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From Amateur to Pro: A Discussion with Steve Lawson by John Kuhlman

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Photo: Steve Brown / stevebrownphoto.co.uk

The fourth featured artist in this series, “From Amateur to Pro” is solo bassist, looper, improvisor and self-described sound-scapist, Steve Lawson. Primarily known for his solo and duet works on his Pillow Mountain label, he has also toured with groups supporting Level 42 and 21st Century Schizoid Band as a solo artist. He has also shared the stage with other solo artists like Michael Manring and as a duo with the vocalist Lobelia.

Lawson also manages and teaches a master class series in Birmingham, UK, known as Beyond Bass Camp. The camp is an intensive one-day workshop for bass player who want to explore the technical, theoretical and mechanical aspects of making music with a bass.

Bass Musician Magazine: Based on your experience as a working musician, what are the one or two musical skills that you consistently see are lacking in bassists trying to make the transition from playing at home to gigging for pay?

Steve Lawson: I think “trying to make the transition” is perhaps the biggest mistake. Making money from music — the notion of a career in anything is becoming increasingly tenuous — happens because people want to listen to you and are willing to pay money. They are paying that money either to you, or for something else you’re attracting them to where you are being paid to be the bait. For example, if you are playing in a pub, you are the bait for beer.

The skills required to do that are the same as those needed to make meaningful music anywhere else. Specifically, the skills to know what’s required for the music to sound as good as you can make it, and to develop the physical ability to make that happen.

I guess the main thing that people get wrong in relation to it being professional is they get hung up on money and not on respecting music enough to play it with people who care as much about playing great music as you do. So anything that gets in the way of that is a bad thing, whether it’s punctuality or an inappropriate bass tone, getting drunk on the gig, or not being able to work with the drummer to make whatever groove the song requires happen in the best possible way. Whether it’s you or the other guys you’re working with that make those mistakes, it’ll be costly to any future ambitions you might have of working to a high standardpaid or not.

Most of the people I know who play music professionally do so because they were already playing to a very high standard of skill and attentiveness before they started getting paid for it. Do it because the music matters more than the money. If you happen to find that you’re making enough from music to slow down on the day gig, brilliant. But it’s worth remembering that if what you really want to do is play your own music, playing in a wedding band is a day gig.

Photo: Steve Brown / stevebrownphoto.co.uk

BMM: Following that theme, what about personal or business skills that bassists should have, but many don’t bother developing?

Lawson: Personal skills are such a huge area, and are more about being fully human than anything specifically professional. We all like being around people who are nice, keen, excited about music, who know when not to talk, who do their job with a degree of humility, who want the best for everyone involved in whichever one of life’s great projects we happen to be engaged in. No one wants to hang out with someone who thinks they’re a rock star, whether or not they are actually a rock star or a van driver. Either way, being nice is as important as being a musical badass.

Most of the bass skills required for the majority of music gigs that end up with you getting paid are simple, repetitive and focused. They’re the things that make everyone else sound great. If that’s at odds with your personality, it might be worth sticking with the over the top originals band and enjoying whatever non-musical stuff you fill your time without outside of the two hours of bass-shredding on stage each weekend!

BMM: When it comes to gigs, there seem to be two schools of thought: Take every gig you can to build your experience and network; or be very selective and cultivate your music credentials and reputation. What are your thoughts on building a successful gigging resume?

Lawson: I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here. I think the key is to act deliberately, with an outcome in mind. Too many people’s musical part seems to be defined by desperation, but with very little idea of what the outcome of that desperation is supposed to be. So they chase whatever vision of success has most recently and forcefully been impressed upon them. Instead, if we think about what we’re interested in, about what kind of music making is important to us, then we can pursue that.

I think taking new gigs is a really good learning path. Every new gig with good musicians is worth roughly 10 lessons of learning if you do it right: new material, new people, new environment, new styles, and new challenges. Wonderful.

But the preparation for gigs playing music that you have no interest in or attachment to can sometimes act as a huge distraction from the music you feel called to make. So a balance needs to be struck between the value of learning and the dangers of distraction.

BMM: Based on your experience as a solo artist, what are some of the challenges facing the soloist vs the band member or studio musician and is there a particular skill set that you were surprised was required of you?

Lawson: As a solo artist you’re in charge of everything. You own the success. You own the failure. You’re the draw at the show, the name on the poster, the entertainer, the between-song talker. Most of the time you’re also the sound guy, roadie and manager. That’s a lot of responsibility to carry!

It’s both lonely and liberating. You have no one to fall out with musically, but also no one on stage to bounce ideas off of defer to when you run out of inspiration. So it’s a particular kind of enterprise with a unique set of musical and organizational challenges. It’s less of a party, generally, but the connections you can make are deeper because your music is you. There’s no aggregate message from the combined personalities in the band. It’s just you and the audience, and your music is doing the talking. That’s a massive privilege but also a responsibility. You either relish it or you don’t do it!

The skills I struggle with more than any are organizational. Whether its booking shows, following up on logistical stuff, or chasing contacts. I’m terrible at that stuff, and sometimes wish I could afford to have someone else help me with it. But if I did, I’d probably end up telling them what I wanted them to do, which wouldn’t be any fun for them. So perhaps I need a co-worker that I can split tasks with!

BMM: With your experience leading Beyond Bass Camp, let’s ratchet that experience up a bit, cross mediums and several million light years and put you in the role of Yoda teaching a young Luke Skywalker the way of the bass and what it takes to survive as a gigging musician. What would you teach him?

Lawson: I’d tell him that surviving as a gigging musician was overrated as a pursuit in its own right. I’d tell him that being fully human, doing a good job, and making art that represents you well in the world are all deeply valuable pursuits with lessons attached, whether your succeed or fail in economic terms.

I’d suggest that sustainability is to be found in playing deliberately, spending as little money as possible, (though that may still require you to spend more on a bass than you would on a car) surrounding yourself with people who are open to the possibility that art is more important than commerce, and that money is just a pragmatic part of being able to do the things we love. It’s not an end in itself or a measure of anything meaningful.

It may be that failure as a gigging musician, in whatever terms you approach it at the start of your journey, may end up being success on a deeper more meaningful level. I’d share my own story of having my solo career quite effectively kill my session career, but open me up to a whole other way of thinking about and playing music that, while never making me rich, has put me in a pretty unique place in the musical landscape. And that is worth a thousand times more than a whole load of pro gigs as a sideman.

Gear News

Behind the Strings: D’Addario’s Story Comes to Life in “Jim’s Corner” YouTube Series

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Behind the Strings: D'Addario's Story Comes to Life in "Jim's Corner" YouTube Series

Behind the Strings – Jim’s Corner…

D’Addario & Co. proudly announces the launch of “Jim’s Corner,” a captivating new YouTube series telling the 400-year-old story of the D’Addario family creating the world’s largest music accessories company. This series features Jim D’Addario, Founder and Director of Innovation at D’Addario and Co., sharing his family’s remarkable journey from 17th century Italy to a 21st century global enterprise. 

In the first four episodes now available, Jim D’Addario takes viewers back to the beginning, making strings from animal guts and knotting ukulele wire as a family around the television. Countless generations carried the passion forward until the 1970s when the company made it official and never looked back. Jim recounts the creation of strings that inspired legendary riffs, including one by The Who, the launch of Darco strings, the merger with Martin Guitars and the company’s humble beginnings with his wife, Janet and brother, John. Jim D’Addario’s firsthand accounts provide an intimate and personal perspective on the milestones and challenges that shaped D’Addario into the revered brand it is today.

Episode Highlights:

  • Episode 1: The Early Days in Italy and the Move to America
  • Episode 2: Inspiring Iconic Riffs and Legendary Partnerships
  • Episode 3: Launching Darco Strings and Merging with Martin Guitars
  • Episode 4: Building the D’Addario and Co. Legacy

Watch & Subscribe Now:

Join us in celebrating this incredible legacy by watching the first four episodes of “Jim’s Corner” on YouTube. New episodes will drop every month so please subscribe to our channel to ensure you don’t miss any future episodes and exclusive content from D’Addario & Co.: www.youtube.com/@daddarioandco

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Gear News: Aguilar Amplification Unveils Limited Edition NYC Gold Skyline Tone Hammer Preamp

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Gear News: Aguilar Amplification Unveils Limited Edition NYC Gold Skyline Tone Hammer Preamp

Aguilar Amplification announces the release of the Limited Edition NYC Gold Skyline Tone Hammer Preamp pedal. Hand serialized 1-100, this exclusive edition celebrates Aguilar’s deep roots in New York City with a tribute to its iconic landmarks and vibrant spirit.

Born in the heart of NYC and raised on the road, the Tone Hammer Preamp DI has been an indispensable tool for bassists seeking inspiring tone and versatility. The new Limited Edition Gold NYC builds on this legacy with striking custom graphics encapsulating the essence of New York City. Featuring iconic landmarks from the Statue of Liberty to the Empire State Building, this pedal is not just a tool, but a piece of art embodying the soul of the city. Each unit features a sharp platinum silkscreen over a stunning matte gold sparkle finish, that is as visually captivating as it is sonically powerful.

The Tone Hammer is an essential preamp/direct box for every bassist’s toolbox. The Tone Hammer features fully sweepable midrange frequencies in addition to bass and treble controls. With the Tone Hammer’s pristine D.I. players are set for either studio or stage. To give this tone shaping unit the ultimate flexibility we introduce our proprietary Adaptive Gain Shaping circuitry (AGS). AGS allows the player to kick in an additional gain structure and EQ with the “stomp” of a button. You can go from modern slap sounds to vintage or overdriven. 18-volt operation gives the Tone Hammer plenty of headroom to reproduce the most dynamic playing styles. Separate gain and master controls allow players to dial in just the right gain structure for any instrument.

Aguilar Amplification’s Jordan Cortese adds, “With only 100 hand-numbered units available, this third iteration of our NYC edition Tone Hammer is a collector’s dream. “It’s a homage to our city’s monumental influence on music and culture and celebrates the craftsmanship and the story of Aguilar”. 

Street price: $299.99 For more information, please visit www.aguilaramp.com

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Bass Videos

Gear News: Spector Launches Euro CST and Euro LX Basses

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Gear News: Spector Launches Euro CST and Euro LX Basses

Spector, a leading authority in bass guitar design, unveils new additions to its product line: Euro CST, Euro LX and Euro LX Bolt On basses.

Euro CST:
The Euro CST introduces all-new tonewoods, electronics, and finish combinations never seen in the Euro Series, drawing inspiration from Spector’s Woodstock, NY-based Custom Shop. Each Euro CST instrument is meticulously crafted using premium materials, featuring a striking, highly figured Poplar Burl top, a resonant European Ash body, and a 3-piece North American Maple neck paired with an Ebony fingerboard adorned with laminated Abalone Crown inlays.

Euro CST basses are equipped with a lightweight aluminum bridge for precise and reliable intonation. Premium active EMG X Series pickups deliver the exceptional clarity, attack, and silent operation that defines the Spector sound. These basses also feature the all-new Spector Legacy preamp. Developed in collaboration with Darkglass Electronics, this preamp captures the classic “Spector growl,” heard on countless iconic recordings, with added versatility.

Euro CST basses are available in 4- and 5-string models in four distinct high gloss finishes: Natural, Natural Black Burst, Natural Red Burst, and Natural Violet Burst.

Euro LX and Euro LX Bolt-On:
The Euro LX offers all the features that have made the Spector name famous around the globe. Inspired by the iconic NS-2, Euro LX basses feature a fully carved and contoured body, high-grade tonewoods, and professional-grade electronics and hardware. For the first time ever, players can now choose between neck-thru and bolt-on construction in the Euro LX range.  

Each Euro LX bass, regardless of construction, is crafted using premium materials, including a European Alder body, figured European Maple top, and a 3-piece North American Maple neck combined with a Rosewood fingerboard for strength, stability, and sustain. Euro LX basses are then outfitted with a lightweight, aluminum bridge for spot-on, reliable intonation. Premium active pickups from EMG provide the exceptional clarity, attack, and silent operation that Spector is known for. Like the Euro CST basses, these instruments also feature the all-new Spector Legacy preamp.

The newly revised Euro LX range is available in four distinct, hand-rubbed stains, including Transparent Black, Natural Sunburst, Haunted Moss, and Nightshade. Each of these colors features a durable and comfortable matte finish.  

John Stippell, Director, Korg Bass Division, remarks, “I’m thrilled to announce the latest additions to the renowned Euro Range. The CST Series, our new premium offering, features new and unique wood combinations and unprecedented features. The beloved LX Series is now better than ever with the introduction of Bolt-On models, vibrant new color options, and the all-new Spector Legacy Preamp, delivering the classic Spector tone with unmatched precision.”

For more information, visit spectorbass.com.

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Luthier Spotlight: Garry Beers, GGB Basses

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Luthier Spotlight - Garry Beers, GGB Basses

Meet Garry Beers, Luthier and owner of GGB Basses…

Bass Musician Magazine: How did you get your start in music?

Garry Beers: I played acoustic guitar as a kid with my mates at school. We decided that one of us should play bass, so we had a contest where the one who knew the least guitar chords would buy a bass – so I lost the contest, bought my first bass, and became the only bass player in the neighborhood. Soon after, I met Andrew Farriss, who had heard that I had a bass, and a few days later, I was jamming with Andrew and Jon Farriss.

Are you still an active player?

Yes, I am still actively writing music and playing bass sessions. I also have an LA-based original band called Ashenmoon.

How did you get started as a Luthier? When did you build your first bass? 

I did woodwork in High School and always enjoyed making all sorts of things out of wood.

After finishing high school, I took a course in electronics for a year or so and learned enough to understand basic circuits in guitars, amplifiers, and effects. The best way to learn is to deconstruct and study, so my dad’s garage was littered with old junked radios and any instrument parts I could find. 

My first guitars were more like Frankenstein-type creations made out of parts I found here and there. I didn’t really try to build a bass from scratch until I perfected my Quad pickup design and got my patent.

How do you select the woods you choose to build with?

I only use woods that were used at Fender in the 50s, which are my favorite basses and guitars of all time. All my GGB basses are modeled in some way from my INXS bass- a 1958 Fender Precision bass I bought in 1985 in Chicago. I call her “Old Faithful,” and she has an Alder wood body with a maple neck. All of my GGB basses are select Alder wood bodies that I have had extra dried, so they match the resonance of “Old Faithful,” as she has had 66 years to lose all her moisture and become more resonant and alive-sounding. I use plain old Maple necks that I carefully select, and again, I dry the necks to make them sing a little more.

Tell us about your pickups.

I started working on my Quad coil design back in Australia in the ‘90s and then put it to bed, so to speak, until I found an old pickup winding machine at a swap meet here in LA. I taught myself enough about pickup winding to build my first prototype design and worked towards my patented Quad coil design by trial and error. Nordstrand Audio builds the pickups for me here in SOCAL.

What is the reaction of players who pick up your basses?

I build the basses to feel like an old friend. They look and feel vintage, and when you plug them in, you discover the array of vintage sounds available to you from just one pickup. Most of the players I have contact with are established professional players, and they all love the basses. Freddie Washington and Nick Seymour from Crowded House are a couple of players with GGB Basses in their hands.

What are a few things that you are proud of in your instruments and would consider unique?

I would say I am most proud of the patented Quad pickup design. I own the patent from 4 through to 10-string. So far, I have only built 4 and 5-string pickups, but the design is a winner. Split Humbucker / Reverse Split Humbucker / Full Humbucker / Single coil Neck / Single coil bridge. All these sounds come from one passive pickup. I am very proud that my perseverance and desire to have this pickup have made it a reality. Being able to have these sounds in one bass enables the player to have one bass in the studio and on the stage. The only place you can have the GGB Quad pickup is in one of my GGB Basses.

Which one of the basses that you build is your favorite one?

I offer three body shapes and about ten different color options – all based on the ‘50s and early ‘60s custom guitar and car paint styles. I have always been a lover of P basses, but my favorite bass I build is now my XS-1 model- which is a custom Jazz bass body style. It is pretty sexy and is a light, well-balanced, and great-feeling body shape. The other body styles are the XS-2, which is a custom Jazzmaster body and has been the most popular so far- and the XS-3, which is the standard P bass body style. I also offer an XS-58, which is a replica of my “Old Faithful” ‘58 P bass. They are currently available to order now and should be available soon.

Can you give us a word of advice to young Luthiers who are just starting out?

I don’t really consider myself a Luthier in the traditional sense. I just love to build things and tinker. I was always looking to improve things, whether it was a guitar, an amp, a pedal board, or a car. So my advice is to always be curious and learn the basics of what you want to build, and the rest should follow once you decide what you want to say as a designer/builder. People are lucky these days that you can learn pretty much anything from talented people on the internet, but nothing replaces working with and learning from real people in real situations. Seek out like-minded builders and start a discussion.

What advice would you give a young musician trying to find his perfect bass?

Have a good hard think about what you want to say as a player. What is your style, both musically and as a player? There are so many instruments available. Do the research, play the instruments that fit your criteria, and make a decision. But make sure you try a GGB Bass!   With all the sound choices my basses offer, with a simple turn of a knob, you may find it easier to find “your” sound.

What is the biggest success for you and for your company?

Well, the company is brand new, and at this point, it is just me, so getting this far in the manufacturing process and now having these amazing basses in my hands is a great achievement, but now comes all the business stuff!! 

What are your future plans?

It’s a work in progress. Right now, it’s all about getting the word out and getting the basses into the hands of interested players. I believe in the basses – and the Quad pickup, so hopefully, GGB Basses can become a go-to bass for demanding studio and live players who want sound choices in a gorgeous vintage-style instrument.

Visit online at www.ggbbasses.com

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Gear Reviews

Gear Review: Joyo Monomyth – A Versatile Modern Bass Preamp

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Gear Revieww: Joyo Monomyth - A Versatile Modern Bass Preamp

Disclaimer: This pedal was kindly provided by Joyo for the purpose of this review. However, this does not influence our opinions or the content of our reviews. We strive to provide honest, unbiased, and accurate assessments to ensure that our readers receive truthful and helpful information.

Introduction:

The Joyo Monomyth bass preamp pedal is designed to offer bassists a comprehensive range of tonal options, combining modern features with practical functionality. With independent channels for EQ and overdrive, as well as useful additions like a cab sim and DI output, the Monomyth aims to be a versatile tool for both live performances and studio sessions. This review will delve into the pedal’s specifications, controls, and overall performance to determine if it lives up to its promise of delivering quality and flexibility at an affordable price.

Specifications:

– Dimensions: 130 * 110 * 50 mm

– Weight: 442g

– Working Voltage: DC 9V

Controls:

The Joyo Monomyth is equipped with a comprehensive set of controls designed to provide maximum tonal flexibility:

– Voice: Adjusts the character of the overdrive, from distortion to fuzz.

– Blend: Balances the dry and effected signals, crucial for maintaining low-end presence.

– Level: Sets the overall output volume.

– Drive: Controls the amount of gain in the overdrive channel.

– Treble Boost: Enhances high and mid frequencies for clarity in complex passages.

– Gain Boost: Adds extra gain, particularly effective at low gain settings to enhance the low e.

– EQ Function Controls: Features a 6-band graphic EQ plus a master control for precise nal shaping.

– Ground Lift Switch: Helps eliminate ground loop noise.

– Cab Sim Switch: Activates a simulated 8×10″ cab sound.

– LED Light Control: Customizes the pedal’s ambient lighting.

Performance:

The Joyo Monomyth shines in its dual-channel design, offering both a transparent EQ channel and a versatile overdrive channel. The 6-band EQ allows for detailed tonal adjustments, preserving the natural character of your bass while providing ample flexibility. The voice control mimics the functionality of the Darkglass Alpha Omega, shifting from distortion to fuzz, with a sweet spot around the middle for balanced tones.

The blend control is essential for retaining the low end when using distortion, ensuring your bass remains powerful and clear. The treble and gain boosts, available on the overdrive channel, further enhance the pedal’s versatility, making it suitable for everything from subtle drive to full-blown fuzz.

Outputs are plentiful, with a DI and XLR out for direct recording or ampless setups, and a headphone out for convenient practice sessions. The cab sim switch adds a realistic 8×10″ cab sound, enhancing the Monomyth’s utility in live and studio environments.

Pros:

– Versatile Control Set: Offers a wide range of tones, from clean to fuzz.

– Blend Control: Maintains low-end presence.

– Robust Outputs: DI, XLR, and headphone outs make it adaptable for various setups.

– Affordable: Provides high-end functionality at a budget-friendly price.

– Sturdy Construction: Durable build quality ensures reliability.

Cons:

– Plastic Knobs: May feel less premium compared to metal controls.

– Boosts Limited to Overdrive Channel: Treble and gain boosts do not affect the EQ channel.

– Cab Sim only on the XLR out: how cool would it be to also have it on the headphone out?

Conclusion:

In conclusion, the Joyo Monomyth stands out as a versatile and powerful bass preamp pedal, offering a range of features that cater to both traditional and modern bassists. Its dual-channel design, comprehensive control set, and robust output options make it a valuable tool for achieving a wide spectrum of tones, from clean and warm to heavily distorted. For bassists seeking flexibility, reliability, and excellent value, the Joyo Monomyth is a top contender.

For more information, visit online at joyoaudio.com/product/267.html

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