After my brother had passed away, I gave up on my dream of being a musician, losing my desire to play drums. As I had mentioned in a previous blog post, drumming had come very naturally for me. It’s not out of the question that I could have really succeeded as a professional drummer had I continued. Sadly after Tom’s passing, playing drums was one of many things I had given up on.
About a year later, I looked at Tom’s guitar in the corner of my bedroom and thought that perhaps I would learn how to play. After a few lessons, though, I knew that playing guitar was not quite right for me. It really wasn’t until I sat in on a rehearsal session with a local garage band that it struck me. As soon as I heard the bass player thundering through the music in the practice room, I instinctively knew that this was the instrument I should be playing.
My step-father watched me start and end drum lessons. He then saw me give up on guitar lessons. When I excitedly explained to my parents that I had decided to play bass guitar, he literally exploded. He raised his voice, yelling that there was no way I was ever going to play the bass guitar. He was absolutely positive that this was simply another waist of time and money, and that he was not going to pay for a bass guitar and lessons. I knew in my heart that this was the right move for me, which must have given me the confidence I needed. Without backing down, I told him that I was going to save my own money, buy my own bass guitar, and teach myself how to play. He was taken aback by my response, then repeated out loud that I would be wasting my own time and money, and that I was never ever going to learn to play.
With the money I earned at my part-time job after school, I went to several guitar shops to look for my first bass guitar. Because I had no previous knowledge of what to look for in my search for a bass guitar, I simply settled on one that fit my budget, rather than the various important elements on the instrument’s playability. You see, I didn’t know any better.
I had worked my way around town, seeing the bass guitars at Sherwoods, Daymonds, Waterloo Music, Wapler’s, Trev Bennetts, the original location of Sherwoods, and several other shops that I can’t seem to remember the name of.
The funkiest store in town was a tiny shop in the east end of King Street in downtown Kitchener. The store was called “East End Appliances”, and at one time, the owner probably sold used washers and refrigerators. However, by the time I had discovered the place, all that was sold in the shop were guitars and amps. The fellow that owned and operated the shop was a very large man with a heavy European accent. Everyone referred to him as either “Big Mike” or “Fat Man”.
Just about every guitar Fat Man had for sale was used and made in Japan. He also had a large collection of amplifiers in the middle of the floor area. He was also an authorized dealer of Peavey brand amplifiers, so he really pitched them to anyone within ear shot. I can still remember hearing him say in his heavy accent, “Peavey! Good amp, good amp!”
I bought my first bass guitar at Fat Man’s shop. I paid him what he was asking, not knowing anything about the fine art of negotiating the price. I took my “new” bass guitar home in a cardboard box, plugged it into Tom’s guitar amp, and thumped away for the first time. I shook the house foundations with my bass thumping, which impressed my parents to no end. With nobody to show me how to play, I slowly figured things out by myself. I would study any musician playing bass, watching how they held their bass, how they moved their hands across the fretboard, and how they plucked the strings with their right hand. Every player I watched had a different style, and I tried every style imaginable until I was comfortable with my own style of playing.
That first bass guitar was a challenge for me for so many reasons. Of course, what I didn’t realize was that my battle learning to play the bass was even harder than it needed to be because of the short scale of the bass, the fat neck and the super high action of the strings. As any musician knows, playability is everything. The action (the height of the strings away from the fretboard) is the first key. The further away the strings are from the fretboard, the harder it is to fret the strings, which automatically makes the instrument harder to play. Not knowing this fact, I figured every bass guitar was this hard to play and it was this difficult for me to play simply because I needed to learn. I trudged on, determined to teach myself how to play this instrument. I actually learned how to play along with several favourite records, which kept me interested.
After several months, and as my money situation improved, I wandered back into Fat Man’s shop. I asked to try out a bass hanging on the wall, which Mike let me do. This bass guitar was a copy of a Fender Precision bass. The Japanese-made bass was lighter, longer, and had better action than my bass at home. I was shocked at how much easier it was to play. I could hardly believe it. The feel of the neck, the way the strings were easier to fret, and the balance was so much better. All that time, struggling with that cheapy bass at home, where all I really needed was a better bass guitar. I was so excited that I asked how much this other bass was. As it turned out, it was nearly the same amount as what I had paid for my first bass. By the next weekend, this second bass was mine!
Tim’s second bass guitar, a Japanese manufactured copy of a Fender Precision bass.