I posted the Steinberger on Reverb Monday morning, after replacing three of the string jaws and cleaning the whole thing up. So far there are 100+ views and 5 people “watching,” but no offers yet. I wonder if this is a good time or a bad time to sell?
It’s been pretty quiet otherwise. We’re slowly working our way through the Harry Potter films, averaging one a night, and tonight is Deathly Hallows Pt. 1. Jen made Butterbeer from a second recipe last weekend which was much better than the first attempt—but was richer than what we had at the park. In hindsight, I hadn’t really remembered how good the Half-Blood Prince is, and my ranking of Azkaban has dropped commensurately. What will we do when we’re out of movies? Well, there’s the Pixar catalog… Finn and I watched Up (thanks Linda!) together over the holiday, and enjoyed every single moment of it.
New jaws are installed and I scrubbed it down last night to take some beauty pictures. There’s a little more pitting in the aluminum than I remember but she still looks great.
There have been libraries of books written about decluttering, simplifying, and cleansing oneself of excess possessions. Companies have sprung up specifically to help people haul away their junk. Marie Kondo got famous after counseling people to keep only what sparks joy in their lives, which is a pretty clever twist on the decision-making process; most people get stuck somewhere in a corner of the basement surrounded by boxes wondering how they’re going to get them all back upstairs; they haven’t even gotten to the will-I-need-this part yet. I think the most common response to that indecision is to just say fuck it and go find a cold beer.
My problem is that I enjoy curating collections of stuff, so I tend to collect stuff faster than I cast it away. As I crawl through the basement to store things for winter or move stuff into the attic of the garage to make more space, I’m acutely aware that we’re reaching maximum density here at the Lockardugan estate. Once I’ve actually resolved to cleaning house, I’m pretty merciless when it finally comes to the go/no-go decision, so waiting around to test for joy feels more like a waste of time.
I’ve written about my oddball bass guitar here in the past. It’s one of the few things I’ve kept with me since high school. I haven’t played it much since I bought the Jazz bass. The other day, I had to move it to get something from the bookshelf, and thought about the fact that it hasn’t seen daylight in years. Then I thought about Reverb, the site I’d mentioned earlier this year, and began to seriously consider selling it. There is a music shop down the street that would buy it, but I know I’d get much less from a reseller than I’d prefer.
The bass itself is a marvel of engineering. It’s a two-piece instrument, made from a cast epoxy resin (neck) and wood (body). The neck is bolted to the body like a traditional guitar, but the composite material gives the bass a completely different feel. It’s headless, which means there’s no traditional headstock with tuning pegs. All tuning is done at the bridge (the assembly at the bottom of the bass) with screw-fed jaws that hold the ends of the strings in place. This means it needs special strings, but tuning it is very precise. It’s got a tight, fast feel and the sound has a short attack with less sustain than a big fat wood bass. When I bought the Jazz bass I was astounded at how much more I liked the full-sized instrument; the neck is thinner and (for me) faster, and I felt like I wasn’t working as hard when I was playing. The Steinberger is fast in its own way but it makes a player work a little harder.
I pulled it from the case and found that two of the jaws that hold the strings at the bridge had snapped. The bridge design is a clever one but the achilles’ heel is the relatively weak aluminum of these jaws, which the ball end of the string sets into. Over time the metal fatigues and cracks. This happened with another of the jaws years ago, and at that time I found a vendor who sold reproductions. That vendor is long gone but there’s a new one run by a luthier that worked at Steinberger in the 80’s who is producing new stock. I ordered three of these on Sunday. My plan is to set the bass back up, clean it, take some good pictures of it, and prepare it for sale.
Owning and playing it brought me hours of joy, new friendships, and great memories. I think I’ll hold on to the memories and pass the bass along to someone who will spark their own joy with it instead.
Last week I picked up my bass and ripped through about ten songs, knowing I wouldn’t be able to do it during the later stages of chemotherapy. It felt good in my hands and after the second song I was locked in–which is always a good feeling. As I was playing I started thinking about the basses I’ve had and how they affected how and what I play.
My first bass guitar was a huge Ibanez Blazer that my Dad bought me when I was 15. I’ve recounted the story of buying that bass before, and it was a good instrument to learn on–to a point. Because it was so big, and set up for funk playing, it was long scale (a long fretboard) and built for fat slapping strings. It would have been ideal to learn any Bootsy Collins riff out there. It had a great tone but wasn’t a good bass for learning fast, technical rock pieces (Rush, Metallica, Zeppelin, etc.) that I was playing at the time. Given their length and action, the strings were moving so much I found it hard to stay ahead of them; my fingers were always behind and I’d drop notes and lose the rhythm. I used this bass through high school and into college, but after I bought a Steinberger it stayed in the case.
The Steinberger I bought from my friend Stas, who was (wisely) playing musical basses through high school, looking for the right one. He started out with a Cort, basically a $100 beginner instrument, moved to a Rickenbacker 4001 and pretty quickly traded that (it wasn’t black like Geddy’s and the action was too tall, IIRC) for a 1976 Les Paul, sold that, and got the Steinberger, sold that to me, and then bought a new Precision Bass. We spent a lot of afternoons sitting and swapping instruments on different tracks, so I remember playing all of these basses, but I didn’t appreciate the feel of his P-Bass until much later. I immediately liked the Steinberger because it was shorter scale, MUCH tighter than the Ibanez, and easier to play technical stuff on. Plus it was compact and weird. I’ve had it since about 1990 or so and played it extensively, and what was liberating about it at first became a liability; with the shorter scale and smaller strings, the action was TOO tight. It has a great tone, it’s fast, and it doesn’t weigh four tons. But because the action is tight, there’s no feel. Somewhere between the booming ropes on the Ibanez and the tight piano strings on the Steinberger, there had to be a sweet spot. But because it was a hobby and not a profession, buying a new bass was never a priority.
When I bought a cheap Jazz bass on a whim last year, I figured it would be a fun toy for the right price that I could easily flip on Craigslist. I asked a friend to pick it up for me, as he lived near the seller, and because he’s a musician he knew what to look for. I honestly wasn’t expecting much but when I got it home I was astonished at how good the setup was. The nicotine-soaked strings, while disgusting, felt amazing, played like a dream, and had a killer tone. I restrung it after washing the body repeatedly and while I don’t like the replacement strings nearly as much the feel is still there. It’s the sweet spot between boomy and tight. I rarely get behind the rhythm and I don’t tire out trying to get a feel out of it. And it feels right in my hands. The scale is perfect–somehow it feels wider than the Steinberger but shorter than the Ibanez. I don’t hunt for frets like I did on the Ibanez and I don’t get crunched up on the high frets like I do on the Steinberger. It’s balanced and friendly.
Upon reflection, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed a Precision Bass as much as I enjoy its cousin. I remember Stas’ bass as being looser than the Steinberger but not by much; maybe that’s just 30 years talking. Having played several in the music store down the street over the years, they feel OK but not right. I never really thought to pick up a Jazz because I always thought they were bigger and heavier, but I guess I was mistaken. Thinking about how much I’m enjoying playing the Jazz these days, I wonder if my high school and college musical pursuits would have been different, knowing I had more confidence in what I was playing and how it felt.
Apparently there’s a pick-up dad band around the corner from here, and they need a bass player at some point. When I get past chemo and surgery and chemo again, I’m going to go look them up.
Uberbike has left the building. Last weekend I spent a good bit of time cleaning up the garage, which was cluttered with stuff we’d thrown in last fall. Uberbike was sitting in the back, on two flat tires, holding up the soft top for the Scout, and looking sad. We haven’t ridden it in three years, and now that Jen has a bike and Finn is supposed to learn how to ride her new bike, a tandem is pretty useless. I decided it needed a new home. On a whim, I posted it to Craigslist at best offer, and figured I’d get a random inquiry or two. What I got was multiple emails within 6 hours from several very interested parties. One guy kept at me all week until we could schedule his brother to come and pick it up, and he gave me $100 for it this evening. Goodbye Uberbike; may you ride long into the future.
On Monday I stopped into our local music store to pick up a new set of nicotine-free strings, and poked around the bass section to see what they had. Looking through the inventory there, it affirms the fact that I got a screaming good deal on this bass, even if it’s smelly, beat up, and not original; every MIM bass I’ve seen for sale on CL before and since is more than twice what I paid. I walked back to the string section and asked the dude behind the counter if he could identify what I had (he couldn’t) so I got a set of Ernie Ball medium-weight roundwounds for it. While I was there, I browsed a box of half-off bass strings and found a set of Rotosound 606s for the Steinberger. I’ve always played GHS Bass Boomers on that bass, and haven’t tried a new brand in 20 years, so I thought it was too good a deal to pass up.
The Ernie Balls are good, but they don’t have the warm, meaty tone of the unknown strings it came with, and they don’t feel as smooth to my hands. I kept the originals and I’m going to try again to find what brand they are when I have a little more time, because I like them that much.
I also got a package in the mail from Shenzhen, China, with two foldable focus adjustment tools for my lenses. There is a setting in most modern prosumer DSLRs which can fine-tune the focus point for each particular lens you mount; the camera knows which one you’re using and stores the settings for that particular lens. Last weekend I spent Saturday morning with a cup of coffee and a table full of lenses, adjusting each one with the D7000 and storing the data. It looked to me like the primes were the most out of register, especially the 50mm f/1.8, but I think I’ve got to do some more fine-tuning in direct sunlight and at a different focal distance to be sure.
I’ve been playing the Jazz bass for at least an hour every night I can. It’s a completely different experience from the Steinberger, something I can’t describe, but it feels faster, more precise. I can get around the frets faster, because the neck is thinner, and landing the notes with no buzz (except for the low E) is easier. I have to wonder what might have happened if I hadn’t started out with a big old funk bass and had traded up to a P-bass in high school. Would I have been discouraged less and practiced more? Possibly. This thing is crying out for a good setup, so now that this coming weekend is a little less filled, I’ll see if I can carve out some time to tune it up.
I’m starting a small side project with the dribs and drabs of free time I’ve got, which should combine an idea I’ve had for years with a new approach I hadn’t considered. Will this be another thing I mention here and never get to, or will I complete it? Let’s see.
I visited on opthamologist last Friday to look at my left eye, which has been cloudy in the center for a couple of months. Scared I might have cataracts or retina issues, I got it checked out. The eye doctor was very patient with me (I don’t like things near my eyes) and did all the normal tests. It turns out I’m dealing with posterior vitreous detachment, which basically means I’ve got a non-vision threatening change in the goo that makes up my eyeball. The opthamologist said it should work itself out in the next couple of months, but to come back in next year to check things out.
As one of my goals for 2016, I resolved to pick up my bass and guitar and start playing regularly again. The bass is an easier lift, because I can keep it quiet through headphones with the practice amp Santa gave me last year when the girls are in bed. As a result I’ve been playing a lot the last couple of months, and it feels great.
As I normally do with things I’m interested in, I’ve had Craigslist alerts watching used Fender basses for years now. My budget is very low, so I haven’t actively pursued anything, but I came close about four years ago when a guy in Baltimore was selling a MIJ Precision Bass for $150. He sold it before I could make it out to his house.
Last week I found out about a used Jazz Bass on Craigslist in DC and I asked my coworker to check it out for me. He went to the guy’s house on his way to band practice (ha!) and looked it over. Everything checked out (he’s pretty knowledgeable about instruments) so he picked it up for me.
It’s a 1997 made in Mexico Deluxe Series, based on the serial number, with a black body and tortoiseshell pickguard. Deluxe means it was made with active pickups, but the previous owner removed those and replaced them with a set of Fender Noiseless pickups and standard Jazz electronics. The battery plate on the back is held on with two pieces of clear tape, and the jack in the side of the body is disconnected (and held in with a wood screw). The bass has been beat up pretty good; there’s a chip out of the headstock, a good sized ding in the bottom, and a bit of buckle rash on the back side.
It’s strung with a set of roundwounds that only buzz on the E, so the action needs to be adjusted, but the neck is straight and it plays well. The neck itself is fast–it’s thinner than my Steinberger neck, actually, at the same length, but the Steinberger has two more frets. (I was always under the impression the Steinberger was short scale, but I was mistaken). It’s fast and light, which is amazing for a bass its size–I’ve been playing a headless bass for over 20 years, so it takes getting used to. The sound is rich and the tone is beautiful. In fact, there are several songs I’ve played where the tone I’m getting is almost exactly what was recorded.
The biggest issue is that it absolutely stinks of nicotine. The PO was obviously a heavy smoker, so the gig bag and the strings reek of smoke. I wiped the wood down with Murphy’s Oil Soap last night, but I’ve got to take the strings off and wipe the front of the neck down to get more of the yuck off. The bag is hanging out on the back porch, and will be, for the next week or so. Hopefully the sun and the air will pull some of the smoke out.
Now I’m trolling YouTube for instructional videos on how to set up guitars, which I’ll get to in the coming weeks. It needs a new set of strings for sure, so I’ll walk or ride down to Bill’s Music and see if they can tell me what’s on it right now, because I like them despite their stink.
Why is it that when I’m sitting on several hundred dollars for a purely elective purchase of something impulsive, there’s never anything to be had, and when I have no money all the things I’d love to purchase come up on a daily basis on Craigslist? (Corollary: Why am I looking at Craigslist when I have no money? Because I am foolish.)
Last week I dusted off my bass guitar and set up my little Crate amp out in the Doctor’s office (it’s far enough removed from the rest of the house that if I want to ROCK OUT I don’t upset anyone else, and nobody can see me strike my Pete Townsend poses) and started playing again, and it felt good. Like, where the hell have you been for the last three years good. Good enough that I seriously browsed the Musician’s Friend catalog and looked at gear I can’t afford and made up a list of things I’d like to own in a perfect world. My buddy Dave let me test drive his shiny new Jazz bass on Wednesday, and while it felt totally different from my bass (I have a Steinberger, the bass you saw a lot of in 80’s New Wave videos) it felt good to have a solid chunk of wood to play again.
There’s a beginner-level upright bass for sale this morning, something I’ve wanted to own for a long time (I played upright for seven years), but I don’t have the money for it. Do I need it? No. I have a guitar that I’m supposed to be learning how to play, but that’s sitting in the corner of the front bedroom until our houseguest leaves. Arrgghh! Damn you, Craigslist!