The “wrong” Tom Semioli at home in New York City, May 2022
11 June 2023: On a sunny Sunday New York City afternoon, I turned in my final exam for a medical course I am enrolled in for career purposes. Suddenly, I experienced a profound bass epiphany. Are there any other kind?
For years I had advocated the “one bass is enough” theory based on my reasoning that playing the same style instrument is the most precise path to establishing a singular, unique, and personal voice on said tool.
I documented this dastardly dictum on my website www.KnowYourBassPlayer.Com – please refer to Tom’s Ten Reasons Why You Should Own One Bass: https://knowyourbassplayer.com/2022/02/19/toms-top-ten-reasons/
Now forget what I wrote! If you have not already that is…
As co-host of Notes From An Artist radio / podcast with my like-minded (in this instance) co-host David C. Gross, we strongly advocated this hypothesis. I was wrong. And maybe David is wrong too. I’ll let him decide.
My personal “one bass” theory was inspired by a Marcus Miller interview – I cannot recall if it was in print or on his SiriusXM Miller Time program – wherein this master noted that many of the iconic players – spanning Paul McCartney, Chris Squire, Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorius and the like – all rendered their greatest work on one instrument.
Makes sense! At the time I heard / read Marcus’ notion, I was returning to the bass after years of inactivity. I was having trouble aplenty navigating the five-string Stingray MusicMan (a gem of an bass – get one!) which I retrieved from my storage unit figuring I should pick up where I left off with my most modern instrument. My playing was more awful than I remembered.
Adhering to the almighty gospel of Marcus, I dutifully returned to the ancient four string wherein I created my best work – a 1976 Fender Precision which I had modified during the ’77 Jaco zeitgeist to include a J bass bridge pickup. Hence it was more of a J than a P bass sonically. I commenced playing and sounding better and feeling good about getting back on the bandstand and the studio. Feeling good is good!
Now, I realize, after much contemplation, that what works for me does not necessarily work for everyone else. Many of my esteemed colleagues own and play several instruments. I should not impose my own experiences on those of others. Nor should you!
Here are Tom’s Top Reasons Why You Should Own More Than One Bass…
One: Life is short. If owning more than one instrument brings you joy – go for it. Loving an instrument makes you play better, which translates into playing better music and vice versa. Joy is good in this world!
Two: Playing more than one bass is good for the bass industry. More bass purchases mean more basses manufactured means more research and development – as such, we will have better basses in the future.
Three: Aesthetics. As godlike Beatles producer George Martin opined in his book All You Need Is Ears (Macmillian 1979) – and I am brutally paraphrasing here – people listen to music with their eyes…when they see you they make up their mind whether they are going to give you a chance to like you or not… Martin emphasized that as talented, fortunate, and ambitious as The Beatles were, it was their charisma and appearance that made them an enduring phenomenon.
My pal and Know Your Bass Player interviewee John Cardone (Playlist Link: https://rb.gy/wruuq ) anchors a fantastic 1960s repertory ensemble aptly named “The Sixties.” John’s onstage bass collection corresponds to the era which the band celebrates, not only with period attire, but with a video montage that complements the music as it is played. Don’t miss this show – regardless of your generational bent!
Certainly, Cardone could rock on with an ‘80s style bass such as my Steinberger XL, or any number of boutique 21st Century instruments. However, that would compromise the image The Sixties impart to the audience. Plus, I’m sure if I asked John, playing vintage instruments such as a Hofner, Rickenbacker, Fender, and others, enables him to get into character. And on stage, whether we care to admit it or not, we are in the entertainment business and we play a role. John plays the role of a 1960s rock bassist – he uses the right tools for the right job.
John Cardone Bass Museum…
Four: Right Tools for My Right Jobs. I own four basses – each with its own distinct function. My Fender Jazz for live performances (most adaptable to varied NYC backline, infinite tonal options, ergonomically perfect for my body type). My Fender Precision – re-modified to its original split-coil configuration – is used strictly in the studio. (Too heavy to play live, too sentimental a totem to risk damage, and now too fragile for the rigors of subways, cabs, and running from thieves – some of which are in my respective groups!). My JMJ Fender Mustang is a backup for outdoor gigs in dodgy weather, my occasional garage rock collective (The Velcro Underground) or even dodgier neighborhoods. I treasure my beloved (by me) Steinberger XL for sentimental reasons and occasional shock value in public – yes, even after 42 years and counting folks freak out when they behold the bass has no headstock!
Those are my tools for my jobs. You have your own toolbox! Don’t let me or anyone else tell you what should be in there!
Five: Different Instruments Alter Your Playing Style. Your sound is in your fingers and your soul. Physically, your hands and arms play the instrument. Instruments with wider necks, varying ergonomics, and varying electronic designs all affect your playing. I can play my J bass with more dexterity than my P by way of the thinner neck and balance. My Mustang is short scale, so I have fewer note choices than my Steinberger XL which goes up, up and away to a very, very high E and beyond – and the swivel strap apparatus makes those stratospheric notes easy to reach. I am still me, but I am a different me on different basses. And I have no desire to purchase another bass – one me is enough!
Six: Identity. For original or improvisatory music – which is the only stuff I do nowadays, I play one instrument for my own consistency. That’s how I build my identity. If you feel playing more than one instrument keeps you consistent, improving, and forging your own identity – go for it.
I witnessed Jaco in his good years and sadly, during his downfall. Though he used (borrowed) inferior instruments other than his signature Fender Jazz “Doom” bass – he sounded like Jaco. Ditto Macca, whom I heard with his 5-string Wal and a Hofner. My pal and dramatic Know Your Bass Player foil Tony Senatore is one of the best players and people you could hope to meet. I look forward to his daily bass videos to see what instrument he is playing. Senny always picks the right tool – he has scores of them – for the song and the style of music. That’s what we do as bass players.
Tony Senatore – a man who will admit that I was wrong!
Don’t put a price tag on passion…or life.
Life is short…don’t sweat the bass stuff!!! Go buy a bass…buy two…three…
The author wearing Jesus slippers on stage at Stitch Bar & Blues NYC 2022