Rick Suchow talks about Phil Lesh's fretless bass

adorshki

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Ok forgive me if you guys all know who Rick is and it turns out he's a member already and this has been posted before, but stumbled across it while looking for something else, and thought it couldn't hurt:
http://www.ricksuchow.com/press-group-167.html

Lotta great background about Phil & Jack's early modded basses and the gestation of Alembic, amongst other things.
 

hieronymous

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I'm pretty sure it's been posted here before but it was many years ago - always worth bringing back!
 

fronobulax

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The article is several years old and has been around here before. "LA bassist Dan Schwartz" is a poster here and it shouldn't take too much digging to figure out who he posts as since he still owns the bass in question and has talked about it.
 

lungimsam

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Anyone know about Lesh’s first Starfire and his thoughts about it?
 

fronobulax

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Anyone know about Lesh’s first Starfire and his thoughts about it?
There is lots of info out there on the bass including annotated pictures claiming to tell what each of the knobs do. So Google can help with the first. But I could not quickly find interviews where he talks about the bass - the what and the why. I'm sure that is out there but someone else can search.
 

edwin

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There is lots of info out there on the bass including annotated pictures claiming to tell what each of the knobs do. So Google can help with the first. But I could not quickly find interviews where he talks about the bass - the what and the why. I'm sure that is out there but someone else can search.
The story I heard from Ron Wickersham is that Ron built the first "Superfilter" (essentially a state variable filter) to be used in local recording studios in San Francisco, using modified telephone multiplexing technology so that they could get a wider range of tones for all kinds of instruments, but especially for the bass. He showed me one of them that they still have at Alembic. When Phil played through it, his reaction was "I want that in my bass!" And so it went.

The problem with the original filters is that that original circuit used technology that was designed to be super accurate when it came to tuning the frequency (like you would need when stacking phone calls on top of each other), but at the expense of noise, which doesn't matter much for phone conversations over low bandwidth phone lines. So, Phil's Starfire is really pretty noisy when you bring in the filters. Not much to be done about that. So Ron went back to the drawing board and designed one for low noise with a less accurate tuning which is still more than adequate for bass guitar.
 

lungimsam

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Funny thing is, I dont think his or Jacks tone was any better than anyone elses. I mean, cranked amps is cranked amps. Though they both had that warm Starfire body tone to their sounds. Course I never heard them in person. But recording wise, I dont think their tone was any better or worse than anyone elses back then or now. I think their constant axe rotation thru the years proves it.
 

edwin

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Funny thing is, I dont think his or Jacks tone was any better than anyone elses. I mean, cranked amps is cranked amps. Though they both had that warm Starfire body tone to their sounds. Course I never heard them in person. But recording wise, I dont think their tone was any better or worse than anyone elses back then or now. I think their constant axe rotation thru the years proves it.

Well, we'll have to agree to disagree on that. Certainly better or worse is in the ear of the beholder, but they both had very unique tones and to my ear, they had the best of the things they were going for. While Jack's tone remained a bit more consistent, Phil's tone evolved considerably over the years and it's not too difficult to hear the difference between the Fender, EB-0, Starfire (in its various incarnations), EB-3 (or modified EB-0 or whatever it was), Alembic, Irwin, Modulus, etc.

On the other hand, when I had both his Starfire and mine with Series II pickups and electronics, and hardware, right next to each other, one wasn't really better than they other, although they were different.

I think their tones were also distinctive because of their touch. The same can be said of many other players. But the implication of your statement is that any number of other bass players sounds could be dropped into the GD or JA and it wouldn't change the music that much. I don't think that's true.
 

hieronymous

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Funny thing is, I dont think his or Jacks tone was any better than anyone elses. I mean, cranked amps is cranked amps. Though they both had that warm Starfire body tone to their sounds. Course I never heard them in person. But recording wise, I dont think their tone was any better or worse than anyone elses back then or now. I think their constant axe rotation thru the years proves it.
Are there any players with amazing sound that you are into? Need some context. George Porter Jr. with the Meters (especially the early instrumental stuff) to me is a legendary sound that I have never heard anywhere else and that I would kill to have. For some people "Phil & Jack" are in that league - I'm more Team Phil even though I'm not after his sound, but I also find something really special in it - of course, it's not just the gear, it's the player and their note choices and their energy, although gear is obviously a big part of the equation.
 

fronobulax

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Hehe.

Lots of ambiguity in the English. What we hear is certainly effected by a variety of factors - instrument, strings, amps, room, player, etc. - but "better" is strictly a preference or opinion. When I say "sound like Jack" I am focused on the whole package - not only equipment but what notes he chooses to play of not. It may be a tautology but Jack sounds like Jack whether it is with a modified Fender, a Starfire, an Alembic or a JC sig.

I am a firm believer that if you are trying to sound like someone else it is easier to do so with similar equipment but I also believe that players can transcend their equipment and sound like themselves regardless of equipment. If me and my Starfire don't sound like Jack it is not a problem that will be fixed by another bass or a Versatone amp.
 

Happy Face

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Hehe.

Lots of ambiguity in the English. What we hear is certainly effected by a variety of factors - instrument, strings, amps, room, player, etc. - but "better" is strictly a preference or opinion. When I say "sound like Jack" I am focused on the whole package - not only equipment but what notes he chooses to play of not. It may be a tautology but Jack sounds like Jack whether it is with a modified Fender, a Starfire, an Alembic or a JC sig.

I am a firm believer that if you are trying to sound like someone else it is easier to do so with similar equipment but I also believe that players can transcend their equipment and sound like themselves regardless of equipment. If me and my Starfire don't sound like Jack it is not a problem that will be fixed by another bass or a Versatone amp.
Well put, Frono. Your wisdom shines though again.
 

lungimsam

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I wasnt implying that anyones tone could be dropped into the respective mixes and would work for those bands. Everyones tone sounds different. Just stating that I dont think their tone is better than anyone elses.
Just sounds like cranked amps to me.

No, I am not tied to anyone’s tone in particular.
 

fronobulax

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I wasnt implying that anyones tone could be dropped into the respective mixes and would work for those bands. Everyones tone sounds different. Just stating that I dont think their tone is better than anyone elses.
Just sounds like cranked amps to me.

No, I am not tied to anyone’s tone in particular.
OK. I think the points of debate are a) whether the word "better" is appropriate in a discussion of something so subjective as "tone" and b) the extent to which "cranked amps" are a major factor in the creation of "tone".

On the former I personally am hypersensitive to statements of opinion presented as if they were facts. That's not really happening in this discussion but as a Moderator I am sensitive to things that should be nipped in the bud, even when I am the cause :)

On "cranked amps" I can produce something that I hear as similar to Jack's sound as recorded both live and studio with a low powered solid state amp at room/practice volumes. So a cranked amp is not a necessary part of what I think "the sound" is. I also have found that I think I sound like me (BAD) regardless of amp. I have yet to find an amp or set of settings that makes me sound what I consider "better".

:)
 

hieronymous

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I wasnt implying that anyones tone could be dropped into the respective mixes and would work for those bands. Everyones tone sounds different. Just stating that I dont think their tone is better than anyone elses.
Just sounds like cranked amps to me.

No, I am not tied to anyone’s tone in particular.
If Phil Lesh just sounds like "cranked amps" then I can tell you don't listen to the Grateful Dead. He's a lot weirder than that!

I actually think your opinion is interesting. Do you like listening to music? Hasn't a bass "sound" ever turned you on? I remember being into Geezer Butler, Roger Glover, Geddy Lee, Stanley Clarke, Chris Squire, Lemmy, George Porter Jr., Michael Henderson - the list goes on and on, but they all got me excited about the bass and made we want to PLAY! I guess maybe I thought everyone was like that. But it makes sense that people hear and enjoy music differently than I do.

Actually, it's making me think of players whose sounds I didn't necessarily go nuts for, and yet found their playing inspiring. I played a lot between 1988-1995 (college and a few years after), so a certain bunch of "jam bands" like Phish, Widespread Panic, Blues Traveller, the Spin Doctors, and Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit were starting to take off (before that term became a thing) and you could go see them live pretty easily because they toured a lot, plus I was in a somewhat similar band called Jiggle the Handle (Edwin was around too in Shockra - we opened for them a couple of times). I loved Phish and liked a lot of what Mike Gordon played, but I wasn't necessarily into his sound. Dave Schools was inspiring because he played with pick, fingers, or slapping depending on the sound, and I loved the music, but heard the bass more in the context of the music. I didn't really get into Bobby Sheehan (though I learned to appreciate his playing later), REALLY DUG Mark White's weird up-and-down slapping technique and muscular sound, but he didn't improvise like Mike or Dave. And then there was Oteil - I was really enamored with his virtuosity and harmonic knowledge and musicality, and the 6-string Modulus sounded cool! I loved the piano-like tone of Chris Squire in a different way, more distorted, but I loved that aspect of Oteil's playing and sound.

Sorry for the mini-essay! Just enjoying thinking about music - it's what I think about a lot of the time.

Phil Lesh is interesting - I really started listening to the Dead in college (so 1988) and even saw the Dead three times between 1990-1994. That was after the glory years of his sound in my mind - I don't think he sounds the same throughout time, that's part of what's cool about him is hearing the development of his sound. I'm way more into the early '70s sounds. Man is he a weird player! He never plays what you would expect, except when you expect him to play something weird, then he might do something more traditional lol. His note choices and phrasing are so different than what ANYONE else would play. A very improvisational player who was often pushing boundaries on multiple levels.

One of my favorite stories is of Jerry Garcia pushing Phil Lesh down a flight of stairs after a show because he was so mad at him for the way he played - then when he later heard the tape thought the music was amazing! It made him realize that his perception of the music while he was playing wasn't necessarily "accurate" - subjectivity again.
 

adorshki

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If Phil Lesh just sounds like "cranked amps" then I can tell you don't listen to the Grateful Dead. He's a lot weirder than that!

I actually think your opinion is interesting. Do you like listening to music? Hasn't a bass "sound" ever turned you on?
It occurs to me it's possible Lunginimsam has heard a limited amount of Jack and Phil and based his opinions on those.
Personally I awlays preferred Jack to Phil, I was "lit up" by his tone on Baxter's .
Interestingly his solo on "You and Me and Pooneil" on Fillmore East 1969 (the "Egyptian" cover) does sound like "cranked amp", screaming overdrive, and I love it!
Also "Water Song" on Burgers; think that one's his first true Alembicized bass.
Liked the other Jack (Bruce), too, not sure if I liked his singing or playing better, but he was pretty versatile as well, using Wheels of Fire as a good compendium.
Interesting you mention Squire and Clarke. I always thought of them as being in bands that were 1 of 2 primary examples of a "school": Yes/Genesis for "progressive rock" and Return to Forever/Weather Report for "jazz fusion".
Actually never really lit up to Yes or Genesis 'til Yes released Relayer, with Genesis it was actually Hackett's Voyage of the Acolyte, but I still don't own any.
Never really lit up to RTF at all, they always sounded too "cold" to me, too" technical", including DiMeola and will always prefer Jaco Pastorius (and Miroslav Vitous) to Clarke (and Zawinul to Corea, although that's a lot closer race) .
At the time I was even bemoaning Jeff Beck getting too "slick" on Blow by Blow but Wired and the live "Freeway Jam" on the Live with the Jan Hammer Group are examples of my stylistic preferences at the time (And still): Less Notes. More Emotion via tone and sustain.
Was also discovering "Euro-rock" like Gong (w/ Steve Hillage) and Aphrodite's Child and Ange, you should check out Gong's You if you're into the jam band stuff.
Definitely one of those bands where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
"You Never Blow Your Trip Forever":
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4nu6X5yLrac&list=RD4nu6X5yLrac&index=1
(Hmm, getting the dreaded "black box" when trying to post the direct video today for some reason)

And then there was ECM, the whole damn label, home of Ralph Towner and many other luminaries.
Jazz bassists: Eberhard Weber and Dave Holland.
Heck I even love Jimmy Garrison on A Love Supreme, I love that woody thrum of a well-played stand-up bass.
In the end I have to say tone, technique, and the music itself all have to satisfy me.
I'll forgive a little bit of weak technique if the tone and music light me up.
:friendly_wink:
 
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Happy Face

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Until the Grateful Dead introduced the modern FOH concept and he arrival of the Acoustic 360 & the SVT, alot of the 60s bass sound was simply because we were trying to keep up with loud guitar amps using way under -powered amps like the Bassman etc.

So, of course, amps sounded over-driven. It was out if necessity.

I can still recall my joy when I fired up my first Sunn Coliseum stack. Finally I had volume deterrence!
 

fronobulax

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Until the Grateful Dead introduced the modern FOH concept and he arrival of the Acoustic 360 & the SVT, alot of the 60s bass sound was simply because we were trying to keep up with loud guitar amps using way under -powered amps like the Bassman etc.

So, of course, amps sounded over-driven. It was out if necessity.

I can still recall my joy when I fired up my first Sunn Coliseum stack. Finally I had volume deterrence!
Wait!!!! You WANTED people to hear you?????
 

Happy Face

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Yes,I did have an oversized ego back then. More than fully justified, of course.

But it was more a matter of being able to hear myself! I have a pretty clear memory of setting up my Traynor YB 3 something for a first rehearsal with a new band. I noticed that one guitarist was plugging his Les Paul into a pretty blackface Twin Reverb while the other young, aspiring star plugged his Strat into a pair of silverface SuperReverbs, stacked one atop the other.

Neither bass nor vocalists heard themselves for some reason.
 

Nuuska

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Until the Grateful Dead introduced the modern FOH concept and he arrival of the Acoustic 360 & the SVT, alot of the 60s bass sound was simply because we were trying to keep up with loud guitar amps using way under -powered amps like the Bassman etc.

So, of course, amps sounded over-driven. It was out if necessity.

I can still recall my joy when I fired up my first Sunn Coliseum stack. Finally I had volume deterrence!

Hello

I wish you would clarify "The modern FOH concept"
As far I know - the most famous Grateful Dead sound system was nothing like the PA we know - it was more like a monstrous backline - with each player having kilowatts of personal power + huge vocal-array in the middle - I have that in a book - try to find it in internet - here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wall_of_Sound_(Grateful_Dead) - as it is written - there was no FOH mixing but rather band members controlling the balance - very interesting - and very impressive.
 
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