Famous players with 'signature' instruments: a mixed blessing?

Discussion in 'Bassists [BG]' started by Blackbird, Oct 3, 2003.

  1. Blackbird

    Blackbird Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2000
    I got the idea for this thread from a 1992 BP mag with Geddy Lee on the cover. In it, Geddy's talks about his (then) current touring axe, a Jazz Bass, which later became the instrument Fender currently markets as the Geddy Lee model.

    Geddy goes on to say that he likes to change instruments every two years or so. Of course, since he's let Fender put his name on an instrument, he's never seen playing anything else.

    Question: Is having a "signature' instrument a mixed blessing? Is the money Geddy's making from the sale of his model woth the joy he's missing because he's (probably) contractually not allowed to go onstage with another maker's instrument? Is it a problem that he is no longer as free to expand his horizons , for instance, playing a 5-string bass (not that he would, but it's no longer an open option)?

    Personally, I don't thing the Geddy Lee model was a good career move for GL. He won't get any more famous because of it and I think he could get by fine without the money he's getting for it. I think Fender got the better part of this deal. Good for Fender, IMO.

    Now, if you're gonna get stuck playing an instrument for the rest of your career (which could well be Geddy's case and I imagine Sting might be on this same boat in about ten years too), it might as well be from Fender. Players lesser known to the general public like Roscoe Beck and Stu Hamm actually get a deserved career boost out of it.

    Then we get the "super high end" instrument guys like Michael Manring and Anthony Jackson and Victor Wooten. In Manring's case, it's perfectly all right, because he can't find the features he needs on any other production instrumet and Zons are pretty kickass, if I do say so myself. AJ is the same case as Michael's, but Victor is sometimes seen playing his Compito customs, the builder of which is now deceased, so no competition there. There's a pic of Vic at a Namm or something playing a Steve Bailey 4 alongside Bailey himself playing his fretless 6. My guess is that the Bailey-Aria relationship is mutually beneficial: he gets exposure, Aria gets to have their instrument played by a member of the bass elite.

    Lastly, relationship between Jeff Berlin and Dean seems to be a pretty smart move for both. Dean instruments are popular for beginners and intermediate players, the kind of people who would be most interested in going to Jeff's school. I'm sure Jeff's instrument is very well made and I daresay he's set enough in his ways that he wouldn't mind not playing any other bass for the rest of his career.

    Man, sorry this is so long and unfocused. I just needed to get that out there.

    Comment, opine, tear it up...
  2. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    Most signature bassses are just standard models with a few optical mods (Fender) or they only work for that particular artist (Billy Sheehan).

    I'd rather have a bass made to my personal specs than a signature model of an "artist".
  3. Airsick Pilot

    Airsick Pilot Cleopatra

    Jul 29, 2002
    Cockpit(throwing up)
    If the contract states that he couldn't play any other basses on stage then he knew what he was getting into. If he didnt like the idea of not being able to play any other basses he would have not done it to begin with.

    I'm pretty sure its a mixed blessing to them. I mean being restricted to just a particular model of bass doesn't sound like fun and judging by what he said, he's certainly the sort of bassist who'd like to try a different bass or two every so often but assuming the contract did say that he couldn't play any other basses and he agreed to it, he must have thought about it and weighed up the options. A very nice bass made specifically for him with his name on the headstock and he makes some money out of it. Not bad, I'd say. I think if he wants to play a bass with different options and tonal characteristics he could easily ask Fender to make some custom changes to his Geddy for him, say with a PBass neck, etc.

  4. I'm not into signature basses of any brand. I see players like Will Lee, Bonnie Raitt, who endorse instruments and then only use them enough to say "Hey I played it!" I don't believe that they are contracted to play exclusively on the bass/guitar they endorsed.

    Fender offers many players-10 basses to them for free if you endorse their product. They do not always offer to tweak the instruments to your exact specifications.

    Just my experience!

    ;) Treena
  5. MyNameIsMUD


    Sep 25, 2003
    then the artist gets ahold of a good luthier to ghost build a costom bass to look like the production guitar/bass.
  6. Blackbird

    Blackbird Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2000
    Lemme get this straight: I endorse the product and they give 10 free basses to other people? Where's the sense in that?

    Sorry, couldn't resist.:D
  7. Blackbird

    Blackbird Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2000
    I agree with that post and it was something I hadn't thought about. Then again, that's why I posted this in the first place.:)

    ...said the Fender player to the Zon player.;)

    I knew that my choice of words would lead people to that impression. I just thought the post was long enough without the disclaimer. Then again, that is my opinion. I guess I should have added YMMV.

    That is true.

    I agree with that one too. I remember seeing an Epiphone ad in a BP showing the bass guy from Ben Folds Five playing an Epiphone Les Paul (It was over five years ago). The magazine also had a short feature on him and when interviewed, he said it was a Gibson Les Paul bass with an Epiphone neck. It was probably all Gibson with the headstock shaped to look like an Epiphone and an Epiphone logo added...
  8. zeh


    Jul 11, 2003
    Lisbon , Portugal
    Sting has a signature bass from Fender and hes always playing different basses...
  9. I'm sure there are various particulars in each signature model contract that's out there. It may be that Lee is bound to only perform with the Fender, but I know for other artists it's a bit more loose. Kirk Hammett from Metallica, for instance, has his signature models with ESP, complete with advertisements and all. However, if you watch their live show or read up on what guitars he uses in the studio, you'll see that it's more wide-ranging than just ESPs (Les Pauls, Jacksons, Fenders, etc.)

    Point is, I would think that you can get the best of both worlds by working the contract so that you have a signature model, but aren't necessarily bound to appear in public with ONLY that bass in hand.
  10. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    There are several reasons why an endorsement deal would be attractive to a working musician. Depending on how the deal is structured it could be very open or a catch-22 for the musician who doesn't want to be "trapped" into using one type of gear. Simple fix for that... don't do the endorsement.

    The ghost build angle is always coming up and IME it probably doesn't happen as much as people would like to believe. It falls in line with the mindset that "If XYZ sounds great with his signature bass and you don't... it must be the bass";)

    One bass I can personally comment on is Gary Willis' Ibanez sig bass. I've heard people say that his personal bass(es) must be appreciably different from what the average Joe can buy at the local store. Unfortunately, they aren't. IIRC the tuners are different and little else. I mentioned personal experience because I had the opportunity to play both Gary's bass and a store model and two things were evident... I sounded the same on both and nothing like Gary on either:D
  11. DaveBeny


    Mar 22, 2000
    London, UK
    I know that Gary Willis, Victor Bailey and John Patitucci have made it clear that their signature models in the shops are the same instruments that they play.
  12. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I think there's something in this story that can be a good message or moral for a lot of the gear-obsessed amongst the TB ranks!!

    So - I am a part-timer at most, I have a good job and can afford to indulge myslf with nice-ish basses and have fun choosing them.

    But I have met many full-time pros via Jazz education and they neither have the time nor the inclination to look at loads of different basses (instruments)and lust after new and improved models.

    So - firstly they are putting every minute they have into :

    - playing gigs and getting to them - might spend most of a day travelling! :(

    - networking, talking to agents, friends etc to get more gigs

    - practicing!!

    - working on arrangments and band rehearsals.

    - writing new stuff to get money and material for gigs/recording/TV/radio/Films

    - actually recording material (as above) that might also make them money

    - education - they may need to get regular income by teaching,running classes, lessons or even taking lessons themselves (they may actually enjoy all this more than buying new basses!!)

    Oh - And they might have social life, family etc.!! ;)

    Secondly - a lot of the full-time Jazz pros, I have met, will play whatever is in front of them - like Gary Willis I presume - and make it sound great.

    All they want is a reliable,solid instrument that will stand up to the rigours of touring and the sort of frills often debated on TB are bascially irrelevant to them - what is important is playing, making music etc.
  13. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member Administrator

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    you are aware that that fender is one that he's used to record in the past, right? moving pictures and some of a few other albums were recorded with that bass.

    as for contractual agreements, geddy can no doubt go on stage with any instrument he wants. i seriously doubt there's any hold or bonus that fender can give him or do to him that would seriously impede his financial or professional status. he's using the moving pictures j-bass because he wants to.

    i think what has happened is that someone at fender approached geddy lee and begged him to be able to put his name on a 72 reissue, since that's the moving pictures bass and that's rush's most famous album. they probably agreed to his terms, not the other way around. he's not using his active wals anymore because he's more into the passive "r'n'r" thing now.

    as for sig instruments in general, it's always been primarily in the interest of the company producing the instrument. up-and-coming or lower tier artists can benefit from the prestige of having a sig instrument, but for the guys already in the stratosphere the real benefit lies solely with the company. i mean, could you imagine rickenbacker trying to tell paul mccartney what he can or cannot play? :)
  14. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Yup - it's only on TB that people agonise about the minutiae of different basses - most pros are too busy playing, recording, teaching making music! :)
  15. Petebass


    Dec 22, 2002
    QLD Australia
    Bravo! This is exactly my stance on Sig basses. Entwhistle played anything as long as it was free. The same can be said for a lot of people.

    There are some that take it seriously. But believe it or not, the final product is often very different to the perfect instrument as designed by the artist. Manufacturer "A" usually trimms it down until it's cost effective for them to produce it, and the artist us often unhappy with the final result. So when brand "B" comes along and asks them to design a signature bass, the artist sees it as an opportinuty to make the bass he wanted in the first place. Surprise surprise, brand "B" does the same cost cutting exercise...... and that's how you end up with several different basses with the same name on it.