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.