Megadeth Bassist David Ellefson Talks About
Defining Metal Tone with His First Jackson 5-String
David Ellefson playing live with his signature Custom
Concert Bass. Photo by “Iron” Mike Savoia
You and Jackson go way back, right?
The Custom Shop Concert Bass’
hardshell case and headstock
feature reproductions of Ellefson’s
signature and the band’s fallout-shelter
There’s a long history with me and Jackson, starting as far back as 1986 or
’87. I had Grover Jackson make my very first Concert Bass for me. It was silver
and had a Dead Kennedys sticker on it, and it became somewhat of a legend
throughout Megadeth history books and photos over the years. Jackson
was so perfect for the Megadeth sound. The tone, the super-fast neck . . .
everything about it was great. The first half of the song “Hangar 18” off of
Rust in Peace
required me to use a 5-string bass. I recorded it on a 4-string—
I just tuned the E string down a whole step. Once we got the first half of
the tune done, then I tuned it up to regular E. But that led me to needing
a 5-string bass. I went to Jackson and they basically modified the Jackson
Concert 4-string bass, made the neck a little wider, and made the very first
Jackson 5-string bass. During the Peace Sells tour, I moved over to Jackson.
That high-fidelity tone is what would become state-of-the-art in speed metal,
with a real attention and focus on precision playing. The Jackson tone really
helped me accomplish that.
What makes the tones from those basses unique?
The tone had a lot of top end, so I could get up and really click along
with the trigger sound of the drums. It had a lot of bottom end and wallop
in the bass notes. I scooped a lot of my mids out, because that’s where
all the guitars were. The midrange became the domain for the guitars, so
the Jackson bass with a lot of bottom and a real high top gave me a great
EQ position in the overall Megadeth sound.
What’s the difference between the modified Concert Bass they made
for you and your current signature model?
Ellefson’s signature bass
features a Badass bridge,
Hipshot tuners, an EMG
35CS neck pickup, an
EMG 35DC bridge
pickup, EMG BQS
model was made
in a limited run of
60 4- and 5-string
My current bass has EMG soapbar pickups, which help my bass sit
really good with the kick drum. We put Badass II bridges and Hipshot
tuners on it. The electronics are different, as well. One of my instruments
has three knobs: Volume, Pan, and a Treble/Bass stack. The other
one has a five-knob setup: Volume, Pan, Treble, Mid, and Bass. The
“Quicksilver” color is now going to be exclusively the David Ellefson
signature model color. We did a black and a Quicksilver, which were
my colors back in the day.
What sort of woods is it made of?
It’s an all-maple neck-through with alder body wings. We left the back
of the neck unpainted, so it has a soft, satin kind of finish on it. It has a
very natural wood feel to it rather than being lacquered or painted.
What was it like working with Mike Shannon?
Mike made most of my basses years ago, so he knows the history. Mike
is a guru in the woodshop. He’s got a feel for instruments—he knows
how to make instruments that players like. There’s a lot of great wood
guys and there’s a lot of great technician guys. To get a guy who can pull
all that together, and make an instrument that sits in a player’s hands, is
a whole other art.