Left: Walter Booker’s Jazz bass before the restoration began.
Right: The “Bookie bass” after resurrection—a stunning beauty.
Last winter, I was fortunate
enough to purchase the
Stack Knob Jazz bass owned by
Walter “Uncle Bookie” Booker
(Cannonball Adderley, Thelonious
Monk, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins,
Sarah Vaughan, Chick Corea). Yes,
it was a basket case. Yes, it was
the most important piece I’ve ever
purchased. Yes, buying it made
absolutely zero fiscal sense from
a dealer’s perspective. And no, I
would not have done anything differently.
In my March
2010 columns, I described buying
the bass and offered an overview of
this historical instrument. In this
installment, we’ll look at what went
into resurrecting and restoring it.
You may remember that the bass
was painted with a brush, had all the
wrong components, was unplayable,
and required a full restoration. I purchased
the bass in December 2009,
and it took until September 2010 to
finally complete the job. Any retailer
who buys stock to sit on for 10
months before putting it up for sale
is basically asking to go out of business.
But, honestly, we did not buy
the bass for that purpose. This was
a labor of love, and we don’t think
this bass is going anywhere anytime
soon. We love it too much.
After I bought the bass, I had to
decide what to do with it. Even after
a thorough analysis that involved
at least 50 professionals—including
players, dealers, and folks who work
in antique restoration, instrument
preservation, and music history—we
still couldn’t reach a decision. A
conversation with my dad, a non-musician,
finally put it all together.
He said the bass was meant to
be played, so make it play. This
thought process took six weeks.
With that decision finally made,
we then had to decide who would
do the restoration work. I couldn’t
choose just one person, so I used
two. I asked Krishna Jain of the
Guitar Garage in Boston to do the
cosmetic restoration. The process
took four-and-a-half months.
The Pope did not rush
Michelangelo. I could not rush
While all this was going on, I
scoured the globe for original parts.
For this mission, I had two criteria:
The parts had to be as correct as
possible, yet buying them had to
make fiscal sense.
In April of 2010, someone
dropped off a shoebox at the shop
with a note inside that read, “I think
you may need these.” Lo and behold,
the original pickups and bridge were
inside. The pickups were blown, so
I sent them to Jim Rolph to rewind
and restore them to perfection.
I found ferrules for the tuners,
a set of screws, and, of all things,
an NOS sheet of plastic that was
used to make pickguards in the
’60s! I found this in Italy as an 18"
x 18" sheet that was warped up
into a slight bowl shape. I had the
plastic leveled and a guard expertly
cut out of this material. The bevel
is not as steep as I would have
liked, it’s more of a mid-’60s bevel.
I used the original neck plate and
retained the decking screws as an
homage to the good Uncle.
Because an original stack-knob
assembly costs thousands
of dollars, I
decided to use a Fender reissue unit.
Finally, in late June 2010, the newly
painted bass returned to the shop. I
was thrilled: The Olympic white paint
looked like a factory job, as did the
vintage tint neck. Most importantly,
the neck felt
like it had a factory finish.
For the assembly phase, I called my
A-1 luthier supreme, Matt Brewster
of 30th Street Guitars/Rust Guitars
in New York City. So Matt could see
what we were facing, I hauled in the
bass and all the parts. After we laid
the bass and parts out on the workbench,
we noticed a clear mismatch
between the body patina and the
newer hardware. The new finish was
not relic’d, but it was mellowed out, so
we worked on the parts until the new
and old hardware visually matched the
mellowed finish. We replaced the nut
because the original was shattered, and
then assembled the bass and dressed
the frets. Finally, the bass was ready to
play for the first time in decades!
The feel is unmistakably early
Stacker, though the tone is a little
more focused and a little edgier
than my ’61 Stacker. This is because
the rewind is fresh and the pickups
haven’t yet had time to mellow
out. That said, by no means does
it sound even slightly middy like
a reissue Jazz bass. The pickups
measure 7.65 kΩ at the tail and
7.33 kΩ at the neck. My ’61 reads
6.54 kΩ and 6.22 kΩ, respectively.
Nonetheless, the bass is nuts
oozes all the magic and mojo that
an instrument of this stature should.
There’s another twist to this
tale: When I originally picked the
bass up at Jerry Barnes’ studio in
December ’09, Artie Smith, who’s
well known in NYC music circles,
saw the basket case and had a “What
happened to that instrument?” look
on his face. The day I picked up the
bass from 30th Street and walked
out of the store’s work area with it,
who’s in the store? Artie!
“Kev, that’s a cool bass,” he said.
“What is it?”
“Artie,” I replied. “Remember
the Bookie bass?”
A nod of approval from Artie,
and I knew I’d done the right
thing. This is a special bass that
was owned by a special man.
When I brought this bass to the
Arlington Guitar Show, folks were
just floored by it. And that was a
mighty fine feeling.
been playing bass since
1975, and he is currently
the principal and
co-owner, with “Dr.” Ben
Sopranzetti, of Kebo’s
Bass Works (kebosbassworks.com
). You can reach Kevin at
. Feel free to call