Do you want to know what one of the most successful session bassist in history plays and how she plays it? Read on, to learn about the basses, amplifiers and playing techniques of the amazing Carol Kaye.
After writing the previous article on Carol Kaye I decided to see if she could be contacted. The reason I wanted to contact her was that although there was piles of information on the Internet about her, there really wasn’t that much information about her instruments. Since this blog is more about the basses, than the players that play them, I thought maybe she would be able and open to providing some background.
I did notice some Fender Precisions in photos of her. I also saw something that looked like a Gibson Grabber. Then in most of her recent videos on Youtube, she’s playing and Ibanez SR series bass.
I guess I was hoping that the history of her basses, (about the same time frame as Paul McCartney’s career), would have included a few key, or even iconic instruments.
But was I ever wrong. One thing that really caught my interest was that she never kept her P-Basses. In fact every so often, when the bass needed new strings, she’d just go trade it for a new one. So it seems that there is a whole bunch of sixties P-Bass out there that played on any number of legendary sessions. But likely no body knows which P-Basses they were. I wonder if there’s a music store in LA somewhere that has all their records.
To my email, Carol responded by explaining that she was quite busy, but attached a number of emails with content that could be used in my blog.
The following is from one email attachment sent to me from Carol. The email is almost completely intact, but was cleaned up a bit. It seems the text was written over a number of sessions, so there is a bit of repetition here and there. I considered trying to reorganize it, but instead decided to leave it most as it.
Photographs included are not pictures of Carol’s instruments, but instead of provided as a reference to what kind of instrument she is taking about.
Content that is italicized is content in Carol’s own words. Any edits are done in non-italicized text.
“I’ve always played elec. bass with a HARD PICK, sort of tear-drop shaped pick on medium-gauge flatwound strings — I only use the THOMASTIK JAZZ FLATWOUND strings which get that same sound and feel, only BETTER – these are fantastic long-life great-sounding flatwounds, the finest!
And I’ve always used a muting system (except for guitar), laying a piece of doubled up piece of FELT (the soft cloth you use for the bottoms of vases etc. to keep them from scratching furniture, not sure what you call it over there), about 1-1/2 inches wide, right on top of the strings just next to where the strings exit the bridges. You use masking tape to tape the doubled up piece of felt down – masking tape doesn’t damage the finish on your bass. (note: For finger playing, the other bassists used a piece of medium-grade foam *underneath* the strings, barely touching the strings which would still ring fine….that takes awhile to get it just right but once you have it, it lasts 1-2 years and mutes the bass just fine too. I use a pick exclusively, it was a much-indemand sound and so never was required to play with fingers at all….so muting is on top of the strings for all pick playing).
I never changed strings – hated to do that and had no time to do that. I merely ran into a music store on a break, handed in my old bass, and quickly picked out a new Fender Precision every 2 years and so I had the new strings!
Back when I used the Fender Precision basses (never changed strings, but wiped them on top and underneath), they had bridge covers with that awful piece of rubber inside, which I never used, it was useless. But I did place the piece of doubled-up felt (two thicknesses) on top of the strings just next to the bridges and that piece of rubber in those bridge covers sort of held it in place just fine.
I also had to wedge 2-3 picks underneath the bridgecover so the strings would ring just fine (almost as much as if there was nothing there). You just want to dampen the strings very slightly (some even temporarily use a kleenex but that’s too flimsy) to kill the over-tones and under-tones which destroy your good clean sound.
I used the Super Reverb Fender 4-10 cab amps (black in color) until about 1967 when I switched to the enclosed Versatone amps (Also see Jack Cassady interview with Fly Guitars and Sean’s Versatone Amp Resource) which I used until about 1974, when playing with the great Jazz Pianist Hampton Hawes – Fender supplied the whole Trio with instruments, and for me, a large Fender amp with Cerwin-Vega speakers (LED lights too) on our jazz concerts.
GEAR: (Please note, as of Jan. 2011, I do NOT endorse any Ibanez basses or guitars anymore. They’ve discontinued making the bass I’ve used the last 7-8 years, plus I do not get any credit for all the advice I’ve given them, making of an amp, advice on designs for different products and instruments are of different quality now imo.)
Studio gear mostly, was very different from anything you used live for touring gigs. Back then, you needed refrigerator-sized amps for those big rock stages, just the opposite of what you used in the studios. Many erroneously believe that bass players used Ampeg amps. I never saw an Ampeg amp in the studios out here, they simply didn’t record that well. You surely didn’t use any amp with expensive speakers that took years to break in…you used amps with cheap speakers which would speak right way with great response and you used quiet low-powered amps.
Everyone muted their instruments for better sounds whether it was drummers, guitar players (felt mute intertwined behind the bridges), harps, or whatever. Being from years, sometimes decades of top experienced gigs and concerts, touring with big bands and/or jazz groups, you knew what would bring the best sounds in the critically-different recording studios, as well as the low-powered but clean amps everyone used. Here’s the list of gear I used in the past, also a list of pedals I used over the years. I have to preface this with the fact that early on, to get a “fuzz sound” on recordings, long before fuzz-tone pedals were manufactured, you simply took a tube out of your amp and played (I was a guitar player then, not a bass player yet, late 1950s and early 1960s)……that created the best fuzz-tone I’ve ever heard. Here’s the list in chronological order – see more about this at the bottom.
I was very poor, had no money and so first used Gibson L-5 (See wiki Gibson L-5) my teacher Horace Hatchett had for guitar gigs 1949 through about 1950 (when I was 14-15 years old). Then I worked 2 years to pay for Gibson Super 400 he sold to me (sold later to pay for medical bills).
From late 1952 on, I used the Gibson ES175 bought used along with a used Gibson amp (see big-band picture). About the end of 1955, I traded in the Gibson guitar at a pawnshop for a used Epiphone Emperor (Phil Spector’s favorite guitar sounds btw), and later about 1957, bought a Fender Super-Reverb 4-10 amp (black with open back), Fender Jazzmaster Elec. Guitar, Danelectro Bass Guitar (6-string-Dano, the only instrument that was called the “bass guitar” out here in the Hollywood studios) which I had a custom bridge and special hot pickup installed in to make it sound and play good with quality special strings etc. for better sounds. The Dano was basically almost a piece of junk if you didn’t fix it up some. I also used the Gibson acoustic 12-string guitar 1957-2000 which I converted to an elec. 12-string guitar with my D’Amand pickup in its round-hole (an idea I had back then, as no-one else was using the 12-string guitar electrified back then).
I also had a custom elec. 12-string guitar made out of an ordinary Guild T-100D 6-string elec. guitar (by repairman ace Milt Owen – he replaced pickups at my request, and fitted in the extra 6 strings on the headstock – it was a thin neck and played good). I bought a gut-string guitar (pretty sure it was a Yamaha classical guitar), a Whyte Lady 4-string banjo with an open back, and Gibson Mandolin and Uke to round out guitar collection for studio work early 1960s. Like most of the studio musicians, I tuned the Banjo and Mandolin like a guitar for quick ease in playing. I also had a nice Gibson L-10 acoustic guitar.
The Guild CE-100D 6-string elec. guitar that Milt Owen switched over to be an elec. 12-string guitar too had some hot pickups – I had him put in hot pickups too for potent biting elec. 12-string sounds. This was before elec. 12-string guitars were manufactured. And that’s the sounds of the elec. 12-string guitar you hear on the Sonny & Cher records and some other recordings too. I did have a Fuzz Tone pedal made by Gibson for the fuzz-tone parts (early on, it was taking out a tube out of an amplifier to create a good fuzz-tone sound) for guitar parts.
I bought a Fender Precision bass 1963 after accidentally playing on a Capitol Records date when someone didn’t show up and I began getting all kinds of calls for work as elec. bassist, which was called the “Fender Bass” in the studio work. Quincy Jones and other producers still call it the “Fender Bass” tho’ all the pro’s have used the name I gave it (Electric Bass) with my first book since the late 1960s: “How to Play The Electric Bass” – and the Musicians Union and Federation changed their Directories also to “Electric Bass”…
Mid and late 1960s, I bought the Gibson Maestro Box with effects (see below). In the late 60s I bought the Versatone 2-part (bass and treble amps you mixed with a pan-pot) amplifier after trying and recording a little with Czerwinsky’s 10″ custom speaker cab. I’d trade in my Fender Prec. bass every 2 years just to get the new strings, as I had no time to change strings but sometimes had to put shims in the neck (at the studio) to make the basses play and respond the way I wanted them to, and kept the strings taut by keeping strings high etc. It’s important to remember to pick close to the end of the neck of any bass to get optimum sounds.
Later I tried the Gibson Ripper Bass in 1973-74 and liked the easy neck but could never get a great powerful sound on it, and missing the Fender sounds, I eventually went back to Fender Precisions by 1974. Gibson consulted with me on the Gibson Grabber bass too but I couldn’t make up my mind where to put the pickup for best sound and they put the pick-up on a slider because of that. I knew I couldn’t get the sounds I wanted from the Gibson basses (and they weren’t going to change their pickups!) so went back to Fender on my own accord with no enticements whatsoever altho’ it was said I was “paid” to do so, which is NOT true. Gibson wanted my endorsement but didn’t want to change their pickups and I missed the Fender sounds.
I used the following basses after that: late 1970s Music Man Stingray, G&L (for a short time), Fender again for a short time, Alembic custom bass, a Bird’s Eye Maple custom bass, scrapped later on, a 9-string combo guitar and bass on one neck, scrapped, a bass made by makers of Versatone amp with early crude computer in it, scrapped. In the 1980s, I used a hybrid bass from Memphis, looking and sounding like a Fender Precision, a Mini-Bass which sounded good but the company went out of business when orders came in. In the late 1990s when playing once again (after a successful TMJ surgery), I got and used a nice Aria Steve Bailey elec. bass, then the Fender Prec. Lite bass for awhile which didn’t meet my criteria, and finally the wonderful Ibanez bass SRX700 which has exactly what I want with its own generic pickups – I’ve had my 2 Ibanez basses since Feb. 2003 or 2004, and am very happy with them.
Please note: Due to their changing these days in 2010, I am not endorsing Ibanez any more as their quality has down and they’re not selling my bass anymore. I refuse to endorse what they do sell, sorry but they’ve put out some good instruments over the years. Their bass I played which you can’t buy any more had a fine neck on it (finally) after their run of too-thin necks…you need good meat on a neck or your fingers will cramp as you play. I believe everyone’s best bet for a fine long-lasting instrument is one of the smaller co’s output, otherwise it’s a crap-shoot as to a utility bass. Top pro’s demand the very best of instruments to play on.
I used the Walter Woods amps from the late 1970s on with a Fender 4-10 cab (note: Walter Woods worked for Polytone for a few years before he started his own successful company). I used the Polytone Mini-Brute amps from about 1999 on but sold them when the Polytone Sonic bass amp came out. I should have kept the Mini-Brute amps as they were fine.
But the slightly more-powerful Polytone Sonic amp caught on fire in 2006 (it was rebuilt with different parts later and sold with that understanding and has since been good) and so switched over to what I have now: the fine small GK 150 amps (note: I now use Ibanez’ new amp, which I helped with consultations about quality and features it should have, the Promethean which also sounds great with guitar).
Currently tho’ I don’t endorse the Ibanez instruments anymore, I’m happy with the Promethean amps and GK amps especially as well as the my Ibanez bass and older modified Ibanez elec. slab-bodied guitar with a custom neck and custom humbucker Seymour Duncan pickup (neck pickup only).
Strings: In the 1960s, I used the Fender medium gauge flatwounds. Tried the Rotosounds Flats in the 1970s and worked well for awhile but I do NOT advise using them now….they’ve changed and aren’t as good anymore imo and had tried many different sets of strings, and have tried all brands of instruments, strings and amps mostly with students over the years.
In the late 1990s, Thomastik Jazz Flats came out and I immediately used them on my old hybrid bass and later on guitars also. I exclusively use the popular Thomastik Jazz flats on bass, the great George Benson elec. flats on elec. guitar also. I use my own extra-heavy tear-drop shaped picks on both guitar and elec. bass as I’ve always done.
Years ago, I bought a used Ibanez RT Series elec. guitar in the mid 1990s which I quickly had installed a neck Duncan humbucker pickup (it’s still my fav), and got another Ibanez elec. guitar RG321 with Duncan Alnico Pro II humbucker neck pickup – all of which I use today too, same pickup I have used in my ol’ RT Series elec. guitar for real jazz…funny how so many have come in the club to hear me playing jazz with their expensive $5,000+ guitars and complain “I can’t get the great jazz sounds you do, how much did you spend for that?” then I have to tell them.
I still use the same Ibanez SRX700 (SRX690) bass and a spare too, but Ibanez has changed their policy and so I do not recommend what they make now, sorry.
Best bet is a smaller private luthier-based company imo not geared to cheap output. I couldn’t get Ibanez to build a decent slab-bodied elec. guitar either….that’s a remaining un-done goal of mine which I feel sure I can done elsewhere, stay tuned.
For those who play with fingers, you must use a piece of FOAM underneath the strings, next to the bridges to get a well-defined sound, and the foam shouldn’t be too tight against the strings, just barely touching the strings since you want the strings to ring. The felt is not good for finger-playing at all, only for pick-playing. Studio bassists did mute their strings this way, next to the bridges, barely touching the strings.
Thomastik Strings has a website which is on my Links page and we sell their great Bass Jazz Flats in my Catalog at a great discount as a service to musicians, still reasonable altho’ prices have risen a little bit lately…. see end of Bass tutors (and what I use on elec. jazz guitar too, the George Benson strings, see Guitar Tutors) and for other sized-strings and 5-string sets as well as roundwounds, you can reach them at:
1-800-644-5268 (USA). USA Distributor for Thomastik-Infeld is Nordenholz Co. (aka Connolly & Sons), 8 Vernon Valley Rd., East Northport NY 11731 USA, NY phone is (631) 757-0110 and Fax is: (631) 757-0021. We only carry the popular regular-size 4-string great Flatwound Jazz Flats here in CATALOG – Accessories Page.
BTW, I forgot to mention above that it was the Gibson
acoustic 12-string guitar and both Barney Kessel and myself coincidentally and independently used at the start of the 60s and to which we both put the D’Armand pickup on, in the roundhole.
It was about 1960-61 when I started to put a pickup on that, and in fact, remember that I was still working quite a bit recording but also playing occasional live gigs for H.B. Barnum and put it on first on a Rams party dance he hired me for just as a lark.
We were doing a little recording with Rosie Grier (what a wonderful guy he is and a talented singer too) at that time and I remembered it being that Rams dance I put the pickup on the 12-string for as we were playing some funky stuff along with the jazz – I wanted to try the pickup on my acoustic 12-string Gibson to see what that would sound like for that dance. Haha, it worked somewhat but I sure had to find a deep jazz sound on it, anyway, it was different.
H.B. liked the sound, he was very interested, so I started using it for record dates and noticed a little later that Barney had a similar idea for his Gibson acoustic 12-string also….almost at the same time we both discovered this when we talked about it.
As for who played the acoustic 12-string guitar on the hit “Walk Right In”, I really have no idea. Don’t think that was a west coast hit, probably cut back east.
Bill Pitman, Tommy Tedesco, Dennis Budimer, Glen Campbell, Billy Strange, etc. all got 12-string guitars too as manufacturers quickly got wise and manufactured regular elec. 12-string guitars which studio guitarists all bought for their studio date arsenals of guitars —
No other guitarist dabbled into putting on portable pickups on their acoustic 12-string guitars like Barney and I did tho’ – we were the first…and no-one changed over a regular 6-string elec. guitar to 12-string elec. either. The one I changed over was a pretty good Guild elec. 6-string but I do remember having Milt Owens install better more-potent hot pickups too at my request, don’t ask me what now, that was almost 50 years ago.
The “name” Fender Bass…
Stig wrote: fender was pretty much the only game in town, with the odd ricky or gibson thrown in – now it’s a little different i’d say.<<<<<
Stig, I never saw a Rickenbacker or a Gibson ever used in the studios of Hollywood. All bass recordings were done with the Fender Precision bass by everyone from the 1950s throughout the 1960s into the early 1970s.
I named my first bass lines book, “How To Play The Electric Bass”. It was called the “Fender Bass”, listed as such in the Musicians Union directories all over, in the 60s….it was the “only” bass palatable for studio work, they loved the sound of the Fender Precision…..no-one cared for the Fender Jazz bass at all – its sound back then simply didn’t cut it. It was all Fender Precision from the late 1950s (with Ray Pohlman and Arthur Wright, and Rene Hall being the bass players) on into the 1960s studios in LA.
When I was considering a name for my first book, I thought that the name of the bass shouldn’t be called “Fender Bass” but that it should be a generic term, something to set the Electric Bass aside from the String Bass which tho’ under siege from more and more use of the Fender Bass, it still was being used for awhile into the middle 1960s then was almost non-existent on dates, except for the Beach Boys and Nancy Sinatra dates.
And as soon as my book came out 1969, somehow our Local 47 thereupon changed its designation to “Electric Bass” in its Directory and the other Musicians’ Union Locals of our Federation followed suit. All the pros began calling it the “Electric Bass” but some producers today sometimes still call it the “Fender Bass” in interviews.
Only the Dano was ever called a “bass guitar” – that was its designation. It was only used as an adjunct bass for awhile and was not a real bass, but a 6-string instrument, down one octave from the guitar (it was not a “baritone bass” at all – that came much later) and not capable of taking the place of the Fender bass sounds even with the potent pickups I had it modified with.
It was kind of a junky instrument you had to fix up to make it playable in the studio work….was sort of passe beginning about the middle of the 60s in recording studios. I did see someone with the Fender 6-string bass (in the case) one time in the studios but never heard it and of course from what I know, it was never used as the “bass guitar”….only the Dano (Danelectro) was.
Pedals, attachments used:
I remember when they put my guitar through the Leslie organ speaker cabinet at Gold Star – they tried with another guitar player at first but he couldn’t trigger it very well, it didn’t work good with his way of picking, and so they gave it to me to try as my way of picking is strong and even — I was well-known for the strong playing I did on guitar. It was a very different sound going through the Leslie speaker – a little hard to trigger evenly but with my style of picking down on the downbeats and up on the upbeats with the flat wrist, it worked well.
And it was good for 2 hot recordings for Jewel Aikens – “Birds And The Bees” etc. which I played on thru the Leslie (on guitar). BTW, I spoke with Jewel on the phone a short while ago, he’s well, appearing in Las Vegas and on tour here and there – happy to be up and going, he’s a super person, a good family man and a wonderful singer.
People were wise enough to know that tricks like that were only good for 1-2 recordings and they were off to do something else then and it was mostly the song that would supply a hint of something different to use, whether it be a hook-line of music in the arrangement (jazz musicians in the rhythm sections were quick to use their experience and great ears to create good lines, very easy for jazz musicians to do) or an effect of some kind.
I was there recording guitar in the studios when the fuzz-tone pedal was first used in the studios – this was a few years after everyone had been taking a tube out of their amp (in the late 1950s) to make a fuzz-sound. It was a Gibson pedal and no I wasn’t the “first” at that, but was one who quickly used it for an “effect”, and saw the potential in it.
I was the “first” to use the Echo-Plex on bass – something that requires great skill to time everything just right for the beat – it was tricky especially to get it in-sync with any click track the movie (& TV) film studios all used and easy to trigger if you played with the right pick-strokes with the powerful flat wrist action I teach all my students to do (see Bass DVD Course, Music Reading DVD etc.). It’s important to have fine technique to trigger all the different kinds of toys you put on your instrument, as with every attachment, you cut down on the output of volume too….that’s where a good powerful technique pick playing does the job whereas others can’t do that with haphazard ways of playing.
I was the first to use all kinds of effects on bass for movie scores – inc. fuzz-tones (listen to “Heat Of The Night”, Airport, Big Jake, and Sweet Charity movies), and a few record dates – Electric Prunes is one group and 1-2 cuts with Brian Wilson on the Beach Boys w/sound effects, especially one cut of the 12 recording dates we did for “Good Vibrations”)…
Listen to the theme of “Airport” cut out at Universal Studios. I had my Gibson Maestro box on with the “steam” and “claves” and octave-divider buttons on (could play 2 octaves at once), and I could also trigger each note just fine, again, with the way hard-even way I pick. I believe one of the cuts of the movie score I did (1971) on bass of “On Any Sunday” has the doubler on it too – here’s the Maestro Gibson box I used: http://www.ultraelectronicactive.com/StarGarEfxProc.html and a couple more here demonstrating the Maestro Box:
(hear sound-clips at my home-page www.carolkaye.com ).
And “Big Jake”, same thing, others like that. But effects sort of run their course very quickly (as we all knew in the 60s & 70s).
I got a ton of work in the studios in the early to mid-60s 12-string work, playing my “paradiddle licks” on the elec. 12-string guitar (the same rhythmic phrases I played later as 16th fills on the bass, 1963 on, and 16-note patterns too) on the elec. 12-string guitar, for one, a HUGE staple of background sounds for the Sonny And Cher recordings which I played the rhythmic 16th-note elec. 12-string fills on a lot. Sonny loved the way I played those fills – Phil Spector used me on acoustic guitar, then elec. guitar, then elec. 12-string some too and finally bass on the rest – the 12-string was an integral part of the Sonny & Cher sound.
HB Barnum hired me to play those same kinds of elec. 12-string paradiddle riff fills on the David McCullem recordings too Capitol Records too, and some other dates. David Axelrod used my elec. 12-string riffs on 1-2 of the Elec. Prunes things and his own album.
It was more common for different instruments like that to become popular (and some stayed popular too, in adjunct to the regular guitars, both acoustic and electric) for awhile, a few years, but not odd things like the flangers altho’ once in awhile you still hear some recordings with odd uses like that of early uses of electronic stuff.
Producers told you to bring “everything” as they weren’t sure themselves what they would use on their dates….and part of my popularity as a studio guitar player was that I was good on many different guitar instruments.
I played cleanly (technique was critical for good recording sounds), as well as good creative lines, knew all the licks, could even solo some rock on elec. guitar but wouldn’t count myself as a good rock soloist (not like Glen Campbell, Howard Roberts, Billy Strange) and could play good rhythmic soul chordal licks too, but was noted for my creative background licks (creating right there on the spot according to the tune, singer, style etc.), funky guitar line rhythms which sometimes doubled with the bass lines (only I’d play more notes etc.) as well as my Dano bass guitar work and almost solo-types of background fill-licks – it all depended on what framework the song and the singer needed to help create a hit recording.
So just to give you a little history there…..it was not unusual to try a little of this and that here and there on recordings. I don’t think “flanging” was an “art-form” that was developed at all…..doing pedal things was all hit and miss accidental stuff.
Carol Kaye http://www.carolkaye.com/
Later I tried the ring modulator, and found that it’s not good for bass – it simply won’t work with the low tones no matter how hard you try to get it to trigger.
My Cartage Co. who hauled my 3-4 amps around for my record dates/film calls in the 1960s was MODERN VAN, owned by Ed Van Sloten, and crew was the best! I could always count on my amp being in the correct studio before-time, turned on and even sometimes, at the correct settings (for that studio)…that means a lot to a studio musician who is running from one record date to another one all day long, every day of the week.
I’d run in each studio with my bass, plug in and re-tune my bass and be ready-to-play at the specified time. Some of the names I owe gratitude for for their great service and work so I could play well, and be assured my gear would “be there” for the 2, or 3, or 4 dates of that day… are:
Bill Gibson, Donny Patterson (both who later started Superior Musical), Ray Metz, Patrick Arvonio (himself a fine bassist, he used to stay in the studio and watch me play when he could), Larry & Ron… and Rodney Porsche, thank-you all for your loyalty, your time and trouble and hard work on my behalf! I still miss seeing you all.
GEAR USED SINCE 2004: Tho’ I’ve recently (Jan. 2011) dropped my endorsement of all-Ibanez gear since they’ve changed their policy in building, I still use my SRX 700 Elec. Bass (only 4-string basses was what I’ve ever used), plus the GK small amps, 28 lbs. but this May of 2009, while I’ve started to use the brand new Ibanez Promethean little amp I helped design (with no credit which I see now with the mechanical problems it’s happening is probably a good idea!), very powerful and clean,and it’s good for the jazz guitar sounds too, it’s showing some bad signs with use of noisy fan, possibly other electronic problems while my great trusty GK is still the BEST that I’ve had for over 10 years. The more-complex GK amps do get great sounds for all styles of music and have a great track-record of lasting many many years with no problems.
I still use the Ibanez older slab-body guitar, tho’ it’s not in the best of shape, it still sounds the best and has the best neck – the SG Tribute guitar neck is a bit much for me right now. I use George Benson elec. guitar strings of course, 12 on the top and absolutely love it….Thomastik Jazz Flat Strings for bass. You can buy these strings in the Catalog – Accessories at www.carolkaye.com/”