Monday, September 24, 2018

Review: Steve Harris Signature Precision Bass

Longtime readers of the blog know that I am a huge fan of the Fender Precision bass.  Fender, G&L, Lull, Music Man, you name it-- if it's a P-bass, you already have my attention! 

However, I've never been a big fan of signature basses; I can appreciate them for what they are, but none appeal enough to me to spend the money one one-- until this one.  

There are two bassists that really grabbed me from early on: Geddy Lee, and Steve Harris.  Seeing Geddy playing his Rickenbacker on, "Exit... Stage Left" was what inspired me to play guitar.  Steve Harris was the stand out sound to me when I first listened to Iron Maiden after buying "Maiden Japan" at our local MusicPlus record store.  Rush and Maiden were huge influences in my musical life.  

When evaluating my collection recently and deciding which basses to sell, which to keep, the less expensive Steve Harris Precision survived where other, much more expensive basses did not.  How did that happen?  While some of the reasons are personal preferences, there are some objective points as well:
Fender released this new version of Steve's signature in early 2015.  What makes this version different than the others is the white color (vs. blue), the pinstriping with West Ham football club sticker, Seymour Duncan pickup, and Fender's BadAssII bridge.  Detailed spec's are available on Fender's website, so no need to repeat those here.  What appealed most to me was the nod to it's 70's roots with the big headstock, bold lettering, and the fatter neck.  The other details are nice too-- especially for the price.  

Fit & Finish:
Neck pocket: Left, Steve Harris/ Right, American Standard
Compared to my Fender American Standard Precision, the made in Mexico Harris model actually has some advantages.  The Harris neck pocket is nearly air-tight compared to the significant gap on the US version.  Weight on the Harris model is quite a bit heavier, which is attributable to the different body woods: maple body on the Harris, and alder on the US.  Action was fantastic on the Harris, while I had to spend a few hours dialing in the US model.  Fretwoork was great on the Harris, but slightly better on the US with the fret ends being more rounded on the US.  This November will mark 1-year living with the bass, and I haven't had to adjust a thing on it-- just plug & play!

Feel & Sound:
Even though I'm a huge fan of Steve Harris and Iron Maiden, I'm not interested in replicating Steve's sound.  The bass is supposed to come strung with rounds, with a set of flats in the case.  Mine was missing the flats, but I didn't pursue the issue with the seller-- why make a fuss about something I will never use?  As you might guess, the bass sounds like what it is; a big, aggressive Fender P.  However, roll off the volume just a bit and you can get all the classic tones your heart desires.  Comparing the Duncan pickup with the MFD in my G&L SB-1, I discovered the two sound very similar.  That just made my SB-1 redundant!

A lot of press and advertisement call the neck a "U" shape.  How Fender comes up with that stuff is beyond me.  It is not a large neck on it's own; compared to the typical Fender bass, this neck is better thought of as a chunky "C" shape.  There is a little more depth front to back, hence calling it chunky.  Make no mistake, this is not a large neck-- it's simply larger than the modern Fender necks.  Should someone only have experience with a skinny-necked Ibanez, then pick up this bass... perhaps that person would be surprised by the size difference.  Otherwise, the neck is nicely rounded and feels really comfortable.  

The weight is about 11 pounds, but using a wide padded strap really zeros out the  feel of having such a large instrument.  Again, part of the appeal of this bass is it's nod to the 1970s, a time when the P-bass was considered a "man's bass."  Fender nails it with this one.  

When evaluating my collection and deciding which basses to keep/sell, one of the reasons the Steve Harris model survived the purge is that big, bold, beautiful headstock!  That was the style I grew up with and when someone mentions "Fender Bass" the 70s style is the image that comes to mind; it's what it should look like.  Then consider the Harris fit & finish, bridge, pickup, neck feel, sound... it represents the quintessential Fender Precision bass.  
Richly colored decal & stripes are under the clearcoat
Ultimately, I chose it over the G&L LB-100, SB-1, Fender American Standard, AND the new Music Man Cutlass Bass.  The fact this one is a Steve Harris signature model is just a bonus; the pinstriping & castle/hammers sticker simply make it more fun to look at than the typical bass.  It should be mentioned that those finish details are actually part of the bass-- under the clearcoat so there is no option to remove them.  At the same time, for those who like the unique finish details, being under the clearcoat makes it even more resistant to wear.  For those who don't follow football and have no idea who or what Wes Ham United is, the decal looks great on its own-- again, a fun detail.

If the Steve Harris P-bass looks like your kind of instrument, either as a collector item for Maiden fans, or simply as a fun solid bass guitar, you might want to consider buying one sooner than later.  Many of the signature basses have specific production time frames as did the previous Harris models, and considering that this version has been on the market for several years, it's likely nearing the end of its production.  These are great instruments and are a great value within the Fender catalog.

If you aren't a fan of Fender basses, perhaps you would like Music Man's take on the Precision and P/J platform; I've got a review of both coming soon-- till then...

...Stay tuned & in tune!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Quick Tips: How To Sell My Bass?

Most of us eventually decide to sell a bass either to upgrade to a better one, or to thin a herd that became a collection now requiring its own room in the house(!)

Once the decision is made to sell, you have a lot of options; sell online, to a friend, or even a music store-- just to name a few.  

Popular places include eBay, Reverb, or your favorite instrument/maker specific forums.  Be ready to pay additional fees for selling via eBay or Reverb.  Shipping charges have to be factored into the sale price as well.  In this case, photos are your friend.  Don't be stingy with the photos, and include enough that detail the condition so the new buyer knows exactly what to expect.  DO NOT attempt to hide flaws, or something that might raise concern.  Doing so will not slip a flaw past someone -- a lot of folks expect perfection, so being up front about the life your instrument has lived will weed out those who will likely return it to you.  Be honest, take pride in your time as the instruments custodian, and be willing to have it return if need be.

Selling locally:
Either to a friend or through CraigsList will save you having to pay fees or shipping.  However, there is an old, wise maxim that teaches selling anything to a friend is never a good idea.  Again, photos are a great way to provide a visual description of the instruments condition and will flush out some of those CraigsList Flakes.

CraigsList (LetGo, OfferUp, etc.) exposes you to a whole list of unsavory characters along with a few actual prospective buyers.  The frustration with using CraigsList may be worth the effort to find the right buyer, just be sure to set specific boundaries for prospective buyers and don't let yourself become a sheep among wolves.  A few basics:

- Don't hesitate to turn away a buyer that makes your Spidey Sense tingle

- Arrange to meet at a public location of your choosing, but NEVER at your house.

- Be clear on the type of payment you will accept, and only meet when you agree on a specific price

- Take a friend with you; there is safety in numbers

- Always be aware of your surrounding, handling cash as discreetly as possible

Selling to a store:
Don't expect to get full price; it is buying from you in order to make a profit selling to someone else.  Selling to a shop is convenient and frees you of having to sift through all the flakes and tire-kickers to find the right buyer.  The downside is that most places will give you about 60% of what they will sell it for.  

Do your homework before selling to a shop; check various online retailers yourself to get an idea what your shop will sell it for.  Stepping into the shop with a clear, realistic expectation will make the process go much smoother for both you and the shop employee; doing so may also result in receiving a little more for your item in appreciation for your pleasant disposition.  

Always try to keep things in the proper perspective; you are selling a musical instrument, and the process more often than not will require a good deal of patience.  Thinking of the process as an adventure will position your mindset in a way that elevates much of the stress associated with selling an instrument.  Have fun and look forward to meeting the next person who will be caring for your beloved instrument~

Stay tuned, and in tune!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

2018 Updates!

Wow-- seems like my last post was just a couple of weeks ago, but it's been much longer than that.  The old saying, "Time flies when you're having fun..." has proved accurate-- especially when one is a home owner(!)

Catching up:
To start off the new year, I sold the 5-string G&L JB-- you know, the one with the teal metal flake finish.  As much as I tried I could not overcome the distraction of that low B string.  

Being a visual learner, I have catalogs of fretboard position "shapes" in my head, and adding the extra string kept tripping me up-- my finger memory kept going to the B thinking it was the E.  Beyond that, I very rarely needed one of the five extra notes that additional string provides.  The bass ended up being a 50th birthday gift for a local player, so everything worked out great!

A short time after selling the JB5, my Plum Crazy G&L LB-100 ended up on the disabled list with a busted truss rod(!)  In all my years of playing I'd never had a trussrod break; have heard it happen to others, but never personally experienced it.  

While initially upset, I soon recalled that these instruments for which I tend to be sentimental, are in fact tools and tools occasionally fail.  With a short phone call, my dealer gave me with the customer service contact info, and in a very short time the kind folks at G&L got back with me to arrange for a repair.  

The total down-time was only about five weeks.  G&L's repair work and customer service was top notch!  Looking back on it, the experience has just amplified my appreciation for the company and its products.

Good News!
Sometimes instruments get sold/traded to make room for something new.  Part of the fun of getting a new bass is the search, or hunt if you will.  In this case, I had been keeping an eye out for a certain Fender Signature bass of a longtime favorite of mine; Steve Harris.  

A few years ago Fender released a new Steve Harris signature model, and if history is any indication, the model is likely to be unofficially removed from the catalog after three or four years.  Having come across a really good deal at the same, rare moment I had a little money in hand, I enjoyed a New Bass Day.  A full review is in the making...

What's to come:
As Ferris Bueller famously noted, "Life moves pretty fast.  If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."  In the months to come, I'll make more effort to catch some of those Bass-Adventure moments and record them here.  Here are a few of the things I currently have brewing:
     - New bass test drives
     - Notes on selling/trading basses in today's market
     - New Bass Day reviews
     - Musical notes from the stage
                                                 ... and more!
Stay tuned & in tune!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Test Drive: Rickenbacker 4003

Last month I took a test drive of a major icon in the bass world; the Rickenbacker 4003.

Geddy Lee & his Rickenbacker; "Exit Stage Left"
The reason I was so excited to take the Rick for a test spin, is 100% due to seeing Geddy Lee playing his Rig 4001 on the "Exit Stage Left" video-- the very thing that inspired me to play guitar/bass.  Knowing nothing about guitars back then, I looked at the Rickenbacker's non-symmetrical headstock on Geddy's bass and thought, "Wow! His guitar is busted and he's still playing the heck out of it!"  Now, many years later I get to try out the modern version of that classic bass for the first time-- I couldn't wait!

New Rickenbacker 4003 is a beautiful thing!
Located in the "Platinum Room" of a national guitar retailer, the salesman climbed to the top of a ladder, freed the bass from a locked hanger, then handed me the black beauty.  Finding a uncrowded corner, I admired every aspect of the instrument.  
Fit & Finish:
Its black finish was flawless and all the parts felt stout.  However, the tuning posts (where strings are wound) were much smaller than those found on Fender-type basses, though the tuning keys were very similar.  Medium-jumbo frets looked properly finished, the rosewood fingerboard was rich in color and the binding/distinctive pearoid inlays looked fantastic!  

Oh my, that string action!
Overall the bass felt somewhat smaller than I imagined it.  Its slim body felt comfortable to play and was relatively lightweight.  The neck felt chunky and nicely rounded at the sides, but from front to back was somewhat shallow (not chunky like a baseball bat).  

The only disappointing element was the super high string action, a problem that this particular store is infamous for.  Normally, string action is a fairly simple problem to correct on most basses... but not on the Ric due to the bridge design.  
A "Platinum Room" setup by a national guitar retailer
A good luthier could probably adjust the bass to correct the high action, but at additional cost.  On an instrument costing over $1800, located under lock & key in a "Platinum Room" I expect it to at least be within factory specs.  Despite its crazy string action, it sounded fantastic-- just what one expects to hear.   

Prior to the test drive while on my way to the shop, I was secretly hoping to fall in love with the bass, and fantasized that my wife would happily encourage me to leave the shop as a new Rickenbacker 4003 owner.  The bass still hangs on the shop's wall today, waiting for someone with more money and patience than I.  A great instrument in every respect (sans poor setup), I hope to add one to my collection someday soon.  Until then,

...stay tuned & in tune!   

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Talent, or Hard Work?

Just came across this clip from Scott Devine that I had to share with everyone here.

Scott is talking about his students that were born with a "talent" for the instrument, and those who had to work harder.  

Consider that a person with a talent for music simply means that they pick up on things easier.  For those of us less talented, we can achieve the same results-- we just need to work harder to get there.  

Over the last week or so, I have been in the shed working on a favorite RUSH tune, Tom Sawyer.  This is the first Geddy Lee tune I have attempted because I thought there was no way on earth I could keep up with my favorite bassist.  The crazy thing is, that I am nearly through it-- and yes, it has been a lot of work!

Once I finish the song, I will be turning my focus to theory: Chord Tones, Scales and arpeggios.  After watching Scott's video something occurred to me; the accomplishments I am most proud of are those which were the most challenging. Therefore, it's off to the wood shed...!

Stay tuned & in tune!    

Friday, March 17, 2017

Review: Fender American Standard Precision Bass vs. G&L LB-100, SB1

Gear Review/ Comparison

Yeah, yeah-- I can hear the Sheldon Cooper-types out there exhaling dismissively and asking, "P-bass?! How simple can a person be?"

Well this isn't your typical P-Bass review.  Today I will compare my Fender American Standard Precision with the latest G&L P-basses: the new(ish) LB-100 and the well documented SB-1, which I reviewed last year in, NBD! Ode to Donald "Duck Dunn" 

It was all a matter of timing that presented this unique opportunity-- to buy yet another P-bass: first, the fact that I was not getting along well in my 5-string adventure with the JB5 and decided to sell it on for someone else to enjoy.  Then came the announcement from Fender that it was replacing the American Standard series with the new Professional series.  Being the Christmas season, retailers were willing to sell off their stock of "outdated" Fenders at rock bottom prices to make room for the new series.  So I was presented with the opportunity to have an Olympic White, rosewood, tortoise shell USA P-bass shipped to my door via next-day mail(!)  Being a sucker for that classic look I placed my order... and here we are!

Why compare the Fender with G&L?

Outside the G&L factory in Fullerton CA.
More than just similarly styled instruments, G&L was created by Leo Fender.  "G&L" is short for George & Leo; George Fullerton, and Leo Fender; two men key to the early days of Fender guitars.  Additionally, G&L operates out of a facility which Leo built many of his classic Fender guitars.  Several of the original machines and practices used in the 1950s are still in use at G&L today.  

G&L Guitars is also the last place Leo worked until his death in 1991.  As an interesting side note, Leo's wife, Phyllis, is an honorary chairperson 
at G&L to help keep Leo's vision alive.  So there is a substantial connection with history at G&L guitars, which is partly why many people believe that a G&L is the closest instrument to Leo's originals that are available today.  However, don't get the idea that G&L is stuck in the past-- the company strives to improve it's products in keeping with Leo's continuous effort to improve his creations.  Another interesting side note is the two factories (Fender and G&L) are located a mere 20-miles apart from each other.  

The new P-bass:

First things first; this 2016 American Standard Precision is a fantastic instrument.  It sounds exactly like one expects from a P-Bass, and plays smoothly with a nice low action.  Its body is lightweight alder, and the rosewood fingerboard has a rich, dark red color.  

When playing for the first time, I discovered a rattle when playing open notes.  After much trouble shooting, I narrowed the problem down to the A string; it didn't have enough down pressure between the nut and the tuning post.  A common problem on newer Fender basses, required a small part from the Fender catalog designed to resolve the issue.  It is a washer that replaces the stock tuning peg washer and includes a string retainer/guide to sharpen the string break between the two points.
Also helpful eliminating rattles is to ensure the strings are wound as far down the peg as possible.  Since the stock strings could have been wound another wrap or so further down, I installed a new set of strings. Along with the new string retainer, the problem disappeared.  

The comparison. 

Fit & Finish:

How does the 2016 Fender American Standard Precision compare to it's G&L P-bass stepbrothers?  Let's start with the most obvious; the urethane finishes from each company are flawless.  There is however, one huge difference between the two builders in this regard; the number of different available finishes.  Fender offered three colors in 2016: black, white, sunburst. The new Professional series added olive green to its total of four colors.  G&L on the other hand offer 29 different standard colors, with an additional 16 "Premier" finishes and seven metal flake finishes. They also offer special, limited edition colors such as with the Detroit Muscle Series, which currently offer eight different colors.  

Fender neck pocket (left & right sides) with slight gaps
Fitment wise, for those who believe the neck pocket should be free of gaps, Fender slips a little compared to G&L.  The Fender has a slight gap on either side of the neck.  Several repairmen have told me this makes it easier for them to make slight adjustments to the neck over the years.  Personally, I don't mind it at all, as I can not discern any difference in resonance or sustain compared to my G&Ls, and it has proven stable during the last three months of playing with our band.

G&L neck pockets-- tight as a drum
G&L neck pockets are extremely tight, so much so  that you can remove the neck bolts then pick up the instrument by the neck and the body will remain in place.  Some believe this results in longer sustain and  improves overall tone.  Comparing the two though my rig, I don't notice any difference; each have long ringing sustain and each body resonates like crazy...

Fender and G&L approach neck attachment differently as well.  Fender uses the traditional method of four-bolts with the stamped neck plate.  G&L uses six countersunk bolts, allowing them to ditch the stamped plate.  The G&L appeals more to me for a modern bass, but I bought the Fender because I wanted a bass with a slightly more classic feel.  While the G&L feels better to me when handling the instrument, Fender's traditional layout does what it's intended to do nicely.  

Departing slightly from the classic design, Fender has modernized its tuning keys to be smaller and lighter, which potentially allows the instrument to balance better by minimizing neck dive.  This particular bass balances perfectly-- so in this case, it worked wonderfully.  G&L tuners favor the classic designs of yesteryear.

(L) Fender, (R) G&L
On the front side, the tuners appear pretty similar at first, but look closer and there are slight differences.  

(L) Fender, (R) G&L
Fender's tuning pegs are again smaller, but are of a slightly denser material.  G&L uses "Ultra-Light" aluminum tapered posts.  On the new Professional series, Fender has added more taper to its tuners than on the previous American Standard units.

Both use round string trees for the "D" and "G" strings.  Fender moved the trussrod to the end of the neck, while the G&L's is located behind the nut.  The grain patterns also reveals different neck types: a flatsawn Fender, and the quartersawn G&L. 

(L) Fender, (R) G&L
Bridges.  Fender has beefed up its vintage bridge and includes the option to string though the body.  The G&L bridge is my favorite of any on the market; it includes a protrusion on the underside that fits deep into the body. It also has a set screw on the right side that locks the bridge down keeping anything from moving.

Details, details...

Aside from the large, more obvious items to compare,  the less obvious details are important too.  Here are two or three points that become noticeable when playing with a band:

(L) Fender glossy finish, (R) G&L satin finish
Side markers.  Seldomly do I look at the face markers when playing live; it's the side markers that I use for reference, and this is one point where the Fender is lacking.  Each of Fender's side dots are positioned half on the rosewood and half on the maple, compared to the G&L which position its side dots completely on the rosewood.  On a dimly lit stage, the Fender dots are tough to see.  Conversely, G&L markers visually jump out do to positioning and use of a different material that reflects light better than those on the Fender.

(L) Fender, (R) G&L
Strap buttons.  While the Fender units are nice, the G&L buttons do a better job of keeping the strap in place because the top portion is wider.  Fender's are great if you use rubber washers to lock the strap down, otherwise G&L have the best non-locking buttons on the market.  

G&L buttons are also a bit shorter than Fender's, and don't protrude as far into the bottom of a gig bag.  Of course that is less of an issue if you only use a hardshell case.  

(Top) Fender, (Bottom) G&L
Cases become more important if you transport your instrument from home to a gig.  Again, this is one of those less obvious details at first blush.  Fender cases have molded plastic outer shells with foam inserts, and have a really comfortable handle compared to that which G&L offers.  G&L have long sourced their cases from the G&G case company, which are Tolex-covered plywood shells with padded inserts to keep the bass secure.  Fender's case is much lighter and more comfortable to carry around town.  Unfortunately, the case that shipped with my Fender is coming apart.  The foam insert in the top half of the case has separated from the plastic shell.  After a pleasant phone call, Fender's customer service arranged for a replacement to be sent.

Tone Report:

Tone is such a subjective thing, so I wont get too deep into the weeds here.  However, there are some characteristics that most people would notice, and I will attempt a bit of that here.  

If these four basses can be thought of in terms of a sound spectrum, with lower output and sweeter tones on the left, to higher output and more aggressive tones on the right, my ears rank them as follows:

Blue LB100 / Fender Precision / Purple LB100 / SB-1

Again, tone being very subjective and personal, it is difficult to give an objective report.  That said, each of these basses hit the classic P sound, and in the case of the SB-1, the P-sound and much more.  Also notice that the Purple LB100 is ranked more aggressive than the Blue LB100.  With the exception of the color, the two basses have exactly the same specs and strings, but the tone is more aggressive with the Purple bass; this is another example of an instrument being more than just the sum of its parts.

In the weeks to come I will post a video comparison of the four basses and you can let your own ears determine which tones you like best.  'Till then...

...Stay tuned & in tune!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Music Room Remodel Pt. 3: Complete!

While there are a few small things I still need (desk lamp, something to cover tv/speaker wires...) the project is complete.  One of the things I'm happiest with is the supports for the guitar hangers:

The various nicks & dings seen above are from my drill slipping off the screw head... So I drilled pilot holes for the screws and drove them by hand.

Having the bolts recessed allowed me to cover them with the outside hangers.  Naturally the wall studs didn't line up with my design plans for the supports, so I chose to use "Toggler" which thankfully worked as advertised.

Dealing with the slanted celling was a little tricky; I decided to step things down visually from right to left:

With the supports and guitar hangers installed, the final two puzzle pieces were acquired & installed over the weekend.  First I needed a desk.  

Before making the long trip up to the Seattle area to visit Ikea and the local re-stores around town, I decided to visit our state's surplus store-- a place I recently discovered.  

At best I thought I might find something to use as a base for a new desk top... however, I was able to score a computer desk in excellent condition for only $15!

Having saved a bundle on the desk, I was able to put a little more money toward a tv/sound-bar system.  Our local Buy More had everything I needed for the tv setup and the cables needed to connect my laptop to the tv.  To secure the TV mount to the drywall I attempted to use "Toggler Self-Drilling Drywall Anchors 65lbs" 

The package claims that you don't need a drill to install the anchor... that wasn't the case for me.  First the anchors did not penetrate the drywall and instead smashed into a useless wad of plastic.  So I drilled a small pilot hole... but the anchor busted off half way in.  Eventually I succeeded by drilling a pair of 5/16" holes for the anchors, then patched and painted the earlier attempts.

All of the above brings us to the finished product.  A month or so after beginning, the claustrophobic, dimly lit attic room has become a brightly lit useful practice space.



Over the next few weeks I may tweak things a little, but all-in-all it's completed, and I'm thrilled to have a new practice space.
As the weather improves I will tackle a few other projects around the house, which are welcome deviations from music; the more creative outlets the better!

Soon to come: Fender American Standard P-bass vs. G&L LB-100...

...Stay tuned & in tune!