Saturday, 8 September 2012

Introduction and a brief overview of Wal basses

Welcome to my Wal History Blog...

Over the last few years I've gained a reputation as a bit of a geek-meister on the topic of my favourite bassess - the wonderful Wal basses made in High Wycombe by Ian Waller and Pete Stevens through the 1970s, 1980s and (after Ian's untimely death in 1988) the 1990s. I'm a Wal player myself, regularly using my two Wal basses (a 1979 Pro Series Bass and a 1985 Mark I Custom Series bass) playing at church or in the function/covers band of which I'm part.

My basses are working basses - tools of the (amateur) trade - and have become very personal to me over the nigh on 20 years I've owned them. However, they are also fine examples of the master (bass) guitar builder's art. As such their history seems to me to be worth chronicling. For a few years I have had a Wal History site elsewhere on the internet and this has become something of an accepted repository of info on these fine basses. However, an impending possible change of ISP places the site's current web space in doubt. On that basis it seemed to be an ideal time to revisit the site, revise it and to transfer it into a more modern, permanent format here on Blogger.

Over the coming months I plan to populate the site here drawing on the pages already there on my original site. If you have a quick look at the Site contents page (linked to the left...) you'll see that there's quite a bit planned. So please do pop in on an occasional basis to see how far it's got. There are just a few pages populated already (including some bits and bobs which you've not seen before) with more to come. If you're interested in the kind of thing which will appear here I've cut and pasted the Intro and Overview page below.
The site can best be navigated using the pages listed in the sidebar to the left or by going to the Site Contents page where all the content will be permalinked from the index. 

Hope you enjoy the site.





Wal basses are hand-crafted bass guitars produced since the early 1970’s by Electric Wood in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire in the UK (now built a short drive round the M25 in Fetcham, Surrey).  Since then they have come to be regarded as the standard by which others are judged on concert stages and recording studios across the world.

This site aims to give a history of the marque (from their inception in the early 1970s through their dominance as a go-bass for session hounds and rock stars through the 1980s to its resurgence in the last few years) and to provide an overview of the basses themselves.

A very brief overview of Wal Basses

Pete Stevens in 1977

Ian Waller in 1977

Wal basses (or "Electric Wood" as its parent company was called) was set up in the early '70s by bass builder, general tinkerer and electronics guru Ian Waller - aided and abetted by luthier Pete Stevens with a single mission: to make the world's best bass guitar.  Early custom built basses included the monster triple neck Wal (originally built for Roger Newell of Rick Wakeman's English Rock Ensemble) played by Chris Squire from Yes.  

Chris Squire playing a replica of the Wal triple neck

Consulting the needs of top British bass players of the time (including the likes of John Entwistle, Percy Jones, John G Perry and Pete Zorn) they settled on a design specification for their basses.  These "JG Custom Series" basses (named for bassist John Gustafson - Merseybeats, Big Three, Gordon Giltrap, Roxy Music) were still built on a semi-custom basis and are distinguished by their unique leather tooled scratchplates!  Only a few of these basses were built before, in 1978 Wal launched their first production bass - the aptly named "Pro Series" bass.  The "Pro Series" were essentially JG basses; solid ash but with improved electronics and plastic rather than leather scratchplates. 

John Gustafson's JG Series bass

John G Perry's early short scale Custom Series bass
In 1982 the first basses of what was to become the "Custom Series" were created.  These dispensed with the scratchplate - surface mounting the pickups and controls - and replaced a solid ash body with a mahogany body core faced with a selection of exotic woods. 

The Wal Custom became a staple of studios and stages throughout the eighties finding favour with artists as diverse as Paul McCartney, Dire Straits, Spandau Ballet, Japan and Rush (at least two Wals even appeared on stage at "Live Aid" in Wembley Stadium).  The bass line on the original "Band Aid" single, "Do they know it's Christmas" (one of the biggest and most influential singles of all time) was powered by Wal.  

The original "Custom Series" design (Mark I) of "Custom series" electronics and a mahogany/exotic wood laminate body has since formed the template for all further developments and versions of the Wal Bass.

In early 1986 Wal introduced a 5-string bass with a 24 fret neck and a revised body shape (Mark II) which was also applied as an option to the 4-string basses.  The late '80s saw the development of a relatively short lived Wal MB4 Midi bass - in conjunction with Australian electronics designer Steve Chick.  Production of the MB4 (a bass midi controller that actually worked) continued for only a few years until US giant, Peavey, bought the rights to the technology on which the midi controller was based.  Tragically, Ian Waller died suddenly of a heart attack in 1988 and his passing was marked across the music industry.  Despite this irreplaceable loss, Pete Stevens was determined to carry on Ian's legacy and continue building world beating basses.  

In 1995 the Wal  underwent a further design development with the introduction of a 6-string bass and a new body and headstock shape (Mark III).

In the early Noughties Pete continued building Wal basses as a small, often one-man, operation until ill health and a run of changes of premises made him decide that it was time to retire. However, as of 2009 the baton was passed on to master luthier Paul Herman - who cut his guitar building teeth working for Wal. Now based in his Surrey workshop he continues offering these fine instruments in three body styles, faced with a range of beautiful woods and in 4, 5 and 6 string incarnations to the discerning bassists of Britain and the world.

Paul Herman (left) with Pete Stevens (right) at Electric Wood's workshops in the early 2000s. Also pictured is Stuart Monks who worked as part of the Wal team at the time.

Pete Stevens sadly passed away in late December 2011. He and Wal will be sadly missed. However their legacy to the music world lives on in the amazing basses they brought to life.

The official Wal basses website can be found at:

No comments:

Post a Comment