Discovering the 5-string bass!

Yamaha BB5000 Headstock
Yamaha BB5000 Headstock

In my previous post, talking about my second bass – The Fender Precision Bass – I mentioned that I had it customized into a 5-string fretless. But why did I want that, back in 1986?

I had only been playing the bass for a couple of years, and I was practicing a lot. One of my favourite activities was to play along tapes – yes, this was in the pre-CD player let alone Spotify age – of various artists. One of my tapes was a copy of Philip Bailey’s album Children of the Ghetto. Please view the video below before I go on.

As you can hear, that low B is prominent in that song! It’s ever present, and it lays the foundation of the song. It is a perfect match. However, I only had my tape copy, no liner notes, no record, no information at all. It was driving me crazy! I heard this beautiful note played so deep and so solid, and I had no idea how he managed it! Let alone who played that line!

After a couple of weeks I managed to get hold of the original record, and I read that the bass player was Nathan East. Ok, so now I knew WHO played that low B, but I didn’t know HOW he got down there! Did he have an effect box? No… it didn’t sound like that. Did he down-tune? No,  I had tried that, but that E-string tuned down a 4th sounded wobbly and nowhere as tight as Nathan’s. It was a mystery to me.

In those days – pre-Internet as mentioned – most of the information about bass related gear came in the form of Bass Player Magazine. It was crazy expensive here in Norway, and I didn’t buy many. And the ones I bought were read 20 times each. And in the next issue I bought, I got the missing puzzle piece in the form of a D’Addario ad featuring Nathan East and his famous white Yamaha BB5000 bass.

Nathan East in a d'Addario ad featuring his famous white Yamaha BB5000 bass.
Nathan East in a D’Addario ad featuring his famous white Yamaha BB5000 bass.

With my newly won knowledge, I started hunting for a 5-string bass. At the time I owned two basses, the Fender Precision fretted and the Ibanez MC-924 Musician fretless. Both were 4-string basses. This was my first real attack of GAS. I was just 17 years old.

After some investigation, I realized that there were only two production models available with 5-strings: The Ibanez RB885 and the Yamaha BB5000, with the Yamaha costing 2-3 times as much as the Ibanez. During the summer, I got to test out the Ibanez, but I wasn’t very happy with the feel and sound of it, so I passed on that one. But the Yamaha was hard to find anywhere.

That summer – I had just turned 18 – we were traveling in Sweden on vacation, and we were stopping by relatives in Gothenburg. He took me to the largest music store in the city, and would you believe it… On the wall was a black Yamaha BB5000. He picked it down for me, and I played it for about half an hour, and was sold. I wanted this bass! I looked over at my Dad, who were with me, and he looked a little worried. I got a quote on the bass (9900 Swedish Kroners), and we held it off for 24 hours while examining our options.

Remember, this was pre-Internet. Credit cards weren’t common. ATMs non-existant. Cash was king. My Dad was worried, because getting hold of 10 grand was difficult. We would have to call our home bank, they would have to wire the money to a bank in Sweden, and we would have to go pick them up. This would take days. My Dad told me to not worry about it, he would call Yamaha Norway when we came home and set me up with a deal just as good as this one. I could rest assured, I would get my Yamaha bass.

So we finished our vacation trip. As soon as we had parked the car in Norway, I was on the phone to Yamaha Norway. They could get me that bass at 15.000 Norwegian Kroners. That was close to 30% more expensive than the bass in Sweden, and it was beyond my budet! My Dad was flabbergasted – his promise was impossible to live up to. My Grand Dad offered me to borrow his car and drive back to Sweden to get the bass, but my parents were worried about the long drive. I hadn’t had the driver’s license for too long. We decided to let the Yamaha go and look for other options.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it’s easy to say now that it was a bad decision. But the decision made me sell the Ibanez fretless, convert my Fender Precision to a 5-string fretless bass, and get a Warwick Nobby Meidl 4-string fretted. I didn’t really get the low B-string, and the Nobby Meidl wasn’t my thing in the end. The hunt was still on. But that is a longer story and subject for another blog post.


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