A history of me and the Bass Guitar (Part 5)

Article posted on Wednesday, 4th, January, 2012 at 1:23 pm

So I was pretty annoyed at Fender for putting their prices up – to put it nicely! I don’t know if you’ve ever done this; I’m not too fussy if I get a new instrument or a second hand one, so what I do is:

I look for the instrument I want, and save up for it second hand. Once I have enough saved, I might think ‘it’s only £XX more for it new, I’ll save up a bit more for a new one!’, and when you get there, the price for the brand new instrument, is roughly the same as the next model up second hand. This is dangerous, because when you get to that point, you could start looking to save up for the new version of the model up (it’s only £XX more after all) and so on. Sooner or later, your very reasonable and logical steps are getting you into trouble with the other half, and to anyone outside your mind, you’re blowing far too much money. This is exactly what happened here.

I saw on eBay that Japanese Fender’s were actually not that much more, and I’d always assumed the hierarchy of quality went Squier > Mexican > Japanese > American. I’ve seen many a forum say that they’ve found better Mexican guitars than American ones due to the product line inconsistencies, but regardless, I wanted to go up a notch on the Bass podium!

Having said all that, new year had just been and gone, and my resolution to play more bass was in full swing, so I decided to bite the bullet and seek out some lessons with the intent to do an exam and get graded. I didn’t know what level I was at, so thought it would be good for someone else to assess.

To be honest, I didn’t find the lessons value for money, and since I was pouring money into the hour or half hour slot I was given, I got quite irate when the teacher went out to the toilet on my time, or answered a phone call, or had a sandwich – I guess most bass teachers are teaching kids that have parents paying for them, and so feel they can swan about wasting time. I, on the other hand was a cheapskate that took notes on everything he said, so I think the whole experience was probably a bit intimidating for him. Since I was doing all the legwork at home anyway, I was kindly pointed in the direction of what exam to go for (Rockschool exams, grade 8 apparently – even though I didn’t know any theory!) and shown how to do slap bass – turns out my Squier was set up terribly for slap and it had nothing to do with the strings! He also let me play his American Fender Jazz, and that put me back onto wanting a Jazz Bass!

Fender Marcus Miller Jazz Bass

So to sum up my position – I was looking at used Japanese Jazz Basses now, since they were the same price as the new Mexican 70s ones, and lo and behold, what do I see on eBay? A Marcus Miller signature Fender Jazz Bass for the same price as a new Mexican one!

The guy I’d picked it up from was a Jazz bassist and he had just replaced his Marcus Miller Bass with the Jaco Pastorious fretless one. He’d obviously got the wrong bass in the first place because the Marcus Miller Bass was strung up with some flatwounds and had taken the pickup cover off it – not very funky at all!

Anyway, after some new strings, a massive clean, new scratchplates, and learning how to set up a bass (much easier than when I was trying with the Squier thanks to the MicroTilt adjustment at the base of the neck), I was ready to play some slap, and it was soooooooooo much better! Sound and feel wise, I’d just upgraded from economy to business class, and I was ready to learn how to pass this exam – with this bass by my side, I knew I’d have the inspiration to keep practising. I couldn’t even walk past it without having to pick it up and play something!

Anyway, I practised hard and got myself ready for the exam – the Rockschool exams are heavily weighted towards the performance side, which I had no problems with, given my gigging experience. I saw on the net on how some Marcus Miller basses were a bit buzzy when not playing anything, and now, a little noise that didn’t bother me at all before was suddenly the bane of my existence! I had to sort it out – there was a guide online on how to copper insulate the pickup cavity and rewire the rather spaghetti like mess behind the volume controls. Armed even with a schematic drawing of the wiring before and after the job, I was ready to take it on!

It was about 2 weeks later that the repair shop rang saying my bass wouldn’t be fixed in time for my exam, and so I was quite distraught! I panicked and immediately started to relearn all the pieces, scales and techniques on my Cort B5. The slap bass was the most difficult part, as I’d been put off from slapping a 5 string from the start. Without a nice little MicroTilt adjuster, I needed to raise the neck profile with some card wedged in the neck pocket so the neck sat higher from the body, this allowed my strangely high bridge saddles to keep the strings low enough over the whole of the neck – ideal for slapping.

The exam went quite well, although after some nervous shaky starts (this was the first music exam I’d had since my grade 1 clarinet when I was 8), and playing the scales exercises at half the speed I should have done (hey, the notes were right at least!), I managed to pass with merit – I was over the moon! My Marcus Miller bass came back a few days later and the repair guy said that he didn’t know why it was buzzing louder than before, so he just put t back the way it was before – thanks for that, 50 quid for a job I could have done and the stress of not having it for my exam! Ah well, I was still over the moon about having an official qualification rather than just telling people that NME said our songs had an ‘all Bloc Party bass rumble’, even though I didn’t listen to them at the time…

That’s about it for my Basscapades up until this point. I thought I’d get blogging about things that I’d come across because I’ve been in contless situations where people talk about things I want to know about, but they don’t tell me what I want to know, so maybe this will help someone, somewhere. I hope you enjoyed reading this story of my insignificant bassing life – if you’ve come across any similar situations, can identify with some of what I say, or just thought it was a good read, please let me know, I’d love to hear your opinions. If you didn’t like it, then thanks for reading, but keep your ill informed opinions to yourself! Only kidding.

Thanks for reading!

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