My Bass is a Jedi Master
How my Precision bass guitar became the Jedi Master of musical instruments.
My ten-thousand dollar bass guitar, built by the Brooklyn luthier Fodera, hangs in my studio collecting dust, a once-great warrior pulled from battle, whiling away the years like an old man on a porch, lemonade in hand, watching the world roll by. I’ve recently started playing a new bass, and I feel guilty. Like I’m having an affair with an older woman. A woman with experience whose knowledge of the universe is vast and unending. My new bass is a Jedi Master, and I didn’t see it coming.
I’ve been a Fender Precision bass owner for years; had an original ’68 sunburst that looked like it had been run over by a truck. I used it on various gigs, a session here, a session there, but the bass suffered from dead spots and I tried everything to get rid of them; weights on the head stock, fret work, flatwounds, roundwounds. Nothing worked, and to make matters worse, I was in love with the consistency of my Fodera, its modern lines and superior electronics. I lacked the patience for my P-bass. Playing it felt like going for a walk with my grandmother and constantly having to watch my speed. I could get almost any sound imaginable from my Fodera. With the Fodera, my chops were hot stuff.
The Fender Precision bass has never left us, it has been the go-to instrument for pro players for over half-a-century. But there was a moment there—let’s call it the moment between E.T. and the Matrix—where boutique basses ruled the galaxy; five and six-string guitars with exotic woods culled from trees with complicated names and mystic origins. The P-bass, she was forced to bide her time, stand in the Shadows of Motown while the rest of us strapped multi-stringed works of art to our bodies at strangulation height.
But she is a patient lady, the P-bass. She’s seen the moon landing and the advent of color TV. She’s been through Vietnam and the Iran-Contra affair. She’s watched graphite come and go.
My friend and fellow New York bassist, Tim Lefebvre, first introduced me to Moollon basses during the 2011 NAMM show in L.A. We were walking through the trade show trying out every form of impractical bass toy when he said, “Have you checked out Moollon?”
“Who’s Moollon,” I said.
“Come with me,” he said, and pointed us toward a nondescript booth near the back of the convention hall. When I got there, the old lady, the Master, she was waiting for me; a blue-sparkle pedagogue with a tortoiseshell pick guard.
Moollon makes a classic P-bass copy that is essentially a Fender but perfect. Or at least more perfect than the Fender I owned. But when the Moollon showed up at my apartment in Brooklyn a few weeks later, I was still a little skeptical. It’s a P-bass, what’s the big deal? I said to myself as I placed it on a stand, grabbed my Fodera, and began noodling. The new P-bass just watched, for a Jedi Master is no stranger to noodling.
She quietly slipped into the rotation. A gig here, a session there, the same way I’d been using my vintage P-bass for years. But something was different. “How about the blue bass on this track again?” producers would say to me, and I’d look down at the Moollon in my hands, happy that I wouldn’t need to unplug and employ any of the other ten basses I’d brought to the session. She was teaching me the ways of the studio, showing me how a great P-bass flows in the groove. My allegiances were changing, my training nearly complete. I sold the vintage ’68; stood by the window and waved goodbye to the FedEx van as it carried my old Fender off to its new owner. A Jedi craves not these things, I thought I heard my new bass say.
In trying to get to the bottom of how a P-bass convinced me to leave my other instruments behind, I put out a call to players with similar stories. I wanted to find out where the magic lay, how had she known it? How does a great P-bass know that it’s just a matter of time until we all come around? My friend Laurence Mollerup from Vancouver said this, “For me, the deeper tone and humbucking quality of the P pickup is a winner.” And maybe he’s right. In fact, I know he’s right, but I pose another, slightly hemp-themed explanation.
The Beatles were the best band that ever lived, period. But sometimes I get myself into these thought experiments where I wonder: Is it the Beatles we love, or have their songs become so familiar that our love for them has become built into our DNA? Their music passed from one generation to the next like curly hair.
I can’t help but wonder the same thing about a P-bass. Are we so used to hearing it, that when a blue-sparkled temptress shows up on our doorstep, we simply let her in and say, “I’ve been expecting you Milady.” She looks familiar to you, walks in a way you’ve seen somewhere before but can’t quite place. She is the Jedi Master of basses, majestically waving her hand over your arsenal of highly prized art-guitars, and saying, “These are not the basses you’re looking for.” And she will be right. She is always right.