Tag Archives: Gibson L5

A Life in Guitars, part 3 – Basses and Other Things

The unsung hero of most of my recording work is a Fender Modern Player Jazz Bass from about 10 years ago, purchased with the proceeds of a tax rebate. In keeping with my preference for finishes that show the grain of the wood, this one’s in translucent black (that is, it’s a dark grey stain).

The Chinese-made Modern Player series was a bit like the Vintage Modified series that Squier did until recently, or the current Fender Player series – subtly contemporary takes on classic recipes. What makes it a “Modern” Player Jazz is a pair of humbuckers, rather than the usual single coil pickups you’d get on a Jazz bass. The sounds are still traditional (it’s a passive instrument, after all), but they’re slightly more present and high-output compared to the tones you’d get from the usual Jazz single coils. It’s a good bass to have if you only have one bass, as it will do old-school tones perfectly well, but the extra power and projection on tap is very handy if you’re playing something a little heavier. I’m only an occasional bass player, admittedly, but I’ve not thought about getting anything different in a decade. It’s all the bass I need.

Modern Player Jazz bass close-up, with me and the light fitting reflected

Also in the house are Mel’s guitars. She has a Yamaha classical electroacoustic, another classical that was originally her mother’s, and a Squier Jazzmaster that I gave her. I originally bought it for myself in 2012, as a treat after my pacemaker procedure and to mark surviving a year after my diagnosis. Mel had donated her own Squier Strat to a raffle that her neighbour was running to raise money to support stroke patients, and I felt she shouldn’t be without an electric guitar and that her good deed deserved another, so to speak.

It was at her flat for a couple of years, but since we moved in together it lives in my den, along with the other guitars, and I make use of it sometimes on recordings – especially as it’s the only guitar to hand with a working tremolo, and sometimes you do need to be Kevin Shields or J Mascis.

Finally, and these aren’t even at my house but with my dad until I work out how to safely transport them and where to store them, are my mother’s old classical and my grandfather’s jazz guitar, which he gave me when I was a young pup, just starting out.

It’s a Hondo Fatboy, which is a copy of the Gibson L5 – a (very) large-bodied archtop with F holes, first made in the 1920s. The Fatboy was made from the late 1970s to the late 1980s, but this one appears to be from around 1980 or 1981. The model was manufactured in Korea by Samick, and was one of the first (or perhaps the very first – sources vary) production guitars to feature DiMarzio pickups, which may surprise some of you who associate DiMarzio only with super-high-gain pickups for metal dudes.

Hondo Fatboy – a big beast of a guitar

When my grandfather gave it to me, it had been in a cupboard for some years, which had taken its toll on the neck. It had a super-high action for years, because that was the only way I could get all the notes to play without choking. Eventually, I realised that meant something was definitely wrong with it, and even more eventually I realised that it could probably be repaired, so I took it to Bob Johnson of Legra Guitars for his expert view. Diagnosing a severe case of warping, he took the neck off, took the fingerboard off the neck and straightened them both (at this point, I can’t remember how – I imagine by heat-pressing them). He also replaced the knackered old wiring. For my part, I swapped the original uncompensated saddle with a tune-o-matic style bridge – precise tuning being more important in my world than historical accuracy, though I do still have the original bridge.

And so that’s it. To non-guitarists, that probably seems like an abundance – a vast, indulgent collection. I know guitar collectors, and they wouldn’t recognise me as one of them. Serious collectors could buy all my instruments by selling just one battle-scarred 1970s Telecaster. What I do have is a toolbox with some very usable tools in it. Each instrument serves a purpose and earns its keep. I use all of them.

That said, if I had to pare it down, I could. The bare-bones version of my collection would be one electric, one acoustic and a bass. The acoustic would be the Takamine, obviously. Equally obviously, the bass would be the Jazz (it would have to be). The electric – despite how much it would pain me to lose the Casino and Les Paul – would be the Strat, though I’d have to modify it by putting a humbucker in the bridge position. Strat single coils just don’t give that heavy distortion sound I sometimes need. A coil-tappable humbucker would be the best solution. I’m not a fan of the HSS configuration on Strats visually, but it would be a sonic necessity.

I imagine a good percentage of people who read these blatherings are guitar players. If that’s you, I’d love to know what’s in your collection. Do tell me. Better still, show me. I could look at pictures of guitars all day.