Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Wal Woods Part 2 - Bodies

The Wonderful World of the Woods of Wal – Part 2, Bodies

In this second feature looking at the woods employed by Wal in building their basses we are going to take a closer look at the woods used for the bass bodies.

Initially, all Wal bodies were constructed from solid ash. Although not as common a tone wood as, say alder or basswood (pronounced BASS - as in the fish or the beer!) it is well known for its tonal properties. It's featured on many classic Fender models and a host of other designs. The wood is considered to give a relatively bright, snappy tone with good sustain.

However, with the introduction of the Custom Series basses everything changed and Wal stepped up into the ranks of what would later be known as "boutique basses". The Custom Series retained the same laminate neck construction (although with a streamlined headstock shape) but the construction of the body was very different. This time a sandwich of different (often exotic) hard woods was employed. At the core was a thick slab of mahogany. Initially this was exclusively Brazilian mahogany but over time as the wood became scarcer, more expensive and subject to increasingly strict export restrictions under CITES (The Convention on Trade in Endangered Species) other sources and subspecies were employed. Notwithstanding the emotional and almost mystical cachet that Brazilian mahogany and rosewood has with builders and players alike this didn't imply any reduction in the quality (aesthetic or sonic) of the woods used.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Wal Woods Part 1 - Necks

The Wonderful World of the Woods of Wal – Part 1, Necks

In Ian Waller and Pete Stevens the early 1970s cooked up a perfect recipe for bass guitar building creativity. A perfect storm of bass playing experience (in Ian's case), innovative design skills, inquiring minds, guitar building experience, woodworking skills, affability, electronics savvy and connections within the industry. Given those factors it's no surprise that something magical happened.

And there are plenty of anecdotes highlighting their skill with a chisel and a plane. Stories of Ian sizing up a job (refitting a recording studio) by eye and still perfectly dovetailing together complicated elements in perfect harmony. Ian, in particular clearly had a strong affinity with wood as a material and a living theme.

In a recent blog on his own site, The New Colloquium, Paul Phillips outlines his memories of Wal. "...Ian, on the other hand, was a bit of an electronics genius and also built guitars. Everyone called him Wal (his name was Ian Waller). He made the legendary Wal Bass...

"...When I met him, he had already built his own acoustic bass guitar, the first I’d ever seen. It was huge, and beautiful. At one point, George Harrison coveted it, but Wal wasn’t keen. I think he’d rather it went to a bona fide and great bass player.

"He started studying wood and how it aged, and dreaming up the design of the Wal Bass. To me, wood was wood. But then Wal showed me some birds-eye maple and made me study it as he saw it. I never – to this day – looked at wood the same way again."

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

JG Special Pt 6: A coincidental coda...

JG1124 - John Glascock's JG bass, and 

JG1127 - Theo de Jong's first JG bass

JG1114 - Pete Hurley's (Lone Star) JG bass

Just as a strange little coda to this series of special features on the beautiful JG series basses made by Ian Waller and Pete Stevens at Electric Wood, just as the last few pieces were ready for publication, three more "celebrity" JG basses turned up.

Only a few serial numbers apart they also show some interesting factors which make them worthy of individual inclusion here...

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

JG Special Pt 5: Gallery - JG Basses and their players

A gallery of JG bass owners...

Finally, let's just indulge ourselves with a gallery dedicated to some of the great players who have played JG basses over the years. Given the very short production run it's quite a remarkable roster that reflects how well known and well respected Ian Waller and Pete Stevens were with the musical elite of the 1970s, even in these early days.
John Gustafson
JG basses are pretty rare beasts so, of all those made, only a small proportion of the basses are represented here. The photos come from a wide variety of sources... internet pages, screen grabs from YouTube videos and the like so apologies for the variable quality. I promise that, as more and better photos turn up this page will be duly updated... 

So here are a few of the faces who queued up to order their own JG basses from Electric Wood...

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

JG Special Pt 4b: Gallery - "Mk 2" JG Basses - the later models

JG1147 - Gary Tibbs' JG Bass

JG1148 - Theo de Jong's second JG bass

Our last two JG basses are a couple of celebrity specials and represent some of the latest JG basses to be made. Certainly they are the last two conventional JG basses to be detailed on the Wal bass order sheet. This also confirms that they were the last two of the batch of basses being built in February 1978. 

That period began to see the start of the transition towards what became the Pro Series bass. That "production model" carried forward many of the characteristics of the JG bass and one of today's basses shows an interesting transitional quirk.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

JG Special Pt 4a: Gallery - "Mk 2" JG Basses - the later models

JG1128 - John Entwistle's fretless JG bass

JG1145 - “Snotburst” JG

In the second and third of the JG bass galleries as part of this special feature we'll take a close look at some of the later JG basses which were produced by Wal in late 1977 and through 1978. These are marked on the JG bass order sheet as being "Mk 2" versions. The changes in the basses are subtle but significant and set out the firm template for the Pro Series basses. All the elements are there - the multi-laminate neck and paddle headstocks (although some sported a fancy facing veneer), the distinctive chromed bridge, humbucking pickups and stratchplate shape. Check out the previous posts for the fuller specs.

So we've got a few real celebrity basses to share in these blogs... John Entwistle, Gary Tibbs plus a couple of other beauties... Two of the featured basses are very late models - one so late it already has a Pro Bass decal on the headstock. But it is still 100% JG series. These came to light when their current owners shared photos on the Facebook Wal fan page after JG1117 was put up for auction. Despite the heady final bid which that bass attracted (£7,400!) they were both very clear that their JG basses were definitely NOT for sale!

So let's just work our way through in numerical order...

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

JG Bass Special Pt 3: Gallery - "Mk 1" JG Basses - the earlier models

JG1117 - Phillip Knight's JG bass.

JG1113 - Pete Zorn's JG bass


It's funny how sometimes life stores things up and then throws them at you in one big lump. Sometimes it's life's woes, sometimes its blessings and sometimes it's just quirky little happenstances. It was only a week or so after Martin Elliott had emailed me out of the blue about his encounter with John Gustafson's JG bass that a post went up on the Wal Facebook fan page. The post, from bassist Martyn Baker said that he was thinking of putting his JG bass up on eBay as it was, literally, just gathering dust and deserved to go to a good owner. The bass eventually sold for a tidy sum - £7,400 to be precise! A hefty price tag but one that reflects the ownership of a little bit of bass history.

This all caused not a little consternation and discussion online but also brought a few other owners out of the woodwork to post their beauties alongside it. More of those other JG basses (both from later in the short-lived model's run) in a future post. However, JG1117, built in May 1977, offers a good opportunity to look at what made up a JG bass before Wal and Pete slightly refined the design after JG1118.

Martyn filled in a little background to the bass. He was the second owner and had owned the bass since the late 1980s. "I have owned the bass since 1988. After buying it in London I decided to take it up to the Electric Wood factory in High Wycombe. Ian Waller picked me up from the station, and set it up perfectly in one afternoon. Such a shame that he died so so soon after that - he seemed like a really great guy."

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

JG Bass Special Pt 2: A tale of two basses

John Gustafson's original JG bass (JG1112) and Martin Elliott's solid ash Custom Series basses

John Gustafson in 1978 with the Gordon Giltrap Band
A few weeks ago I got a very interesting email quite out of the blue. It came from a bass player who is notable in his own terms but even more so in the inextricable links he has with the history of Wal basses. During the 1980s and 1990s Martin Elliott was a session player working on the London and wider UK session circuit. To carve out a successful living in that tough world one needs a range of skills – the ability to read accurately from a chart while simultaneously injecting real life and emotion into the notes rendered, the ability to come up with original and inventive bass lines on the spot time and time again and the ability to be the sort of person that people want to spend many, many hours shut in a claustrophobic environment with. In short, you need incredible playing skills and a winning personality.

Martin Elliott with the Michael Nyman Band
Forli, Italy, July 2016 (Photo by Francesca Lelli,
Kframe fotografia Bologna -
Across the course of his career he has played with many artists – from Petula Clark and Helen Shapiro to the Jesus And Mary Chain. However, since 1983 it is with the classical composer, Michael Nyman, that he has been most closely associated. And let’s face it, Nyman is hardly renowned for writing simple, basic bass lines. 

Elliott also has strong links with Wal basses which reach back to the early days of his session career. This has led to him owning two unique Wal basses, including being the original owner of one of the most notable Wal basses in existence – the solid ash Mk 1 which is now used to great effect by Colin Edwin of Porcupine Tree.

However, his email wasn’t about his playing experiences or his basses (more of that later). No, it was about something much more intriguing…

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

JG Bass Special Part 1: A masterpiece of design...

Every so often something comes along in life that forces you to reevaluate. Sometimes it's something foundational and Earth-shattering and sometimes it's a tiny tweak in perspective. Over the last few weeks I've had a series of revelations about the nature of one of the early Wal bass designs. I'll leave it to the reader's discretion to decide which camp they fall into.

I have a confession to make. Having never actually had an opportunity to play a JG series Wal bass I had always considered them a bit of a homespun, stepping stone bass. A simple work in progress towards a more sophisticated, complete design - as embodied in the Pro Series bass. I now realise that assumption was very, very wrong.

Over the last few weeks there has been a strange coincidental domino effect of emails popping into my inbox and social media feeds. First an email arrived from a bass player I have long admired and whose playing with Michael Nyman scales pinnacles I can hardly dream of. In it a fascinating anecdote was related and photos of the first true JG, number JG1112 were produced. Then a JG bass suddenly turned up being offered for sale on eBay and flagged on the Wal basses fan group on Facebook. Finally, other JG owners, emboldened by the reaction to that bass joining in an online show-and-tell session showcasing their own instruments. What a treasure trove.

One thing that became clear across these communications - which encompassed the second JG ever made and one of the last - was that my presumptions about the basses were dead wrong.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Gallery - 1983 Rosewood-topped Reissue Passive Pro

1983 Rosewood-topped Reissue Passive Pro

One of the great things about a brand like Wal is that a mix of two inquiring minds and a laissez faire attitude to “standard models” throws up a whole load of interesting basses to scratch your head about. One such bass cropped up recently in an online discussion on Basschat. The then owner, Gary Mackay, offered up his 1983 reissue Passive Pro bass as an unusual example of the model. The history of the Pro Series deserves, perhaps, a little unpacking as its history isn’t necessarily straightforward.

The original Pro Series was the first standard model of Wal bass and was offered between 1978 and 1981. They offered four options – single or dual pickups and active or passive circuitry – solid ash, paddle headstocks, contoured bodies and large black scratchplates. These basses were superseded with the introduction of the Mark 1 Custom in 1981. The Pro Bass was no longer offered for sale.

However, realising that their new Custom Series were effectively luxury models Electric Wood saw that there was a space in the market for a budget Wal. But how to cut costs without cutting corners? The Reissue Pros feature a more or less standard laminates Wal neck but a slab, solid ash body and a single passive pickup (either in the bridge or neck position – the position changed over time) controlled via a small, tear drop-shaped control plate.

As a little extra bling they were often finished with a fairly plain flamed or birdseye maple veneer (and a sunburst finish to hide the veneer’s edge). Gary’s Reissue Pro, however, if the only one I’ve ever seen with a rather tasty, pale rosewood top and clear varnish. All in all a rather classy set of appointments for a supposedly “budget” bass.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Special feature: Wal Basses - the early years

Wal Basses the early years

Over the last half a century some incredible bass guitars have come from these shores. From the “yeah baby” grooviness of Burns, to the quirky ergonomics of Shergold, from the Alembic influences of Jaydee and John Birch to the macho 80s lines of Status… all classic designs in their own right. However, perhaps one other British bass stands shoulder to shoulder with them – the instruments made by Electric Wood in High Wycombe: the Wal bass. For much of the 1980s and 1990s a Wal was the must-have bass de jour for the discerning British session player and attracted a wide range of celebrity endorsees (all of whom shared one characteristic… they’d bought their own Wals - the company had a “no freebies” policy). A few years ago the brand ceased production when ill health forced the retirement of founder Peter Stevens. However, in the hands of luthier, Paul Herman, Wal has recently re-emerged so perhaps it’s perhaps an appropriate to have a look back at the birth of the brand. We’ve gathered together some of the characters who were instrumental to the story and picked their brains on those early years.

 Ian Waller - the Manchester years...

Ian Waller (second from left) in the Demons - early 1960s

Ian Waller was an enthusiast. A bass enthusiast and an enthusiastic tinkerer. From an early age he was adept with his hands - playing in bands around the early 60s Manchester scene and building instruments and pedals to power his own music. It’s a matter of record that, with US trade embargoes biting, the availability of decent instruments in the early days of the UK beat revolution was low. Many aspiring players plumped for lower cost alternatives like Hagstroms, Dallas Arbiters and Grimshaws. Others such as "Big Wal", as he had become known around the scene, went for the home-made route. Other members of those early bands recall him as a popular figure on the circuit, the quality of the bass he had made with the assistance of his father always drawing gasps of admiration from jealous musos.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Gallery - Wal MB5 5-String Midi Bass

The Wal Midi Bass has always been a bit of a rare beast. So when one turned up for sale at Bass Direct in Warwick with a sumptuous shedua/hydua top, a Mk II 5-string body and some stunning photos attached it seemed like the perfect excuse to feature this beautiful bass on the blog. Many thanks to Mark Stickley at Bass Direct for permission to use these photos. Whoever ends up purchasing this bass is in for a rare treat!

MB4s were on the more obscure and exclusive end of the Wal catalogue and were only available for a limited period of time. That said, over that short period from around 1990 they gained a reputation for being just about the only midi-bass that actually worked.

That was largely down to the genius electronics provided by Australian Steve Chick. The stroke of genius was to remove the need for the bass to midi converter to rely on a hexaphonic pickup to sense the pitch of the note being sounded. The beauty of a keyboard synthesiser is that the keys are effectively just switches. As soon as they are "on" they are "on" - there is no delay in getting them engaged. Hex pickups, on the other hand, take a few cycles of the note to sense what note is being played. For the loser notes on the bass that could potentially take more than a tenth of a second. Definitely noticeable for the listener, positively off putting for the player. Add to that the potential that overtones in the note could be interpreted as an entirely wrong note. For this reason midi basses gained a reputation for being tricky to play and badly glitchy. At the very least they demanded a very precise playing style.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

General Wal music magazine adverts from through the years...

General Wal music magazine adverts from through the years...

Throughout their history Electric Wood, the company behind Wal Basses (in effect Ian, Pete and maybe a couple of sleeping partners) took out ads in the national music press. For many years it was just a very bijou Wal add nestling in the paid ads at the back of Guitarist Magazine. Minimalist but with all the info that a keen Wal-hunter needed. However, some where a little more all singing and all dancing. Including those featuring their celebrity endorsers... John Entwistle, Percy Jones and Laurence Cottle.

A few of those adverts are attached below for your enjoyment...

Pro Series Advertising Materials Featuring John Entwistle and Percy Jones

Pro Series Advertising Materials From the 1970s Featuring John Entwistle and Percy Jones

In many ways Wal Basses grew out of Ian and Pete's friendships with the musicians who passed through Trevor Morais' Farmyard Studios. And similarly across the London session scene. Certainly a lot of musicians ended up becoming Wal's official design consultants - John G Perry, Rupert Hine, Pete Zorn and a host of others... However, in those early years only two of their muso friends actually became "official" endorsers of the brand through appearances in formal advertising materials. And the guys couldn't have asked for two more respected and influential spokespersons than John Entwistle from The Who and Percy Jones the Welsh Wizard who played the fretless bass for Brand X.

Both John and Percy had been purchasers of the early JG Series basses but it was propounding the Pro series that they appeared in print.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

“Chris Squire” Custom Triple Neck Wal feature - "Bassist" magazine 1999

The “Chris Squire” Custom Triple Neck Wal

Transcript from "Bassist" magazine 1999. Roger Newell

Inspired by all the revelations in Bassist's Wal Special, I thought it time to reveal the details of one of Rocks Progressive icons - the Wal Triple Neck bass. Built for me, but later made much more famous by Yes' Chris Squire, between us it was used in some of the largest venues in the world, and made its last appearance with Chris on the Union tour featuring Yes's mega eight-man line-up, where it sounded as impressive as ever. Its beginnings were somewhat humble in comparison, though...

The Idea

The man to thank - or blame - for the idea was Rick Wakeman. We met at my local pub in Buckinghamshire, where I often jammed with friends on a Sunday night for a free pint. Rick lived nearby, sat in on keyboards one night and had so much fun, it became a regular occurrence. Much to our surprise, he adopted most of this band for the Journey To the Centre Of The Earth gig, which was recorded and when subsequently released, hit the top of the album charts.

We'd rehearsed the Journey set and performed the Festival Hall show during a three-week holiday from my day job, but a number one album cannot he ignored. Plus, uneasy with the musical direction of Yes on Topographic Oceans, Rick left Yes and hired us...

By the time of the follow-up album, King Arthur, we'd done a lot of touring, particularly in America, and were riding the crest of a progressive and conceptual wave.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Wal Pro II bass review by Jimmy Bain of Rainbow and Wild Horses (Beats International, July 1980)

Jimmy sticks his neck out
The latter weeks of 2015 and the first few of 2016 have been a sad period for the music world, with so many great musicians from the heydays of 1970s rock passing away over a short period of time. So it was with great sadness that I read only a few days ago of the passing of bassist Jimmy Bain. A member of Richie Blackmore's Rainbow, Dio and Wild Horses and a collaborator with the likes of Philip Lynott and Gary Moore his distinctive bass playing and songwriting was embedded within the hard rock landscape of the late 1970s and early 1980s. 

His passing, reminded me of an article from the July 1980 edition of Beats International which I had picked up a few years ago on eBay. In the article Bain gives his opinion, as an experienced player, on the passive Wal Pro II bass. The article is reproduced below and I hope is some sort of fitting tribute to him as a bass player. Rest in Peace, Jimmy. 

Hi-Res scans of the original article can be found here:

WAL Pro ll Bass

Price: £529 inc. VAT

Reviewed by: Jimmy Bain


What we have here is the second in a range of four basses made and distributed by Electric Wood in High Wycombe (Tel: 0494 442925/6). In all honesty it's one of the most powerful basses I've ever tried out. I normally turn the bass up full and set my Marshall on about 6. With this bass full on, 2 on the Marshall is easily loud enough.
Getting down to details, the head on the bass is very square in design, very sturdy, and fitted with Schaller machine heads which are the best heads for basses you can buy. They're accurate and keep their tuning well. The strings run through metal pieces on the head which keeps them down low for a smooth action.

The neck is a lovely piece of work. The centre section is hornbeam and the outer section is maple. The neck is inlaid with red stripes which are made of a sympathetic wood from the Amazon called mukalunga. It's chosen because it's totally non-porous and remarkably straight. On top of all this lies an Indian rosewood fretboard which is shipped from Bombay to Germany. In Germany the wood's cut (Germany have the best cutting equipment) and it's then shipped to England.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Published obituaries for Ian Waller and Pete Stevens

Published obituaries in the music press for Ian Waller and Pete Stevens

This post gathers together some of the obituaries for Ian and Pete which were published in the music press. There are three here, two for Ian (from the UK's Guitarist Magazine and the US Guitar World magazine) and one for Pete in the UK's Bass Guitar Magazine. If my memory serves, I am aware of one more which marked Ian's passing and was published in the UK's late, lamented musos' free-sheet, "Making Music" but my copy of that vanished many years ago...

Monday, 18 January 2016

A History of Wal Basses - The Movie

Of all my favourite memories of 2015, one of the longest lasting will be a Saturday in September spent at the "Basschat South East Bass Bash 2015". This was a gathering of members of the fine discussion board, Basschat - a fine place to hang out and talk about all things bass. And indeed, it was a fine day to hang about with some like-minded bass players, shoot the breeze, check out each others' basses and generally geek out. I'm not going to blog about the day itself because that job has already been done brilliantly by the music blogger, Bluejay, also a keen Basschatter.

Here are the quartet which were there that day...
But I wasn't just there to shoot the breeze. The main reason that I as there was that I had been invited to give a talk about Wal basses - a run through the history of the brand. Alongside my own two Wals a number of other attendees had brought theirs - a lovely Wenge Mk 1 Custom and a Reissue Pro bass which had been retrofitted by Wal with Custom Series bass pickups and controls - a truly unique bass. The talk gave me the perfect opportunity to tell those assembled about the history of the brand and to demo a few of the qualities which make Wal basses so unique. 

Fortunately, Bluejay also video'd the talk and posted the it on YouTube for posterity. So here, for your viewing pleasure, a trilogy in four parts of "The History of Wal Basses". Here is the first of the four videos...