The Warwick Fortress Rockbass
My life and interests seem most harmonious when balanced around the twin poles of music and writing. Recently I’ve only been following the musical side in a referential-hound manner by pursuing and absorbing the trails of as many different genre styles and artists as technologically accessible. This hasn’t been easy under a self-imposed non-acquisition policy which doesn’t lapse until August; meaning I’ve been dependent on internet radio, the gifts and loans of friends and live and DVD performances (by which means you can still cover an astounding musical turf). But this all changed with some recent dabbling in home recording and my purchase of new bass power. And I’m talking a seismic shift in bass power. First I got the Ashdown Electric Blue 180w combo which is seriously loud and ‘present’ to use an audio term. The only problem with this amp is that it disturbs the neighbours and causes near-immediate ear/headache in my nearest and dearest. I’ve never had so much wattage before and it’s a little addictive I’ve already cast wilful glances at the 300w model which has the real input level meter as opposed to my LED one. Which begs the question what’s the point of bringing it home and not being able to crank it. But I do love the subtle sub-harmonics control and the bright and auto-EQ effect. It’s a seriously full sound and quite warm, which I didn’t expect from the people that used to make Trace Elliot amps. New power also needs new tools. I’ve been plucking away at a Harley Benton freebie which was given me; it functions adequately and the sound isn’t all that bad from a suspiciously light and hollow-sounding body; I’ve also had a feeling that the battery inside is a sham and the electronics passive, not active. When plugged into a Zoom unit it sounds pretty fair for a beginner’s bass, with a vaguely rock-ish sound contour. Which has been my problem for the 12 odd years I’ve been playing bass wasting my time with cheap and tinny basses and always dreaming, ogling the real machines and envying their sound. Ditto for amps. But considering my dream bass clocks in at between €1200 and €2000, well, I’ve never had that much money to splash around. But the good people at Warwick have done what almost every major guitar manufacturer does and farmed out some of their manufacture to cheaper countries. Fenders come in all ethnological shades (and relative qualities) from Mexico to Indonesia. Warwick has outsourced their budget Rockbass range to China, where, as the sticker wants so badly to reinforce, they are still hand-made. Since the old Fortress model is no longer made, it’s a good thing the Rockbass came along and whetted my fetish. The only problem was finding one in Dublin. Four music stores gave me the shamefully red herring runaround by saying Warwicks were no longer distributed into Ireland. Not so. An email to the ‘Wick factory in Germany put me in contact with the UK distributor who gave me the number of a small store on the Bachelor’s Walk (on Liffe) who, a phone call later, confirmed they were the sole stockist for Ireland. I was beginning to think that Dublin music store attendants were a reasonable and generous bunch as far as letting you play Stairway-till-it-bleeds goes, but they were deliberately snubbing Instrument, said store. No bother. I took early leave of an afternoon and bussed it over. The store is tiny and the attendants middle-aged and indifferent as in they always seem to be staring away, and by virtue of either too much gigging or the badly cramped acoustics of the store or said strain of indifference and humming along to a Dylan disc, were actually quite hard of hearing. I blame not the accent. Anyhoo, I went straight for the Fortress and asked to plug into an Ashdown. I got one of those attitudinal stares and the mockingly incredulous words ‘Ashdown? That’s Trace Elliot, man!’ before plugging me into a huge Ampeg (which brand I never did like, somehow; but anything in excess of 300w sounds good). The sound was right from the get-go. The bass felt good. The tonal range was great. Rich and warm and plenty of bottom warmth. Perfectly balanced at every height and position, and the weight was reassuringly solid (with no hollow knocks anywhere on the body). The rough standard issue strings had already left some marks on the second and third frets, no doubt the in-store present of some hard-slapping metalhead just in from buying something shit from Slipknot. The Corvette Rockbass model, by contrast, sounded light and wispy in comparison a slapper’s toy. Instrument stocks mainly Warwick and ESP guitars hence the Hetfield/Hammett wannabe crowd dropping in all the time (‘Snotters’ my metal pal Bart calls them). I haggled about €60 off the price because I could get it cheaper on order from Germany, but they threw in a cheap gig-bag and average-quality lead. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion someone’s been fiddling with the electronics because the pick-up volume pot order is reversed, but no matter. It’s the closest to owning a genuine Warwick and hence the Genuine Sound of Wood, so I was happy enough. Also, considering I’ve never actually handled one properly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. There was a second-hand Streamer on the wall but it was conveniently priced out of range. Methinks I like the precision/jazz pick-up arrangement better anyway; it’s what I’ve always had. The Rockbass is surprisingly easy to play. The temper of the strings and hence playability alters with heavy gauge flatwounds, which I hurried on as soon as possible (took me damn near two and a half hours to restring and adjust the intonation, and later, crank up the truss rod to compensate for the higher tension). But the again I’ve never had flatwounds before, so that’s another novelty to get used to. Nowhere near as bright they are, but as y’all know, I’m into the funk and groove and soul of bass presence and don’t give a hoot for slap-and-pop bass styles, so it’s all good. Jazz people and Carol Kaye use flatwounds, need I say. It’s still easy to play, and plugged into my Ashdown it definitely rattles windows and walls. Even at the mid-pot levels, the sound is good (crank up the active EMCs and feel
the bottom). The higher notes sound fuller and more middle-y with the flatwounds too, which sound even better with the sub-harmonic effect. The range of tone is good and the neck quite fast, so I’m extremely happy to at last own a ‘real’ bass. Even with the fingers only it still delivers a bright, pick-like sound (easily damped for pure funk). It looks dead sexy and it’s a yellow golden curry colour. My first act of homage was to figger out the bass part to Diamonds and Pearls
(by P and Sonny T two more Warwick heroes). Next I went back to the oldies: The Meters and Sly Stone and Adam’s Roots of Hip Hop
CD (most of which tracks I already knew). A little bit of Stewart Zender’s stuff, and of course my man Robbie Shakespeare (on the Marcus Garvey
disc by Burning Spear). My second step to self improvement was buying a metronome it’s my best teacher yet. There’ll be several more weeks slash months of woodshedding before I’m gonna start writing some stuff for a new and simple musical format I’m hoping to work out. I won’t reveal too much because it’s a pretty fragile concept, but the inspirational refrain I’ve got running round my head is: The rhythm must play call and response with the melody. Wait and see for that one. I’m so chuffed to finally own some good equipment, to get some decent sounds, to get back into the making of music as opposed to its passive/reactive consumption.