Recently, on twitter and myspace I've been tossing out inflammatory bombs about fender basses. Obviously, this is kind of fun for me because the responses are predictable. And who doesn't enjoy a little action/reaction predictability now & again?
But there's a little more going on beneath the surface. I'm not sure when it started, but I've been getting into a retro kick recently. I think pushing the technology angle so hard has me longing for the organic. I've started appreciating retro production & instrument sounds.
Oh - I should probably point out that I've never owned a Fender bass. When I got back into playing in 04, getting an instrument that to my mind was so common, so pedestrian and predictable was the last thing I wanted to do. Musically, I wasn't interested in doing anything where the answer was - "Fender Jazz Bass".
However - part of my new appreciation for retro sounds had me noticing older and "classic" bass sounds. These are sounds that I considered so common I never really paid much attention to them directly - even as a bass player. I always wrote it off as "The Big Dumb Fender Sound".
Among other experiments in retro, I decided to try out the fender thing. I got a lefty 2008 American P Bass. At first I was seriously underwhelmed. It was such a simple instrument. The neck felt clumsy and, well, dumb. It sounded, well, dumb. I played around with it and thought - "I'm sending it back. This thing is lame - I don't get it".
One morning before work - I loaded up some "real" drum sound drum patterns, pulled out the P bass, hit record and started playing for a few minutes.
It was kinda fun to play "bass" with a "real bass". I hadn't turned the strings upside down yet so I was forced to play simply. As an aside - the downside to having above average technical abilities is that it's really hard not to use it all the time. If you have this affliction - turn the strings upside down. ;)
So off to work I went and forgot all about it. When I came home that night, as I was setting up my laptop - I pressed play on the material I recorded in the morning and was instantly struck by what I heard. It was THAT sound. The classic P Bass sound, with ME playing it!
Ok - I know this sounds geeky - but I've NEVER sounded like that before. It was wild. I had played a mix of finger-style & pick. The pick stuff just blew me away with how authentic it sounded. The bass just seemed to sit in so perfectly with the drums - no eq was needed.
I finally "got it". For the first time ever - I appreciated the fender P for being the fender P. I pretty much decided right there I was going to keep the bass.
I may not use it that much - but it's the most common electric bass sound in pop music and it's important to have if for no other reason than accessibility. I began to realize that perhaps some of the Ruiner Severhead material might have sounded more accessible had I used at least 1 easily recognizable bass sound. P bass with a pick and some overdrive is - really friggin sweet.
At that point I started to re-evaluate my entire view of these basses. I thought if the P bass sounded good - maybe I should have a jazz bass also to round out my "basic bass sounds" inventory. Instead of going the same route as I had with the new AMERICAN P bass, I hunted down a used lefty made in mexico jazz for pretty cheap.
The build quality difference between a new American P and a used MIM jazz is noticeable - but not tremendous. Not nearly the difference between my MTD535 and the Kingston which I would classify as severe.
Sound wise - the jazz sounded like a fender jazz - but not as WOW to me as the P bass.
So I thought I'd change the pickups. I tossed in a set of Nordstrand Js. The before & after recordings I did revealed the stock pups were voiced hotter, and a littler higher in the frequency range with very little sub frequencies but kinda closed sounding up top.
The Nordstrands were lower output, voiced a little lower frequency and were a little more open sounding.
Anyway - I quickly realized the it's the Jazz sound that I'm not really a fan of. I don't hate it - but it just doesn't speak to me. The P bass has character - a personality. The Jazz seems.... well - that's the "common" sound I guess I always complain about.
But again - in the mix - it sits nicely and fills the bass role wonderfully. The fender sound plays nice with everything else that's going on. I've noticed this when artists come through the radio station. I never have to do much with fenders sound wise - just a little compression and move on to the vocal or whatever.
So mea culpa. I get Fender now. At least as a palette of sounds that are pretty important in pop music.
These are sounds I've been uninterested in as I pursued my solo bass work. But now as I explore a wider range of musical ideas I'm glad to have these sounds at my disposal. It's also great fun to play a 4 string. It's all so - familiar. I guess I didn't realize how far off the "bass" reservation I had gone with my boutique, piccolo, solo bass concept.
And at the end of the day - I'm still a bass player and I still love the sound of a good bass.
BTW - I sold one of my pedulla fretless basses to grab these fenders. I know. A few weeks ago that would have seemed insane to me. But I still have a killer pedulla. Now I have some of the most classic bass sounds too.