The London Bass Guitar Show took place in association with BGM on 1 and 2 March and was, if anything, even more of an event than last year’s runaway success. Will the halls of Olympia ever recover?
Saturday 1st March
Our man at the frontline: Duff Battye
By 9.15am the queues were starting to form outside Olympia for the London Bass Guitar Show. The character that is TM Stevens arrived just before doors opened at 10am and got the masses ready for an amazing weekend of bass, shouting out in a call-and-response style, “Are we all ready to rock the house?”
A hugely-anticipated event was the masterclass of Deep Purple legend Roger Glover, whose 45-minute talk saw the auditorium packed to bursting. His humble demeanour and good humour kept the audience entertained. During an extended Q&A session he delivered the ultimate bass-playing tip – “Find a great drummer and be really, really nice to him”. Anthrax’s livewire bassist Frank Bello finished proceedings in the masterclass area with a trademark high-energy look at his playing and life within Anthrax. Thrash metal is sometimes seen as a poor relation, in terms of technique, compared to other musical genres, but fast-fingered Frank showed us just how inaccurate that viewpoint is.
The great Lee Sklar opened up the Live Stage with a relaxed talk about his life and experiences as a bass player who has been at the very top of the session game for four decades. After beginning his career as a medical illustrator, Lee has become a mainstay of session bass, playing for the likes of Jackson Browne, James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt. TM Stevens then stepped up to deliver a hugely entertaining live show. Highlights included getting an 11-year-old bassist up to jam with his band and passing on some words of wisdom from the late, great Miles Davis: “It’s not what you play, it’s what you leave out”. TM also explained that the key to great playing was to “turn off your head and turn on your heart”.
BGM columnist and jazz icon Jeff Berlin delighted the audience with some lightning quick fingerwork on his new signature Cort Rithimic, while never losing the groove laid down by Drummer magazine editor Nick Carter. Rounding off the groove was Jamiroquai bassist Paul Turner and his band Shuffler. Paul showed why he is such an in-demand player – having toured with the likes of Tina Turner, George Michael, Annie Lennox and Tom Jones.
In the main auditorium the stars rubbed shoulders with the bass-playing public, while walking around a host of displays and stands. The industry side was well covered, with impressive stands from the likes of the Musicians’ Union, BIMM College, the Academy Of Music and Sound and bass book company Bassline Publishing. These were complemented by the presence of the Bass Centre, Reading’s Bass Gear, Promenade Music, Bass Direct and Strings And Things.
Amp manufacturers were well represented, with Gallien-Kruger, Aguilar, Ampeg, Markbass, TC Electronic and Mesa all enthralling the punters with must-have products. Eden director Luke Green told us about a general move to smaller amp setups, saying “We are finding a lot of players who use our products are moving away from 800w amps and 8×10 cabs to the smaller Travelex 550 head and 6×10” cab. We’re also seeing a huge amount of interest in our new Eden I-90 chorus pedal.” Green also tells us that the company have signed up Johny Chow from Stone Sour as their latest big name endorsee. This move to smaller amps was mirrored by Warwick, who were receiving a lot of interest for their LWA 1000 amp head, which at only six pounds in weight produces a genuine 1000 watts.
Warwick’s UK bass guru Nick Wells explains a particularly cool new addition to the German company’s roster, saying “The 2014 Limited Edition Fortress is a real highlight for me, personally. We’re only building 100 of them. A lot of people are surprised by the Nordstrand Fat Stacks pickups, and the birdseye polar top looks great with the Nirvana black finish. People can’t put it down!” Ortega had some particularly lovely basses on display of all shapes and sizes, as did Cort, whose aforementioned Rithimic bass with its alder body and spalted maple and padouk top was an obvious show highlight for many. Other high points in the exhibitors’ hall included Freekbass, bouncing around the D’Addario stand, and the Elixir Strings stand, which featured a series of live performances, including two from sometime Robbie Williams/Paul Weller bassist Yolanda Charles. Yolanda never fails to draw a crowd and there were many beaming faces eagerly watching her performances.
As always, scratch below the surface of the London Bass Guitar Show and you’ll find some great concepts and innovations on display from smaller manufacturers. On the gear front Hartke had discounted their hugely impressive Pitchblack Pro rackmount tuner. If you want a truly professional look on stage for under £100, then look no further. AC Guitars were back, showcasing their beautiful range of instruments, as were the likes of Andy Baxter Vintage Guitars, Rikkers, East UK, Anaconda Basses and Maraszczyk Instruments. Doug Mullen from Eve Guitars was showing off a stunning range of hand-crafted basses and guitars. Their bolt-on option is incredible value, at under £1000 for a unique handmade British bass.
FM Cables are bringing UK-based hand-crafting to the cable world and were having a great show. MD and bass player Ronnie Gray said, “We’ve been going for about two years now. I’m a gigging musician so I thought, why not try and make a guitar cable by musicians for musicians? The premise is, quality products for musicians. We’ve already had Lee Sklar come and congratulate us, and Yolanda Charles and Steve Lawson are set to see us also. So there are lots of good vibes – and hopefully we’ll be back here next year with a bigger stand”.
One of the most radical designs came from the Sims/Enfield stand. Sims MD Martin Sims takes up the story: “We’ve launched a brand-new pickup system called Super Quad. The system has four separate coils in each pickup which can be independently switched. We can spilt the pickup horizontally and vertically which is totally new. When you have two pickups installed you actually have 15 configurations you can pick from. It’s a completely new product that allows you to move past the classic pickup configurations into areas that are more unusual, such as a humbucker in the neck and a split coil in the bridge.” A groundbreaking concept, as you’ll know from our review in recent BGMs.
All in all, a hugely entertaining and informative day with a wealth of superstar talent on display. Now, I just need to save up for all of the above…
Sunday 2 March
Our fearless footsoldier: Lieutenant Dave Clarke
Walking around Olympia’s exhibitor-filled floor at the London Bass Guitar Show can be a disorientating experience. If it’s not the Aladdin’s cave effect of being surrounded by so many of the bass world’s big name guitar, amp, FX and string manufacturers, the sonic boom of what sounds like a bass orchestra warming up will certainly mess with your equilibrium. With sound readings peaking at 110db on more than one occasion, an on-the-hour air horn signals a much welcome time-out for both punters and exhibitors alike!
With a lot to see and not much time to see it in, I battle my way through the arse-quake of sound being created by everyone present. Showcasing Mesa Boogie and Dunlop, Westside Distribution have been having a successful show, debuting several new products, including their new all-tube Bass Strategy 8:88 and Bass Prodigy 4:88 amps, which they had flown over especially for the LBGS (but not before BGM had reviewed it, I might add!). “We’ve had a lot of interest in these,” says Westside’s Jonny X. “People still seem to want valve heads, so that’s cool. We’re also launching a couple of new products from Dunlop: the Super Bright bass strings, which have gone down really well, and also the Dunlop MXR preamp, which we really need to get over to BGM for you to try out!” Sounds good to us…
Meanwhile, at D’Addario’s stand, product specialist Brandon Medici is excited about their new Flex Steel strings, which the company claims could change the lives of slap and fingerstyle players. Medici says: “It took us the better part of two years and over 100 prototypes before we were satisfied. The scope was a very flexible, articulate slap-funk string that we got a throaty, punchy vibe from, while still having a loose, softer feel. That’s a hard string to make, and a hard string to make consistently if you’re not careful. We started to experiment, and halfway through the project we had found the core-to-wrap and a wrap-to-wrap ratios that we really liked – but then we came across this Flex Steel alloy and that’s when everything clicked. Everyone threw their hands up and was like, ‘This is it. We’ve done it!’ Since we put it out we’ve had resounding feedback from everybody. The Flex Steels have the advantages of nickel as a very flexible, bright, articulate funk string, but also the advantages of the ProSteel string, which is really throaty and really punch – it’s the best of both worlds.”
Situated in the quietest part of the exhibition, is Paul from The Custom IEM Company, who represent in the UK 10 of the most popular global brands, including 1964 Ears, JH Audio, Shure and Puretone. It’s their first time at the LBGS, and he tells us that in-ear monitoring is a real growth area. “Hearing protection is definitely key these days. The days of just a wedge should really be long gone. In-ear monitoring provides ambient protection and a controlled mix in your ears, allowing you to perform better.” Interestingly, Paul tells BGM that bassists are late to the party compared to our rhythm section partners in crime: “Drummers are making so much noise that they seem a bit more focused on hearing protection. Thankfully, there’s a bit of a catch-up taking place with players of other instruments these days.”
Martin from TC Electronic has been feeling the love in London after a very successful year for the Scandinavian company. “It’s been really busy this year, and it’s such a pleasure for me, coming from Denmark to London and meeting and hanging out with everybody. Two days of great fun and bass. We feel honoured to be here and see the response to our products.” What’s new from TC at this year’s show? “Last year we introduced the BG250 1×15” combo and it was the biggest-selling combo in Europe, so we’ve extended the line with a 12”, a 2 x10” and a little BG250-208 combo with two 8” speakers. We’ve been very proud of that, but, sales-wise, the foundation of our company is still our RH series.”
Addressing the omnipresent sound of multiple bassists indulging their passion, Martin laughs as he points out that it could be worse: “Recently, in Denmark I was in a room half the size of this with 200 drummers playing, at the same time but not together. That was the worst sound of all time, so I perceive this event as nothing but good times!”
Max Shuter from Polar Audio is showcasing Gallien-Krueger, albeit later than planned, as he explains, “We’ve got some new products with us that we should have had last year, but because Gallien-Krueger amps are all handmade in a little workshop in California, the quantity doesn’t filter through until further down the line. We’ve got the new MB Fusion 800, which is 800 watts with a tube pre-amp, and the complementary cabs that go with it which are neodymium and very light. We have lots of very powerful but portable gear.”
G-K isn’t the only big name which Polar Audio have brought to the party this year. Max says, “We took on Ampeg in June last year, so it’s our first London Bass Guitar Show where we’ve been showing Ampeg, which has been absent for the last year or two. It’s going really well. Obviously, G-K and Ampeg are quite different brands; a lot of big-name soul, funk and R&B players for Justin Timberlake, Rihanna and Katy Perry are using G-K rigs because they’ve got that clean, modern sound, while the Ampeg gear has the big bottom end, the warmth for the rock’n’roll stuff and metal players. It’s got that edge, you can drive it hard and it’ll break up nicely. They voice differently and so appeal to different areas of the market. It’s like beef and chicken: they both taste delicious, it just depends what you fancy on the day!”
In one of the afternoon’s quieter moments, I ask Dave Boonshoft, President of Aguilar Amplification, how the show has been for him this year. “We’ve had a great time,” he replies. “We’ve met a lot of great bass players looking for new gear. In the last year and a half we’ve worked very hard at expanding our pickup line, so this year we have five- and six-string P-bass pickups. We’ve also expanded our soap bar offerings, our Dual Ceramic Bar pickups. And this year we’re with a distributor here in the UK, Barnes & Mullins. We’re so pleased to be with these guys, they’re a great company. That’s a big change for us, and we’ll be widely available in the UK.”