Mick Karn tone, which bass under $1400 ?

Discussion in 'Bassists [BG]' started by obimark, Jun 24, 2019.

  1. I am really wanting to get into fretless playing and am most inspired by Mick Karn's total mastery of the instrument.

    I know a good part of his tone comes from his Wal Bass, and would love to buy a fretless Wal, but unfortunately my bank account can't afford a $4500 or more hit.

    I understand a fretless Jazz bass will get me Jaco tone all day, but will not get the distinctive humbucker tone Mick had from his Wal.

    So what is my best option to get there with around $1400? A fretless stingray? an old Ibanez fretless? or something else entirely?
  2. bass40hz

    bass40hz Cigar smoker, scotch drinker, American Patriot Supporting Member

    Aug 13, 2014
    Richlands, NC
    Get a Fender Tony Franklin signature...should be right around your budget at new cost with the usual discounts...or used for around $1200
    Rock on.
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  3. Cool- I do like the look of that bass, but am nervous about not having the fret-lines...
  4. jerry

    jerry Too old for a hiptrip Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 13, 1999
    I think more than anything else is to forget about any "rules", Karn seemed to throw them all out when it came to almost everything. A true artist!
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  5. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    I've found that if you can cop some of Mick's signature style, it almost doesn't matter what bass you play it on, it instantly conveys "Mick Karn-ness"
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  6. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    I saw Japan in 1983 - Mick was not afraid to play very hard. He used a very fast attack using the full strength of his fingers, but also would hook under and release to get his own version of the slap sound, which he never did other than the occasional downward-pointing hand slap - the low E in 'Art of Parties' comes to mind. He also tended to play away from the bridge, often close to the end of the fingerboard. I vaguely recall an interview where he was touted as the next Jaco, which I believe set him on a path to not be that!
    Remember that, in terms of his time with Japan he only used the Wal on Tim Drum. The first 4 albums were recorded with the Travis Bean TB2000 and still sounded like Mick, so I wouldnt sweat not having the Wal.

    Here's mick playing 2 from 'Gentlemen' on the Bean...

    As far as instruments go, I would say from experience that a fretless Ray with John East 3-band preamp will get you in the ballpark, but I think Mick would sound like Mick on anything...
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  7. Amen to that!!
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  8. Michedelic

    Michedelic MId-Century Modern

    Keep in mind that he used a Travis Bean with an Aluminum neck in the earliest days, they had very unique sounding pickups, but of course they aren’t cheap these days either. For the Gentlemen/Tin Drum era and beyond, I used to get by with an Ibanez Musician, it came pretty close to a Wal vibe. Don’t forget the amp part of the equation, Trace Elliot. I was fortunate to see Polytown live, and he use a pair of TE combos, a 410 and a 115.
  9. Michedelic

    Michedelic MId-Century Modern

    I have to add that the Ibanez was active(with a switch to make it passive)that featured bass/mid/treble controls, and oversized P/J type pickups, with a fretless neck converted from fretted. I was in a band that actually covered “Art Of Parties”. Went over the heads of most of our audiences.
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  10. Indeed, in trying to cop a Mick Karn tone the bass is ultimately less important than his very unusual touch and his idiosyncratic approach to intonation.

    What experience do you have with fretless basses and what kind of fretted bassed do you like?
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  11. Limited experience and my fretted basses are mostly Jazz style. Love them!
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  12. Love them white Capezio’s...
  13. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    From 'Pineapple', IIRC.
    Home page | Pineapple
  14. tindrum

    tindrum Supporting Member

    May 2, 2007
    Suffolk, VA
    It's more about the way you play vs. the bass as Mick definitely had his own approach. I can cop his tone using my fretless Jazz, which is light years different than a Wal. A smidge of chorus and flange can help get his "Oil On Canvas" tone.
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  15. You can get that sound on pretty much any fretless bass. Of course, a Wal will have a certain characteristic "growl," but I manage to come pretty close on one of my Bossa OB-5 fretless basses. Especially the one with the Pao Ferro fingerboard sounds sufficiently "dark," but in the end it's mostly about technique.
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  16. Roland GR 88

    Roland GR 88 Commercial User

    Sep 16, 2013
    Ontario Canada
    Retail store manager
    ........and to add, there was a time when he stopped tuning his bass altogether and just wandered about the neck to get the notes. :)
  17. Passinwind

    Passinwind I know nothing. Commercial User

    Dec 3, 2003
    Columbia River Gorge, WA.
    Owner/Designer &Toaster Tech Passinwind Electronics
    Yep, and as a 40 year owner of a fretless Bean, there are a whole lot of other sounds that are at least equally native to those instruments.
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  18. arbiterusa


    Sep 24, 2015
    I hate to tell you this but he'd sound like himself on anything, and you won't no matter what you play. I'm a lifelong fretless guy, I admire the hell out of Karn, but his head is on another level and you and I are never going to sound like him because we don't think about the instrument - hell, playing bass - like he does. Nobody does.

    Given this I'm going to recommend that you just get a Squier CV fretless and start going to town. They're good basses, you're familiar with them, and you're not out that much money if you decide fretless is not for you. It's definitely not for everyone.
  19. acleex38


    Jul 28, 2006
    Agreed - his personal and cultural background, his musical influences back to childhood, and his fundamental LACK of understanding of the instrument in the way many of us think about it were integral to his note choice and approach. (I remember a story from an interview that during a session he was asked to "play higher" - so he played "physically higher strings" - which of course meant the lower notes). His playing and writing were due to a recipe of influences that no one else has managed to mix the same way.
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  20. Neil Godding

    Neil Godding

    Mar 3, 2020
    Ive always been in awe of Mick's playing, and tried to nail some of his basslines, but he was one-in-a-billion.
    I too have been looking for an "affordable" fretless that helps me get closer to that "Karn sound"
    Hope we both find what we're looking for.
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