Over the years I’ve heard of clients selling off “other” basses either to get a Birdsong or after they have one or two. I’m always honored when one of you adds a Birdsong to the arsenal, let alone when you fly Birdsong (or other Wingfeather Workshop “family” instrument) exclusively. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of those other instruments because of how they came to you or the journey you’ve taken together. It could be the quirkiest old rattletrap that doesn’t balance worth a hoot and sounds like a fart in a pillow, or the nicest piece of furniture with strings that might just happen to have exactly that much life and tone in it as a musical instrument, but we love these old pieces of our lives.
Don’t think I’m any different just because I’m captain of the ship and make “my” basses. They’re “yours”… I design answers and craft them with devotion and present what I think is the best short scale on the planet. If you don’t really feel you’re bringing something special, why do it? That’s just selling lumber and moving numbers at that point. And just because I believe in the ergonomics and tone of Birdsongs (again, why do this if I didn’t?) that doesn’t mean I hate everything else. This isn’t politics or professional sports – this is art; craft; and in the case of any particular instrument to any certain pair of hands, magic. I dance with guitars and basses you wouldn’t believe.
I have instruments that are magic to me – I love them as they are, the same way those in my circle are people I love not because of a checklist of specifications. That’s for tools; for toasters. Though an instrument IS a tool (as other people can be sometimes in their own way), that's just the beginning as far as I'm concerned; a companion or talisman has whole other sets of positives and energies that transcend quirks and compromises… and may even defy logic. I play a recent SD Curlee bass, a Birdsong Fusion bass (actually just sold it – I’ll build another soon, an Especial I think – I have a connection with the company, heh heh)… and my main plunkaround bass, this old Gibson EB3. What?! Yep. Doesn’t balance. Sounds, well, (cough) it has its own voice – let’s leave it at that. Crudely repaired headstock, neck that moves, action never better than medium on any given day, one wood saddle, bent tuner… and I love it.
Long ago, a street kid named Kade swept through a particular music circle here in our little town. He was a big, redbearded lumberjack of a guy and an insane bass player who mostly did Claypool style or solo arrangements of old Pink Floyd tunes. We did one quick improv show as “Red Menace” with me on guitar; over a few months he drank ALL the whisky, had his way with ALL the hippie girls, and then moved along. Left behind was a battered and broken old Gibson bass. He had traded it to my friend Uncle Johnny, and I saw it over his workshop in a pile on the bench. “I think I’m gonna restore it,” he said. “No, you’re going to patch it up and trade it sideways to me – it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” It was a road map of spending itself; its newness and strength and lifetime had been transformed into music. I don’t know about you, but that’s what I want to be when I grow up – a spent shell of manifested music. I don’t necessarily want MY head to pop off, but it’s nothing I’m going to lose my mind over.
Kade’s a foggy memory, Johnny’s long departed, and that was another life ago, fading like a picture on a sunny shelf. This bass has seen serious action; street busking all over with Kade, riding around in his truck bed with no case, uncountable parties, the hands of my craftsman mentor, life and times with me for the last decade and a half, and then who knows what all in its FIRST three decades of dings and scrapes and scratched-in names before any of this. As a tool, let’s face it – it sucks now. It’s done. It wasn’t a pinnacle to begin with. But as a piece of life, it is part of a tapestry of such things one weaves around themselves to put the sanctity in sanctuary. I look at it and smile; I thump out some thuddy, lifeless notes and somehow feel more alive, as if for all its faults it’s a voice I love to hear; I put my hand on a Birdsong bass neck and am reminded of its carve – this is not coincidence. And strange as it sounds, out of respect for it, if I take it anywhere it never sees a case - though it rides up front with me now.
So my thoughts, especially with stuff that really isn’t worth any decent money, just keep it. Play it now and again, hang it on display, tell its stories, and give it away when you die. Gig and record and teach and worship with your Birdsong, but unless it’s going to pay for a big chunk of your next one… keep that old relic around too. Though some are made of them, talismans don’t just grow on trees! Now go play your Birdsongs and Hy5s and Shortbasses so they can spend themselves like this old Gibson has, and become to you the magic piece this is to me. I like to think I’ve given each a head start by actually being a great bass to begin with, huge sounding and balanced and comfy, crafted full of inspiration and filled with devotion. A far superior tool. But, once they fly the nest, the rest is up to you!
Yours in patina,
Listening to: Same as last week – Pavarotti, Alice in Chains, old blues… the usual!