It’s a valid question, and one which any guitarist (or bass guitarist) can expect to be asked if they own more than one guitar. Unfortunately, it seems obvious to anyone familiar with the instrument, but mystifying to anyone who isn’t. (Never underestimate the lay audience: I used to know a man who asked me why I changed my strings.)
I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I have more guitars than I feasibly need. I don’t say this to brag, I say it because I find myself in that awkward position where I wonder if I should sell one on. After all, are they necessary? I know some musicians who make a living quite successfully with a single guitar. But then I also know some people who strongly advise me to hang on to each and every one of them.
So, why own more than one in the first place? Well, the obvious answer would be “one guitar, one bass.” This is easily extended to “one acoustic, one electric, one bass.” Of course, if one is gigging regularly, one could make the case for having a backup of one’s main instrument, and already you’re up to four. Whoops.
These are simple, practical arguments that are easy to explain. Once you start getting out of this comfort zone, you eventually have to give the answer that always leads to a few raised eyebrows, which is, “because they all sound different.”
Despite its relative youth – or perhaps because of it – the electric guitar must surely be the most diverse instrument that is widely available. Cellos, trumpets, clarinets, and the rest show some variation between specimens (pianos even have the luxury of coming in such flavours as grand, upright, etc), but not to the same extent as electric guitars. Because they are so commonplace, they are easy to identify as “some type of guitar,” but if you saw a Fender Telecaster, a Gibson Les Paul and a Rickenbacker 360 side by side for the first time, you could be forgiven for thinking they were completely different instruments.
If I’m honest with myself, I must admit that a certain part of it is a “collector’s syndrome.” Part of me just has a soft spot for particular, widely-copied designs, and so I find myself lusting after certain models of bass guitar that I would like to have represented in “the collection.” When I’m not being honest with myself, which is most of the time, it’s very easy to tell myself that each bass occupies a niche.
But am I being all that dishonest? They do all sound different, though increasingly, there is overlap between them. Brenda, my oldest and most long-suffering bass, was always a wonderfully versatile instrument that could sound pretty good in just about any context – Precision basses usually are. Sadly, after spending ten years with a bad setup and ridiculously high action, I decided it was time to let the badly-bowed neck rest. And her original shellac finish had seen better days. So she’s been undergoing a refurbishment, which I might show you once it’s finished.
Of course, with my Precision out of action, I needed some kind of replacement. I had, in the meantime, bought Christina, the faithful Epiphone EB-3, which I have come to associate closely with Cherry White. She has, after all, been the bass used on the vast majority of our recorded output and at most of our live performances, and will probably continue to feature heavily. Christina’s is a very particular tone, and it’s not to everybody’s tastes, but it sits just nicely in our overall sound.
The replacement-Precision question was solved by the purchase of Joanne, a Schecter Model T. As I explain in my gear review of the same, it’s incredibly similar to a Precision, and was a welcome third option at the stage where I wanted something “better” than a Mexican-built Fender, but couldn’t afford the US-built one.
In the meantime, I was building Aradia, the unique “Frankenbass,” built from parts I found on eBay. If I had been able to finish Aradia faster, I might not have had the itch to buy another Precision-style bass, and hence might never have bought Joanne. By the time I had finished the French-polishing, Aradia’s niche had already been filled. But then, she was an experiment, and I’d like to think that justifies her existence by itself. (Besides, Aradia was fitted which a jazz bass pickup, which sounds very different, as any fule kno.)
Vriska was a very unexpected purchase. Her niche would always be an easy one to justify, but I never thought I’d stumble across one so casually in a shop window. I’d only gone out to buy a new pair of jeans, and I ended up buying an 8-string bass. I’d done no research into the subject, I just knew that the sound John Entwistle had on such Who songs as Success Story and Trick of the Light was monstrously powerful, and I wanted to give it a try! I’m not aware of the Hagström HB-8 ever featuring in the Ox’s enormous collection (the clips in the links were supposedly recorded on Rickenbacker and Alembic 8-strings, respectively), but I’m still very pleased with that little chance discovery.
The most recent addition, Annie, could also be the hardest one to justify. Arguably, the most honest reason I could give would be because I wanted one. It’s a combination of the old collector’s syndrome, and a strange sense of aspiration. Annie sounds different from Christina, but sits in much the same sonic niche, and encourages a similar playing style. So what’s so different? Well, Annie is a Gibson Thunderbird. And I’m sure my opinion is biased by the fact that she has “Gibson” and “Made in USA” printed on the headstock, but there’s no denying that she is a wonderful instrument to play. Everything feels just right. And, of course, it’s a fulfilment of that dream from when I was 14 years old, struggling through those first simple exercises on a Squier Bronco, that one day I would own a beautiful Fender bass. Or a Gibson. Maybe even a Rickenbacker, or a Warwick, I really didn’t know back then.
So can I justify keeping them all? Probably not. Will I keep them all? Almost certainly. You see, the biggest stumbling block I have is sentimentality: once I get accustomed to playing each of these instruments, I get used to their sounds and their idiosyncracies, and I find I love them all in their own way. Arguably, the question is not why I need so many guitars, it’s why I can’t bear to get rid of them. I have previously sold two, because they weren’t being played. But all of these get played. I think I just have to make sure I don’t get tempted to buy any more.
It probably doesn’t help that I give them all names…