It's been eight months since the last time I posted anything. Wow. That's a new record. I might, but probably won't, write something about what exactly it was that led to such silence, but I'll sum it up as an effective combination of business, ennui, and overwhelming lack of motivation.
The natural question is, why am I posting now? Well, since last night, I have had a burning interest in Ashbory basses. I was merely minding my business, window shopping for new electric bass at Elderly Instruments, when I saw a bizarre shaped bass.
Now, it's not unusual to see a strangely shaped guitar or bass. Even casual observers have seen plenty of unorthodox body shapes, let alone amateur enthusiasts such as myself. It wasn't really the shape that struck me, so much as the shape coupled with the Fender brand name. "Surely," I thought to myself, "There isn't a Fender bass that I'm completely unaware of?"
That was enough for me to look a bit closer. And the mystery developed. Not only did this seem to be a Fender bass I had never heard of, but it has... Silicone strings? I'd never heard of that before. Never even thought something like that could be a possibility. Mildly curious, I sent a text to my dad asking if he'd ever heard of silicone strings before, and he professed that he had not.
I forgot about it for a few hours. But at the back of my mind, it nagged at me. Silicone strings? What is this? So I Googled it. Read the Ashbory Wikipedia page. And I became deeply fascinated. I don't want to recap all the information I picked up, but maybe just talk about some of the things that I found particularly interesting.
First of all, it turns out that silicone strings are pretty awesome. They're lower tension, so the neck doesn't even need a truss rod. They also last much longer than metal strings - supposedly, up to decades. The downside is that, rather than the 2-3 days it takes for metal strings to stabilize after restringing, it can take silicone strings 2-3 weeks. Also a bonus for a traditionalist like me, silicone strings are best suited for finger plucking, and don't reward picking.
It's also not really a Fender. Long story short, Ashborys were almost made by Martin, but the deal fell through. Then Guild Guitars got a manufacturing deal. That kind of dead-ended, but fortunately, when Fender bought Guild, the creators had a contact that got them in touch with some important people in Fender's DeArmond name, who were responsible for all of the Guild properties. Thus the Ashbory was revived under the DeArmond name.
It also turns out that Ashborys sound completely awesome. The silicone strings give it an unbelievable acoustic upright bass tone that I've never heard from a bass guitar before, let alone a ukulele-sized instrument. The active electronics play a part, of course, but from what I've seen and heard it seems to primarily be the resonant quality of the strings.
I very strongly recommend reading the history of the Ashbory. It's a fascinating read by Nigel Thornbury, co-creator of the instrument. Also take a look at the list of famous players/owners; names like Jack Bruce, Doug Wimbish, David Gilmour, Nathan East, Les Claypool, and Bootsy Collins(!) prove that the Ashbory is much more than a novelty.
I've already resolved that I have to playtest one over the summer, and I desperately want to spend a paycheck on it. (By the way, don't buy one from Elderly Instruments; they seem to be about a hundred dollars over-priced.) I wish I had first-hand experience to add value to my inflamed posting, and if I do acquire an Ashbory over the summer, I'll have to follow up.