Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Lee Sklar's Bass Guitars

If you have listened to any Rock or Pop Music, you have heard Leland Sklar play bass. You just may not have known it was him that you were listening to.

Lee Sklar is an A-List Hollywood studio bass player and has been one since starting his career in the late 1960’s by playing on James Taylor’s recordings and concerts. He has played on more than 2000 albums and at 67 years old, he is still in demand.

Leland Sklar was the bassist on recordings of Linda Ronstadt, Hall and Oates, Jackson Browne, Phil Collins, Clint Black, Reba McEntire, George Strait, Hoyt Axton, Carol Bayer Sager, Roger McGuinn, Stephen Bishop, Bette Midler, Randy Neuman, Suzy Bogus, The Oak Ridge Boys, Sarah Brightman, Aaron Neville, Dolly Parton, Georgio Moroder, Bonny Riatt, Lee Retinour, Johnny Rivers, Dianna Ross, Helen Ready, the Doors, Barbara Streisand;...

...and the list goes on. And these are but a few of the performers for whom he has laid down the bass lines.

As you can see, he has been indeed a very prominent player. Additionally he has collaborated with film makers and television producers on soundtracks, such as Hill Street Blues, Knight Rider, Simon and Simon, Forest Gump, Kindergarten Cop, My Best Friend’s Wedding and many others.

Leland Sklar began playing piano at the age of four. When his instructor determined there were too many piano students, he asked Sklar if he would like to play string bass. He said yes to the bass and has never looked back.

Sklar went on to study music at California State University, Northridge and this is where he first met James Taylor. When they started playing music together they anticipated this would be a short-term gig. However when Taylor’s career took off with the song Fire and Rain (on which Sklar played bass) and Sklar became Taylor's go-to bass man.

Lee Sklar - Warwick Jonas Hellborg bass
With his foot-and-a-half-long gray beard, bassist Lee Sklar has been one of the most instantly recognizable musicians on stage or in videos for decade. His ability to play pop, rock, jazz, country and easy listening has made him one of the industry's first-call players. Besides who doesn't like a guy that looks like Gandalf.

At 68 years old, Sklar has no plans to slow down. He’s still recording and touring.

Sklar says his favorite bass is a hand-carved  1962 Fender Jazz Bass. He started his career using this Jazz Bass. He refers to it as a "total hippie bass" since he carved peace signs into the body. He was a huge Frank Zappa and the Mother’s of Invention fan, so he had Frank’s picture decoupaged onto the instruments back.

When he first started playing, he was using a little Univox amplifier that had a single 15” speaker.

I'm just taking a guess about his amp based on its age and speaker size

He stuck with the Jazz Bass and the Univox amplifier combination for the first few years of his career.

In 1973 Sklar had a bass build for him by John Carruthers. Sklar acquired a Precision Bass neck, but did not have a body for the instrument. Carruthers made a template by using the 1962 Jazz Bass body and then reshaped the neck to fit onto it.

Sklar also says that he ran across some nice Charvel bodies made out of alder. To choose which body he wanted, he hung wires on them and tapped them, much like a violin maker does. He eventually found one that resonated nicely, so he had Carruthers build another bass.

This one had a first generation EMG pickup on it. (which has apparently been removed) He has two sets of Precision pickups and placed them on the bass where the Jazz Bass pickups would normally set. The frets were stripped off of the neck and then replaced with mandolin fret wire, which is extremely thin. Sklar says this turned out nicely and this has been his go to bass since 1983.

Sklar also had owned a double neck bass that was made for him sometime in the 1970’s by Steve Helgeson. The upper neck is a piccolo bass and the lower neck is a standard bass. The body was made from a single block of burled Birdseye maple.

The lower fret board is made of ebony and the upper made of rosewood. The lower neck is inlaid with mother of pearl and the upper is inlaid with abalone.

The creator, Mr. Helgeson, is a falconer and this inspired him to create this instrument which is known as The Eagle Bass, which is also a remarkable sculpture. Sklar says the bird head-stocks are removable. They are in the shape of eagle heads and are hand carved by Helgeson out of walnut wood.

The eyes in the heads are made of Mexican fire opals with LEDs behind them and they light up.

Sklar’s only regret about this bass is its weight. He says it is very heavy. He had to have a special case constructed for it. But the bulk of carrying it around is too much of an effort. Sklar loves it is a beautiful instrument and he loaned it to the Boston Hard Rock Café. It has since been moved to the Hard Rock Café in Tampa, Florida. They have since purchased the bass from Sklar.

Gibson manufactured the Leland Sklar Signature Bass for only 1 year; 1997-1998. The bass was designed by Mike McGuire and the Gibson Custom Division. It resembled a Fender bass with its double cutaway solid body. It came with a bolt-on 21 fret neck with a rosewood fretboard.

The headstock had 4 on a side tuners with unusual beveling. The bass scale was 34”. The hardware was chrome plated. The 3 controls were volume blend and tone. The bass had two EMG split coil – P-Bass style pickups. The bass comes with a Hip Shot extender that allows the low E to be dropped to D with a flip of a switch.

Leland Sklar Dingwall Bass

Dingwall Basses asked him if they could build a signature model for him. This became his main touring bass. He used it with Phil Collins, Lyle Lovett and the James Taylor/Carole King reunion tour. The Dingwall is a five string bass with fan frets.

Around 2010 Warwick Bass Company contacted him and asked if he would endorse their products. The following year he showed up at the Frankfurt Musikmesse Show, demonstrating the Warwick Star Bass II.

They have produced several models for Lee including a fretted bass, a fretless bass, a double neck bass and an eight string bass. Sklar compares it playing a Hofner, but says that it is easier to play.

Leland Sklar does not utilize many effects. He likes his Boss OC-2 Octave Divider. He says he also has an older TC chorus-flanger pedal. For session work, Leland Sklar claims that most performers want a clean bass sound for their recordings.

He no longer uses his Univox amp. Instead he uses a high-end amplifier made by a New Jersey company called Euphonic Audio.

He claims their amps produce a very big and clean sound.

When asked about any advice he could give to players he says that when playing gigs, especially in places with big PA systems, do not play loud. Let the house guy mix you. You are going to get a better and more balanced sound every time.


Acoustic Bass Guitar said...

Lee Sklar's Bass Guitars ... iacousticbassguitar.blogspot.com

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