This is a very funky little bass from a relatively new UK based luthier called Chowny, founded by Stephen Chown. The ‘SW’ in the name refers to UK session bassist Scott Whitley, currently touring with Big Country. Aside from his session work, Scott is very active online via his YouTube channel and website, as a reviewer, instrument demonstrator and educator. He also happens to be an aficionado of short scale basses, and when I came across him online a few years ago, he was working on a project to design and manufacture the ultimate short scale bass, based on his extensive experience with these instruments over the years. Fast forward a few years, and having designed and built a couple of prototypes and early models of what he called the SWB, and with demand for his instruments growing, Scott handed over responsibility for manufacturing the SWB to Chowny. There are several versions of the Chowny SWB available, including a passive model and a fretless model, and more, such as a 5 string, in the works. This particular model that I own is the ‘Pro’ model, and features a few upgrades from the standard model, including monorail bridge units, active EMG pickups and laminated neck and body with a fancy wood top.
First impressions are that it’s a very pretty bass. The body is small and ergonomically pleasing, reminiscent of an Alembic Stanley Clarke shape. Having owned an Alembic short scale, though, I can say that I find that the Chowny balances better, probably as a result of the ever-so-slightly elongated top horn. The body is also satin finish, rather than lacquered, which gives it a nice tactile quality. The fittings, from the monorail bridge units to the open-back Wilkinson tuners, are all excellent quality. The neck fit is perfect, the neck itself is narrow - similar to an Alembic Stanley Clarke again - but fast and comfortable, and the carving and finish on the body and head are beautiful. The controls are a three-position pickup toggle switch, volume, and active bass and treble cut and boost on a stack-knob. The sound is bright, articulate and punchy, very modern-sounding, even bell-like, which makes it great for melodic and slap styles, but the eq is well able to tame the top end enough to make it convincing in a rock or even reggae setting. Even with the very light gauge strings that I prefer, it doesn’t suffer from the dreaded ‘floppy-string’ syndrome that many short scales can have. And it gives you the option to fit your strings either through-body or top-loaded in the monorails.
The SWB Pro has a few little quirks, though, or things I might change if I had the option, but please understand that these are entirely subjective - just my personal preference. For example, I’m not a big fan of the headstock on this - as anyone who knows me is aware, I’m not a big fan of headstocks AT ALL (!), but I would have preferred a smaller, more modern-looking headstock shape. While the balance of the bass is fine as it is, a smaller headstock might have improved it even further. But my main issue is just that, in my eyes, it doesn’t quite fit with the style of the body, and it is a little too reminiscent of a Rickenbacker headstock for my taste. I would have preferred closed-back tuners, too, but possibly the open-backed ones save a tiny bit on weight to help the balance?
The angled pickups are quirky, and to someone who likes to rest his thumb on the top edge of the pickup when playing fingerstyle, it might feel a little odd at first. But I understand that the angle actually helps with the evenness of note response, tone and timbre across the strings.
The placement of the strap pin on the inside curve of the upper horn also seems a strange choice - it means the strap has a very awkward break point over the end of the horn. My preference would have been on the end of the horn, like most basses, or even on the back of the horn, similar to the placement of the strap pin on the back of the neck heel on Alembic small bodies. But again, I imagine there is a reason for this, probably balance-related, and that other more conventional locations were tried and rejected during the design phase.
While the setup out of the box was good, over the next few weeks, as the neck acclimatized to the Irish weather (I believe these basses are put together in India, so there is something of a climatic difference), I found myself adjusting the set-up on an almost daily basis. This is now settling down, and I imagine it’s something that a lot of new basses experience: it just takes a while for the bass to work out it’s not a tree any more!
Regarding the electronics, while they are undeniably very versatile, I would have liked to have had some kind of mid control, ideally a parametric sweep, included. Again, though, it’s not a deal breaker, since you can make these kinds of eq changes on your amp, if necessary, rather than on the bass itself.
I also felt that the black plastic EMG knobs that it came with felt a little cheap and let the bass down visually, so I replaced them with some chrome ones to match the rest of the hardware - an easy enough upgrade.
And finally, it’s interesting to note that the ebony fretboard actually extends beyond the end of the neck by about 0.75cm. Visually, it’s nice, perhaps a subtle nod to the instrument’s double bass ancestor, but ergonomically, it’s actually slightly uncomfortable for me when I slap, since I do that very close to the end of the fretboard - I find my finger coming into contact with the lower corner of the fretboard every time I go to pop the G string. Again, it’s simple enough to get used to this over time, but it’s an adjustment I would rather I didn’t have to make, and I can’t see any practical reason why that additional bit of fretboard should be there.
However, as I said, these tiny gripes are for the most part probably only specific to me, my tastes, my technique and my style of playing, and will certainly not apply to everyone. And in any case, the excellent quality, great tone and versatility, and sheer playability make it an absolute pleasure to play, so I would have no hesitation in recommending it.
You can see and hear my Chowny SWB Pro in action here and here.
And you will find Chowny’s website here.
This is practically an antique - these were only made for a few years, back in the early 90s, I think.
I shied away from SWR cabs for a long time. Although I always liked the tone I heard through them, my first experience with an SWR can wasn't a happy one: I was playing at the Jazz Cafe in Camden, London, and was assured that they had a great backline, no need to bring my own rig. So I showed up rigless and saw they had an SWR Goliath Jr waiting for me. Happy days, I thought. Not so. Halfway through the second song, I hear a farting noise, and turn around to see one of the speakers lying on the floor in front of the cab. It had literally rattled free of the screws holding it in place and leapt right out of the cab.
But a few years later, after a pleasant experience with a tiny little SWR Workingman's 10 combo at an East End jam session, I thought I would try SWR again, and this particular cab showed up for sale nearby. My main requirement of it was that it would fit in the boot of my car. When I'd hauled it all the way down the 15 storeys of the tower block where the seller lived, I discovered that it didn't. Oh well, too lazy to carry it all the way back up, I jammed it in the back seat and took it home. And I'm so glad I did.
i'd always used 10" speakers before this. I like the speed and responsiveness. Bigger speakers seem to lag ever so slightly. But I'd always felt there was a bit of warmth missing from my 10s. This cab fixes that. The speakers in the Bigfoot are actually made by Bag End, not SWR, and there's just something magical about them. They're the first 12" speakers I've found that react as quick as 10s, but of course they have that little bit more warmth than 10s. The sound feels exceptionally smooth - enough mids to cut through the mix without getting harsh and obnoxious, lovely bottom end to anchor the sound, and sparkly tops courtesy of the SWR tweeter. And it's very light, considering the size. And even better, it has castors to save wear and tear on my back and knees. 😊
I've had this cab for about 15 years now. I actually retired it for a few years while I was using an Epifani UL 410, mainly because some clumsy soundman broke my only speakon-jack cable - the Bigfoot came with jack inputs only! - and I just never got round to buying a new cable. But a few years ago, I asked local amp tech and all-round electronics genius Cyril Ryan to switch the jack inputs in it out for a speakon connection, and now this is once again my main gigging cab.
As always, feel free to drop me a line here if you have any questions about this cab.
So, these are my trusty amp heads. I thought I may as well deal with these two together, since the differences between them are minimal, really.
I've been through a whole heap of different amps in my time as a bass player - Hartke, Trace Elliot, Gallien Krueger, SWR, Phil Jones - and I've loved every one of them. But it was the weight of these things that always bugged me, of course. It's every bass player's bugbear - lugging a heavy amp, along with a bass and big cab, to every gig is, frankly, a pain. Ok, ok, it could be worse, I could be a drummer. But still.
Anyway, when I read about the Genz Benz Shuttle around 2006, I I just thought, 'I have to try one of those': 600 watts, 3lbs, and small enough to fit in the pocket of my gigbag! With specs like that, it was of course just a bonus that the thing also sounds superb: I know these things are so subjective, but to my ears, the Shuttle is about the most transparent amp head I've ever played. By which I mean, it adds to or subtracts nothing from the sound of my bass - it simply gIves me an amplified version of the acoustic sound and feel of my bass. I use the basses I use because I like how they sound and feel - so the last thing I want is for the amp to change that before it gets to the audience's ears! Most amps I've tried change something subtly, and I find myself messing with the eq in an effort to restore whatever has been lost or added. Not on the Shuttle. I run the eqs flat on both of them.
I bought the 6.0 in about 2007, then the 9.2 in around 2010. Just as I bought my second Kingbass because I loved my first so much that I was terrified of being without it if it ever needed to be repaired for any reason, I bought the 9.2 because the 6.0 was just so perfect. Never had an issue with either of them, though, save for cleaning the fans every so often. And they are so small and light that I can easily take both of them with me to a gig, just in case.
There's one tiny difference between the two: the 9.2 feels like it has a slightly warmer and rounder bottom end, which is probably down to the fact that it has an additional 300 watts on top of the 6.0's 600 to push out those lower frequencies.
I love the simplicity of these things: the eqs are simply low cut/boost, high cut/boost and a sweepable mid. But as I said, unless the room requires some special eq treatment, I basically run them flat. There are three pre-shape buttons. I've never used them! And there's a tube preamp in them, so you can get a bit of grit out of them when necessary.
I also love the responsiveness. Some amps feel a little sluggish to me, and others feel like they 'even out' my playing, squashing the crescendoes and missing the nuances - again, it's a subjective thing, but the Shuttles feel like they react immediately and respect the dynamics of my playing.
And owning a Shuttle takes the pot luck out of touring. You can make polite requests in your rider for a specific type or brand of amp when you travel overseas to perform, but sometimes these things get lost in translation, or there's a problem with availability of certain amps in the country you're visiting. Many's the time I've requested a nice hi-fi full range bass amp, only to be presented with some sluggish woolly-sounding thing which really doesn't suit what I do at all. Now, since I can bring my amp in the pocket of my gig bag when I fly, that's one less unknown quantity to deal with!
Now the bad news: Genz Benz is no more - the company was bought out by Fender a few years ago, and the Shuttles were discontinued. However, the company's founder, Jeff Genzler, re-emerged recently at the head of his new Genzler brand. So, when my Shuttles finally bite the dust (not anytime soon, I'm sure), I know where I'll be looking first for my next amp.
Anyway, here's a pic of the two of them together, and please don't hesitate to drop me a line or comment if you have any questions.
And you can see and hear the 9.2 in action in my latest YouTube collaboration with Alberto Rigoni, here: https://youtu.be/Nn6GtZTm_18
It's practically heresy among bass players to say this, I know, but here goes: I don't like Fender Jazzes. Pregnant pause while I wait for the lightning bolt to strike me down. Nope. Nothing? Maybe the God of bass is having a day off. Or a nap. I think I got away with it. So anyway ... As I was saying, I find them heavy and unwieldy, too big and slab-like. I dislike the huge goofy lopsided headstock. The string tension is all wrong for me - too loose at the neck pickup, too tight at the bridge pickup. And I just don't like scratch plates on basses at all. No particular reason, I just think they look wrong, fugly. Putting plastic on top of that lovely wood feels cheap to me. But I've tried so hard to like them - after all, Jaco and Marcus, among many others, can't be wrong, can they?
And it sounds like a cliche, but I got fed up of walking into studio sessions with my Status or the Alembic Stanley Clarke that I used to own, only for the studio engineer to take one look at it, shake his head, suck his teeth and say something like, 'Yeah, very nice, but do you have a Jazz?' Numerous times I had to reply, 'No, I don't, and the artist hired me because of the way I sound playing THIS!' But it happened enough times that I decided I'd better get a Jazz to keep these kinds of guys happy.
So, after brief dalliances with a Mexican 5-string Jazz and a standard 4 string USAJazz (hated them both with a passion!), I found this on eBay around 2008: a Fender Jazz 24. 24 frets, active electronics, no scratchplate (yay!), slimmed down body, nicely contoured, quilted maple top. Made in Korea or someplace, I think, and now discontinued. It's as close as I'll get to actually liking a Jazz. The tone is lovely, and I can manage a passable Marcus Miller impression on it, but I've discovered that huge glassy Marcus tone really doesn't suit the way I play - it's a little overbearing - and the wiry tone of the Status suits my percussive 16th note based slap style much better. Still, it's a nice looking bass, and I keep it around mainly for other guys to use, since my Statuses are set up in such a way that they feel weird to most other bass players. Anyhoo, here are the pics, and you can see and hear me tackling a solo bass version of Michael Jackson's Beat It with it here: https://youtu.be/4rYdSka4afw. Feel free to comment or ask any questions you may have!
This is another eBay bargain I picked up around 2010. It's a Ken Smith Burner from the early 90s, built in Ken's factory in the US (as opposed to the more recent Burner Ignition series of basses built under licence out in China or someplace), in gloss black (or 'onyx', as Ken or his marketing people call it). It came to me in the classic Smith branded teardrop hard case, and complete with Smith branded strap.
The bass is like butter - it's the smoothest playing bass I've ever tried: the lacquered neck feels fast and easy to play, the action is absolutely perfect, and the tone somehow feels classy and refined. It's difficult to explain - something about the glistening top end and the warm round lows - the tone is never harsh, always musical. You try giving other basses too much bottom end, they get muddy - this just gets warmer. Give most basses too much top end and they start to sound brash and obnoxious - this just gets more articulate. It's a pleasure to play, and I can see why Smiths are considered one of the 'go to' basses for gospel - it's a big warm expressive tone that can anchor any band.
However, as much as I love it, there are some issues I have with it personally that mean it tends to stay in the studio. It's big, and that paddle of a headstock makes it feel even more so, so cramped stages with it can be difficult, especially for a player like me who likes to move around. I'm not overly keen on the body shape - a little too 'vampiric' looking for me, somehow, but with that in mind, I do like to bring it out for Halloween gigs when we get to dress up! And the string spacing is quite narrow. I guess I'm just too used to the wider spacing on my Stingray and Statuses. And the tone is perhaps a little too polite and refined for me when I play live. Sometimes I need my bass to get harsh and a little obnoxious, in order to get the audience's attention, especially on a gig where I'm expected to do some soloing, or on a bass-led gig.
That said, this is the bass I tend to use when I'm working out my solo bass arrangements in the studio. I guess it's because it feels so musical and the tone is so crystal clear - it's the best bass I have to hear and feel the vibrations in the way certain notes on the bass work against each other.
In conclusion, I'd say this beauty makes me eager to try a 'real' Ken Smith ... when I win the lottery. For now, I just look at them and drool.
There's something about the sound of a Warwick. I'd heard it in Stuart Zender's playing with Jamiroquai, and in Jack Bruce's playing. It's just the 'woodiest' sounding bass I've ever heard. There's a warmth and depth and a somehow 'organic' feeling to the sound which I find very appealing. So I had been on the hunt for a nice Warwick for a few years before I found this one on eBay around 2012. It's a bolt-on Thumb from 1998. No frills, but it has so many nice little touches as standard: the elegant little volute at the back of the head, the recessed strap-loks, the angled tuners. I also really like the tiny, quirky, elegantly carved body shape, although I realise that's a kind of 'Marmite' thing that you either love or hate. I always like small-bodied basses, anyway. But ergonomically, I find it weird. The back of the body is concave. I guess this is designed with the intention of it sitting comfortably on your belly. Trouble is, I'm a skinny guy, so there's nothing for the concave shape to rest on, and in fact the top edge of it digs into my ribs in a somewhat painful way after a few hours of playing it. Hence, this doesn't get a lot of outings. Furthermore, it's very neck heavy - I guess that's the price you pay for the thick dark wood neck (wenge?) and the small body. Still, I use it a lot in the studio and on gigs where I know I won't be playing for long. And sit-down gigs.
This is the only bass I've ever owned that isn't lacquer-finished. While that does give it a very tactile and organic quality - you want to touch the wood - there's a downside: on a gig in Cork, playing a particularly enthusiastic slide down the neck, I got a splinter! Ouch. Needless to say, I've been hesitant about doing that again on that bass ever since!
But that woody tone more than makes up for these drawbacks, so this bass isn't going anywhere for now. The controls are volume, pickup pan, and a stacked bass boost/cut and treble boost/cut. Does the job nicely. You can hear this bass (and see it in the video) on the No.1 charity single Tiny Dancer by A Song For Lily-Mae which you can watch here.
I've long been a fan of Louis Johnson, aka Thunderthumbs, ever since hearing him beating the hell out of his Stingray on those early Brothers Johnson records. So of course it was only a matter of time before I got myself a Stingray. I found mine secondhand on eBay, a 1987 vintage with rosewood fretboard, and a bargain at about €400 back in 2005. It was pretty beaten up when it came to me - felt kinda greasy and sticky, like it had been stored in a busy hotel kitchen for a couple of years. And the previous owner had put this godawful checkerboard black and white pick guard on it. So I spent a bit of time cleaning her up, replaced that migraine-inducing pick guard, and she turned out to be a fine bass underneath all that.
That said, of course I made a little alteration, and I know the Stingray aficionados will string me up for this heresy - I replaced the pickups and electronics with Basslines equivalents. Perhaps it's the way I play, or the strings I use, but I always found her to be a bit too clanky and mid-rangey for my tastes. The Basslines replacements fixed that for me, giving the bass a nice warmth in the bottom end that it lacked before, and a bit of sparkle and softness in the top, without losing any of that splashy percussiveness at the front of each note that is so unique to the Stingray.
I don't use this bass a huge amount. It's generally laying around in my studio, and I tend to just pick it up to try out new things or run a few scales and other rudiments. It's not a subtle bass - it's the kind of thing you use if you absolutely have to cut through everything else in the mix. You can hear it all over Harambé's Reboot EP, for example. I have a slight issue with the ergonomics which I guess stops me taking it out to play too often: while the placement of the pickup, way back near the bridge, is perfect for slappy stuff - nothing to get in the way of your pulling finger - I find it awkward for finger style. I like to rest my thumb on the pickup, and back near the bridge, the string tension is slightly too high, even with my extra light strings, to feel comfortable to me. And I guess something about the way I pluck the string is naturally quite toppy and I compensate for this by playing close to the neck most of the time. But there's nothing there on a Stingray for me to rest my thumb on! Meh, first world problems, I guess, but still ... Anyway, the way GAS works, this of course means that I currently have a hankering for a Sabre, the two pickup version of the Stingray ... !
Incidentally, soon after acquiring this bass, I found a great deal on a second hand 20th anniversary Stingray. This was an absolutely beautiful bass to look at - quilted maple top, burnt sienna back, in mint condition. But that bass broke my heart. I just couldn't get any proper bottom end out of it. As I said, all Stingrays sound a little mid-rangey and clanky to me, but this one was just ridiculous! I tried it once at a jam session in East London. Never again. Sadly, I had to move it on and it's now with a collector in East Anglia somewhere, I believe. It's one of the few basses that belongs in a collection - gorgeous to look at, but useless in practice!
Anyway, here are a few pictures of my Stingray. As always, any questions or comments, feel free to post them here!
This is where my Status addiction began. I discovered music, and more specifically the bass, in the 80s. So of course, a big influence on me, right from the beginning, was Mark King of Level 42. He was (and still is) obviously a very visible bass player, since he's also the vocalist, so unlike most bass players who tended to lurk in the shadows at the back of the stage, Mark was always front and centre, leaping around the stage and making bass playing look such fun (pop stars used to grin back then - none of this looking moody thing!), and playing these hi-tech looking Status basses with lights in. So it was always my hope to one day own one of these mythical beasts.
Much later, in 2001, I got a DVD of Level 42 playing live in Reading, I think. It was a great show, loads of energy (although the audience inexplicably appeared to have been heavily sedated for the duration). And Mark was playing two of these strange little Status basses I'd never seen before. Tiny symmetrical bodies, lovely curved top. And of course, the lights. They were his new Kingbasses, designs that he had specifically commissioned from Rob at Status. I loved the look of them, and the sound - very punchy and hi fi. A year or two later, a nice big royalty cheque was burning a hole in my pocket, so I finally got my opportunity to own a real Status. 'Red', as I call her, was delivered to me in 2003 and is loosely based on the rosewood-topped bass that Mark was playing in this DVD, although I made a few requests of my own. I thought red LEDs would go with the red-tinged rosewood top better than the blue ones on Mark's bass. and the string spacing on mine is 19mm, rather than Mark's 16.5mm, mainly because I had been playing a Stingray for a good while before this point and loved the nice spacious neck on that. And finally, mine is a full size 34" scale, rather than Mark's preferred 32". Again, I was used to a full scale bass and saw no need in my playing for the 'bendwell' device that Rob incorporates into the necks when he makes them shorter scale.
Anyway, 'Red' was everything I expected, and more. The sound is clean and consistent, the neck flawless, and I love the ergonomics of it, and the tiny details like the rounded edges of the body - it's a beautifully tactile bass. She immediately became my workhorse, so much so that by 2012, I was actually thinking, 'What would happen if I had to send this bass in for repairs at some point? What would I play?'. The solution? I needed another one! Hence the Paramatrix which I talked about in my previous blog!
'Red' is now my main studio bass. It's a very 'plug and play' bass - it just sounds great as soon as you plug it in, regardless of the situation. The controls are simple - volume, pickup pan, bass cut/boost, treble cut/boost, sweepable mid cut/boost. I generally set it to both pickups equally, a tiny bit of treble boost, a touch of bass boost, and low mids cut. This is the bass you'll see and hear in 90% of my recordings and YouTube videos. And this is still the bass that I take on tour when I go abroad - she's been all over the place with me: France, Germany, Poland, Spain, the UK, the US, the Netherlands, Greece ... She really should have her own passport.
Here are some pics for you to enjoy. Feel free to comment or ask any questions you might have. I can talk about these basses for days!
OK, let's get this clear. I've never written a blog before, only read a handful. Not really my thing. But I'm told this is what I should be doing in order to help build a 'web presence'. Jeez, I cringe just typing that kind of thing. But what the hell, I'll give it a try, and hope that it's of interest to some folks out there, whether bass players or those interested in life as a bass player.
So, where to start? I suppose the obvious place is with some kind of overview of the gear I use. Most bass players I meet seem to love to 'talk gear', and I'm no exception, so that seems as good a place as any to start.
So this week, let's talk about my workhorse bass: my Status Graphite Kingbass Paramatrix, or 'Blue', as I call her. If you see me out playing live, nine times out of ten, this is what I'll be using. It was built in 2013 by Rob Green of Status Graphite in Colchester, UK, and she came to me in a trade for my old Alembic Stanley Clarke in 2014. 'Why would you exchange an Alembic for ANYTHING?', you may well ask. Well, as much as I loved that Alembic, it was a finicky beast - the neck was alive, and the controls were quirky and complex. And it was worth A LOT of money. So much so that I was afraid to take her out to play. Too much of a risk. I needed something that was rock solid reliable, easy to dial in sounds on, and that wouldn't leave me in sweats if I left it unattended for even a few seconds. This fit the bill perfectly.
The Status has an all carbon-fibre neck, through neck construction, and a black 'woven graphite' carbon-fibre shell around a wood core body. As such, it's pretty much indestructible. After the nuclear apocalypse, all that will remain will be cockroaches, a bunch of Steinberger basses and this thing. The carbon fibre construction means it never goes out of tune, regardless of temperature. It's headless, so string changes are a breeze - I've broken a string mid-song before now and had it removed, replaced and tuned to pitch within the space of a chorus. And the electronics are top-notch - volume, pickup pan, treble cut/boost, bass cut/boost, low parametric (frequency sweep and cut/boost), high parametric, and coil tap switches for each pickup. So many possibilities. But I do tend to just set it and leave it - both pickups equal output, both pickups in humbucker mode, a little low mid cut on the low parametric, a touch of bass boost and a smidgeon of treble boost. Seems to work for most scenarios - I don't even change the settings when switching from fingerstyle to slap. Once it's set, I don't tend to change it during the gig. Somebody once told me that you should EQ for the room from your amp. I don't know if that's true, and if so why, but I don't - I have my amp settings constant and tweak my EQ on the bass to compensate for the room, if it's boomy or trebly.
And finally, it has LEDS in the neck. Blue ones. Hence the name I gave her. Yeah, it's a gimmick, and I sometimes wonder if, instead of taking a solo, I could just turn the lights on and stand there, not playing a thing, and get away with it ... But hey, they make me happy!
Anyway, enough yapping, here are some pics. Any questions or comments, do please feel free to chime in. More next week. :-)