Step Back and Take Stock

How many instruments do you own? How many have you owned? OK stop the madness. It is time to break down exactly what is necessary and what is superfluous (ego massage). A lot of you may know my story. I have been either a sales or product manager for many bass product related companies including: Ken Smith Basses, Tobias Guitars, Tung Basses, Steinberger Sound, Gibson USA, Curbow Basses, Eden Electronics, EBS Sweden… and the list goes on and on. I have probably owned over 500 instruments over the past 20 years. Never more than 20 at a time, but I saw a pattern. Unless you are a collector owning multiple 10’s of instruments is probably not necessary to own more then 5.

Over the years I have noticed the following:

  • Most of my clients that own multiple high end instruments are professionals (doctors, lawyers, etc…);
  • Most of the working cats play Fenders or a Fender style instrument;
  • Most working cats play a 4 string as their main instrument;
  • It takes a minimum 3 to 5 years or 100 gigs to form a relationship with an instrument.

Trip on the Joy of a Main Axe

How instruments do you need? Well after your ‘bread & butter’ axe most cats then have a 5 string and then a fretless. Marcus Miller once told me that, “You have to establish a relationship with one instrument.” Haven’t we seen Marcus with the same instrument for over 30 years? You have to learn where all your dead spots are. Do you know the difference between the C on the 3rd fret A-string vs. the 8h fret E-string? You need to know how to get ‘YOUR SOUND’ and how to transfer it to a recorded medium. Nowadays this is mainly digital media that can alter the integrity of your tone.

How many times have you heard you favorite bassist and said, “Man, that’s the tone”? How did your favorite bassist get that tone? They play the same instrument all the time. Check out Will Lee, Nathan East, Sting, Victors Wooten and Bailey, John Patittucci, Jimmy Haslip, Pino Palladino, Flea… get my point? The top cats don’t change their main axe that often. They get hired for the exquisite grove, choice of notes and they sound great!

Other Tones

Yes there are other sounds out there. For every Jazz bass there is a Precision bass. For every Steinberger there is a Hofner Beatle bass. For every Alembic there is a Danelectro. These are all distinguishable, desirable and usable tones. In certain recording situations a producer may not want any other bass (usually a Fender) than what he or she is used to hearing. No matter what you must accommodate what is appropriate for the song. You may not need to take your 7 string 18 volt pre-amped bass to a country session; you may not want to take your Rickenbacker to a funk jam.

The point is to try to emulate as many tones as possible from your main instrument!

Signs of Sickness

  • Have you spent more money on modifications on a bass than the bass cost initially?
  • Have you sold or traded instruments at a loss only to…
  • Sell that next instrument at a loss?
  • Do you spend more time deciding which of your many instruments to play than actually playing?
  • Do you not play with other musicians?

The Solution

Why not eliminate some of the redundancy in your collection? Unless you are a collector I bet you could ‘get by’ with 5 basses:

  • Your Main Axe
  • A Fretless (playing fretless will improve your fretted playing, I promise)
  • An Axe very different than your main (helps to stay out of ruts, playing the same styles, etc..)
  • Backup to your main (always important to have your sound backed up in case of emergencies)
  • A collectable 60’s or 70’s instrument (everyone has a investment portfolio right?)

What Are You Going To Do Now?

Well with all that money saved you could do any any one or a combination of he following:

  • Take a few private lessons with a Pro in your area
  • Go back to school and take a theory or composition class
  • Attend a bass camp run by one the ‘Bass Heroes’ on the scene
  • Invest in some sort of music software/computer to record your own music
  • Buy a instructional video or book and actually work all the way through it

The bottom line is that you must always be doing something to sharpen your skills. This will always translate into making yourself a more valuable asset.

Invest in your bass ability not your bass collection!


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