Columbus Jazz Bass

Roger from the record shop showed me this bass which his mate was selling, he'd been thinking of buying it and had it in the back room there, but had decided he didn't want it.

It was ninety quid which was cheaper than the second hand shops but quite a lot of money for me in those days.

Everything I'd learned about the need to consider modification and bodging was applied to that bass, which sounded terrible the first time I tried to play it.

There was a chrome cover over the front pickup getting in the way of where you'd want to pick or pluck, and an even bigger cover over the bridge and rear pickup which made it impossible to damp the strings while playing them or, indeed, change the strings in a hurry. [Jazz players don't change their strings, do they? - cynical Ed.]

Presumably these are features of the original Fender Jazz Bass design and I understand these covers have some effect on the way the pickups work. But they came off straight away anyhow along with the lump of foam concealed beneath the rear cover, which was killing the sustain on the strings.

If you wanted the bass guitar to play dead thumpy notes in a poor imitation of a tuba (as, doubtless, some people do) then that piece of foam would be a life saver. For anyone with expressive musical intentions it was a stinker.

That bass guitar worked really well and withstood all kinds of abuse, including being hurled off stage a couple of times (there was usually a large space of empty dance floor in front of us when we played, and a handful of baffled onlookers keeping well back, arrayed around the far edges of the room). I had a double length curly lead attached and it went down like an overweight glider…

I took all the sunburst finish off with a sanding disk which made it quite a bit lighter, and revealed the inner beauty of the plywood body. Future plans had been to re-wind one of the pickups so that separate outputs could be had from each string, for individual effects treatment and stereo panning. A quarter of a century later I'm still babbling on about this, though at least I now have the required four-way PA system to send the finished results through…

Postscript on the Jazz Bass

A few years later, after it got stolen and I was later unexpectedly offered another bass gig (I thought I'd retired from performance) I leaned on my next door neighbour to sell me his copy Jazz Bass, which he never played, but it was a plank compared to the Columbus. After a few gigs I bought the real life Fender Jazz Bass which I still use today (which, as well as having had the chrome covers, scratch plate etc. removed at birth also had a set of Precision pickups added and a custom bridge).

Antoria SG copy

A bloke at the chemical factory where I worked sold this to me. I didn't have guitar playing ambitions but I wanted to work out what it was that guitarists did in order to figure out what I should be doing on the bass.

So instead of working my way through "Play bass in a week" (by Whoever) I picked up the Antoria instead and learned some chords from a guitar chord book. Some of the (altogether very few) songs I contributed to the Instant Automatons were written on the SG copy. It was mostly cherry red but a lump was missing and had been painted over in a non-matching red colour. I took all the finish off with a sanding disk and revealed the beautiful plywood body beneath. I swapped this guitar for a copy Les Paul Junior and had the joy of seeing someone else smash it to pieces at a gig in Hammersmith, a few years later (as the saying goes).

Both these guitars can been seen in their plywood conditions in the photo of the Really Nice People and in their original conditions in the photo I have hilariously captioned guitar shop, along with a not-totally-dreadful acoustic guitar. The truly awful acoustic guitar which had been unsuccessfully converted into a three string bass is hiding in the tartan guitar bag.

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