Shen Willow 3/4

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Mike Carr, Jul 3, 2005.


  1. Mike Carr

    Mike Carr

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    I'm very pleased to report that I am now the proud owner of a brand new fully carved Samuel Shen 3/4 Willow Bass!
    After hearing nothing but good things about Shen basses I was able with the help of a fellow TB'er here in China to make an appointment today to travel to the Shen factory, about 100 killometers from Shanghai, where I'm currently working. Sam Shen is a very gratious man, who allowed me to have my pick of his instuments. I narrowed my choices down to three of his fine carved basses, two of his Roggeri models, and the Willow 3/4. The Roggeri's are wonderful, but the Willow bass got me. I can't say enough about how nice it sounds now, and I know that as it plays in it's going to get even better! Sam installed a set of Spirocores and an Upton Solo pickup that I brought along with me and set it up. Plays just fine. It's first rate in every regard, nothing "cheap" at all about Shen's basses. Wonderful wood and workmanship. This bass just sings! Sounds like a bass in the $8000 to $10,000 range, yet is modestly priced. Can't wait to take it to the gig tommorow night!
     
  2. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

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    did you get the shen willow flatback or the carved?
    I am jealous you got to see the factory... that's a trip I hope to make someday soon...
    congratulations!
     
  3. Peter Ferretti

    Peter Ferretti

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    Excellent. I have been pretty curious about the quality of these Willow basses. I have a Kolstein Fendt and I am looking for a backup bass...This thing might do the trick. I'm assuming its fully carved?
     
  4. Mike Carr

    Mike Carr

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    The bass is a fully carved 3/4 sized willow bass with a flat back. It uses the X-bracing method that described on Shen's website. A truly wonderful sounding and great looking bass too. I used it on my gig last night and good thumbs up all around. The bass is very loud! Sam didn't have any of the 7/8 willows strung up the day I saw him, but that's OK because I'm not so tall and have sort of a short reach at 5'8". Even my 3/4's body is so long that the bass is at the right height while playing standing with it's end-pin all the way in! It's longer than the 3/4 German Hybrid bass I have in the states and certainly a lot longer than my Czeck-Ease! But it's still easy for me to play it because of the way the shoulders slope, thumb position no problem. This bass is only going to get better and better over time.
    I like it as much as a bass that I played in LA a few months ago from Kolistienes(sp? sorry) that the store was asking $8000 for. Can't wait for the new Spirocores mellow out and the bass plays in a bit, but even now, it's the best sounding bass in Shanghai and better sounding than many basses that I've heard around LA!
     
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  6. Paul Warburton

    Paul Warburton

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    Good to hear more positive stuff about the Shen's.
     
  7. Eric Jackson

    Eric Jackson

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    Can you tell us any more about the Shen factory?
     
  8. Mike Carr

    Mike Carr

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    Sure, it's in Suzhou, about a 90 minute ride from downtown Shanghai. I'm told he will be moving to a new building soon but for now it's in a three story building in an industrial area. Stacks and stacks of wood for tops and necks stacked on ground floor, lots of wood! Special rooms for putting finishs on. Big room with lots of basses good to go in long racks. Sam has about 60 skilled workers with him. He makes violins and violas and cellos too. From student to high end models so there's lots of work for these guys to do. The whole place has that great woodshop sort of smell, it's great! He told me it takes him about 6 weeks to make a carved bass, to the point where it's "in the white", the finishing process is a whole another deal. He really cares about his product. He even came to my gig last night to hear the bass in action and see that it was playing in right. Tweaked the bridge a bit for me in between sets, I really appreciate the guy. Used to be a violinist. He's a modest sort of fellow, but carries with him the kind of quiet dignity that lets you know instantly that he is a master of what he does.
     
  9. Mike Carr

    Mike Carr

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    It's been a couple weeks now and my Shen Willow and I are starting to become very well aquainted. I think she and I are a very good match and I'm looking forward to a long and very satifisfying relationship with her. I'm very fortunate to be in a position to be able to play this bass six nights weekly here in Shanghai and to be playing jazz music, which is my favorite music to play. So everynight I can hear the bass's personality developing and measure it against other basses I've played. It's a wonderful process, like new love. You can't wait to touch her, to feel her against you and to feel how you feel when such beautiful sounds come out of her. Big fat notes that just sustain for days, notes that the whole band feels. Sounds that just make everyone in the band want to play better. And most importantly, sounds that make people listening to you, not just the hip people, but everyday folks, everyday Chinese folks at that, come up to you after a set and say things like, "I really like your bass playing, it's sound is very good".
    There is a very fine pianist here in Shanghai, Dwight Dickerson, an American who has gigged and recorded with many heavyweights in jazz over the years, when he heard my bass for the first time he said, "hearing that bass's sound, makes me wish I were a bass player". It means a lot to me to be playing an instrument that can earn a compliment like that, from a man who has shared many a bandstand with the finest bassists in jazz, most of whom have had great basses that helped them get great sounds. It's enough of a challenge for me just to be able to keep up with him when I've been lucky enough to be able to play with him at an after hours club here, just to play the good notes and to be able manage the tempos, not to mention playing a solo after someone of his caliber has compleatly turned a tune inside-out. To get a positive comment regarding my sound, that's heaven, that's where it's at, that's why we all try so hard to get basses that have the potential to sound good and why we all try so hard to get the good sounds out of them!
    My Shen and I have a lot to look forward to, it's going to sound better and better with time, and God willing, so will I. This bass makes music making new all over again, it's a great time for me right now, I'm loving this bass!
     
  10. Paul Warburton

    Paul Warburton

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    Mike, you're in a world of beauty and love now...whew! You sound like me when I have a pleasant few hours in my bathroom with all my bass pictures.
    Right on.
    I wouldn't be talking to normal people like this if I were you.
    Cheers and be careful who you lay this stuff on! :smug:
     
  11. Tbeers

    Tbeers

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    Whooaa there partner!
    :)

    Glad you have a fulfilling relationship with your new ladyfriend Willow.
     
  12. Mike Carr

    Mike Carr

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    I've often wondered just how "normal" we double bass players are. We spend lots of time and more often than not money trying to get our hands on these cumbersome and fragile instruments, then spend long hours learning to play them in tune and getting a big sound out of them. Then dealing with the challenge of carrying them to gigs, you should see the looks I get from the Chinese taxi drivers everytime I try to flag them down to take it to and from the gig. Most can't imagine how it's going to fit in the cab, and I often get flat refusals from them. I've learned some key phases in Manderian, "ke-main" (open the door) and "zui souway" (lower the passenger seat). That works most of the time to make them understand, then a nice tip at the end of the ride, then they are more willing the next time. Then I get to the gig and have to be worrying about some klutz kicking a hole in it, while most guys are happy enough playing their slabs. I know, I'm a recovering former slabman myself!
    The thing is, I've had a few basses before this one, a pretty nice looking, but just ok sounding german hybrid bass, which I still have in the states, two different Kays, one of which got sold not too long ago to help pay for my Czeck-Ease, also plywood with a good sound, but still for better or worse....plywood. Not to mention Carruthers and Eminence EUB's as well, along with a half a dozen slabs I still own, but hardly ever play anymore. Getting a good carved bass has allways been a dream of mine, but I'm a humble working musician, with an often inconsistant income so I've needed to focus on using basses that are 'roadworthy" and have had to sacrfice the good tone that comes with fine carved instruments just to be able to travel for work opportunities with a minimum degree of difficulty. For the past six years I've been on the road, mostly Asia and the Mid-East more than I've been home.
    So to find myself in the position to be working on a steady, nightly jazz gig, and to be playing the gig on what is rapidly proving to be a bass who's tone is much, much better that even the Gage Bass that I arrived here several months ago with is indeed a wonderful experiance, if not downright sensual! This bass has what is in my opinion, an exceptional tone. The willow constuction gives this bass a fat low-end sound but with the kind of complex mid and delicate top-end sounds that my ply-basses and EUB's just couldn't give me. And loud too! I'm needing to use less and less volume from the amp. I'm liking this bass so much that I'm starting to think that it might be time to re-think my "travel bass" M.O. and get a flight case and simply insist that a proper budget for it's transport to my next overseas engagement be provided. It's so worth it, at least to my way of thinking to have a great sounding bass with me if it's at all possable.
    Sam Shen has been very nice in terms of follow up too. He came for the second time to my gig here last night. He had brought a young man who had just played with the Shanghai Philharmonic along with him who is concidering buying a bass like mine, so Sam thought it would be a good idea if he could hear my Willow in action. He's not by any means a jazz musician, but said he could play a decent medium walking blues in Bb, so he agreed to sit so I got to hear the bass from afar, not something I often get to experiance. On the break he had a spin with the bow, his strong suit and he played the heck out of the bass, It really does sound good! Sam was very kind to check out the bass for me in between sets, just to make sure everything is settling in right, it is!
    I'm not much for picture taking, and a real dummy when it comes to trying to post pics, but I'll do my best to try to get some shots put up here soon, you guys really have got to see how nice this bass looks. The Willow sides and back are quite striking, you can really see the grain pattern. The pics on the Shen site are great, but the bass looks ten times better in person!
    Yeah, I'm in love, it's bass heaven for me for sure. It brings to mind a statement a friend of mine, who owns four very nice carved basses made regarding his wife. "She knows her place in my world, it's 5th, right behind the basses!"
     
  13. 5stringDNA

    5stringDNA

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    haha... if you ever get as bad Paul then I'll be concerned. He definately spends to much time on the john with them naughty pictures ;). Sweet to hear how well thing are going for you over there. I need to get my lazy butt in gear!
     
  14. jacochops

    jacochops

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    Sorry to resurrect this thread from the dead, but....
    I just ordered mine from Steve Swan...looking forward to playing the tar out of it! I'm going to have it strung with Weichs, and retrofit it with the Rev Solo pickup. It should kill!
     
  15. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

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    Shen Willows are great. Just to address one point that Mike Carr made in his decision to buy a 3/4. I'm only 5' 6" and have absolutely no problem all around my 7/8 Willow although I have the endpin all the way in.
     
  16. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

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    Yes the Shens are fully carved. I actually prefer the Shen 7/8 Willow to the Fendts. I spent a good afternoon at Kolstein playing the Fendts and I think the Shen Willow is not only a better jazz bass (although I think Barrie's Fendt copy is great for orchestra work) but it easily competes with the Fendt copy on quality of construction and finish. The clincher is that it is 50% of the price.
     
  17. Roger Mouton

    Roger Mouton Supporting Member

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    Hi Mike,

    Thanks so much for your posts. I've been interested in the Shens since reading so many good things about them on TB. The ones I saw at the recent NAMM Show in Anaheim were just fabulous looking and seemed to play well with so little effort. And if you've ever been to a NAMM Show you know what's like to hear anything clearly in those exhibit halls.

    Question: you mentioned a Kolstein that you played. Was it the Kolstein that you and I tried in Jon's shop in Long Beach a year or so ago? Maybe it was longer ago than that. Can't remember. I certainly loved that Kolstein bass. I don't think Jon has it any longer. My recollection is that you and I were tyring the Czech-Ease basses and your focus at the time was on portability. So! You succumbed to better sound and seem to have found a solution to the portability issue.

    Now my G.A.S. list is expanding. I want one of Steve Koscica's Wan Bernadel basses and now I want a Shen as well.
     
  18. robgrow

    robgrow

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    I owned a 3/4 Shen Willow, and I would highly recommend anyone considering one of these basses to look into the 7/8 version, which Shen now calls the Gemunder 7/8 Willow. A lot more bass, and well worth the higher price (vs the 3/4 Willow) IMO.
     
  19. Mike Carr

    Mike Carr

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    Roger,

    Yes I remember hanging with you at Jon's that day and trying basses. That BTW, was three years ago! The Czech-Ease is here with me in Hong Kong, which is where I call home now. I've not been able to get back to LA for a year. The Shen is waiting for me there, I miss it very much! I had returned to mainland China last year with the C-E, easier to fly with it. Thought I'd get a break and get to visit the States but ended up going staight to Hong Kong instead. But I'm hoping to get back to LA for a few weeks this summer and bring the Shen back to Hong Kong with me. The C-E bass is fine for what it is and very practical. It's taxis, buses and the subway every day for me here. But it's a real drag not being able to play the Shen. Jon's set up really brought out the best in the bass.
    One of my friends here plays the Wan-Bernadel bass, it's also a very nice bass!
     
  20. Roger Mouton

    Roger Mouton Supporting Member

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    Mike,

    Being in Hong Kong I trust you're safe from all that shaking going on over there? The news reports don't look good. When I first heard the news I thought of you being at CJW and on top of a swaying building. I'm sure it's not fun, even being a SoCA earthquake vet.

    I meant to comment on one of your other posts: Dwight Dickerson. We wondered where he was playing recently. Used to see him 20+ years ago in Laguna Beach at the Crown House on Forest Ave. (now Cedar Creek Inn). Doubtful that he would recall but if you see him please remember me to him as the guy that always asked to hear Herbie's Dolphin Dance.

    Stay safe and thanks again for the posts.
     
  21. peterpalmieri

    peterpalmieri Supporting Member

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    Adrian,

    This would seem to be a fairly big statement. Can the Willow compete with the Kolstein Fendt when using the bow or are your statements only regarding pizz jazz playing. I wasn't clear on that...

    Thanks Pete
     

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