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Premier Collector #11: Unique & Custom Basses

Premier Collector #11: Unique & Custom Basses

Ron Johnson has an impressive collection of 12-string basses and more

Name: Ron Johnson
Years played: 30 years of Bass guitar, lifetime of music (drums, keys, vocal)   
Home turf: Rockford, IL
Current/former bands: TRaSh 80s, The Rodeo Clowns, Hugh Bet’Cha, The FRAME
First guitar: Hofner Beatles Bass “knock off”
Favorite guitar: Spector NS-2 or any 12 stirng bass
Favorite amp: Furman PQ3 with DOD Crossover, BGW 250 and QSC 1151 setup
Favorite effect: '80s Ibanez Flanger
Favorite strings: Waterstone 12 string sets (for all 12 & 4 string basses), Fender flatwound for my fretless bass.
Not pictured gear in my stash:
Ampeg 350, Fender Bullet, Furman PQ3, DOD Crossover, BGW 250, QSC 1151, 2 Bag End 15" Cabs, 1 Sun 2x12", 1 Carlson 15" (used to belong to Jon Brant from Cheap Trick), Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer, Ibanez FL9 Flanger, Boss ODB3 Overdrive, PreSonus FIREPOD 8 Channel Firewire Preamp

Give us a back story on one item in your gear stash that you've sent a photo of.
The photos below are of my beloved 1985 Spector NS2 bass that was bought at the 85 NAMM in New Orleans. The story behind it involves a bass legend, who befriended me for three years. I took music lessons from a Rockford, IL music store owner. He gave me credentials to attend the '85 NAMM. While at the opening day I went to see John Entwislte at the Sunn booth. I am a long time Who fan and knew about John working with Ringo's son, Zax. Anyway, after John was done playing and signing autographs I was able to talk to him about Zax Starkey. Since John was very talkative we walked and talked for quite sometime and then stopped in front of the Warwick Buzzard bass booth. That booth was right by Spector Guitars. John wanted to look at the Buzzard basses, and I wanted to see the Spectors.

We said goodbye and I walked to the Spector booth. Since they saw me with John, the Spector people came right over to me and I was able to buy the bass. The bass was matched with a guitar that Eddie Van Halen bought. The following year at the Chicago, IL 1986 NAMM I saw John Entwistle again, he recognized me, but didn't remember my name. His first comment was, "How's your Spector bass". I was floored! I asked him if he liked the Buzzard basses and he said yes. As you know, John never went back to Alembic basses. While at the '86 NAMM we talked basses again and about my new purchase: a Hamer 12 string.

The Hamer is an oddity. My bass teacher was friends with Paul Hamer and I asked if he could see if Hamer would build me a 12 string like Tom Petersson's Dream Police bass. He called Hamer, in Arlington Heights, IL, and asked if they would do it. Hamer had a verbal promise, or so we were told, not to duplicate that Dream Police bass, but since Tom wasn't in Cheap Trick anymore they said they would do it, but slightly differently. Hamer made that bass for me and I picked it up in early '86.

The following year I met Tom Petersson at a Bun E Carlos Experience show in Rockford, IL. He knew about me getting the bass, or as he put it "some kid ordering a 12 string." He wanted to know why, and I told him I wanted to keep the 12-string legend growing, I thought they were great basses and Jon Brant was no longer playing 12-strings. That summer I met John Entwistle at the '87 NAMM show in Chicago, IL and he remembered my name and the "Quadrophonic bass," as he called it. During that NAMM show Hamer began a production model called the B12A of the Dream Police style 12-string. My bass is the middle child of the Dream Police 12-String Bass legacy. It's different than the original and different than the production model. I still play out live with it every month.

Share a gear or gig story with Premier Guitar readers:
I’ve had the honor of playing several hundred shows over the last 31 years, and in 1994 my first major show was being asked to open for Cheap Trick in Decatur, IL by Rick Nielsen. At the time I was in a band called The Rodeo Clowns with Rick’s son Miles, and drummer Pete Barr. One day after band practice, and two days before the show Rick asked if we wanted to open for Cheap Trick. We said yes, and then he told us we better not suck. Being a Cheap Trick fan since childhood it was a dream come true and also a nightmare. I have seen several bands booed, and chased off the stage while trying to open for Trick, and I didn’t want to be one of those casualties.

When we arrived at the venue we noticed our band name had been added to publicity poster, outside of the venue, with a Sharpie marker! That wasn’t a very good sign. Right before we had to go on, all of Cheap Trick was standing on the side of the stage to watch us play. The announcer introduced The Rodeo Clowns to a roar of silence. My two band mates took to the stage and then Rick grabbed me and smiled and said “Hey, Ron. Don’t suck.” I thought I was going to instantly lose every bodily fluid at the same time, and with great velocity. I took the stage and we broke into our set and didn’t come up for air until after the fourth song was over. Once we stopped we could feel the roar of the crowd, and they were clapping. Whoa! Probably the coolest part of the night was seeing Robin standing on the side of the stage singing along with some of the unreleased Cheap Trick songs that our band used to cover. After our set was done, Cheap Trick took the stage, and put on a great show. The promoter for the event was thrilled about the success of the double bill and he wanted to have us back, but in true Rock and Roll fashion, that was one of the last shows for The Rodeo Clowns.

What’s your philosophy on tone?
My philosophy of tone is to have a full sound of fat bass and nice highs, with the mids cut back a tad and then just enough volume so I can pick up feedback on the bass when desired. I love the rumble of bass feedback. I only use a Flanger for a few songs and prefer natural overdrive of my rig, instead of a stomp box. But, since you can’t crank the volume at most gigs, I toss in an Ibanez Tube Screamer to help give me a little growl at low volume levels.

1986 Hamer 12 string & 1985 Spector NS 2

Waterstone Ozone 12 string bass (custom paint job)

Dano mid-90s 6-string bass reissue & mid-90s Long Horn Reissue

1978 Fender Fretless P-Bass & 1960s Framus Electric Mandolin

1976 4001 Rickenbacker bass & Waterstone TP-12 "Target" 12 string bass

Late '90s Fender Acoustic bass & unknown acoustic from the late '40s

To join Ron as a Premier Collector, send an e-mail with photos and a description of your gear to

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