I like the idea of having just one guitar. An old faithful friend that's been your companion for 55 years and stayed by your side through good times and bad, travelled with you to smoky bars and festival fields - a little battered and chipped from being on the road together, making memories...
I didn't want a second bass until certain life 'surprises' happened which also made me realise that the music I was writing and playing needed a variety of different flavours and attitudes to serve the needs of the songs.
From full-on rock, hints of jazz, blues, Americana to acoustic contemporary folk, I worked out that seven or eight bass guitars are needed for a healthy low-end sonic palette.
Let me introduce you to the current stable in my stewardship and the stories that led us to each other.
MIKE LULL CUSTOM GUITARS
I never thought this would happen but, finally, the runaway bride (that's me) got hitched to my best friend, soul mate and musical partner Simon Campbell.
After secretly plotting for months and a lot of research with friends and colleagues, Simon discovered the outstanding craftsmanship of Mike Lull Custom Guitars and as a wedding present, surprised the socks off me with the gift of a MV4 Custom bass guitar.
As soon as I picked it up, I suddenly had two loves in my life!
A love story of two parts...
Crikey!! I held this newborn guitar in my hand, mind totally blown away as I had never been given anything like this before... thinking two things!! 1. Wow! Wow! Wow! and 2. Thank you so much but why do I need another bass guitar as I already have one?
Oh, how little did I know!
As soon as I connected my new bass into the vintage HiWatt DR201 valve head and Bergantino 610 cabinet... we were off!!
The low end has a big attitude for rock and an elegant versatility that lets you slide up the neck as if you were on your knees across a well-oiled floor! Sometimes I close my eyes and imagine it's an upright double, the sound and thud of the strings taking me to that smoky downtown bar playing a slow blues... real slow.
This is my old friend, the guitar I had imagined, which has been with me from almost the beginning, through endless hours of learning, making mistakes, jumping around with me when the music takes you high. We recorded my first album and played our first festival stage together, flown on planes and travelled around the world and back again together; we are on one heck of a ride!
The company says: "Mike’s M4V evokes a fantastic classic vintage vibe with all the wonderful attributes of a 60's/70's Jazz bass combined with passive electronics, all in a slightly downsized body shape."
- Fitted with Hipshot Ultralite tuners with drop D
- Custom Wound Lindy Fralin Single Coil Pickups
- Hipshot Aluminum Bridge
- Mahogany Body
- Graphite Reinforced Maple Neck
- Rosewood fingerboard
- Curt Mangan Stainless steel flatland strings
A lot of great 'bass' things happened in 2018; I had a two-page interview feature article in Bass Guitar Magazine (now Bass Player Magazine) courtesy of visionary editor Joel McIver and also became a Mike Lull artist.
It also transpires that Simon had been in 'secret' talks with Mike Lull Guitars who are based in Washington, USA, with regards to their making me a signature custom bass guitar - something I knew nothing about.
Move forward to mid-2020 and one afternoon I walk into the studio where Simon is chatting to a chap on a video call and he says come and say hello to Spencer, Mike Lull's son!
Hang on Lull, Mike Lull - the maker of the bass that changed my world... and you are... his son!! Bloody hell! Hello!!
And then the beans were duly spilt...
They had been sorting out this new bass when sadly Mike had died in February 2020 so they were picking up the project again as Spencer had taken over running the company.
It was such a special time chatting to Spencer and telling him how much his Father's masterful skill and care had changed my life and how connected I felt to my bass; my old friend. I really wanted to encourage him too as losing a parent rips your soul. It was great to hear some beautiful stories about his dad and his ethos and plans for the future of the company that he had talked about with Mike. I made a new friend that day.
So here she is - my Mike Lull Starlite T4 Bass! The guitar feels calm in her magnificent shiny redness, with great balance and no dipping headstock; you instantly recognise the quality of 'Family-Lull'.
I am also a Hipshot and Curt Mangan artist and they kindly supplied the Ultralite tuners with drop D and flatwound stainless steel strings. Thanks so much Bill and Samantha!
So far, I've had a rehearsal with a Dutch west coats blues band here in Portugal including some Fabulous Thunderbirds tunes and she plays like a dream... with attitude and fierce volume! We've only just begun...
You will get to hear the T4 recorded in all her glory on our Starlite Campbell Band album The Language of Curiosity.
- Hipshot Ultralite tuners with drop D,
- Ebony fingerboard with stainless steel frets
- Mahogany body
- Custom pickups by Mike Lull
- Curt Mangan stainless steel flat wound 45-105
Fender Precision Bass (1974)
The band were staying in Brixton, London hanging out with our son Jim for a couple of days after playing a gig at The Half Moon in Putney.
We had just opened our first adventurous beer of the day when in walks Jim carrying his 1974 Fender Precision Bass Guitar and proceeds to place it in my hands, saying that he would like me to have his bass as he doesn't play any more and I will make more use of it!!
My brain jammed as I didn't know what to think or say except for WOW! Thank you so much!! Amazing!!
So that is how I came to be the custodian of a vintage 1974 Fender Precision Bass. A gift from my new family!
I've recorded a few tracks for 'The Language of Curiosity' album with the Precision and it is a different, heavy beast. Not too shy to give rock a good kickin', it's also got a sensitive side and can be quite emotional if you treat it right.
It sits beautifully in any mix - solid with a real zingy nasality on the high end and a bottom end exhaust that you instantly recognise like a Classic motorbike!
We fitted the bass with an Ellio Martina Guitars Bass Mute which negates the use of old school foam pieces stuffed under the strings and provides each string with its own adjustable mute.
Now, I have the luxury of four different bass mute positions, which combined with the Curt Mangan stainless steel flatwound strings, totally transforms the sound from dead thump to totally unmuted at the flick of a switch.
Playing the P Bass tops up your levels of kickass attitude in your soul...
Gretsch Thunder Jet
In my job as 'Custodian of the Groove' I started out with a shortscale ThunderJet bass made by Gretsch, chosen because I've got really small hands and wanted the short thumpy 60's sound of Jack Bruce, Andy Fraser and McCartney!
The Thunderjet has a big fat distinctive punchy sound, partly due to the fact it has a master volume control (three volumes in total). I find the string response is a little slower on the really fast-moving pieces but when it's hooked up to the Supertone Matamp 200 valve head!! You feel it!! There's no messing!!
Listen to 'You're So Good For Me' on our Starlite Campbell Band album 'Blueberry Pie' - then you'll know what I'm talking about.
It's also one of the best-looking sexy basses Gretsch have ever produced with a throwback to their vintage models and often people will ask me about it after gigs... upstaged or what?
- Mahogany body with arched maple top
- Ebony fingerboard
- Semi-hollow body
- Dual TV Jones® Thunder’Tron™ pickups
- Space Control™ bass bridge
- 30.3-inch scale
Curt Mangan Stainless Steel Flatwound strings
I have an acoustic folk-rock background touring the UK with my band Megiddo in the '90s.
When I met Simon on the Isle of Man we started playing acoustic duo gigs together, playing our own original material (we were both songwriters and hadn't started writing together at this point). Double harmonies and two acoustic guitars; very much a case of I'll bring the bread and you bring the cheese - a musical tapas of influences.
We moved to Spain and started touring as a duo after the release of Simon's second solo album The Knife - a mix of Americana, blues and contemporary folk. The set-up consisted of acoustic guitars, electric bass, piano / Mellotron, harmonica and cajon. Some of the songs really needed the touch of an acoustic bass but that was for another day... maybe.
Out of interest, Simon contacted Roger Bucknall OBE, an English luthier who owns Fylde Guitars based in the Lake District. You can't get better than a Flyde hand-built instrument and can see Roger's craftsmanship played by the hands of outstanding musicians such as Martin Simpson, Eric Bibb and Gordon Giltrap.
Roger said there was a two-year waiting list for him to build a new bass guitar but mentioned that he knew of a second-hand King John Fylde acoustic bass for sale by musician Joss Clapp. What to do?
Simon called Joss about the guitar. They got on really well and they came up with an agreement; we would pay a deposit now and collect the guitar in a year's time. Joss was willing to wait to give us enough time to save up the rest.
So twelve months later, true to our word, we rocked up to Tebay service station, near Penrith and met up with Joss.
We had a lovely chat and it was clear he really loved this guitar; it had a lot of history - Sting had played it, Joss had toured with Kathryn Tickell and other bands being a mighty fine player in his own right and it had also graced the stage of the Royal Albert Hall. I reassured him it was going to a good home where it will be well treated and that I was really looking forward to us getting to know each other (the bass that is).
We went to his van, collected the bass and drove off. It felt like a movie.
We got home, I picked up the guitar and the sound... the sound is out of this world, like the echoes of an ancient civilisation. Alive, full of history and wisdom, the wood singing stories of times gone by, of the earth, the people and the stars...
It also has to be noted here that my King John Fylde bass is huge; the neck is so long you have to take a taxi to the low F!
I tried playing it standing up with a guitar strap but that was an abject failure as we fell about laughing... the guitar sticks out so much I couldn't see the front of the guitar and all that was missing was a sombrero!
I changed the strings to Curt Mangan stainless steel flat wounds and together with a Headway under-saddle pickup, it is the most enchanting of guitars, a little battered by its many years on the road which only leads to more respect.
When we are together, something magical happens.
And now to the other vitally important and essential part of my sound - the fire in the belly of the dragon. The flame thrower! The roar of a mighty valve bass head!!
When I started playing bass, Simon bought me a 1974 HiWatt DR201 200W valve bass head as a Christmas present. I used this exclusively for a number of years but also needed a new amp as a backup.
What I wanted doesn't exist so, we set out on a mission to create the amp of my dreams and after much discussion, Supertone began working together with Matamp, England,
Introducing the mighty Supertone Matamp 200 valve bass head!
Based around the preamp circuit of the Supertone 'Matamp' 120 guitar head it has a quartet of KT88’s in the power section which delivers close to 300W. Due to the gigantic mains and output transformers, it has a huge open tone and soon replaced the HiWatt as my favourite.
What does that mean in terms of sound? The Supertone ’Matamp’ is a total monster with lots of finesse!!
The bass, treble and presence tone controls really work and you can dial in a great tone in seconds. It just sounds ‘right’, like 'proper bass'! A superb alternative to the American sound of the SVT and dare I say, more reliable.
I have recorded the amplifier with two Supertone 4x12” cabinets and it sounds fantastic! Testing is underway for a bass cabinet with a 4x10” plus 1x18” setup with passive crossover but until this is fully completed, I continue to use the Bergantino 610 (see below).
It's incredible to be a part of the team working with Supertone and Matamp in developing a British amp with so much history, skill and knowledge!
It sounds fantastic! Unique!!
The 200 Supertone 'Matamp' valve head will be available to buy via the Supertone Reverb shop very soon!
My heavyweight baby
I have never owned an amplifier before I started to play bass and had no idea what to go for so I asked Simon what was the best amp to use. Knowing the style of music we create, it had to be a tube amp. He mentioned the vintage Ampeg Portaflex B-15-N, Orange/Matamp 200 and Ampeg SVT but totally forgot about the HiWatt but when we saw that master amp guru Roland Lumby had one in for repair, we made an offer and the rest is history.
Needless to say, it is a great amp!
A little about HiWatt: "Dave Reeves started HIWATT and Hylight Electronics in 1966. In order to raise capital for his young company, Reeves accepted a contract to build a line of amplifiers for Ivor Arbiter's store Sound City. By mid-1968 and the contract with Sound City fulfilled, Reeves focused on his own brand, HIWATT.
By 1969, The Who and Pink Floyd were the most well-known users of HIWATTs. Later that year, Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) had HIWATTs custom made for him. Jethro Tull and Manfred Mann were other famous users at that time.
By 1970, Hiwatt produced PA amps as well as 50-watt (DR504), 100-watt (DR103), and 200-watt (DR201) all-purpose amplifiers. Until that time, Reeves had been building all of the amps in his garage with the help of his wife Daphne and Doug Fentiman.
In early 1970, Reeves accepted that he could not keep up with demand and began looking for well qualified electrical technicians to be contracted.
Harry Joyce Electronics was selected and by mid-1970 was wiring chassis that were then sent to Reeves for final assembly and testing. This arrangement lasted until Reeves's death in 1981 and Harry Joyce Electronics continued to wire chassis for the short-lived Biacrown Electronics (1981–1984)"
Bergantino NV610 Cabinet
For all my gigs I use the Bergantino 6x10 cabinet.
In my opinion, Bergantino Audio systems is the #1 in bass cabinet design.
Smaller and somewhat lighter than an 8x10 this 6x10 cabinet is perfectly paired with either the HiWatt DR201 or Supertone 'Matamp' 200.
It has a healthy low end but with a lot of definition in the upper mid range which sits really well on stage.
Forming part of my sound, without question, the cabinet is always miked for live performance to capture the sound of both the amp and cab.
Backup is a second mic - no DI. Nada. Never.
My Bergantino does not have the tweeter, which as I use flatwounds, is perfect for me.
We are looking into designing a Supertone 'Matamp' 8x10 cabinet in the future so listen out for it... you won't be able to miss it!