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SA With Martin Simpson: An Interview with Vuyani Wakaba

Martin: What are the amps and instruments you currently use?

Vuyani: I have been blessed with seven basses.  I have a fretted 1975 American Fender Precision, a fretted 1991 Mexican Fender Jazz Bass with active EMG pickups; a fretted 1992 Carvin LB76 (six string electric bass); I also have the very first custom made fretless six string 36 inch scale acoustic bass guitar by John McCombs of McCombs Guitars; a 2000 fretless Mexican Fender Jazz Bass; a 1979 Ibanez Roadster that used to belong to George Benson and Phil Upchurch; rounding out my basses is a 1946 Kay ¾ size upright bass.

I am in the process of changing my amplification from what I have to an all Gallien-Kreuger system.  Currently, my main amp is an old SWR SM-900 amp which I got while Steve Rabe (now of Raven Labs) owned SWR.  I typically keep it in a six space rack with a Furman power conditioner and lights, a DBX 160X Compressor, and an Alembic FX-1 preamp.  Although the SWR SM-900 has a built in compressor, I prefer to use the DBX because it allows for more flexibility.  I use the Alembic FX-1 preamp in the effects loop of my amp.  The amp has an effects blend knob that allows me to colour my sound in a very subtle way.  This amp is powered with an Essential Sound Music Cord Pro.

For practice or jazz gigs in small to medium sized venues, I use a Gallien-Kreuger 700 RB II combo amp with a 12″ Neo speaker.  I absolutely love this little amp!  The more I play through this amp, the happier I am to have it!  I also power this amp with an Essential Sound Music Cord Pro.

I have a back up amp that I don’t use very often.  This amp is a monster!  It is a Stewart power amp that generates 1800 watts when bridged!  When I use this amp, I use the Alembic FX-1 as a preamp.  The Stewart is a great amp, particularly for funk, R&B, Hip Hop, etc.  Some people think it has a cold sound, but I love its clear and transparent sound.

Of my current speakers, my main speaker is an antiquated museum piece now, although it doesn’t look or sound like it.  On festival gigs, R&B, Funk, Gospel gigs, etc, I use my David Eden designed SWR Goliath 4X10 cabinet.  When I really need lots of sound, I’ll usually bring with it my SWR Triad cabinet (loaded with a 15 inch speaker, a 10 inch speaker, and a horn).

Martin: What instruments would you like to have if money were no object?

Vuyani: Oh, that is very easy!  Mike Lull makes some wonderful basses!  I’d love to have a fretted and fretless five string from his shop!  His active basses sound crisp and have extremely playable necks.  Also, the workmanship is superb!  I’ve had a chance to check out one of Brian Beller’s Mike Lull basses as well as Seattle bassist Steve Kim’s.  For an upright, I would love to have any old European (circa 1700 or early 1800) bass (the sound has to be just right though).

Martin: What is your philosophy on endorsements?

Vuyani: I am blessed enough to be affiliated with companies that make some truly great products!  In addition to consistently using the products I endorse, I also believe that the endorsement agreements I have are all about relationships – my relationships with both manufacturers and their potential customers.  As an endorser, I believe it is my role to let people know what equipment I use.

I endorse the following products: The Music Cord by Essential Sound Products; Mogami Instrument Cables; The AxePort Pro by Centrance; iGig gig bags; and Gallien-Kreuger amplifiers and speakers deserve a mention even though I do not have an official endorsement agreement with them – they’ve been very kind to me.

Martin: Who are your influences?

Vuyani: Early on, I had the good fortune of getting a very important bass lesson from Bay Area bassist Victor Little.  He really turned me onto music theory and its application, high end bass gear, and some great recordings.  Hanging with Victor and watching him play also did a lot to influence me as a bassist.

However, the guy who really invested his time and energy into me was another Bay Area bassist, Albert Hobson.  I’d be invited by Albert to come and hang with him at his hotel for a few days so he could teach me some theory.  Even now, it is not uncommon for Albert Hobson to call me and ask me what I’m working on.  Hopefully, I’ll continue to do him proud!

Through Victor Little, I met Victor Wooten…and he opened my mind with what I thought were crazy ideas like “there are no wrong notes” and “music is a language”, etc.  Of course, he was correct, but I didn’t know it at first.  Through Victor Wooten, I got to meet a huge family of bass players – many of whom are now my friends.

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