George Orwell wrote about this year in his famous book. The Apple Macintosh is introduced. Marvin Gaye dies. Severomorsk explodes. Bruce Springsteen releases “Born in the USA”. Indian prime minister Indhirda Ghandi is assissinated by security guards. Bob Geldof and Band Aid supports famine victims in Ethiopia.
And I buy my first ever fretless bass.
I had played the bass for a couple of years already, and I had bought a very nice Fender Precision fretted from 1979. But on the radio I had heard Pino Palladino’s legendary fretless bass track on “Whereever I lay my hat” by Paul Young, and the interest was born. I wanted to play that part, too!
In the spring of ’84, I participated with my brother and 10 other youngsters (!) in a local band competition. We played three songs, and for one of them, I borrowed a home-built fretless Precision built by a friend of one of the other musicians. I enjoyed playing the fretless so much!
Later I borrowed what I believe must have been a fretless Hagström Scan bass for a few weeks, from Øyvind Sønnesyn, who played bass in Bjarte Leithaug’s band at the time. It was a beautiful fretless bass with an enormous mwah. That was the turning point for me. I knew I simply HAD to get a fretless bass!
There was also Jaco, of course. I managed to borrow the “Birdland” album by Weather Report as well as Jaco’s solo debut album, but I don’t remember if I had listened much to them before Pino’s bass line hit me. But looking back, it’s that line that I recall working on and practicing on when I got that first fretless bass in the house.
My interest in the fretless bass was sparked between those events in my early bass player life.
This was way before the Internet made bass hunting real easy. I remember going through the music stores in town on every opportunity, and the first fretless bass I got my hands on was a CF Martin EB-18. I was very intrigued by that bass, but it was quite expensive, and a single pickup design that I felt didn’t quite give me the tone I wanted. But since it was the only fretless bass available in the music stores in town, I spent many days and nights secretly drooling over that bass.
[EDIT] Yesterday, I found out what happened to that bass! It was bought by a student and he still has it! He posted a photo of it on Facebook yesterday in a post talking about his first bass purchases. Here it is!
Later the same year, an Ibanez Musician MC940 fretless appeared in a for sale ad in the local newspaper. I remember the excitement I felt when I went to meet the seller, having never seen the bass or any bass like it. I hadn’t seen the bass in magazines that I was aware of, although I knew that Sting had played one (because someone had told me when I asked them about this bass).
I don’t have any photos of my own bass anymore. Maybe there are some hidden away at my parents’ place, but I haven’t seen any in many years. But I remember it came in a brown case, and the photo below (borrowed from Low End Bass Shop) is pretty much identical to my first meeting with the great Ibanez Musician MC940 fretless bass:
And what a beautiful bass the MC940 is! It is a neck-through design with a five piece neck, built from 3 pieces of rock maple with two stabilizing stripes of walnut, and a beautiful black ebony fingerboard. The fingerboard is unlined, with position markers along the side of the neck, and it also featured position dots on the front of the fingerboard on the treble side. An excellent feature to enhance the intonation! The body is solid ash, finished in a brown transparent finish. The headstock was finished in a matching color, with the traditional 2+2 Ibanez headstock. I remember when I talked to the seller and he said Ibanez, my thoughts went directly to the Fender copies they were making at the time, and was a little sceptical. But I was in for a huge surprise! The bass had a Super P and Super J pickup, which were basically a PJ set in Ibanez own covers. I believe the controls were volume, blend and (passive) tone on the three large knobs, and three mid-detent controls on the preamp, which allowed treble, mid and bass frequencies to be boost or cut individually. A feature I had never seen before at that time in my bass hunting career (which included only a Hagström Swede and a Fender Precision bass). My Ibanez didn’t feature the pickup switch.
The bass was a fantastic instrument and one of very few instruments I have owned that I wouldn’t mind getting back. Here is a little more eye candy from The Low End Bass Shop.