"all you need is a P-bass," or the do-you-need-a-traditional-bass conundrum

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by nostatic, Dec 31, 2014.

  1. nostatic

    nostatic Supporting Member

    Jun 18, 2004
    central coast
    Endorsing Artist: FEA Labs
    This topic has come up in a variety of forms, but usually as a part of a different thread topic. The question came up again a few days ago when hanging with two different bass buddies on different occasions. That being, do I (you) need a "traditional" bass in the lineup. Those of you with only one bass that is a P or J already have this covered ;)

    This stems from a couple of incidents. I will state up front that I own and gig some nice/expensive instruments. They do exactly what I want them to do, and I find that they lead me in interesting places with my playing. This thread isn't about the cost/value of boutiques - I have and gig the snot out of mine so I find the value and/or I'm an idiot.

    Episode 1 - playing in a Steely Dan tribute band, the drummer (who leads the band) has repeatedly joked (sort of), "dude, all you need is a P-bass." And in fact, he is technically correct. Almost every tune was recorded with a 4-string bass, and a player could spend the rest of their life studying the iconic bass lines of Chuck Rainey, Anthony Jackson, Walter Becker, etc. That said, Tom Barney, who was SD's touring bass player from '93-00 played 5-string so clearly he could cop what he needed. More recently though Freddie Washington typically plays his 70's P, pulling out a Smith 5 on a tune or two.

    Episode 2 - talking with player/buddy Harry, I mentioned thinking about adding a P to which he strongly agreed. "Everyone needs a bass to take wherever that can be easily replaced."

    So I broke down and picked up a Fender P (this would be the 3rd one I've owned) but after all of one night it is going back. Don't get me wrong - it is a gorgeous instrument and is quite well made. But in the end I just really preferred both the sound and feel of my other instruments (Fodera and Smith). Not surprising as they are more expensive, but my philosophy has been that if I own them I'm going to gig them, and I only want to own and play instruments that really speak to me.

    This isn't an indictment of the Fender. It actually is a *really* nice instrument, and if I was only playing that I'd be perfectly happy - it is that good. But subtle things like the string spacing neck width at various places on the neck, and where the neck sits relative to my other instruments...well, just enough to annoy me and my CDO. Which leads to:

    Episode 3 - talking with player/buddy Steubig and he reinforces his ideal of having pairs of basses that are identical (fretted and fretless versions of the same model/woods/etc). I end up playing a lot of fretless - oddly enough at rehearsal for the Steely Dan tribute thing I played fretless 5 on all the songs but two, just as a workout. Worked great. So for now I'm focused on a pair of identical 5s, with two very different 4s (Rob Allen for upright vibe and Fodera PJ) when needed.

    Sooooo, long winded way of asking those with multiple instruments if you feel the need to have a traditional or "beater" to have for certain uses. Now if I were in a tribute band where the look was part of the deal, and the money was right, that is a different deal. Most gigs don't really care what you play. As for the "I don't take my good basses to bar gigs" I've never let that deter me. I have insurance on my instruments, and my philosophy is that if it is safe for my body, it is safe for my bass.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2014
    Polfuste, TonyP- and Doublesixes like this.
  2. bmc


    Nov 15, 2003
    Interesting post. My main go to bass for gigging for the last seven years has been my Sadowsky. It's so flexible and I can always find my sound, or the sound appropriate for the song. I recently took my 75 fretless PBass out of retirement. I'm in a new project where it is an appropriate bass.

    I started bass on a 69 fretted Precision back in the 70's and I've had three since. I read a TB post somewhere that said they loved active basses, but a Precision should be run passive. I had to agree and it made me realize that I need that unique sound in my arsenal. But instead of going fretted, I'm sticking to it being fretless. With both of those basses, I have it covered.

    I've tried my Sadowsky in passive mode and I like the active sound too much. A Precision is unique, yet versatile because of its distinct voice.

    I find it interesting that this came up for someone else at the same time.
  3. extreme


    Mar 20, 2000
    It sounds like you know what you like and it's working for you, so just keep playing and making music! I do think there's something to having a "go to" bass you pretty much always play, so don't overthink things.

    I had a really nice Warwick Streamer Stage 1 and then a Lakland 4-94 that were my main basses. They both eventually developed neck problems and I fell in love with the P-bass for its simplicity. If you're happy, don't worry about what others think or start second guessing yourself...play on!
  4. Gilmourisgod


    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    I know P basses are hugely popular, but I just never got the appeal myself, not bad, just "meh". I look at them as just one more tool in box.
  5. elgecko


    Apr 30, 2007
    Anasleim, CA
    For years, my sole fretted bass was a Modulus Q5 that I used for literally everything. Then I joined TB, got gas, and bought a P that I strung with flats. Having a bass that sounded like the bass on every classic recording was eye opening. However, the only time I intentionally chose a traditional bass over the Modulus was when I was doing classic country, it seemed appropriate. For every other genre, I really don't care which bass I play. I grab whatever I'm in the mood for.

    BTW, being in a Steely Dan tribute band sounds like the coolest gig ever! :thumbsup:
    adivin likes this.
  6. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Supporting Member

    So, what occurs to me is: what do YOU say?

    You're the bass player, You have quality instruments and you like the sound they give you. In fact, you say they "talk to you."

    So I suggest you create YOUR own "episode" based on your own experience and wisdom, and go with that. You don't have to live by what others tell you; YOU are the bass player.

    The "episode" in my head goes something like this:

    - I'm the bass player. I decide what bass to play and how.
    - I don't own beater basses because I keep all my instruments in excellent condition.
    - If I won't play it in public, I don't own it.
    - I will listen politely to suggestions from others whose judgment I trust (and ignore suggestions from those who I do not trust), but the final call, right or wrong, is mine.
    - If I make a wrong decision, I will learn from it and go on.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2014
  7. leona1

    leona1 Supporting Member

    May 27, 2009
    comes down to the vibe of the instrument. old/new-passive/active- 4,5,6 string-what ever floats your boat!
  8. nostatic

    nostatic Supporting Member

    Jun 18, 2004
    central coast
    Endorsing Artist: FEA Labs
    My episode is that I'm sending the P-bass back, and will be gigging my Fodera and fretless Smith at tonight's gig. And at the next ten or so gigs booked for Jan I'll take some combination of my current basses depending on who I'm playing with. I'm not taking a poll to determine my course of action as I've done the experiments - rather just curious what others think about this.
    Jeff Scott and Tbone76 like this.
  9. nutdog

    nutdog when I'm a good dog they sometimes throw me a bone

    Feb 19, 2009
    in the dog house
    I have one that looks retro that I always use for an oldies gig. Mainly for the look but I enjoy playing it. But it has modern accoutrements.

    I don't know why your band mates would care what you play unless you needed to project a certain visual image. Do you tell them what they should play?
  10. wvbass

    wvbass Supporting Member

    Mar 1, 2004
    West Virginia
    I'll bet I have at least thirty basses in the house. I have basses from Dingwall, Alembic, Lakland, Kubicki...and basses from China and Indonesia bearing various brand names...as well as an ample supply of Fenders. Five of these are Fender Precisions. I gig with whatever pleases me at the moment. I also am not in an atmosphere where the looks of the bass are going to affect me in any way.

    "All you need is a P bass" should be updated to "All you need is a bass."
    jd56hawk, Teijo K., hintz and 2 others like this.
  11. mark beem

    mark beem Wait, how does this song start again?? Supporting Member

    Jul 20, 2001
    Alabama, USA
    Do you need one? No. But they're nice to have. I love mine, all three of them.

    YMMV of course.
    Tbone76 and Ace Of Bass like this.
  12. Baird6869

    Baird6869 Supporting Member

    I love P basses and they tend to record incredibly well and are nearly Ergonomically perfect for me.

    I just prefer 5 string active basses and haven't found a 5 string active P that I fell in love with.

    I still love my 1974 P but love my Foderas and FBass more.
  13. Dogbertday

    Dogbertday Commercial User

    Jul 10, 2007
    SE Wisconsin
    Blaine Music LLC
    You do not need a traditional instrument in the arsenal....

    ...Unless you do.

    By this I mean if you need a p-bass for a gig, then you need one. Studio guys need them.
    If you are picking a bass that you know will work for any genre because you don't know what you'll have to play on it, then a p-bass will cover that.
    If you have instruments you love that fulfill your needs that are modern in character, then you don't need a p-bass.
    j.kernodle, Winfred and PWRL like this.
  14. bassbully

    bassbully Endorsed by The PHALEX CORN BASS..mmm...corn!

    Sep 7, 2006
    Blimp City USA
    I really feel a lowely P bass is all you really do need as a bassist. There have been allot of improvements over the P bass but in the end Leo got it right.
    maverick49 and REMBO like this.
  15. wvbass

    wvbass Supporting Member

    Mar 1, 2004
    West Virginia
    I agree with both these statements. However, a lot of other luthiers got it right, too. There are many basses that will work for any genre.
    envy1400, gebass6 and Dogbertday like this.
  16. I don't care how many albums P basses have been played on, how many people say everyone should have one, or it's all you need etc. They're just not for me. I also find they're limited in the electronics department. Now a bass with a PJ setup, that's a different story!

    That said, I did buy a Peavey Fury as a backup. It was inexpensive and it really is a beater! But I seldom play it, it just sits on its stand. My Sadowsky is the gigging machine!
    Madwatch likes this.
  17. Dogbertday

    Dogbertday Commercial User

    Jul 10, 2007
    SE Wisconsin
    Blaine Music LLC
    Agreed. But a p-bass is a good place to start.
    wvbass likes this.
  18. capnjim


    Mar 13, 2008
    You play very expensive basses.....your brain will not let you acknowledge that a "cheaper" bass is just as good.
    Its a placebo kind of thing.
    Mechanical likes this.
  19. bmc


    Nov 15, 2003
    I think you are projecting.
    MicG, BassmentPlayer, TheBear and 4 others like this.
  20. bass12

    bass12 Have You Met Grace Jones?

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    Funny that you mention Steely Dan. Both times I saw Steely Dan it was Freddie Washington playing his Precision and both times the bass was completely lost in the mix. I had a Precision for a little while which, to my surprise, I really didn't like at all. When playing it all I could think was, "I wish I had my Jazz in my hands". My main basses (the basses I take to gigs - be they on large stages or in tight bars) consist of a Lull M5V, MTD 535 and Sadowsky Standard 5. I have played all of those basses in a wide enough variety of settings (from jazz cocktail sets to smooth R&B to old-school R&B to reggae to current top 40 pop) and feel confident with any one of them in any of those circumstances. I definitely don't need a P. Having said that, I know some people listen more with their eyes than their ears. For those people I can usually get away with using my Lull (which looks very "classic Fender" and doesn't seem have the association with "slick and modern active" for some folks that the Sadowsky has). If not I also have a Fender Jazz '62 re-issue). I will take my most prized basses anywhere but on a plane. When I fly I bring my Fender Jazz simply because, should anything happen to it, I won't be totally devastated by the loss :D.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2014
    VigierUSA, Steve Boisen and bmc like this.