Basses and Bass gear
My Zeppelin basses: 62-style Sunburst Jazz, 61-style super-lightweight Cream Jazz, 8-string Hagstrom and my walnut "Chocobass" P-Bass
My latest 2016 bassrig: Hartke 2500 bass amplifier, bi-amped to an 80's era MusicMan 18" and Ampeg 2x10 speaker cabinets.
Some classic tributes pride themselves on using the correct "vintage" gear for their band, but vintage gear, including instruments (which can be substandard, or too valuable to bring out of the house or vault) and amplification (which can be unreliable and heavy) is not necessarily the best way to make this music today. I beleive that it needs to look correct, but why sacrafice playability or sound quality? What is important to me, besides looks, is that the gear is versitile and very reliable. This is theater after all, not just a music gig, even performace art if taken to the highest level, and part of the fun of a tribute (for me) is the process of putting together the right combination of instruments and equipment so that I can comfortably make the music, while looking the part.
Some of JPJ's basses, including his "62 Jazz (left), and (clockwise) Fender IV, Fender '51 Precision (also caled a Tele), Alembic 4 string (from 1975 on) and Alembic Triple Omega 8-string
John Paul Jones main and most recognizable bass was a '62 Fender Jazz bass in sunburst finish with a tortoise pickguard. He used this bass for recording and touring with Zep until the mid/late 1970's, when he started using Alembics. His other basses included a Fender IV 6-string bass, a Fender '51-style Tele/Precision bass with the finish sanded off (used live for Blackdog and perhaps a few other tunes), a fretless Fender Precision bass (for for In My Time of Dying), a Hagrstom 8 string (used to record Achilles Last Stand and Nobody's Fault) and a beautiful custom Triple Omega 8-string Alembic bass (for playing those 2 songs live - this bass probably cost more than my car).
The obvious bass that all JPJ tribute musicians play in the Fender Jazz bass. Most of my life I have either assembled my basses from parts sourced from all over, or made some of the parts (bodies or necks) myself from scratch. One of my first basses, the one I used through my college days, featured a home-walnut body with a Fender Jazz neck. I LOVED that neck - nice and thin, played fast with low action (I have no idea where that bass might be today, 30 years later). Just out of college I played, fell in love with, took out my forst loan and purchased a Steinberger L2 bass, and remained faithful to this bass for over 20 years. I did have a couple of others (5 string, fretless and electric upright), but the L2 was a solid and comfortable old shoe that never let me down (until I started doing tributes in the mid-2000's and needed some wood basses for the correct look and sound).
My first Zeppelin bass: Knowing I would need a sunburst Jazz bass for JPJ, I toyed with the idea of just buying an actual Fender (probably a Japanese reissue), but that's really not my style... There was this Moses graphite jazz neck lying around that I had for over 15 years, and I thought I might try it out. It was just too dead on a Jazz bass I assembled years ago, but I threw it on a different body for the HEARTBREAKER auditions and found that it sounded totally different (and BETTER!), so I thought I would give it one more chance. I superglued maple veneer to the front and back of the headstock, did a classic amber tint and applied a Fender sticker and some clear gloss, and - voila - a gorgeous "vintage" looking Jazz neck with the superior qualities of graphite (including tuning stability, weight and sustain).
My completed "vintage" Fender Moses raphite neck. Yes, it's a mid-late 60's style decal (not the correct early 60's one), but I prefer how it looks, and it's more visible from a distance.
Although I am also a big fan of EMG pickups and electronics, I was impressed with the active electronics on current US Fender Deluxe Jazz basses, so I tracked down a set of Fender Deluxe Jazz pickups with the active electronics, a Fender Deluxe bridge (which looks pretty much like the classic bridge, but is heavier for more sustain), and a Mexi Jazz sunburst body (I already had a great lightweight set of classic Fender-style Grover tuning machines which I pulled off of another bass). Major surgery consisted of quite a bit of routing (to fit the active electonics and two batteries), two days of soldering until everything worked corectly, add a tortiose pickguard and a "thumb rest" (which is useless, but correct for the bass), and a "vintage" looking but very modern hybrid bass. I own, have built and have played many basses, and I have to say this is a truly outstanding instrument to play and to oogle! Note: In 2016 I put roundwounds on this bass, and have brought it out for a couple of gigs, but my lighter Funster Jazz with the Mighty Mite neck has become my default JPJ bass.
The finsihed "vintage" Fender Jazz bass (note correct vintage Gibson strap), with active electronics (to roll in or out the mids), La Bella flatwounds (for that smooth bottomy sound), a modern graphite neck and hybrid steel/aluminum tuners. Very important to the sound and the ease of playability was the addition of a set of La Bella flatwounds. I love these strings, and believe they are the finest flats out there - they feel soft, not stiff, and have a great sound and long life (this is a good thing, considering the price). Almost all my basses are strung with Rotosound roundwounds, and I beleive JPJ used these as well, but he got a very warm flat sound out of his bass, partly due to the use of his Acoustic 361 bass amp/speaker combo with a single 18" - not the modern bi-amped (or more) hi-fi sound.
My current 2015/16 bass rig continues to miniaturize without compromise. The Hartke amp now powers an all-original MusicMan 118 18" cabinet (which sounds fuller than even two of the Hartke 18's) and an amazing slant-back Ampeg 2x10 cabinet. My go-to Jazz bass is now a lighter, all-passive Funster Joel bass with Fender Custom Shop Vintage pickups and a super thin Mighty Mite neck, topped off with Dunlap Half-Round strings (pictured at the top of this page). For gigs providing a backline, most venues just set up an Ampeg SVT head and 8x10 cab (or a double stack), which I used to hate for other gigs, but find perfectly aceptable for the JPJ Zep bass sound (one head and two cabinets are optimal, and needed to generate the same amount of low end as the single 18" MusicMan cab).
JPJ also used an 8 string bass on a few songs from the Presence album, and ZEPPELIN LIVE regularly performs a slightly abbreviated version of Achilles in their sets. I could not possibly afford an Alembic Triple Omega 8-string (although I may try building one in the future), but Hagstrom recently reissued their 8-string bass, and I have added one to my rig when the gigs are local/driving distance (for flying gigs, I generally only take the Fender). It sounds great for this song (as well as Nobody's Fault, if I ever get to play that one live), even with a poor bridge and cheap tuners. I may upgrade some of those in the future to improve the intonation and tuning stability.
Future additions? I briefly owned (and hated) an Acoustic 361 speaker cabinet (no real low end); except for a secong Ampeg 2x10, which would be nice for some spread on stage, I'm very happy with my current rig. I thought I really could not play or make a better Jazz bass until I did - the active one with the Moses neck has been dormant for two years now (see my current rig notes above), and having a 4-string Alembic Model One would be nice (and expensive) - but I am trying mot to get carried away with the bass stuff, as there are so many other instruments to drag around for this gig already...
© 2011-16 Joel Pelletier, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated 10 August 2016
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