You know the way dogs look like their owners? I believe that, likewise, a bass can be deeply telling about its owner. This month, I’d like to try out that brain flash by looking at five different categories of bass and the people who play them.
The Student Model
This is typically an import clone of a Fender
Precision Bass, usually with a little thinning
out of the body’s horns and a solid color
paint job. It has the potential to be a good
player, but hasn’t ever been set up beyond
the factory. Its sound is on the bright side
and one knob feels loose. There are two
dings on the body, plus one on the headstock.
The strings are dull and tarnished—
one is wound incorrectly.
The owner of this bass lives life a little
tentatively, not quite ready to commit to
bass playing, never going out in public with
the bass. This person plays quietly in the
bedroom with a little practice amp—door
closed. They are not quite reckless with
musical gear, but not overly cautious either.
The Trusty Workhorse
On first glance, this bass appears just like
the basic Student Model—nothing too fancy,
probably just one pickup and a couple of
knobs. But looking closer, there’s some
loving wear on the back of the neck, on
the upper bout of the body, and near the
pickup. Unlike the Student Model, the action
on the Trusty Workhorse is tweaked for
excellent playability. There are no rattles or
intonation problems. It is made from good
materials—but not exotic woods—and features
a sunburst body finish.
The owner of this bass is a dependable player.
He stays in the pocket, plays the groove,
and generally holds things together. The
owner only plays fingerstyle, and never uses
a pick or slaps. The Trusty Workhorse will
likely be a gigging partner for life.
The Feature-Packed Mediocrity
The Feature-Packed Mediocrity has it all,
at least in form: two pickups, four knobs, a
switch, a shiny finish, and onboard electronics.
The bridge is a big chrome job, and
the headstock logo screams out for attention.
When you look below the surface, the
Feature-Packed Mediocrity has a maze of
wiring stuffed into its control cavity, some
plastic faux-chrome, and position markers
that leap off the fretboard in their gaudiness.
The setup is playable, but nothing
spectacular, and its tone mixes with a few
crackles and buzzes.
The owner of the Feature-Packed Mediocrity
is a transplanted guitar player who quickly
learned that bass players often blend into
the background and hopes this bass will
remedy that. He plays with a pick, wears the
bass slung low, and always runs with a full
stack of giant cabs. Most likely, he’ll be back
to guitar by the end of the year.
The High-End Super Bass
This bass is built from exotic woods topped
with a thin oil finish. All the components are
top notch, with excellent hardware, name-brand
pickups, and a quality 3-band preamp.
The body wood has comfortable curves,
and the neck feels wide and flat in the hand.
The setup is tweaked for low action and the
strings are light gauge. The sound of this
bass is clear, piano-like, and full, with miles
of sustain. It comes with strap locks.
The owner of the High-End Super Bass likes
the finer things in life. He sips Macallan 18,
likes to wear soft cotton clothing, might
have a short ponytail, and works in IT support.
This player fits well into the band, but
tends toward slap playing and often ventures
into the upper registers—he likes hitting harmonics
in the quiet spots, too. The High-End
Super Bass owner has boutique amp and
cabs that match the level of the instrument.
The Understated Artisanal Bass
This bass is like a stealth version of the High-
End Super Bass. It costs just as much, bears
the same high-quality components, the
setup is superb, and the finish is exquisite.
But to the uninformed eye, this bass looks
just like the Trusty Workhorse. Its quality is
the little secret its owner bears but won’t
tell, gloating quietly about the 15 coats of
nitro finish that will never be detected. The
case similarly looks understated and vintage.
The owner of this bass is a little harder
to describe. Sometimes it is a doctor or a
lawyer, neatly groomed in a button-down
shirt. He might not be much of a player, but
enjoys owning the highest quality. Some
owners of an Understated Artisanal Bass
have scrimped and saved for a long time,
selling off a Trusty Workhorse to help pay
for it. It’s precision, tonality, and reliability
that count, and what caused this person
to part with a sizable pile of hard-earned
dough. In either case, the Understated
Artisanal Bass gets played through equally
high-quality amplifiers—maybe something
one-off and handwired—and a high-end,
All the Rest
This list could easily go on, matching other
styles of basses to their owners’ personalities.
I can easily imagine what the owner of
a vintage, early ’60s Precision Bass might
be like, or how the owner of a Franken-bass
built from parts would go through life, or the
kind of car driven by a fretless fan. In any
case, I’m convinced there’s a link between
people and the bass they play—what kind
of bass are you? As for myself, my bass of
choice is a Trusty Workhorse.
Dan is a professor by day and a bass player when the
sun goes down. He plays both electric and upright bass
in blues, jazz and pit settings.
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