I n
Ten strings. Three thousand quid. One rabbit.
Does this Bee ERB sting, asks Joel M cIver?
Bee Basses
Art Of Rebellion
h, a challenge! The virtuoso bassist Russ Newton of the
progressive rock trio Art Of Rebellion has lent us his
custom 10-string, made by Fred Bolton of Bee Basses, just to
introduce a bit of tension into our lives and make us realise
that life isn't all about slap lines in E minor on a mere four-,
five- or six-string bass. This gorgeous instrument, beautifully
put together by a coalition of craftsmen, is a work of art just as much
as a tool for musical expression - but will we actually be able to
master the thing?
Well, if we can't actually play this Bee, it won't be because of the
quality of its components. It is a state-of-the-art artefact, from
the huge, chamfered upper bout, to the body and neck woods, via
the custom strings and pickups, all the way to the electronics and
controls. Before you actually play this beast.
.. er, insect, you can't help
but be impressed by the artistic vision that has gone into the woods:
burl and ash for the body and a variety of maples for the neck.
Each wood has been bookmatched for its visual appeal and
tone: holding the Queen Bee, you feel like you've wandered into a
dendrochronologist's (look it up) daydream. To top it off, Newton has
commissioned an ebony, abalone and mother-of-pearl rabbit from
Bill Nichols of Nichols Guitars to adorn the body: named Binky, the
bunny is a Matt Groening cartoon character of which he is fond. And
why not?
The details are where Newton's money has been spent. There's a
Neutrix locking input, always a bonus for bassists prone to stepping on
their cables, and at the other end, incredibly smooth Hipshot tuners
carved into rabbit shapes. Even the pickup covers, truss rod cover and
battery access cover are made of the same woods, while the controls
are made of no fewer than three different woods by THG Knobs.
So, time to take off your 'regular bass player' hat and put on your
'extended range bass player' one. Sure, there's an overlap: you can
still sit and play lines on the Queen Bee just as you'd play them on a
standard-range bass, with fingers, thumb or pick. But there's much,
much more to an ERB than that, as you'll know if you read Stewart
McKinsey's monthly column on the subject.
Most simply, you can play much lower and higher notes, if you'll
forgive the obvious observation. What can you actually do here?
Consider chordal lines at the lower end: sub-bass has its place in
many musical styles. Imagine that you're playing a church organ or
synth, lending atmosphere rather than actual melodies. Slap the low
strings for a kick-drum effect. Drone the lower strings under notes
played in the usual range. Instead of doing an octave pop, play an
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