A new series in which bass expert Andy Baxter interviews legendary bass players about their gear. This month: the great Guy Pratt
Welcome to this new feature in Bass Guitar Magazine. My name is Andy Baxter. I’m a music fan, a bass player first and foremost and a vintage bass guitar dealer in London. In an attempt to write my first article, I find myself at Brighton train station on a sunny early April afternoon. I’m waiting outside for my lift, which happens to be Guy Pratt. I’m here to talk about two of his basses, the first being a 1964 Fender Jazz in burgundy mist, the second a sunburst 1960 stack-knob Jazz.
But first, lunch! We’re with friends, so we skirt around the world of bass, not wanting to bore our non-bass-playing fellow diners. Guy is very down to earth and a lot of fun, as are his chums. After a lovely lunch at a local Japanese restaurant, we head back to Guy’s house to take a look at the basses.
The burgundy mist Jazz is a bass I’ve had my hands on before, unknown to Guy. This bass ended up with him through the Who’s tech, Alan Rogan. John Entwistle had decided to move some of his collection and had put Alan to work on this. Guy says that he was surprised and rather happy to be getting his hands on this bass. It was 1987, and he was working with Bryan Ferry at the time: later that year, he was asked to play bass in Pink Floyd. This instrument has certainly played some famous bass-lines, including songs with Madonna and Pink Floyd – and let’s not forget ‘Ain’t No Doubt’ by Jimmy Nail…
So why is the bass called Betsy, I ask? “Well,” says Guy, “it came about through working with Johnny Marr. Johnny’s entire guitar collection was called Betsy – yes, every single guitar.” Guy decided that it was a fitting name for such a lovely Jazz bass, and I couldn’t agree more.
After playing the bass at a few Pink Floyd rehearsals, Guy didn’t think that the output levels were adequate and mentioned to his bass tech that some new pickups might be worth looking into. Guy came back to rehearsals the next day to find a set of EMGs in the bass and the tone knob sticking out a little more than it had the previous day. Syd Price had put in the EMGs overnight and stuck the battery under the tone control.
To a purist, changing the pickups in a pre-CBS Fender might seem like sacrilege, but believe me they sound awesome. I plugged it in and played ‘Money’ by Pink Floyd. For years I’d played it adding an extra note, which isn’t on the record, and Guy pointed out to me that during the 1987-88 Floyd tour he’d added the exact same wrong note, until he mentioned to David Gilmour that the bass part just didn’t seem right. Gilmour replied: “That’s because it goes like this!” It’s nice to know it wasn’t just me who had got it wrong. We all make mistakes.
On to the next bass, the 1960 sunburst stack-knob Fender Jazz. This one has quite a story to tell: if only it could speak. In the absence of a talking Fender, I asked Guy to tell the tale. After years trying to find a good stack-knob Jazz in nice condition and of course at a nice price (after all, these basses are not cheap), Guy spotted that David Gilmour had a rather lovely example in his guitar collection. Guy never got to have a go on it, despite dropping a few hints here and there. Eventually he found himself in Gilmour’s hotel room, tour after tour, almost begging him to sell the bass to him. Guy says it would usually be at the end of a tour and late at night when everyone had been drinking.
Gilmour would turn down every offer Guy made, until the offers got so ridiculous that David had to say, “Look, Guy, you simply don’t have that kind of money!” “But please, David…” “No.” “Oh come on, please, I really want it…” “No.”
And so it went, on and on and on and on. I think Guy might have given up on the idea of ever getting his hands on this bass, but things were about to go his way. On his wedding day, he came home from the wedding reception to find a flight case in his hallway with a big pink bow on it. Yes, you guessed it – inside the case was the treasured Jazz. Gilmour had given it to him as a wedding gift. This bass was played by Guy on many recordings, including Gilmour’s third studio album On An Island, released in 2006, and live with Floyd at the Albert Hall, recorded for the Remember That Night DVD.
In 2005, Roxy Music re-formed to put an album together and Guy was asked to play bass. He was ecstatic, as he would be surrounded by the original Roxy line-up. Phil Manzanera came over to him one day and said, “I recognise that bass”. It turned out that in 1975, David Gilmour’s old mate Rick Wills had joined Roxy Music and brought along this very Jazz. The bass was eventually sold to Gilmour and then given to Guy, coming full circle.
I asked Guy about his love of vintage basses, in particular Fenders. His response and reasoning for the love of these instruments is much like my own. ‘The moment’ for Guy came when he opened Betsy’s case: he just knew he had to have it. The bass was calling to him. My moment was up in Leeds as a 17-year-old, looking at a 1974 black Jazz and wishing I could play it. I didn’t even dare ask to try it, although a few months later I played it and eventually owned it. There is just something special about a worn-in instrument, 1950s and 60s Fenders particularly – although I would say that, I suppose, as I sell the damn things.
Part of it is the fact that each one had care and attention paid to it by a human being rather than a machine, and some it comes down to nostalgia for the 60s and 70s. In some ways it’s a fashion thing: Guy is a mod at heart, just like me. Most of all, however, it comes down to personal taste.
Some people would strongly disagree with some of the things I’ve just said, but I’m not saying that new instruments aren’t good. There’s just something special about a vintage bass guitar that calls out to me, and maybe to you too.
With that, I’ll leave you. Until the next time, enjoy your playing and keep on grooving!