ERB Legend Jean Baudin
Jean is well known for his famous interpretation of the Super Mario Theme on the 11-String bass. In 10 years it has reached more than 13 million visits on YouTube, and still counting.
Beyond that anecdote Jean is in fact considered the first 11-string ERB player. Let’s get to know more about him…
Please tell us about your musical background and that crucial moment when you decided to move into the ERB field.
When I first got into music, I originally wanted to play guitar. Inspired by Yngwie Malmsteen, I wanted to shred those neoclassical licks and arpeggios. But I had broken my ring finger, and didn’t go to the doctor right away. By the time my mom took me to the doctor, my finger had set with a twist in it. When I tried to play the guitar, I couldn’t make basic chords because my finger was pointing the wrong way.
A friend had suggested I take up bass because I could get by without playing chords, so for Christmas that year, I got a Fender Precision bass. Within a few months, I learned all the Iron Maiden, Rush, and basically anything I could hear the bass with, but I felt stifled.
A year later, I met a guy who made custom instruments (Philip Ralf) and persuaded him to make me a 5-string bass, which at the time were pretty rare. We strung it with a high C-string and used the neck width of my p-bass to fit the five strings, resulting in a 15mm string spacing, which I’ve used for all my future custom basses. I used that instrument for about 10 years before I destroyed the headstock with a miscalculated backflip while on tour with Nuclear Rabbit. Since I never had a backup, we went to a Guitar Center in Hollywood and I picked up a six-string Alembic bass, as it was the closest thing to my instrument and played it that night.
A year later I was still playing the Alembic 6-string, and a guy at a show was talking shop with me and told me about Conklin guitars. The next day I called Bill Conklin and asked him what’s the most strings he was willing to build and he said he had made one 9-string bass before for Bill Dickens and was reluctant to build a second one. After a couple more conversations, I was able to convince him, and 3 months later I had the second Conklin 9- string.
What would you say to all those ERB haters around?
I think when regular bassists see someone with an instrument like this, they want to be amazed, and if they aren’t, the ERB player will be ridiculed. After all, there are some amazing 4 and 5-string bass players who can do everything they could ever want to do on their instruments. “You have all these strings, but you are playing something someone can play on a 4-string!!!” I totally understand. They want all those extra strings to be justified. Then on the other side, a lot of ERB players will tend to overplay and can come across as “wanking”. Either way you look at it, the hate makes sense.
But there is a third option, just play good music.
My goal is to make music I like and music that moves people. Sometimes that requires playing the whole instrument, but depending on the music, I may just play the high strings or low strings. I’m not going to play every fret/note/string on any given ‘two minutes’ someone might see on YouTube.
In your opinion, what are the benefits and downsides of playing with an ERB?
Benefits would be a larger palette of sounds and techniques to work with. Downsides would be lack of control (without many hours of practice), option anxiety, a larger/ heavier instrument, specialized equipment (amps that can handle super low and high frequencies, custom strings, etc.) and dealing with unwanted noise, since you have to mute any unplayed strings. But I believe once a person figures how to deal with the negatives, the positives far outweigh them.
How do you take care of the string-muting and string-spacing issues?
I don’t have problems with either of those things as I’ve always played with tight spacing (15mm). Many of my solo pieces involve open strings, so I don’t do the hair-tie/mute to deaden un-used strings. ots of practice and hard work has taught me how to mute the strings I’m not using.
Please tell us how your extended range bass has evolved through the years.
I moved from 4 to 5 to 6 to 9 to 11 to 12, though my main instrument is 11. I got my first 9-string in 1999 from Conklin Guitars. A couple of years later I ordered an 11-string from Ken Lawrence instruments and that has been my main instrument for solo music.
Please tell us about the evolution your ERB playing technique has experienced through the years.
When I was still in high school, I took lessons from guitarists Jason Becker and Marty Friedman; I was sweeping arpeggios on bass long before it was cool. I got into tapping around the same time, and that has always been something I worked on. In Nuclear Rabbit, the focus was just writing bizarre music in any style with a great deal of energy and insanity mixed in, so the focus was never on chops. In Element of Surprise, the tapping definitely came out more.
With my solo pieces I try to write music that has depth and emotion, and I’m not concerned with chops or trying to impress anybody… I’m just trying to make music that moves people by evoking feelings or moods.
Over the years, my solo music has been changing a lot. The first album had just a touch of reverb and delay on certain songs. My second solo album had more effects, and themes were a bit more clear. Both of those albums had solo pieces played with no edits or overdubbing, just as if I was playing in front of you. I’m working on a third solo album right now, which is really experimental, and it’s a lot different then the first two.
What do you think is the turning point in your career as a bassist and what do you consider your main contributions to the bass scene? In other words what do you consider your legacy?
I played the Mario Theme! (Just kidding)Seriously, a question like ‘what is my legacy’ is probably better for somebody else to answer. I’m still working on getting better and I’m not sure I’m finished yet to answer that.
What would you say to those young musicians who’re considering at this moment going into the ERB world but are still not quite sure about doing so?
I get this question a lot in email and it’s a delicate question to answer. Because of the nature of 7+ string instruments, often to even just try one, requires a leap of faith and a large financial investment. I had to go through a lot of instruments to find out exactly what woods, pickups, fret spacing, etc., to find the right combination that worked for me. So, the biggest problem is the simple fact that they can’t just go try one at a store or from a friend, and see if it’s something they would like. But, I think when someone has in their mind that they’d like to play one, they’ll find a way to do so.
Please let us know about the specific elements of your gear.
My main instrument is an 11-string Ken Lawrence ChamberBrase I, nicknamed “Joust”, from the mother-of-pearl inlay on the fretboard. Along with that I have a JP Basses Naia 12-string bass (C#-Ab) and the Hideous Claw, an 11-string bass made by several ex-
Alembic employees. I’ve also had several custom Conklin Instruments (9 & 11-string), and Bee Basses. In addition, I have two more Ken Lawrence basses in the works, a fretless 11 and and a fretted 11 with an alternate higher tuning.
Because of my emphasis on playing solo pieces without a band, I have a large double pedalboard with a lot of effects to vary my sound from song to song. Reverb, Ring Modulation, Delay, Fuzz, Pitchshifters, Bitcrushers, etc. The board changes a lot, and right now there are 34 pedals on it. Some of my favorites are from Iron Ether, Strymon, Hexe and Earthquaker Devices.
For amplification I use Phil Jones Bass products. I run stereo so I have several pairs of different cabinets from 2x Roadcases (BG-300) for band gigs and 2x Briefcases for busking on street corners. For solo performances, I typically use 2x Super Flightcases (BG-300) and if I need a little bit more “oomph”, I’ll add 2x PB-300s.
Finally, what do you see as the possible evolution of our instrument?
I don’t see this as an evolution, I see it more like a splintered genetic anomaly.; a path very few should or dare to go. But if popular music is any indication of the evolution of music, I would say that basses and guitars are going the way of the Saxophone – LOL.
Visit online at www.jeanbaudin.com