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.