Sunday, November 3, 2013

Bass Guitars - Eight Strings and More

Have you ever looked at the strings inside a piano? Most of them are doubled or tripled. Only the lowest bass strings are single strings. That is because double and triple strings produce a greater timbre

Bass guitarist Eric Krackow thought about this fact. Krackow played in one of Al Kooper’s original bands called the Aristo-Cats.

Krackow dreamed up this concept back in the late 1950’s through the early 1960’s, the days of rock boogie. He surmised that much of the music bands of that era played involved guitars doubling the bass line.

Eric Krackow’s day job was as an electric engineer. At night he played bass guitar. As a bass player he figured it was too complicated for a bass guitarist to play everything in octaves.

Besides the high notes on a bass do not have the same timbre as those played on the lighter strings of a guitar. Krackow came up with a prototype of the first documented eight string bass guitar.

Krackow and his business partner took the prototype to Sid Hack of the Univox Corporation. At the time Univox had a contract with Hagstrom Guitars to import their instruments. Sid liked the idea and ordered Hagstrom Guitars of Sweden to build 500 units for shipment to Univox.  During the years 1967 through 1969 a total of 2,249 Hagstrom Eight String Bass Guitars were sold. The Hagstrom bass was designated the H-8.

The Hagstrom Eight String Bass was put on the same body almost identical to the Hagstrom four string F-4 bass. All Hagstrom bodies were thinner than a Fender as was the neck. In fact Hagstrom prided itself on their narrow necks, which they believed were easier to play than a wide neck.

1967 model from
The usual four bass strings had large bass sized tuners with the big buttons, while the smaller strings that were tuned an octave higher had guitar sized pegs. Hagstrom’s normal headstock was four on a side for bass guitars.

The headstock on their eight string model had four tuners on one side and four on the other. The strings were normally tuned to E e, A a, D d, and G g.

Newer Version of the H8

The first endorser was Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. An eight string bass through a couple Marshall amplifiers played in an arena is an amazing sound. However prior to Redding getting access to the Hagstrom, it was Jimi himself that got cool to this instrument.

During a touring break for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Hendrix was in the studio with his friend Curtis Knight and his band, the Squires. Hendrix jammed with this band and in some rare recordings, Jimi can be heard playing the eight string Hagstrom.

One of the benefits of and 8 or 12 string bass is a natural chorus effect which is achieved due to subtle differences in string timbre, similar to a 12 string guitar.

Schecter 8 string bass guitar
Most companies’ saw Hagstroms venture as a one shot deal; a fad that would soon die out. Gibson, Fender, Epiphone and other large manufacturers have never produced a double or triple string bass guitar. But then other manufactures, such as Rickenbacker, Hamer, Schecter, Washburn, ESP, and Dean produced their own models.

Rickenbacker produced an eight string bass that used a modified 360 body and had a similar headstock design as the Hagstrom; four large tuners and four small tuners. Rickenbacker does not release sales records, but I doubt if their eight string bass had a very large following.

John Entwhistle of the Who had an eight string bass custom made by the Alembic Company. He always played the bass with his fingers. Other players favor a pick on the eight string bass to emphasize the high register notes. There are even funk players that slap and pop on an eight string.

John Paul Jones of Led Zepplin, Mike Rutherford of Genesis both played eight string bass guitars. Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick also played a mult-string bass.

The unique thing is that all these bands have a guitar, bass and drummer with no rhythm or keyboard player. The extra sound of the eight string help to fill any void.

It is said that when Hendrix recorded Electric Ladyland he played the eight string bass parts on a couple of the songs for that LP.

Chris Squire of Yes often tunes his 8 string bass to eE-aA-aD-dG so that the first two courses of strings are tuned in fifths.

Famed luthier, designer and founder of Hamer Guitars, Jol Dantzig never turned down a challenge. Dantzig was already designing quirky guitars for Cheap Trick’s Rick Neilsen. He was approached by Tom Petersson, Cheap Tricks bass player in 1978 to build a 12 string bass. This Hamer bass was dubbed The Hamer Quad. It had the usual four bass string, but each string was tripled with the addition of two string that were tuned an octave higher.

Hamer produced commercially available 12 string bass guitars, however Dantzig, again at Petersson’s request, also built a special version which he called the Hamer Quad 12 knob,

Tom wanted a stereo 12 string bass, but Dantzig took it a step further by creating a quadraphonic 12 string bass. The 12 knob designation came because these instruments had built in mixing consoles.

Each pick up was wired to its own volume, treble boost and cut and bass boost and cut. The switches below the knobs selected the frequency of the EQ. Another unique factor was the pickup arrangements Dantzig used.

The original 1978 version came with four 3 pole pickups placed vertically, one under each string. There was an additional pickup above them that was placed horizontally. This bass was known as “The Trade Show Bass” and used extensively by Petersson.

Another version, also made in 1978 came with a similar mixing console, but this time with what appears to be twin humbucking pickups placed horizontally right next to each other slightly south of the basses center.

Dantzig also built a twelve knob -12 string Quad bass for John Entwhistle that was in the shape of a Gibson Explorer.

The peghead was similar to the Petersson models that topped off with a V shape.

Entwhistle’s bass also had the 12 knob console, but instead of being on the top lower bout, it was placed on the bottom lower bout. The original bass had four – 3 pole vertical pickups, however Entwhistle later added a humbucker.

Because of the complexity of these instruments, Dantzig built a “Quad” box that allowed the player to split each pickup to a different sound source; i.e. four different amplifiers. There was also a monaural source, similar to what most of us use to plug into an amplifier.

By 1980 Jol Dantzig experimented with a simpler version of the 12 string bass that had an eight knob EQ console.

 Dantzig states that only 10 Quad basses were ever made.

Hamer went on to produce and market a much simpler version of the 12 string bass that briefly gained some popularity.

Based on the popularity of the five string bass, it was inevitable that a ten string bass would come along. Dean guitars, which currently makes an affordable eight string bass, offers a ten string bass in its line up.

A smaller manufacturer named Zon offers a ten string model. The string need not be tuned in octaves. In fact some players tune the high string in thirds, fourths and fifths.

Reginald Quincy Arvizu aka Fieldy from the band Korn has used a 15 string bass on recordings. This instrument was made by Ibanez and designated the K15.

Fieldy does not, to my knowledge, play this instrument in concert, instead preferring his Ibanez 5 string bass.

Hagstrom Eight String bass - The original version


Tom Petersson with Hamer 12 knob Quad Bass.