Saturday, 20 November 2010

Three Of A Perfect Pair

Here we have a trio of brand-new, highly-desirable 5-string electric bass guitars with a shared heritage. One of them originally designed by Leo Fender and made in the USA by the company that still bears his name, another a Japanese-built Sadowsky copy of that instrument, and the third manufactured in Indonesia by G & L - a company founded by Mr. Fender in the late 1970s, where he created "the finest instruments I ever built".

The most expensive of the basses in our little collection is three times the price of the cheapest. Which, having given examples of all them a workout in the last year, I can't even begin to understand. Allow me to explain...

Starting at the bottom of the scale, (yes, that was a dire attempt to make a very weak bass-playing-low-notes-reference pun. I apologise profusely. If it happens again, well, I'm sure I'm not that hard to track down, should anyone feel they've suffered sufficiently), we've got the un-snappily titled G & L L2500. £645 gets you an Indonesian instrument equipped with G & L's American-made hardware, and I must admit it sounds absolutely excellent. The enclosed, "saddle lock" bridge, combined with the strings-through-body design mean it'll sustain until the drummer's final 'big rock ending' crash hit is but a dim & distant memory. Plus, with all the passive/active/active with treble boost, series/parallel pick-up switching options, there's enough tonal variation on offer to satisfy almost anyone.

I thoroughly enjoyed playing this bass - it gave off an overall feeling of solidity, was extremely responsive, the neck & fingerboard were excellent - but...on this particular example, there were some serious issues on the middle three strings at the 15th fret. Probably easily fixable with a slight bridge saddle height adjustment, certainly, maybe a little attention to the fret itself, shouldn't have been like that, you know? The action definitely didn't need to be cranked down to a "how low can you go?" level for this to be a great bass. Unfortunately I didn't have time to compare it with others of its breed, but if anyone with greater experience can shed light on their overall quality control standards, then please feel free to get in touch.

Anyway, let's move on now to the Fender American Standard Jazz Bass V.

At this point I feel it's only fair to make a small confession. I don't really like Fender basses (as I've mentioned on this blog before, but then, who in the world ever reads this, huh?). Never have done, most likely never will. So I suppose all I can honestly say is that what we have here is very much a Fender. With 5 strings attached. Again, it feels solid enough, sounds exactly as you'd expect, and if you want a Fender, well, yup, fair enough, you won't go wrong with one of these. A large portion of the £1299 price tag can be accounted for simply by the presence of the word "Fender" on the headstock, of course, but that's personal choice for you...

...speaking of which, you could forget all pretence to rationality, and spend £1999 (no, that's not a mistake - one thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine pounds, folks) on a carefully-wrought clone of the same instrument from Japan. Give it up, ladies and gentlemen, for the Sadowsky Metroline MV5.

Don't get me wrong, in many ways this is a very nice bass. Thanks to the same pick-ups, bridge, etc as their American range, a wider range of tones available than the Fender (although still significantly inferior in this department to the 'whole-price-of-the-Fender-less' G & L). The neck's great, construction is excellent, etc,etc. But for that price it should, surely, be so much more than just another good quality - yet nothing spectacular - instrument? Also worth noting, perhaps, that if you want a lefty or fretless model, then you're going to have to pay full Sadowsky NYC whack.

The Metroline MV5 I tried was fine (I could say "if you're unimaginative and looking for an expensive Fender", but that might be marginally unfair), perfectly decent and 'professional', but...but...

Why, oh why, oh why would anyone willingly, deliberately, "being of sound mind and body" choose to purchase such a thing?

With that sort of budget available, how much better to be deep in conversation with a few local luthiers, to see what they could come up with instead? Something custom-built & crafted to our precise specifications, that would live & breathe under our fingers - and in our current economic situation, I'm sure they'd be extremely glad to see us.

If I had to choose one of these three Leo Fender-related basses to gig with, then quite honestly I'd go with the G & L L2500 - compared with the other two it represents stunning value for money. But then, if I had £645 to spend in the second-hand market, well...a quick glance at Ebay produced an interesting bunch of 5-strings that sold recently for less: Shecter Stiletto, Status Shark 5, Warwick Thumb,Streamer & Corvette, Yamaha BB615 & TRB1005, Musicman Stingray, MTD Grendel, Lakland Skyline, Ibanez SR605 & SR1015, to name but quite a few...

Caveat emptor!

p.s. Thanks to GuitarGuitar in Edinburgh for letting me plonk around on their valuable stock. All prices from their website, and correct as of 20/11/2010.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Time After Time

I trimmed my beard this morning. Not the exactly the pinnacle of human achievement, I grant you. Nothing added to our collective understanding, no great secrets of the cosmos unveiled - quite possibly an activity of such extreme insignificance as to rank alongside knowing how to open a cereal packet without tearing the cardboard top, recalling how hard you laughed when Margaret Thatcher resigned, or being able to name any of the contestants on Strictly-Come-X-Factor-Idol-So You Think You Can Pick Your Nose?...

It was, however, significant to me, because I was starting to resemble the mutant offspring of Brian Blessed & a border collie...
...and finally felt I could allow myself the time to do the job (the electric-clipping bit's fast enough - it's the cleaning-up afterwards that takes so long...the tough little hairs seem to fly off everywhere, then cling determinedly to the damn basin. And then there are all those tricky bloodstains...).

You see, this whole single parent/musician lark seems to be placing more & more pressure on my time management lately. Some days simply to consist of a litany of mundane and menial domestic chores, half-an-hour plonking around (quietly) on something stringed (but only after I've got the kids in bed & dealt with the washing), finished off by cramming in as many of the on-line social & self-promotional obligations that are concomitant with the modern music business model as possible. (But infinitely preferable to scratching a bare existence out of infertile soil, without the comforts of electricity or running water, certainly. This is not intended, I hope, to be an exercise in self-pity).

Which is why the shaving just wasn't happening. Inessential, takes too long, so it can wait. As can, for instance, television. Not to mention the vast heap of literature, films, music, philosophy, politics, sport, blogs, twits, etc that I might have some passing curiosity in, the accumulated cultural detritus of the 'every artefact can be preserved forever' digital age.

Heck, I probably shouldn't even be writing this blog entry - do I really need to be doing this? Does anybody out there really want to be reading it? (Think I know the answer to that one already, cheers).

Seriously, though, I originally wanted to write stuff that might prove worthwhile-yet-amusing, that sometimes involved proper research - magazine-feature style, rather than occasional drips of solipsistic snivelling.

So here's the crux of the matter. For musicians (especially the annoyingly young ones - without families, mortgages, hearing loss, colostomy bags, etc), the temptation to waste whole screeds of time is enormous - after all, rehearsing/recording/gigging/touring often involve a great deal of waiting around, so why shouldn't we spend more of the rest of our time on stuff we want to do, huh? No reason at all...except we never have as much time as we fool ourselves into thinking.

You genuinely want to take your music seriously? (rather than simply use it as an excuse for ingesting recreational chemicals and magnifying your putative sex appeal)

Turn off the TV, (still the world's greatest black hole of time wastage, in spite of the challenge from social networking sites and YouTube), accept that "going down the pub" instead of re-stringing your guitar won't help you achieve your goals, and concentrate your efforts on making the most of the opportunities that come your way. You'll catch up on all those books & films eventually, when that arthritic hip has crimped your gigging style a touch...

Finally, speaking as someone who suffers sporadic bouts of insomnia (and occasionally has it forced upon him), I can't recommend trying to make the day last longer as a solution. Agreed, it's an obvious route to go down in an effort to fit everything in, but sleep deprivation only makes us (more) stupid and fat. Ok, that's maybe a slight simplification of the medical evidence (see below for details), but insufficient sleep does us no favours, even if it's only short-term. And don't get me started on trying to combat the effects with caffeine and/or cigarettes...or anything else...

Oh, and don't become a single parent. Trust me, that doesn't work out so well with the music thing either.

More grumpy-old-man witterings coming soon. Ish. If I have the time.

A few brief slices of sleep research:

"Less effective executive functioning after one night's sleep deprivation"
(Journal of Sleep Research, full article)

"Sleep deprivation doubles risks of obesity in children & adults"
(Warwick Medical School, press release & podcast)

"Can You Catch Up On Sleep?"
(NHS inform, research & article on its misrepresentation in media)

"Neurocognitive Consequences of Sleep Deprivation"
(Semin Neurol, abstract)

Relative effects on performance of sleep deprivation & alcohol
(Occupational & Environmental Medicine, abstract)