Michael Lemmo Rig Rundown!

+
Premier Guitar features affiliate links to help support our content. We may earn a commission on any affiliated purchases.

Playing the Numbers

Can random numbers make a song?

Lately there have been a lot of ruts in my playing so you may have noticed a pattern (pun intended) in these past few articles on rut-busting. Here is another fun way to not only break out of your typical playing style, but to brush up on sight reading and theory -- all in one simple exercise.

The idea behind “playing the numbers” is to throw out a bunch of random numbers that correspond to intervals in a scale, then assemble them and play them back on the guitar. For simplicity’s sake, we''ll use C major as an example. The number 1 would equal a C, 2=D, 3=E, and so on. If you go past 7, you’re obviously in the next octave (i.e. 9=D2) and it moves on from there. By using the random number generator at https://www.random.org/integers/ you will be able to input the amount of integers you’d like to generate, and the value of the integers (for instance, 1-21 for a 3-octave scale). Once you have the numbers generated, choose a key and map out the notes on the fingerboard. I instantly found it rewarding to have intervallic and octave jumps in the pattern that I’d never have created on my own. The best part about it is it ends up being musical most of the time because you are using the notes of one particular scale.

Here’s an example of a simple, one-octave generation with ten notes: 7, 1, 6, 4, 1, 6, 4, 1, 1, 7. In the key of C, that translates to B, C, A, F, C, A, F, C, C, B. It’s pretty clear how this works out as you get more involved with numbers that bring you into the multi-octave range. In fact it can become downright difficult to jump between them and it lends to opening your mind and finding notes in places on the fingerboard that you probably would never go to using “pattern” logic.

Check out some of the various samples of these different lines with multiple octaves. If you’re feeling extra crazy you can generate another set of numbers to determine the rhythm of the pattern. Since the random integer generator doesn’t do exclusions of integers you’ll have to be creative in what the rhythmic note values are assigned as. I preferred to just use a simple 1=whole, 2=half, 3=quarter, etc. Making up a chart allows for easy translation of the notes. Taking things a step further to reacquaint yourself with notation (come on, you know you’re reading tabs WAY too much!), you can write out the notes on paper or enter them in a sequencer to hear them playback and learn them.

I generated a 25 number sequence, which you can hear in this clip. Rather than using multiple octaves I kept it simple and in one octave register (7 numbers), then rearranged the octaves to taste. It became a pretty haunting and expressive melody that I played over a basic A minor chord using Spectrasonic’s Atmosphere, which is a soft synth plug-in for Pro Tools.

The possibilities of playing the numbers are endless. Next time you find yourself in a rut this might just be the trick to dig yourself out of the hole. Heck, if you like the way the pattern sounds maybe you could enter them in the lottery and win big!

Good luck and I’ll see you next month.

Joe Dart, Pino Palladino, and Tim Commerford Talk StingRay

Tim Commerford digs into his Ernie Ball Music Man StringRay onstage.

The three bassists—whose collective work spans Vulfpeck, D’Angelo, Rage Against the Machine, and much more—cast a wide musical net with their StingRay basses.

The story of the Ernie Ball Music Man StingRay is a deep journey through the history of the electric guitar business, going way back to connections made in Leo Fender’s early days. When the StingRay was introduced in 1976, it changed the electric-bass game, and it’s still the instrument of choice for some of the most cutting-edge bass players around. Here’s what a few of them have to say about their StingRays:

Joe Dart (Vulfpeck)

“My first glimpse of a StingRay was watching early videos of Flea, who had a black StingRay that he played in an early instructional video, as well as on the Funky Monks tape, showing the making of Blood Sugar Sex Magik. After that, I discovered Bernard Edwards and his playing with Chic, where he developed such an iconic funk and disco sound. From there, I discovered Pino Palladino’s brilliant fretless StingRay playing. Luckily, one day in the studio, someone handed me an old StingRay, and I used it on a couple of Vulfpeck recordings. I love the punchy, growly, bright tone. The StingRay cuts through the mix. It’s the perfect funk and disco bass.

“I played guitar in bands until 1976, when I decided to start playing bass, and that coincided with the StingRay coming out. I actually tried one in a store in Cardiff in Wales, where I come from. I remember plugging it in, and I didn’t really know much about preamps. I don’t think anybody knew much about preamps back then, because it wasn’t even a thing in a bass guitar. So, I turned everything up and it was too trebly for me. I didn’t know you could tweak the controls. I didn’t gravitate towards the instrument at first, to be honest.

Fast forward a few years and I was in my early twenties on my first trip to America with Jools Holland in 1981. I stumbled into Sam Ash Music on 48th Street in New York one day, and I saw a fretless Music Man StingRay on the wall. It sounded amazing straight away. I hadn’t played much fretless bass up until that point, but for some reason I could just play that instrument in tune. I was playing it and thinking, ‘Wow, this is not so hard.’ I backed off the treble a little bit and found a nice, little happy position where it felt really good. And it just had such a great punchy sound. I played it with Jools Holland on the first night I bought it, and I pretty much never put it down for 10 or 15 years after that.”

​Tim Commerford (Rage Against the Machine)

“I got a blonde StingRay when I was about 19 years old, and that was the bass that I played for the first Rage record. At that time in my life, as a musician, I was kind of clueless to the nuances of the sound of an instrument. If it worked, it worked; if it didn’t work for me, it didn’t. I was just a knucklehead. I can’t even remember the reason why I went away from it. I think it’s because I wanted to get a real edgy sound, and I didn’t really know how to shape things in the way that I do now through experimenting. I’ve been very lucky, and I’ve had a lot of opportunities to experiment, so I’ve learned a lot over the years. And the StingRay could have done it all. I really could have done it all with the StingRay. Long story short, the preamp is arguably the best one, still. It took me a minute to realize just how powerful that preamp is—it’s a banger. Listening back, sometimes I hear [Rage Against the Machine] songs on the radio, and I’m just like, ‘Wow.’ It’s such a clean, pristine sound that comes from a StingRay.”

A History of the Iconic StingRay Bass

Chuck Wright, bassist on “Metal Health (Bang Your Head)” and “Don’t Wanna Let You Go” from Quiet Riot’s historic 1983 No. 1 album, Metal Health, onstage with vocalist Kevin DuBrow. “I always found the StingRay to be punchier than most basses,” he says.

Photo courtesy of Chuck Wright

Sterling Ball tells the story of an instrument that reaches back to the earliest days of electric-guitar manufacturing. In the hands of players including Pino Palladino, Joe Dart, Tim Commerford, and Tony Levin, it continues to live on the cutting edge.

“The unique characteristics of the StingRay were a happy accident,” proclaims Sterling Ball, bassist and retired CEO of Ernie Ball, current and longtime manufacturers of the now-iconic Music Man StingRay bass.

Happy accidents sometimes seem par for the course when it comes to discovery and innovation, and it’s true that the development and subsequent popularity of the model is partly due to such happenstance. But the StingRay, first introduced in 1976, also featured unique appointments that were carefully considered, including the onboard active EQ, the 3+1 headstock configuration, and the single Music Man humbucker. Such innovations quickly made the StingRay the go-to bass for a bevy of dynamic, influential players.

Popular music of the last few decades is full of incredibly diverse examples of how the StingRay helped shape and define the sound of recorded bass for the modern era. Look no further than Flea’s playing on the first six Red Hot Chili Peppers albums, Tim Commerford on Rage Against the Machine’s monumental debut, Louis Johnson’s groundbreaking slap-bass work with Brothers Johnson and on Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Joe Dart’s more recent fleet-fingered approach with Vulfpeck, and, of course, Cliff Williams’ steady pulse within AC/DC’s immense body of work. StingRay-wielding bassists deliver the grooves on a wide range of immediately identifiable hits, including Chuck Wright’s performance on Quiet Riot’s arena-ready anthem “Metal Health (Bang Your Head),” John Deacon’s pseudo-funk on Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” Bernard Edwards’ disco dynamite on Chic’s “Le Freak,” Tony Levin on Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer,” and the late Louis Johnson on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” And that’s just scratching the surface.

The StingRay bass is alive and well. The Retro ’70s variation seen here faithfully reproduces the specs of the original Music Man model.

That the StingRay can be found in such varied styles gives credence to its versatility, reliability, and craftsmanship. Upon its introduction, the StingRay was poised to forever alter the sonic landscape of the low end. “There wasn’t a whole bunch of innovation happening in the electric bass industry at the time,” says Ball, “and some of the newer rock bassists really wanted a brighter sound. It was the right bass at the right time.”

StingRay Prehistory

The seeds of the StingRay were sown a long, long time ago among a who’s who of electric guitar industry pioneers who knew and influenced each other well before the instrument was even a twinkle in their collective eyes. Ernie Ball and Leo Fender first met sometime in the mid to late ’40s. “Leo was still running his radio repair shop in Fullerton, California, playing around with little amps and the Broadcaster prototypes,” surmises Sterling Ball, who is Ernie’s son. “My dad was just taken by all of it. It was life-changing for him and actually set the path for the Ball family.” By 1946, Leo had turned radio repairs over to Dale Hyatt (future co-founder of G&L, but that’s another story) and renamed his own business Fender Electric Instruments Company, where he focused on building guitars and amps.

Ernie Ball, a steel guitarist, became an official Fender endorsee in 1953. A few years later, in 1958, he opened what he claimed to be the first guitar store in the U.S. in Tarzana, California. By 1962, Ball would pioneer the custom-gauge-guitar-string revolution, setting in motion the decades-long success of the Ernie Ball company.

When the Fender company was sold to CBS in 1965, Forrest White was vice president. He and Tom Walker, an esteemed sales representative, remained with Fender for a short time after the sale, but by 1971, they had formed Tri-Sonix, Inc., with Leo Fender as a financial backer and silent partner. The company’s name was officially changed to Music Man in 1974, and Leo Fender was appointed president the following year, coinciding with the expiration of a 10-year non-compete clause lingering from the CBS sale.

The Early Days

One of Tony Levin’s many StingRay basses takes a rest from his busy schedule of touring and sessions.

Photo by Tony Levin

The StingRay bass debuted in 1976. Designed by Leo Fender, Tom Walker, and Forrest White, with beta-testing input from Sterling Ball, the StingRay was the first production bass to offer onboard active equalization. And because the relationships between all parties involved went far beyond business, it’s worth noting that they decided to honor their personal connection by embedding it into the aesthetics of the instrument via the Music Man company logo. “When you look at the headstock of the Music Man and you see the two little guys there, that’s my brother Sherwood and me,” reveals Ball, who is Walker’s godson. “Some people think that’s not true. It’s true. Unfortunately, no one around but me really knows.”

Sterling Ball was a burgeoning bass player by the mid ’70s; he’s played with Albert Lee and Steve Lukather among others. In addition to his beta-testing input, Ball explains that his personal/professional vantage point also put him in the position of mediator, when needed, between Walker and Fender. “Tommy and Leo would argue,” he recalls. “When I first went there, the bass was unplayable because the preamp was so hot it would overdrive the input impedance of just about any amp.” Walker, who was also an electrical engineer, “self-taught like most of the great ones,” according to Ball, designed the preamp. Walker had previously designed the Blender Fuzz pedal for Fender and would ultimately be responsible for developing Music Man amps.

The StingRay’s distinct sound also had a lot to do with Fender’s personal predilections and physical ailments. “People think Leo was a sonic shaper and that his intention was to change how the world hears sound, but Leo was deaf,” [Editor’s note: not literally.] laughs Ball. “Leo had no idea about funk, and he had no idea about slapping. He fancied country music, where the guitar is brighter. If you grow up eating hot peppers, your tolerance for heat is normal. So, if you grow up with a Stratocaster, that shapes what you think an electric guitar should sound like.” The fact that the bright, snappy-sounding StingRay would appeal to slap bassists like Louis Johnson was essentially pure luck, according to Ball, because Fender was getting Walker to crank the active circuit to his own taste, as well as compensate for the diminished frequencies in his own hearing.

“When you look at the headstock of the Music Man and you see the two little guys there, that’s my brother Sherwood and me.” —Sterling Ball

Tony Levin has played StingRay basses throughout his career with Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, and others, and he got his hands on one in the early days through the late Joel DiBartolo, 18-year veteran of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and another beta-tester for the burgeoning Music Man company. “My memory of that bass is recording a Peter Gabriel album, probably in ’79,” recalls Levin. “The high-end was so sensitive it was picking up crackles from static electricity. I was in the control room with a wire wrapped around my ankle, attached to the studio desk for grounding, to keep the crackle down.” That crackle didn’t deter Levin from realizing the StingRay’s sonic potential, though. In 1980, he played the same bass on John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s iconic Double Fantasy album.

Flea and his StringRay catch some air at Lollapalooza on Montage Mountain in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on August 15, 1992.

Photo by Ebet Roberts

The development and inclusion of Tom Walker’s active onboard preamp/EQ circuit was by-and-large the biggest innovation for a production-model bass guitar at the time. In this case, Ball likens Fender to a hot-rod enthusiast. “He liked having all that power,” he says. “He got a wider frequency response, and he could hear the bass better.” Levin says the original Music Man StingRay bass “felt like a Fender but had lows that engineers were craving, and that I just couldn’t get with my Precision.”

The preamp/pickup/bridge combination was the main source of the StingRay’s bright tone. According to Ball, Fender was not particularly concerned about tonewood when designing instruments. “His beta-testing was all done on finished-plywood board, which has no resonance,” reveals Ball. “It had a hole routed out where he could move different pickups in, and it had breadboarded circuitry on the outside.” It also had the high-mass, string-through-body Music Man bridge, another signature component. “When you went into Leo’s lab, he’d make you put a screwdriver on the bridge and then press the other side on the cartilage of your ear to listen to it vibrate,” recalls Ball. “If you do that, you feel the whole body vibrate. The guitar’s alive. One of the great things about the StingRay bridge is it really gives the instrument that ability to ring and vibrate. It’s so cool.”

Also contributing to that kind of lively sustain is the 3+1 tuning key headstock configuration, which was Forrest White’s contribution to the instrument’s design. Because this arrangement eliminates angled string pull on the headstock, it also prevents dead spots. At least that’s the theory. “Nothing’s bending to make it to the tuning peg,” explains Ball. “It's a straight string pull.” The 3+1 setup also made it identifiable for marketing. But there was one aspect of that design on the original Music Man models that clearly irked Ball. “They put the string tree on the G and the D. It didn’t need to be there. Most instruments we make don’t need a string retainer, but we’re trying to stay true to the original design.”

The latest iteration of the StingRay is the new DarkRay, a thoroughly modern take on the StingRay formula that was created in collaboration with Darkglass Electronics. It features a 2-band EQ preamp from Darkglass with clean, distortion, and fuzz modes, plus a neodymium humbucker, roasted maple neck, and more.

The Ernie Ball Music Man StingRay Emerges

In 1984, the Ernie Ball company bought Music Man at auction. “I didn’t have a guitar factory. I thought, ‘What the hell am I going to do?’” Sterling Ball chuckles. “So, I had to build a factory.” Ball brought in Dan Norton, his dad’s right-hand-man, and Dudley Gimpel, a renowned builder who worked at Knut Koupée Music Store in Minneapolis. “It was Dudley, Dan, and me. And now we have to make a bass [laughs].”

It was important to Ball that their builds were consistent, and since the original Music Man StingRay basses have notoriously inconsistent weights, Ball and his fledgling crew sought to rectify that issue. “Some were so heavy, I don’t think if you had a live-in chiropractor you could play them, and then there were others that were feather light. I gravitated towards the lighter ones.” Ball charted his course by trying to discern the difference between making a good bass versus making a great bass. “You could take one log and make 20 basses, and two of them are just going to be infinitely better.”

“[Leo Fender] liked having all that power. He got a wider frequency response, and he could hear the bass better.” —Sterling Ball

Other changes in the Ernie Ball era included moving the string tree to the D and the A strings, automating pickup production, adding contours, and changing the finish. Perhaps the most significant development, however, was adding the 3-band EQ and eventually offering an 18-volt circuit option. “What was fantastic when Ernie Ball took over was the addition of a midrange control,” states Levin. “I could make it sound like the Precision some engineers still wanted, but, for my preference, I could roll the midrange back.”

Bernard Edwards and his StingRay behind the board at the Power Station in New York City on April 6,1983.

Photo by Ebet Roberts

Ball concurs: “When we came out with the 3-band, which was cut and boost, you really got a lot more flexibility and a lot more options.” They eventually learned to voice the 3-band EQ based on customers’ tendencies to crank all the knobs. “In our business, everybody’s idea is everything has to be fully on,” explains Ball. “We could give you a lot more, but we know that if somebody turns everything up and plugs it in, they’re going to think it sounds terrible. So, we actually have to put it where we want it when it’s pegged. I’m not saying that we were putting a limiter on it, but we do voice it for being dimed.”

The StingRay remains a preeminent electric bass for many hotshot players, and the model’s line ranges from the vintage-informed Retro ’70s model to the heavy-music-tinged DarkRay to a host of signature models. But one thing that Ball says has been a little frustrating and limiting is the fact that most companies are still primarily selling 60-year-old designs.

“The path to innovation is very tough because of what players are willing to accept—it’s a narrow cast,” he says. “When you come out with a guitar or bass that looks different, it’s so interesting to see how strongly people oppose it at first. But if you don’t like it, you don’t have to get mad. It’s just not for you. We’re not taking your birthday away; we’re not taking Valentine’s Day away. All we’re doing is adding choices. You have to remind them that we didn’t take anything away. We just gave somebody else another choice.”

Audiofab Introduces Chonky Boi and Elektra Amanto Pedals

Chonky Boi

Audiofab introduces two new pedal with vintage tones. The Chonky Boi delivers a wide range of distortion sounds, while the Elektra Amanto captures classic flanger tones.

The Chonky Boi features the following controls:

• Chonk: Crank up this knob and unleash the full fury of the Chonky Boi–everything from light distortion to full-on growl.
• Heft: Adjust the output level with this control. Used in combination with the Scratchswitch you can overdrive your amp for additional distortion.
• Purr: Tailor your tone from bright to dark with the Purr control. Dial in the perfect amount of high-end cut for your sonic needs.
• Scratch: Choose your clipping flavor with the Scratch switch. Select from germanium diodes, silicon diodes, or LEDs. Higher levels of scratch increase the output level of theChonky Boi, enabling amp overdrive for even more sonic mayhem.

Elektra Amanto

Audiofab’s Elektra Amanto captures the essence of classic flanger tones heard from iconic players such as Andy Summers and David Gilmour, but with modern features. With its wide sweep and straightforward control set, the pedal opens new sonic possibilities for players of all styles. And unlike other wide sweep designs that require higher power supply voltages, the Elektra Amanto operates on a standard 9-volt pedal power supply, making it accessible and convenient for all guitarists.

Key features of the Elektra Amanto include:

• True bypass switching to maintain signal integrity.
• Ultra low noise and no volume drop.
• A wide sweep design that delivers vintage-inspired flagging.
• High-quality switches, jacks, and potentiometers for reliable performance. Bi-colour LED indicator that shows the sweep rate of the low-frequency oscillator (LFO).
• Compact and rugged aluminum enclosure for durability and protection.

The Elektra Amanto features intuitive controls, including Rate, Range, Colour, and a Matrix /Flange switch, allowing guitarists to dial in a wide range of flanger effects. From subtle swooshes to intense sweeps, the Elektra Amanto delivers liquidy goodness reminiscent of the classic flanger tones of the 70s.

The Audiofab Chonky Boi and Elektra Amanto are available now from Audiofab or Reverb. Chonky Boi is priced at \$CA179 (approximately \$137) and Elektra Amanto is priced at \$CA279 (approximately \$213).

Epiphone Unveils the Jack Casady Fretless Bass

Designed by legendary bass player and founding member of Jefferson Airplane, this instrument features a Casady-designed JCB-1 Low-Impedance Humbucker and a three-position rotary impedance control for versatile tones.

As a founding member of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, legendary bass player and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Jack Casady’s full driving tone and innovative melodic bass work have defined the role of bass guitar in rock and roll for decades. Liberating the bass from its traditional role as part of the rhythm section, Jack’s pioneering approach to bass brought the instrument to the forefront. The new Epiphone Jack Casady Fretless Bass was and is the culmination of years of experimentation by Casady to find an instrument with superior electric tone and the response of an acoustic bass. It features the Casady-designed JCB-1 Low-Impedance Humbucker, and a three-position rotary impedance control for a wide range of tonal versatility.

Jefferson Airplane’s debut, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, was recorded in February of ’66 and released in August of that year. “It had somewhat of a local success,” explains Jack. “It was the material that we had been playing as a group around the Bay area for a while. We recorded it on 3-track, all pretty much live performances.” When the original singer, Signe Anderson, left the band to have a baby, it was Jack who convinced Grace Slick, then performing with her own band the Great Society, to join the group. The roster complete, Jefferson Airplane rocketed to superstardom in 1967 on the initial strength of their hits “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit,” making them a cornerstone of San Francisco’s burgeoning rock scene. Jack’s ground-breaking bass work was a highlight of Surrealistic Pillow, the Airplane’s 1967 breakthrough album. “That album was really a unique statement,” says Casady in retrospect. “There were a lot of different styles of songs contributed by everybody, including an instrumental acoustic fingerpicking original tune by Jorma called ‘Embryonic Journey.’ It was quite an eclectic album and I think it still holds up today.” Jefferson Airplane subsequently released a string of acclaimed recordings–After Bathing At Baxter’s (late ’67), Crown of Creation (’68), the live Bless Its Pointed Little Head (’69), Volunteers (’70), Bark (’71), Long John Silver (’72), and the live Thirty Seconds Over Winterland (1973). The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.

With the release of his solo album, Dream Factor, Casady opened a new chapter in his ever-evolving career. Featuring 11 songs and an impressive cast of collaborators including Paul Barrere, Ivan Neville, Jorma Kaukonen, Warren Haynes, Box Set, Fee Waybill, and Doyle Bramhall II among others, Casady showcases his signature sound in a variety of settings, traveling through blues, rock, country, folk, funk, R&B and soul influences.

One of the most innovative rock and roll bands in American music, Hot Tuna recorded their latest album, Steady As She Goes, at Levon Helm’s studio with GRAMMY®--winning producer Larry Campbell and captures the energy of Hot Tuna’s live performances. Jack, along with longtime band mate Jorma Kaukonen, teamed up with Barry Mitterhoff on mandolin, Skoota Warner on drums, as well as Larry Campbell on guitar, fiddle, organ, and vocals to deliver an absolute masterpiece.

With sweeping chords and stormy melodic lines Jack’s bass distinguished not only Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna but also a variety of solo and side projects and recordings with artists including Jimi Hendrix, David Crosby, Warren Zevon, Country Joe and The Fish, SVT, Rusted Root, and Gov’t Mule.