Just to balance out Tom’s encyclopedic knowledge of all things gear-related, now it’s our resident tall man’s turn to talk about his string baby, despite openly acknowledging that gear is not his forte…
When I joined Ba’al, I’d been wedded to 5-string basses for about 5 years already; I was invited to join a Meshuggah-esque math metal band in 2012, which prompted me to find the cheapest 5-string I could find, which was a second-hand Stagg for £50 on eBay, which was posted to my student halls without a case and wrapped in about 5 inches of bubble wrap. Said band never came to be, but I really enjoyed the extended range that the instrument made available to me, so I continued to use it for all bass purposes anyway and got used to writing and playing across 5 strings.
That purple Stagg enjoyed heavy use for the first year of Ba’al, including all our early shows and a demo recording that never saw the light of day. To be honest, it sounded pretty good and I was continually impressed by the tones I got out of something that cost me £50. However, when it came time to think about our first EP proper (In Gallows by Mass), I thought I should probably step it up a bit so started shopping around. After trying it out in a music shop, I was pretty set on getting an Ibanez SR505, mostly because it was such an easy play and felt great. However, our singer at the time then pointed me towards local Sheffield legend Niall Kingdom (of Santiago Kings, Deltanaut and more), who was selling off a small portion of his large bass family, specifically his Music Man Sub Ray 5. I tried it out in his kitchen, and then he let me borrow it for the initial guide tracking for the EP, and although it was a close-run thing between it and the Ibanez (I even briefly considered buying both), the Music Man won me over and I made the purchase on the strength of its recording quality – and the fact that I’ve always secretly wished I was John Myung.
Although it’s the affordable ‘little brother’ of Music Man’s flagship Ray series, the Sub Ray 5 really packs a punch. It’s got a beefy solid hardwood body and all the warm low end that I’m always looking for in a bass tone; I hate it when metal bassists run the mids on their tone to the extent that it just sounds like another guitarist making noise. It also really takes well to the myriad distortions and other effects I subject it to without losing that gut punching power. It’s a pretty hefty beast, too, so it survives a lot of assault both intentional and accidental (though I have thrown it about sufficiently for one of the tone knobs to have fallen off and been lost to the void). Its also a really lovely colour, and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a reasonable factor.
Strings-wise I’ve tried a few, but I’ve been using D’Addario XLs for a while and they’ve served me well. I used to use heavy gauge just because I thought that was what I should do when we’re tuned to either B or drop A, but in the past year or so I’ve been using lighter gauge (.045-.130) and it’s actually been much more comfortable. And let’s face it, I could still tie you up with with the bottom string even with those.
It doesn’t take a long time speaking to me to realise that I’m the absolute opposite of a gear nerd (especially compared to a certain someone in this band whose name rhymes with ‘bomb’). I know next to nothing about the workings of basses, amps or pedals, and will often glaze over when people talk circuitry, valves or even guitar models. I had to search my Amazon orders to even find out what string gauge I use. But I know what I like when I hear or see it, which does often make my decision process pretty long and aruduous and based very much on trying things out. However, the Sub Ray 5 was a pretty easy decision and I’ve not regretted it for one moment. It’s versatile enough to hit all the right spots live as well as in the studio and the practice room, even when the guitars are flying above, below and all around me in terms of frequencies and sounds. I’ve got no complaints and I think it’s really pushed me to improve my playing and writing to match it’s tone and range.