that I had to sell my G&L L-1000 to be able to afford an upright - but selling Sade was never, ever an option.

But it's time to face facts.  I'm not as nimble as I want to be.  Sure, this is mostly due to my shitty practice regimen and lack of background in theory, but it's also due to my freakishly small baby hands.  Try as I might to do some of the more demanding Trowar runs on my (as yet unnamed) Fender Jazz bass, I just haven't mastered them.  The span of frets is a major challenge for me.  And rock songs - particularly Trowar songs - call for some mud and grit that the Jazz bass CAN deliver, but only after much knob tweaking and effects gathering.  All of this is to say that lately I've been pricing out Gibson SG* basses.  They're 3/4 scale basses (meaning the neck scale is 30 inches as compared to the 34 inch scale of the Sting Ray and the Jazz Bass), and the pickups are legendarily dirty.  That's a good thing, although what I've been impressed with looking at demos online is how well the sound of SG basses cleans up.  A wide sonic spectrum on the same bass is a major plus in my book.  And admittedly, this is sort of a lame reason, in my mind, the SG bass is the official bass of power trios.  Jack Bruce and Mike Watt being prime examples of dudes walking all over everyone else with their SG basses.

So if I'm attached to my Sting Ray, why not sell the Jazz Bass?  Answer:  I can't make my Sting Ray sound the way I want it to.  More accurately, the sound of the Sting Ray is not right for what I play.  Sting Rays are (rightly) popular in jazz and funk circles because they're bright and cut through everything. I used to value that sound a great deal - lots of gain, lots of attack, lots of treble.  Sting Rays had that in spades.  In the sonic melange that is a song, the tone of the Sting Ray was always the pretty lady:  clear, bright, beautiful.

But as I've gotten older, I've change my ideas of what a good bass sounds like.  Now I love the thunder, the meatiness, the roundness that passive electronics (Sting Rays are active) deliver.  I've tried many different amp and effects configurations with the Sting Ray, but I can't hide that distinctive sound.  Selling or trading that Jazz Bass is out of the question.  I've totally fallen for that bass.  It begs to be played and every time I plug it in, I'm amazed at the range of sound I can get from it.  It's definitely a bass to grow old with.

Of course, there are emotional considerations.  Will I miss the Sade?  We've had so many great times - high school gigs at the all ages club with the Unexplained, playing it on the dock at Lake Leelanau, forging many a musical friendship with Sade in hand.  But ultimately, a bass is a tool.  If it doesn't serve it's purpose - and since I'm not a collector - it has to move on.  I just don't know though.  I called this blog entry a "sonic confessional" because I feel like I'm selling something more valuable to me then money:  my past.  My memories.  I worry that I'll regret selling it if I do sell it.  I think the deciding factor is to find a Gibson SG bass to test drive. If it charms me; nay, if it seduces me, you might see Sade on the chopping block.

Stay tuned.

*-Technically it's not accurate because they're two different basses, but I'm calling EB-3s "SG basses" because I'm lazy and they're more or less the same thing.
*-Ron later taught me how to strip the finish, and he gave it the amazing sunburst finish you see on it today.

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