pictured left to right: Tanglewood acoustic bass; Modulus Quantum 6 w/Axon MIDI; Chapman Stick SB8 w/Roland MIDI; Sadowsky vintage PJ5; Godin A4; Steinberger XL; NS Design CR double bass
Dave Anderson endorses NS Design instruments. For more information on the NS bass that Dave performs and records with (pictured above), see below.
Sadowsky vintage PJ5
GK MB500 amplifier
Radial Engineering big shot A/B selector
in the closet
A list of other things in my collection that, for various reasons, are not currently in regular use (or see use only in my studio):
a few notes about gear...
I'm a bit reticent to include a page devoted to the instruments and equipment I use to make a living. It's not that I don't think highly of the various items I use – or that I don't think choosing your gear carefully is important – it's just that I've long subscribed to the "It's not the violin, it's the violinist" school of thinking and feel that an inordinate amount of attention on the topic detracts from the real matters at hand (i.e. playing great and getting paid). Having said that, I do get a lot of questions about what I'm using – and I'm happy to answer some of those questions here. More importantly, I'd like to shed some light on the thought process involved in developing an awareness of sound and what your instrument can and should sound like when it's heard in an ensemble setting, live or on a recording.
Getting a sound that's pleasing to hear and appropriate for the kind of music you're playing or the setting you're in is really a lifelong pursuit, and just one piece of the ongoing work of improving as a musician. I think younger musicians tend to be preoccupied with the mechanicals and electricals of getting a sound out; it's normal to eagerly search for anything and everything that will move your quest for a higher level forward. The old adage that it's in your hands is mostly true; I think one of the necessary and important parts of maturing as a musician is coming to understand that YOU make the sound – not the instrument. When you've really grasped this, you can pick up any bass (or whatever you play) and make good-sounding music. But there's no question that the right amp, or speaker, or strings, can make the process of drawing the sound out you want to hear easier and more enjoyable. I think it's important to have, and maintain, an open mind about different options for creating sound. Tube or solid state... 15", 12", or 10" speakers... roundwound or flatwound... nickel or steel... J bass or P bass... 4,5, or 6 strings... All of these and the myriad other choices can offer a useful palette if you listen with an open mind and don't close the door to an alternative or fresh way of hearing things, even if your ear is hesitant and needs time to acclimate.
about the amplifiers/speakers
Over the years I've owned a long list of boxes to plug my bass into to be heard, and I've used all the industry standards (and a lot of oddball stuff too) on backline when I'm traveling. If there's an overarching guiding principle to choosing gear, it's that you want to try to keep the sound you'd like to have in your mind's ear as you audition the tools to achieve that – and also be mindful of developing your awareness of how different pieces of the puzzle work to get you where you want to be. I think the main thing to be cognizant of is that the combination of bass, amp and speaker are like a recipe that should be balanced to consistently aim for the sound you want. I've discovered over the years that an amp that seemed perfect with one bass no longer was the best fit when I got a new axe. A thick or "warm" sounding amp could be the right fit with a bright or thin sounding bass – but pair it up with a dark instrument and you're in trouble.
Having said that, after years of using different rigs on road gigs, I arrived at my own consensus of what works best for me consistently, regardless of the cabinets, the acoustics, or the music at hand, and that's Gallien Krueger. For the last three years or so, I've been using one of their MB500 heads and one or two NEO 210 cabs. I often travel with the head in my suitcase or backpack (it weighs all of 3.5 lbs) and use it to replace and improve on the rig I'm provided with. I love their older, industry standard heads too (i.e. 800RB; 700RB; 1001RB) but I was surprised to discover, after some experimenting, that the little head actually moves more air more cleanly than the older designs, through a given cabinet. I'm really glad I've stayed in the game long enough to see my rig go from a 30+lb. rack to something lighter than some direct boxes!
about the instruments
I got my Sadowsky bass in 2004 and it's been my workhorse, all-gigs, all-situations mainstay since then. The PJ configuration produces a very wide but clear tone when both pickups are equally blended, with a bit more woody girth than a J bass, and the standard P and J sounds you'd expect when the blend is adjusted closer to the individual pickups. Roger's preamp is, I think, the best solution to an active circuit available, and, critically, offers the option of disengaging entirely to make the bass passive. It took me some years of using the bass to really appreciate the value of this, beyond the obvious but seldom ecountered situation of having a battery fully die in the middle of a gig. The real benefit is in changing the impedance and loading relationship between the pickups and whatever you're plugged into, and the ensuing changes in not just tone but also dynamic response that result. I've come to employ the active mode as a primarily live performance tool to help the bass cut more effectively in the din of loud, boomy stages. This is somewhat dependent on genre; rock, R&B, and funk (and the like) are better served for me by the masculine push and cut of the preamp, whereas jazz, folk-rock or other settings where acoustic instuments are heard benefit from the warmer, rounder tone the passive setting provides. When I record, I typically disengage the preamp/buffer to connect the pickups directly to the DI I'm recording into. In the studio, the hype of the preamp is unneeded and I can send a pristine signal to the DI, capitalizing on the subtle but important tonal variations that are available with different front end topologies, knowing that plug-ins will provide ample tools to develop the sound in a way that's appropriate for the track in context later.
My NS Design bass is their hybrid pickup 4 string model with both piezo and magnetic outputs available. This instrument has been invaluable to me in filling the role of a doubler in settings where the acoustic double bass is preferred. The heart of the bass is certainly the beautiful woods, but the quality of sound and versatility of tones, going from nearly acoustic to fully electric, are what set this bass apart. Ned's ingenious electronics provide enough range to find the right sound for any situation without creating a clutter of extraneous controls. For a player who is primarily an electric bassist, like myself, this instrument is an incredibly useful tool to fill a role and expand opportunities to be heard in new contexts. If you compare the NS bass, pictured above, with Ned's original carbon fiber headless model, shown to its left, it's interesting to see the commonality and continuity of design over some thirty years.
My Modulus six string was my primary instrument for almost fifteen years, and continues to be useful to me in various situations. When I bought it in 1990, the only other bassists I was aware of using a six were Anthony Jackson (credited with being the first to employ one), and John Patitucci. I got funny looks and a lot of questions for years, mostly from other musicians, who weren't sure if I was a playing a bass, guitar, or something else entirely. The Modulus was an important instrument for me in my development, both musically and in my career. I had been playing the Steinberger four string for around six years and had been taking advantage of that bass's fully accessible 24 fret neck and clear, even tone to develop a vocabulary of guitar-style chording and soloing, using effects pedals to move directly into the sonic territory of guitar. My artistic imperative then was that the electric bass, in addition to its normal musical duties, should be considered a bass-register version of the guitar, in the same way that, for example, trombone and bass trombone or clarinet and bass clarinet are related. And so I wanted to be able to do anything a guitar player could do – only lower. I walked into my local music store (the long gone, and still missed, Brian Guitars in New Haven CT) and saw the Modulus hanging on the wall. A few minutes after beginning to navigate the length and width of the fingerboard, I realized this was the tool that could take my ideas further than even the Steinberger could. After gulping at the price tag and going home to wring my hands for a day or two, I made the leap. That decision changed the way I played and helped me to develop a musical identity that took me from being a young local player to the beginnings of my career with recording artists and as a touring and recording player. Some fifteen years later, still using the Modulus, I had grown and changed as a musician, and new opportunities required that I move toward a more traditional, industry-standard sound and approach. At that point the Sadowsky became the new main axe, and has been since then. But the six string still sees occasional use, particularly in settings where there's room for me to move toward the role of a guitarist or keyboardist. My approach on the instrument now draws from the best of two paths I've followed in defining my concept as a bass player.
Modulus update: I'm happy to announce that the Modulus has moved from "semi-retirement" back to active duty. The impetus, in part, has been my current work with saxophonist Bill Evans, and also my recent gig with sax great Nelson Rangell and some other things as well. I had, in some ways, mourned the loss of fluidity that the Modulus engendered, as well as its expansive, guitar-like range, when I switched to the Sadowsky – but I knew I was making a sacrifice for a good cause; namely, image (i.e. industry perception) and income. The sound was another key issue: I wanted and needed that warm, woody Fender-esque tone – and the six, with its graphite neck and EMG pickups and active electronics, seemed from an outdated era. And so into the case it went, where it stayed for the better part of ten years (a memorable handful of gigs with Rick and Cynthia Quintanal being a notable exception). One of the first things I knew I needed to do to get it back up to speed was search for some new strings that would get me closer to what I needed to hear. The answer ended up being D'Addario nickel-wound (the same ones I've been using on the Sadowsky) – a heavier gauge than before and a prettier high end compared to the ugly clank of the steel ones I had used years ago. This was a sea change; the bass now sounded like a bass and not a contra version of a strat. After some gigs getting my hands and ears re-acclimated, the next improvement was some clean-up in the electronics cavity (a new jack and a switch to 18v power, increasing headroom). The bass is now sounding fantastic, and I'm anticipating a pickup upgrade next; EMG is making a next-gen version of their soapbar with improved dynamics and smoother high end, and I'll be dropping a pair in shortly.
I'm a different player than I was ten years ago, and I'm inventing a new version of me on six along with re-discovering my old vocabulary. I'm excited about where this is going. Music is always music and a tool is just a tool, but there's no question that this particular tool is re-awakening a voice I had spent years developing that feels well worth re-connecting with.