Smart Hamm is one of the bass world's great composers, performers and characters.
Joel M clver meets the maestro for a chat about all things bass. Flip to page 26 (or a
lesson in pure Hamm-style awesom eness!
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Photography by Eckie ■
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e like to make our interviewees
earn their keep here at
when the great Stuart Hamm
walks off stage at this year's
London Bass Guitar Show at
Olympia, we don't let him rest up
after his exertions: we give him a
Coke and a chocolate bar (“Powered by Twix!” he
laughs) and push him onto the sofa in the green room
and make him answer questions until his head spins.
Not that the great man shows any sign of needing
a break, even after running around the stage, tapping
and slapping like a mad person in front of 400 people
for 45 minutes: Hamm relaxes, sips his caffeinated
beverage and talks animatedly about his career to
date with great enthusiasm. In fact this could serve
as a useful metaphor for Hamm's life in general: at
50 years old, having played with the great and the
good of rock for 30 years, he's showing no sign of
slowing down.
“The set was great!” Hamm tells us between bites
of his refreshing chocolate treat. “I hadn't changed
my strings in about three days, but I changed them
right before I went on so it sounded killer. I'm a freak
when it comes to strings, which are GHS Boomers, 45
to 105: I even change them on my main bass during a
set! I know, I know.
.. but especially when I'm doing my
solo stuff, the sound and sustain that my strings have
when they're new is really part of the sound. Also, I
have one of those really weird toxic sweats, so with all
the sliding I do, the sound does change.”
The Boomers to which he is referring are attached
to a Warwick prototype with EMG pickups which
doesn't have an assigned name just yet: Hamm calls
it 'Cap' after the Captain America star stuck to the
back. So how did he hook up with Warwick, we ask?
“Steve Bailey and all the other guys I know were
saying 'You've got to check out Warwick!' so I went
over there and checked out the facilities,” he tells us.
“The guys at Warwick were really passionate and it
seemed like a perfect fit, so we're just at the last stages
of tweaking the red one I have now. I've always taken
the MI side of my career seriously, and I've learned a
lot: I was the first person to have a Fender signature
bass, the Urge, so my knowledge of basses and what I
want from them is ever-evolving as I continue to grow
and learn, as a luthier as well as a musician.”
He continues: “What I've tried to do with Warwick
is design a balanced, ergonomic instrument. Making
a bass for me is like making a record. The best thing
a composer can do is hire great musicians and tell
them, 'Do what you do!' and I do the same thing with
instrument design. One thing that I champion is the
ergonomics of playing. I've been through a number
of playing-related injuries, and these are so rarely
addressed in any of the bass schools where I teach.
It seems criminal to me that people my age are going
through various stages of injury, because there are
easy steps you can take to prevent those, especially if
you get to people while they're young and tell them
about posture and warming up and introduce them to
the Alexander technique.”
Is Hamm a fan of extended range basses, or is he
strictly a four-string man? He laughs and asks: “Have
you ever seen me play a five- or six-string bass? Well,
there you go.
.. If you have limits to your instrument,
you are forced to find the art within those limits,
which is a pretentious way of saying that five- and
six-strings are too difficult for me. And with the
tapping that I do, the whole key would change. I play
five-string when I have to, of course, and I admire
players who do it well. I watched Nathan East play his
six-string bass at a James Jamerson tribute concert
recently - and man, he had the best-sounding low B
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