FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What equipment do you use?
I endorse Zon Guitars, Markbass amps, D'Addario strings, Bartolini pickups, Tsunami cables, Ultimate Ear in-ear monitors and the Ebow.
I have several Zon basses including a Legacy Elite Special fretless, a Legacy Elite 6-string fretless and a prototype Legacy 5 x 2 10-string, but my main instruments are my original Hyperbass prototype, a custom Sonus/Hyperbass hybrid and a VB4. Although I have quite a few other instruments, these are the ones I play the most.
My main live rig is 2 Markaudio AS 602's and an AS 121S sub, but I also have a Markbass Little Mark II head and Traveler 121H cabinet that I use when I need a more conventional bass amp. In addition have the amazing Markbass Multiamp and the customizable MoMark head. Since I don't have the resources to travel with these amps I often end up playing through something different on the road, but I use Markbass or Markaudio products whenever possible.
I use different sets of D'Addario strings depending on what works best for the music I'm working on at the moment. The set I seem to use most often is the EXL220's.
I have a set of Ultimate Ear UE11 in-ear monitors that I love. I’m not able to use them on every gig I do, but I use them whenever I can including for all my critical listening, mixing, mastering, etc.
What's a Hyperbass?
The Hyperbass is an instrument that Joe Zon and I designed together back around 1990. We had several ideas we wanted to try out, so we decided to put them all on one bass and see what happened. It has an extended fretless fingerboard that reaches almost three octaves with an accompanying cutaway for access. It has multi output electronics with a custom quad Bartolini magnetic pickup that allows for each string to be output and processed separately, as well as four piezoelectric transducers mounted inside the body to pick up its internal resonances. It also has a unique dual re-tuning system that consists of four modified Hipshot Extender Keys at the headstock for individual string re-tuning and a custom bridge that allows for instant re-tuning of up to all four strings simultaneously. It's an absolute joy to play and I am constantly amazed at Joe Zon's skill and genius in being able to realize such a forward-looking instrument.
What's that little thing with the blue light you hold in your right hand?
That's an electro-magnet called the "Ebow." It was designed by a guy named Greg Heet in 1969 to act as a kind of bow for electric guitar. It's developed a strong niche following among guitarists, but I think it really shines on bass -- especially fretless. It wasn't originally intended for use on the bass, but I'm always looking for ways to open up the expressive potential of the instrument so I gave it a try about 25 years ago and was instantly hooked. I've used it on hundreds of recordings and I now consider it an essential part of the instrument. It allows me to control the volume envelope of the sound, swelling into notes, sustaining them as long as I like, etc.
Do you use different tunings on the bass? How many?
I use a lot of different tunings! Changing the tuning is one of the quickest, simplest and most effective ways to expand the tonal palette and musical possibility of an instrument. The bass guitar is incredibly receptive to altered tunings, perhaps more so than almost any other instrument, and each tuning offers distinct and colorful resonances. I don't think of there being a set of tunings I use and a set I don't use, rather, I just tune the instrument to whatever seems best for the musical situation of the moment. rom what I can tell my instruments are capable of thousands of tunings, so I have a lot of fun working with all those colors and possibilities.
How do you keep all these tunings straight in your head?
With the four-string bass it's not too hard. Every tuning can be thought of as a kind of chord, and if you work a lot with music you get used to recognizing and remembering these kinds of sonorities. To me, each tuning has a particular resonance, color and musical logic or sensibility. Most of the tunings I use have at least some kind of tonality or key center, so I'm always thinking of the notes' relationship to a tonic.
However, I don't always like to know what I'm doing! Randomly twisting the keys to get lost on purpose and play around in a new tuning is a lot of fun and a great way to generate ideas.
Did you play solo piano pieces on some of the Windham Hill Winter's Solstice recordings?
Yes. On Winter's Solstice II which was released in 1988 I played a solo piano version of my piece "Sung to Sleep" from my Unusual Weather recording; on Winter's Solstice III from 1990 I did a version of "Hopeful" from Drastic Measures. My piano skills are fairly meager and I use them mostly just as a compositional tool, but I can make a pleasant sound and when the folks at Windham Hill heard me noodling around with these tunes they asked me to record them. Back in those days, these holiday-themed sampler recordings were very popular and both of these became Gold Records. This means a sizable number of folks know me more as a pianist than as a bassist!
What was it like studying with Jaco Pastorius?
Jaco was my idol when I was a kid. His playing was so deep and expressive it opened up a whole new vision for the bass. I lived in New York City in the early eighties as your basic starving artist and he lived there then, too. I took every chance I could to go hear him play and eventually got up the courage to ask him for lessons. He actually wanted to teach (and I don't think was entirely just that he needed the money!), so fortunately it wasn't really a hard sell.
He was an very complex person and for anything that can be said of him, the opposite can often be said as well. Perhaps some of this was due to the unfortunate fact of his bipolar disorder but his personality was certainly unique, even among folks I've known who suffer from this tragic illness. His lifestyle tended to exacerbate his problems and I saw him sometimes at his worst. This was a challenging experience for me as a naive and impressionable young man and I found I began to question many things about myself and even music in general, that I should so admire a person who was struggling so deeply. In the end, that questioning was a positive thing for me and what I took away from our time together was a sense of the complex equation of how who he was connected to the amazing music he made. That's a gift that has enriched my life.
What was it like working with Michael Hedges?
Michael Hedges was a wonderful friend. We met at a jazz gig I played with some friends when I was about 18 and discovered right away we had similar tastes and goals in music. At our first meeting he asked if I'd play on a demo tape he was preparing for his debut recording. The demo was accepted by the then-fledgling Windham Hill record label and I went on to play on almost all of his records and we did many, many shows together. It was a thrill to watch him grow as an artist as he went about the process of completely revolutionizing the acoustic guitar. He was an absolute joy to play with because he had such a broad understanding of music, was always listening deeply and looking for new places to go. We had a lot of fun together, traveling, talking about music and life, and just goofing around. Tragically he died in a car accident in November 1997 as he was driving home from San Francisco airport. We were scheduled to work on a new recording at his studio that week and I was really looking forward to hearing what he was up to and spending some time together. He was a special person and I sure miss him.
Have you ever played a Chapman Stick?
I have and I'm sorry to report I'm just no good at it. People often ask if it wouldn't make more sense for me to play my solo music on an instrument with more strings, a higher register or something like a keyboard because it would offer more possibility, but I just don't see it that way. I love to play piano, but when I pick up my bass I see much more possibility than when I sit down at the keyboard or any other instrument. I realize that many people have the opposite experience and I'm thankful to be able to enjoy their visions and creativity, but for me the bass is home.
Why is your web site called “manthing.com”?
“Manthing” has been my nickname since I was a kid. I guess I was a bit of an oddball from the beginning, so the neighborhood kids used to call me this after the comic book character. As I became known for an unusual style of bass playing, the sobriquet seemed more relevant than ever, and has stuck with me ever since!
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