Bass technique: Kevin Sanders

For me, there are two things that set the band Yes apart from other rock bands of the last 40 years; singer Jon Anderson’s stunning alto voice and – more importantly for us – Chris Squire’s brilliant and instantly recognisable bass parts. Although he’s had a few solo and collaborative side projects over the years, his main gig has always been with Yes. In fact, he’s the only band member who’s been there right from the beginning.


Squire’s early influences were Paul McCartney and John Entwistle. The Ox’s baroque, contrapuntal style and treble- heavy twang appealed to him and he set about emulating this style and sound. In 1965, aged 17 and working in a London music shop, he managed to save up enough money to buy one of the first Rickenbacker basses to come over from the States, the RM1999 model – a budget, non-stereo version of the famous 4001. This he rewired to allow separate outputs for each pickup. This bass was an important ingredient in his and the band’s sound, as was his decision to play with a pick.

Chris Squire’s style

Squire has always played with a pick, using both up- and down-strokes. He holds his pick between his thumb, first and second fingers with just enough of the pick protruding to strike the string just before the edge of his thumb, producing a bright trebly sound backed up by a thicker tone from his thumb, plus a strong harmonic as a by-product. When playing chords, he’ll sometimes use his left thumb over the top of the neck to play the root note, as do many guitarists, but this aside, his technique is fairly standard. To really nail the great man’s tone you’ll need a Ricky with just a touch of chorus, but any bass with the treble and high mids cranked up will suffice. Careful adjustment of the EQ from the amp end will get you a pretty good approximation.

If you’ve not played with a pick before, it’ll take a bit of getting used to, but persevere and you’ll soon discover a whole range of tones from your bass which you were never able to access before.

Exercise 1

Try this one for starters: a simple groove in Dm. Squire used a similar pattern to this on the Yes song ‘Roundabout’.


Exercise 2

This is a bit more tricky, but demonstrates one of Squire’s favourite solo licks. Note that the second half of the bar is the same as the first half – just played an octave lower.


Exercise 3

Here’s a shuffle groove that uses a major pentatonic pattern. Listen to the bass-line on ‘I’ve Seen All The Good People’ to hear how Squire expands on this idea.


Exercise 4

Now try this solo passage that uses some of Squire’s favourite techniques. Start with a down-stroke and make sure you don’t accidentally dampen the open E.


 Chris’s gear
Few bass players are as synonymous with a single instrument as Squire, who has been using his customised white 1964 Rickenbacker for most of his long career. However, he does use several other basses. For the Yes song ‘Tempus Fugit’ he used an old Electra MPC, a Japanese bass from the late 70s, and at other times he’s played a Lakland, a Staccato and an eight-string Ranney bass. Since the 80s he’s also used a green Mouridian bass that is one of his favourites, as well as an original Fender Jazz.Whichever bass he’s using, the signal goes via a Samson radio system into a Sound Sculpture switching matrix to blend the effects together. These might be a Maestro Fuzz Unit, a custom-built tremolo, a TC Electronic chorus, reverb and delay, and a Mutron pedal from the 70s. The Moog Taurus bass pedals he once used are now replaced by samples.

As you’d expect of a stadium-filling rock band, Squire’s backline is pretty impressive too. His main rig consists of a Marshall 100-watt head with a Marshall 4×12 cab plus two Ampeg SVT-2 Pro heads, each with an SVT 8×10 cab. To amplify the bass pedals he uses an SWR head with an SWR 2×15. His strings have always been Rotosound Swingbass, changed for every gig, and he uses Herco heavy gauge picks.

Essential Chris Squire Tracks

‘Hold Out Your Hand’, Fish Out Of Water – A great song and bass-line from Squire’s 1975 solo album

‘Soundchaser’, Relayer – Try to find the live version from the QPR stadium in 1975. If you can get past the Spinal Tap-style extended intro, there’s a great bass-line in there.

‘Silent Wings Of Freedom’, Tormato

Stop sniggering. This is our heritage!

‘I’ve Seen All The Good People’, The Yes Album.

From 1971, written by Jon Anderson and Squire.

‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’, 90124

Heavily produced by Trevor Horn in 1983, and one of Yes’s biggest hits.

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