No pain at all
March 9, 2014 by Thomas Wictor
Recently a very angry, quite insane person demanded to know how I could write so much, since I have arthritis in both hands. Well, here’s a news bulletin: It hurts. But my alternatives are limited. I could try this, I suppose.
When it comes to the electric bass, though, I’m without options. I haven’t been able to play in thirteen years. Though I miss it terribly, the loss causes me no pain at all anymore. The grieving process took a decade.
My first bass was a Fender Musicmaster. It was a right-handed, short-scale bass that I bought because I had no idea what I was doing. I had to play it upside down. There aren’t any photos of me and my Musicmaster, but my friend Joe Cady drew a perfect cartoon of me from memory. As you can see, it matches my appearance at the time.
The first left-handed bass I bought was a Carvin LB50.
I had the frets pulled out of both the Musicmaster and the LB50 because I loved fretless bass. If you aren’t familiar with fretless, here’s what it can sound like in the hands of an artist like Matthew Seligman.
Then I got a Rickenbacker because I fell in love with Chris Squire of Yes.
I learned the the massively fun “Siberian Khatru” and played it all the time. That grinding, growling tone was something I’d sought for years.
I ruined my Rickenbacker by having an extra pickup put in it. It sounded like crap after that, so when I moved to Tokyo, I left it with a guy who probably threw it into the ocean. In Japan I bought an Aria Pro II bass that I made into a fretless myself, and then I began amassing Japanese copies of Fender basses. None were very good. Their tones were lousy, and the necks kept warping.
Finally I had my family send me an American Fender Precision. I used that as my main bass until Carmen bought me the Music Man StingRay. Along the way there was an eight-string I made myself and then left outside the night before garbage pickup. Someone grabbed it about three seconds after I walked away. I also had a Fender Jazz Bass with an orange pick guard I made out of plexiglass.
My custom pick guards were twice as thick as the stock versions. This reduced the space between the strings and the body of the bass, allowing me to slap and pop much faster because my fingers didn’t have very far to travel.
Second only to the Carmen bass in my pantheon of beloved instruments was my Explorer-shaped Aria Pro II. It looked just like this one, except it was left handed. The sound was incredible, and it was perfectly balanced.
It was stolen from me. The thief never owned up to it. I used to think that the lie was based on shame, but I’ve had to admit that it could also be indifference. This bass makes me sad because the theft and subsequent lie are far more consequential than they might appear. It was just a bass worth a few hundred dollars, but it represents the selling of a soul.
All my basses—past and present—brought me great joy. That’s why I keep these, despite the arthritis that separates me from them.
From the left, they are the Carmen Bass, a Squire Fender Precision I bought because it’s as light as balsa wood, an ESP Navigator fretless Jazz Bass copy, the Frankenbass that Eric and I built out of my trusty old Fender Precision, and a custom eight-string made by Subway Guitars. I was never even able to play the eight string. Fatdog and his luthier are the only people who ever used it to make music.
“God, this is a great bass,” he told me over the phone. “I never play the customers’ instruments, but there was something about this one that made me want to noodle on it, even though I’m not left handed.”
You knew it was special, Fatdog. It was my last bass. Even though I haven’t played it, I love owning it. Looking at it cheers me up.
So thank you. I’m very grateful.
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