Monday, 7 July 2014

Wal Double Neck Basses

Double-necked Wal basses.

Over the years Electric Wood have made a number of double-necked basses.  Although not exactly common there are a good few examples out there.  
The original idea for a Wal double neck came from renowned bassist, Jonas Hellborg, who approached Wal in 1983 with the idea of building a unique bass which
combined fretted and fretless necks. Of course, Wal had some history with multi-necked basses having built the iconic Wal Triple Neck for Roger Newell in Rick Wakeman's band in the early 1970s. The triple neck was, however, somewhat "agricultural" in its lack of finesse. It predated the development of Wal's proprietary pickups, electronics and bridge using off the shelf components. Hellborg's double neck was to be a rather slicker affair.

Throughout the rest of the 1980s it became pretty much the iconic Hellborg image - the phenomenally talented shaven headed young bassist wielding his double neck in anger. The lasting image of Hellborg in that period is him playing the bass (often throwing it around as if it were a featherlight Steinberger!) both as a solo artist and in John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Hellborg's website describes the genesis of the bass as follows...

"In 1983 I was at the Frankfurt Musik Messe displaying my first Bass Amp System. It was a booming time for Bass with lots of young dynamic innovators coming on the scene like Warwick, Alembic, Status, JayDee and Wal to name a few.

I had owned a Wal around 79-80 that I bought from Bruce Emms at MUG, the music shop in Gothenburg, Sweden. At the time it was my favourite instrument. So meeting Ian Waller and Pete Stevens, the founders of Wal was indeed very exciting.

At the time I was playing both fretted and fretless basses equal amounts so when they offered to make me an endorser I enquired if it was possible to make a fretted/fretless double neck.  

They had already done a triple neck for Roger Newell of Rick Wakemans group so they felt confident about making me one.

Details were discussed, wood selected and we had some get-togethers leading up to the final design and the bass was finally delivered to me 1st of July 1984 in Paris.

For my entire stint with McLaughlin this was the main bass and for a while after as well.

It is indeed a treasured instrument."   Jonas Hellborg, July 30, 2012

Photos of his double neck can be found on his website on the gear page dedicated to this bass:

Hellborg's bass on the rack at Wal
The normal recipe for a Wal double necked bass would be to have a solid wood body without facings (usually a solid walnut or mahogany body) but faced and solid colour versions are known.  There is usually a single pickup for each neck in the bridge position (shifted a centimetre of so forward towards the neck) with a single pickup variant on the standard Custom series volume and tone controls for each neck. The headstocks of a Wal double neck tend to mimic the configuration of the headstocks on Newell's beast. They will be an angular variant on the classic Fender bass shape with four-in-line tuners facing outward from each other, i.e. one conventional headstock on the top, a reverse one underneath.

Traditionally both necks on a Wal double neck will be marked with the same serial numbers. However, some are given consecutive numbering (see the photo below of a white poly gloss double neck on the Wal stand at a guitar show at the NSC in Birmingham in 1991. (W3561/W3562).

The most common versions of these rare beasts mix a fretted and a fretless four string neck although, again, with the custom-build nature of Wal variants are known - I once came across a monster double 5-er and a double necked Wal MB4 midi bass! That midi bass had spent a long time in a studio specialising in prog music and, over its stay, had been used by the likes of Mike Oldfield and Greg Lake. Truly prog in every sense. Click here for some more details on that midi monster...

Is there a drawback of the double neck?  Well they can be a bit unwieldy and take a bit of getting used to.  However, Wals don't exactly have a reputation for being "feather light" at the best of times and the sheer mass of wood in the bodies make them a bit back-breaking to use for extended periods.  Perhaps for studio usage and curiosity value mostly, then? 

Unless you are Jonas Hellborg, of course!!

Double neck - solid walnut body, fretted and fretless necks, ebony fingerboards.  Wal have made several double necked basses - most famously used by bassist, Jonas Hellborg, who does happily throw his around on stage.  Double necks usually have a solid wood body rather than exotic facings (often mahogany) although some faced models are known.


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