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."

The bass was originally built for Peter Knight of Seahorse (no, me neither) and shows amply how well put together and forward thinking even these early models were. This one features the dual jack/balanced DI XLR outputs which were available on the JG series and the series/parallel switches on the pickup mounting rings. It also features a small switch on the scratchplate. This is an early version of the "Pick-attack" feature which adds a small peak to the output in the high-mids. The idea was to allow finger style players to emulate the attack which you get with a plectrum without changing their playing style. This also has the beneficial effect of acting as a presence enhancer, assisting the bass (however played) to cut through in the mix. You can see the battery compartment for this feature on the back of the bass.

It also shows the simpler laminate structure employed for the neck, missing the mukulungu layers which were added to the necks from JG1119 onwards. The machine heads employed are the smaller enclosed type of tuner rather than the more substantial half enclosed Schaller-type used on later basses.

Finished in May 1977 and signed off by Ian Waller

JG1117 in its new home hanging around with some Wal friends
(thanks to new owner, Frank Zimmerman, for the photo of his collection and the label above).


A dozen years earlier, in 2004 another very early JG bass turned up on eBay. This one, JG1113, was the fourth JG bass to be made (if one includes John G Perry's short-scale JP1111) and had originally been owned by bassist, session player, multi-instrumentalist Pete Zorn. The Wal orders sheet for the JG basses lists him under his job of the time - bass player in Barbara Dixon's band. When originally built the bass sported a natural finish, as did all the other early "Mk 1" JG basses. However, when it came up for sale, although it had clearly been through the wars and was in desperate need of refurbishment, it wore a more eye catching colour. A beautiful translucent blue burst. It sets off the dark brown leather of the scratch-plate surprisingly effectively and the stain shows off the grain of the ash body particularly effectively.
The JG clearly has a chequered history, as an old friend of Ian Waller and Pete Stevens confirmed in a recent blog. In another little piece of JG bass happenstance Paul Phillips, best known for the 1970s hit "Driver 67", published a piece about Zorn and his JG just a few weeks ago on his blog at The New Colloquium . Paul takes up the story...
"...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. The list above appears to be of orders for the first run of the original bass. Notable names on there include Percy Jones of Brand X, (Phil Collins’ jazz fusion side project away from Genesis); ‘Paul’ of The Clash (obviously Simonon); Nigel Griggs of Split Enz (who morphed into Crowded House); and Pete Zorn, my old music partner and brother in law..."

"...Wal was a friend of mine since 1968. I introduced him to Pete Zorn after Pete and I became friends in 1971. Later, after Pete and I had our hit with Car 67, Wal sent Neil Finn of Split Enz and the group’s manager down to Bexleyheath to ask me to produce them. Little did they know: Pete and I were crazy fans..."

"...Anyway, back to Wal and his basses. Wal and Geoff were part of an extraordinarily rich time in Manchester culture. They came up alongside The Hollies, Herman’s Hermits (close friends with the group) and Freddie & The Dreamers. Liverpool’s The Beatles were just another group on the circuit.

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 birdseye maple and made me study it as he saw it. I  never – to this day – looked at wood the same way again.

When the Wal Bass went into production, Pete Zorn was given a very early model, a massive compliment from Wal. The guitar was later stolen from a dressing room on tour, never to be seen again. Pete bought another, so entranced was he with the first.

Wal died shockingly young. Barely 43, he had a heart attack as he left home one morning in 1988, headed to the factory he and his partner, Pete ‘The Fish’ Stevens, had built with such high hopes for an exciting future.

Well, the future came, and the bass lives on. Wal didn’t get to see it. But the rest of us are proud to have known him."

For the full story and how this bass links to a later JG bought by Nigel Griggs of Split Enz read the full blog here...

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