Monday, 30 December 2013

John Entwistle's Wal JG Series Bass, JG1128

Classic Wal Basses - The John Entwistle Wal JG Series Bass, JG1128

John Entwistle playing one of his Wals at a celebrity gig with
Rick Wakeman, members of Status Quo and others

 The Ox, Thunderfingers, just plain John... call him what you like the Who's bassist wasn't averse to picking up the odd bass or two. Indeed, the Sothebys auctions of his private collection have passed into rock and roll history – for the scale, scope and just plain weirdness of the basses he had accumulated. However, amongst his beloved Fenders, Alembics and Warwicks nestled a couple of classic, custom build period Wals. Well, you'd probably expect that he'd have managed to pick up a couple of everything, wouldn't you? However, Entwistle's relationship with Wal was closer than many of the brands in his collection. In fact, close enough that he agreed to appear in adverts and other promotional literature for the brand.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Wal players discuss their basses - Rob Burns

Rob Burns

Now, he may not have the international mega-star profile of some other Wal players like Flea, Macca, Geddy and co but Rob Burns, nonetheless, occupies a pivotal role in the story of Wal basses.

Now a lecturer at the University of Otago in New Zealand, throughout the '70s, ‘80s and ‘90s he was a first call session player and a recognisable face across the London and UK rock and jazz circuits. His CV includes playing with David Gilmour, Pete Townshend, Eric Burdon, Jon Lord and Ian Paice, James Burton, Albert Lee and Jerry Donahue. He played with Morrissey-Mullen, Zoot Money and spent time in a number of prestigeous West End orchestra pits (including being personally chosen by Pete Townsend to play bass for the 1979 revival of the Who's "Tommy").

Rob played on television soundtracks for shows such as Blackadder, Mr. Bean and Red Dwarf - becoming a regular member of composer Howard Goddall's "TV sound-track band". He also provided the bottom end for a plethora of TV commercials.

The Dolphins. Standing from left: David Gilmour (Pink Floyd),
Willie Wilson (Ace & Sutherand Brothers and Quiver), Mick Ralphs (
Mott The Hoople & Bad
). Seated: Robin Lumley (Brand X), Barry Venn, Steve Simpson, Rob Burns.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Wal players discuss their basses - Laurence Cottle

Laurence Cottle

When I moved from Wales to London, I worked in Denmark Street. Ian Waller brought in his incredible basses into the store and I spent most of my working day jamming on the Wal basses. I’ve had my two Wals for over 25 years now. They’ve given me so much joy and they’ve never let me down I will always cherish them.
 It was the way the bass looked that first attracted me, they are beautifully constructed and unique instruments. 

Wal players discuss their basses - Geoffrey Richardson - Caravan

Geoffrey Richardson - Caravan

I was an habituĂ© of the Farmyard and in Quantum Jump and Caravan with John G Perry. I regularly saw Wal and Pete the Fish there. Although I couldn't afford a Wal bass at the time, I asked Wal if he could sell me a pickup and he kindly sold me a JG bass prototype which is still on my Precision fretless. I got the feeling that he didn't sell the pickups separately, so maybe I've got a rarity – I know that pickup’s powerful enough to power a light bulb!

I was talking to [Penguin Café Orchestra bassist/producer] Jennifer Maidman the other day about Wal basses and we realised that virtually every bass player of our generation had a Wal: Alan Spenner, Mickey Feat, Jenny, Jim Leverton, John Mc.Kenzie etc etc. Good old Wal!!

Wal players discuss their basses - Martin Sims (Sims LEDs)

Martin Sims – Sims LEDs

I started working for Pete back in 1995. Pete was one of the first manufacturers to use our LED fitting service as others were not happy sending us part made instruments and did not know our system well enough to trust that we could do a good job. However, Pete could see that our system worked and was happy with the our workmanship. Whenever customers asked him how we did it rather than give away any trade secrets he always said we had highly trained woodworm!

Since then we’ve installed countless numbers of Wals with our LED system and I’ve always held the Wal bass in the highest esteem. I have had two Wal basses to use in the past. One four string – the

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Video Vault

The Video Vault

Here's a not quite random selection of tunes played on a variety of different types of Wal bass. Hope you enjoy then. Feel free to suggest your own favourites in the blog comments...

If you want to see even more Wal basses in action you can watch a YouTube play list of some of the best of Wal performances here...

There is also a Spotify playlist here...

In the meantime here are a few tasty videos to whet your appetite...

Paul McCartney - Figure of Eight, 1989

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Wal players discuss their basses - John Illsley (Dire Straits)

John Illsley

I started out using a 59 P-bass which actually worked very well in the studio, because although it had some loud spots you could graphic them out. On stage however I was looking for a more even, punchier sound and my roadie at the time suggested we look at the Wals. So we visited the factory and talked to Pete and Ian about what we wanted. I ended up with two fretted basses and a fretless one as well.

Wal players discuss their basses - Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree)

Colin Edwin – Porcupine Tree

Along with tub-thumper, Gavin Harrison (and before him, Chris Maitland), Colin Edwin lays down the solid foundation on which the Porcupine Tree build their neo-prog soundscapes. Over much of the band’s 10 album career the bass element of that rhythm section has been powered by Wal basses.

So why did you particularly choose to get a Wal bass?

Really, I didn’t know much that about Wal basses when I bought my first Wal - a fretted four-string, from session bass player Martin Elliott [best known for his playing with Michael Nyman] in 1989. He was a friend of the family who had been helping me out by teaching me when I first started playing bass. I used to play his Wal sometimes when I visited him and I always really liked it. He offered it to me first when he wanted to sell it, so I was very lucky.

Martin’s old bass is a Wal Custom made from solid ash, and I believe it quite unusual in that respect. He had it made for himself, and told me he was very insistent on the material he wanted used in it’s construction.

Wal players discuss their basses - Peter Gee (Pendragon)

Peter Gee – Pendragon

When did you first get turned onto Wal basses?
When I was 17 I went to a Brand X gig, with Jeff Berlin's band supporting. What a line up! Percy Jones was using a 4 string fretless Wal and constantly adjusting the parametric EQ as he was going. He got some incredible sounds out of it. Then there was Colin Bass, the Camel bass player (Camel are still my favourite band) who used both fretted and fretless 4 strings, and got an amazing deep rich tone out of them. Finally I heard Mick Karn's playing on the Japan album and the great sound he got on his Wal fretless.

Wal players discuss their basses - Justin Meldal-Johnsen

Justin Meldal-Johnsen

Although probably best known for his playing with Beck, over recent years Justin Meldal-Johnsen has become a sought after sidesman and session player – with a CV as diverse as Michele Branch, Air, Turin Breaks, Marianne Faithful, Macy Gray and Seal. However it might surprise some that he is a fully paid-up fan of Wal basses, especially given his penchant for unusual, lo-fi squeezes – from Fender Coronados and Guild Starfires to Gibson Thunderbirds. We caught up with him to chat over his love of the basses.

You’re well known for using a range of pretty quirky but lo-fi basses – one wouldn’t immediately think that a Wal bass was up your street. What first made you consider getting one?
I was enamored with the sound the day I heard it. That was in the hands of Greg Edwards, formerly the bassist for Failure, now guitarist for Autolux. You can hear it all over those three Failure records... a sound that inspired Justin from Tool as well, apparently. 

Friday, 22 March 2013

Notable Wal Users


In absolutely no particular order, here are a few of the better known folk who have been known to wield a Wal from time to time. Some you'll know. Some might come as a bit of a surprise...

Feel free to suggest your own favourites in the blog comments...

Paul McCartney

Geddy Lee (Rush)

Nick Beggs

Greg Lake (Emerson Lake and Palmer)

Bruce Thomas (Elvis Costello and the Attractions)

Colin Moulding (XTC)

Paul Simenon (The Clash)

Mick Karn (Japan)

Justin Chancellor (Tool)

Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers)

Martin Kemp (Spandau Ballet) 

Mike Oldfield

Jonas Hellborg
Sam Rivers (Limp Bizkit)

Jason Newstead (Metallica)

Steve Severin (Siouxsie and the Banshees)

David Paton (Pilot, Alan Parsons Project, sessions)

Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree)

Justin Meldal-Johnsen

Percy Jones (Brand X)

Leigh Gorman (Bow Wow Wow)

Chris Squire (Yes)
Colin Bass (Camel)
JJ Burnel - The Stranglers

Gary Tibbs - Roxy Music & Adam and the Ants

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Wal of Sound...The essential Wal basses listening list

Wal of Sound...

The essential Wal basses listening list

Because of its immense tonal flexibility, during the late 1980s and early 1990s the Wal became the preferred for the discerning London session hound – so it’s likely that you’ve heard a darned sight more Wal bass that you may think. However, here’s a quick run through a dozen or so classic Wal sounds reaching back to the earliest days of the brand.

For some deeper study and even more Wal basses in action you can watch a YouTube play list of some of the best of Wal performances here...

There is also a Spotify playlist here...

Feel free to suggest your own favourites in the blog comments...

Siren – Roxy Music: John Gustafson
Possibly the earliest known recording featuring the sound of a Wal built instrument. Gustafson uses his custom built Precision/Wal hybrid. It’s this instrument which is responsible for one of the most iconic basslines of 1970s pop – ‘Love is the Drug’. However, with the revolving-door of Roxy bassists featuring Gustafson, Gary Tibbs and Alan Spenner (all Wal users) a dip into any of the band’s later albums will pay Wal bass dividends!

Power Windows – Rush: Geddy Lee
Having moved from Ricky to Jazz to Steinberger on previous albums, Geddy Lee was so enamoured the Wal he used on this album (belonging to producer Pete Collins) that he bought three for himself! The punchy, mid-heavy growl of the Wals became a Rush signature sound for the best part of a decade until, the beloved Jazz was dusted off again for the Counterparts album. The focused, naturally compressed sound of the basses perfectly suited the band’s complex production values during this period, allowing Lee’s busy lines to shine through the mix. The live album, A Show Of Hands and the studio cuts, Hold Your Fire and Presto are also well worth checking out for Wal-era Rush tones

Saturday, 23 February 2013

You wait for ages and then three come along at once...

Well, here's something you don't see every day. A (sort of) Triple Neck Wal Bass. Well, they only ever made one and this is the third I've come across!!!!

This pretty little (!) thing recently came up in an eBay auction. Funny thing is, it's a copy... of a copy. But by the same guy who made the first copy... Confused?

This is a replica of the Wal triple neck originally comissioned by Rick Wakeman for his "King Arthur On Ice" extravaganza and later gifted to Yes bassist, Chris Squire, and  used to great effect on the track "Awaken" from the "Going For The One" album. You can read more about the original bass here and here... The original is now on loan to the Hard Rock Cafe and the bass which Squire now uses on tour is a copy made by a Japanese luthier.

If you've got about three grand plus  burning a hole in your pocket here's the eBay link:

Here are some photos of the original and Squire copy in action...

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Interview with Percy Jones

Percy Jones talks Wal…



One of the earliest “name” bassists to become a recognised Wal user, Brand X’s fretless wizard, Percy Jones, was literally the poster-boy for the basses. Now resident in the US and gigging regularly with his band, Tunnels, we caught up with him to mine his memories of the genesis of a classic marque.

So, how did you first get involved with Wal?

I met Wal when Brand X was rehearsing at Farmyard Studios. I had already become acquainted with Pete The Fish since he used to spend quite a bit of time at the studio. They both came in one day with a prototype bass and asked if I was interested in playing it, at the time I was using a fretless Fender Precision. I tried out the bass and was immediately impressed by the sound and the action. The only problem was that it was very neck heavy and didn’t balance at all well. I pointed this out to them and not long afterwards they showed up with another bass that was perfectly balanced. I started playing this bass and rehearsing with it, after a couple of hours it suddenly went quiet. Turned out that the IC in the preamp had fallen out of its socket. They rectified this problem and then things pretty much rolled along from there.

GLOBAL JUKEBOX: The day the Wal basses changed the world...


 The day the Wal basses changed the world...

13 July 1985 was a landmark day for millions of people of my generation - our "Where were you when Kennedy was shot?".  "Live Aid" was the "day the music changed the world", it was the biggest and best gig that any of us had ever seen, it was a day when millions of real people made a difference for millions of real people suffering in Ethiopia and other countries around Africa.  And the Wal bass was there - you could even say it was "instrumental" in the events that led up to the day.

The previous November rock and pop stars of the day gathered in a London studio for an unprecedented recording session - the only logical response of an Irish rock star to a disturbing and moving news item by the BBC journalist, Michael Buerk.  He must have hoped that his news report on the terrible famine in Ethiopia and the Sudan would have raised awareness of the plight of the people there.  He could never have guest just how much and what it would lead to.  At the behest of  Boomtown Rats singer, Bob Geldof, and Ultravox singer/guitarist Midge Ure the coolest, trendiest and some of the uncoolest stars in the UK checked their egos at the door and gave their time freely for charity.  The stellar line up included the likes of Duran Duran, Boy George, Paul Weller, Status Quo, Phil Collins, Spandau Ballet, Bananarama, Paul Young, Sting, George Michael, Bono...  The resulting single, Band Aid's "Do they know it's Christmas" became one of the biggest and most influential singles of all time - raising money for the Ethiopian famine victims and inspiring other projects like the US "We are the World" single.  "Do they know it's Christmas" had its bass line powered by the fingers of John Taylor and a Wal bass.

Small but perfectly formed...

 Small...but perfectly formed...

Here's a little curiosity to make you smile...  It's fair to say that ALL Wal basses are wonders of the luthier's art but the Wal bass featured in this section is certainly one of a kind - a microcosm of the bass maker's art.  At first sight it doesn't seem that special... Quilted kauri top, five string, Mark II body shape... so what.  Well, when you scroll down to see the next photos all may become clear.

Rather than the normal scale length of 34 inches this bass has a nut to bridge length measuring less than 12 inches.  It is, in fact a beautifully made resin model constructed by a Japanese model maker - "Chapran".  

The bass is seen here in all its glory modelled not, as it appears at first sight, by the wonderful singer-songwriter and bassist, Aimee Mann, but a small, blonde, resin doll... According to the Chapran website her name's "Maria" but you probably didn't really need to know that.

1970s brochure for Pro Series basses

1970s brochure for Pro Series basses

This brochure was produced by Electric Wood in the late 1970s to promote the newly launched Pro Bass series. These basses included a number of pretty revolutionary features - particularly for a UK built production bass.

Among them were:
  • balanced XLR output as an option (this became standard on the later Custom Bass series)
  • sophisticated active tone shaping circuitry
  • carbon fibre inserts within the neck
  • heavy-duty die cast bridge
  • laminated necks...
You can see higher resolution versions of the pages below at this link