Monday, 30 June 2014

Bassist magazine feature, January 2000 - "My bass(es) are... Four Wals"

My Basses are...   Four Wals

Steve Weston wanted a Wal. Then he wanted another. And another. Then? Well, we'll let him tell you...

I will never forget the first time I heard a Wal, it was in 1983 and being very ably played by Colin Bass of Camel. I'd had a number of basses over the years, Rickenbacker, Fender, Ibanez etc, but had never quite managed to capture that elusive sound that I wanted from any of them. Anyway there I was watching Camel and I was suddenly being blown away by this amazing bass, loud in the mix without being overpowering, driving, clear and very tight. I decided then and there that I had to have one.
Anyway as it turned out, deciding I had to have one was the easy bit. It actually took me two years of saving, gigging on reduced curry and beer intake (slightly) before I had enough cash to realise my dream, a 1984 Custom 4 string purchased from a reluctant seller in London.

The bass as it was then had a Mahogany body, Electric Wood standard, with Walnut facings and an ebony fretless fingerboard, great looks, and yes, it had that great fretless Wal sound which suited me exactly at the time due to the material we were playing. I later had luthier Pete the Fish at Electric Wood make me a fretted neck so I had some opportunity to change style from time to time. In one form or the other it was my only bass for the next 6/7 years and it never let me down once.

Unfortunately the band eventually split, but far from thinking of selling the Wal, my mind was focused on getting my hands on one of the new Wal 5 string basses. In 1995, I got one with Padauk facings and a Rosewood fretted fingerboard. It's had a few outings since then and it has a cracking sound, the low B is a real boost if you want to rearrange the furniture at a gig.

My next buy was last year when I went to the Embassy in Mansfield and saw a 1979 natural Pro II E fretless bass in almost mint condition hanging on the wall. The price was right and the sound was absolutely amazing, a real fretless growl. I must confess that I was then beginning to feel a bit like a collector as I was playing less frequently than before, even though the old desire to thump the strings was still there. Funnily enough, although it is the least expensive Wal I have, it's become my favourite. It's also a very unusual bass in that the headstock is a 7 piece construction, reminiscent of very early Pro I's, but yet without the carbon fibre strengthening rod used in all Wal necks at that time. (All later Pro II headstocks were 5 piece construction.) It is also marked as a Wal Custom not a Pro II using brown transfers not black as they all are today. The original owner must have specified that particular arrangement when ordering. It's even had Pete scratching his head a bit.

So nearly to the present day when a chance phone call to Pete in February revealed that he had a very unusual Wal 6 string bass which he had recently made in association with Martin Simms of Simms LEDs. The body colour is blue, green, and black sunburst and was designed to compliment the aquamarine LEDs in the neck. It is unique in that it is the only Wal 6 string with LEDs fitted to date.

One thing I must tell you about is Pete himself. As all who know him will tell you, he doesn't care if you are the best bassist in the world, or the worst. He's always keen to listen to your requirements but will tell you straight if what you're asking for won't work. That's perhaps the great strength of Electric Wood, each and every Wal bass is the sum of Pete's experience and the contributions of the bass players who own Wal basses. It's a family sort of thing. As Pete says "They're all my babies".

Anyway I wouldn't say that my collecting is becoming obsessive, but I never tire of Wal basses, and the nice thing about all of them is that each one is uniquely individual but yet unmistakably Wal. Without wanting to sound like a salesman, my advice to anyone who hasn't tried a Wal is get hold of one.

So there we are, a tale of four Wals. But it doesn't end there - even now Pete is building me another 6 string, this time with birds eye maple body facings, but that's another story. As for my Jennie my wife, she lives in constant fear that one day Fete will announce the Wal 7 string. Well - how about it Pete?

Background info:

Custom 4 (1984) - W2246. Walnut facings, Rosewood fretted fingerboard, also Ebony fretless fingerboard. Purchased 1985

Custom 5 (1992) - W3702. Paduak facings, Rosewood fretted fingerboard. Purchased 1995

Pro II E (1979) - PB1800. Ash solid body, Ebony fretless fingerboard. Purchased 1998

  Custom 6 (199 - W6398. Translucent blue, green, black sunburst maple facings Ebony fretted fingerboard, SIMMS LED's. Purchased 1999

Article first published in the UK's "Bassist" magazine in January 2000.

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