I have been relearning the bass, or should I say, teaching myself. I used to take bass guitar lessons in high school. My first teacher was a guy named Tommy O’Donnell. His nickname was OD and he taught at Miller Music. It was one of those old school type of music shops that mostly sold pianos and organs.
He was a heavy metal guitarist and would sit in the back of the store and shred. He took me on as his first, and only bass student. For lessons, I’d bring in a tape, listen to it, and he’d figure it out. The first song I learned was “Blood and Roses” by The Smithereens.
While it was cool watching him figure out things by ear, he didn’t teach me how to figure things out on my own. Lessons were $5 for 30 minutes and I quit going to him after 4 or 5.
My next teacher was an actual bass player. He worked at Guitar World, a “real” guitar store in Normal, IL. I can’t remember his name, but we all referred to him as “buddy”. He wore a denim vest and bell bottoms when it wasn’t ironic or fashionable.
Buddy was way more academic than OD. Instead of music theory, he’d spend most of our lesson time on rock history. He spent at least four weeks on Jaco Pastorius.
After two teachers, and only learning a handful of riffs, I bagged lessons and just tried to figure out bass on my own. Eventually, I got bored with it and took up guitar.
Over the years I would take it out and tinker, but I never wanted to be a bass player. I only took it up because I wanted to be in a band, and that was the only opening.
I have a renewed interest in bass because I recently sent mine into the shop for some basic maintenance. It had been sitting in the cases neglected for a few years and the neck started to curve. My local music shop sent it out to a guy in Berkeley.
It should have been a simple one-day thing, but it was taking weeks. Then one day, the guy called me to let me know he was done. He also wanted to tell me how impressed he was with the guitar and the shape it was in.
The bass is an ’87 G&L SB-1. I bought it brand new for $299. While I knew then, G&L was a quality guitar, I was disappointed that I couldn’t afford an Fender. Funny enough, G&L is the guitar company Leo Fender started after selling his namesake to CBS.
I bought it to replace the cheap bass I originally bought because I was in a band with some friends, and wanted to look cooler. The band dissolved a couple months later.
Today, I watch my kids figure everything out on the internet and I’m motivated to do the same. This time around, I’m actually doing what I wouldn’t do back then – read. I can still read music (because I took piano lessons before I took guitar lessons). Now, I can figure out a lot of things quicker, because I’m actually studying music theory as well as the riffs I want to play.