By Bruce Johnson
I had a nice visit from Geddy Lee this week. If you've been away from the world of rock music for the last 40 years, Geddy is the bassist, singer, and songwriter of the legendary rock band Rush. It was great to meet him. I've been a fan of his music since the '70's, and he was a major influence on my interest in basses. We got to talk for about an hour and a half.
The reason for the visit is that Geddy is writing a new book about the early days of the evolution of the electric bass. It's called Geddy Lee's Big Beautiful Book Of Bass, and will be published next year. His co-author on the project is Daniel Richler. They are putting together a story about how the electric bass was developed, in the time period up to 1972. How it evolved, as different individuals and companies experimented with the design. And how that design affected how basses were played during the early days of rock music. As part of their research, Geddy and Daniel have been traveling around interviewing various people who know the background of the instruments of that time.
Geddy has a large collection of vintage electric basses of his own. Over the last few years, he's become interested the Ampeg Scroll Bass, an obscure model of electric bass which was made from 1966-1969. Those basses are my particular area of expertise. I've repaired and restored more than a hundred of them for customers over the past 20 years, and I have several of my own. I've done extensive research and writing about them. I also build and sell new improved versions of the Scroll Bass, as my main product line.
In his collection, Geddy now has 5 nice examples of these Ampeg Scroll Basses. As he acquired these basses, his long time instrument technician Skully has been in communication with me. I've helped them with technical problems and historical information.
So, they came to my shop mostly to talk about the old Ampegs, as research for the book. How and why they were designed as they were. I pulled out my collection and we went through each of them in great detail. I showed them Ampegs that were completely disassembled and under restoration. We traded stories of Ampegs that became famous, and ones that had been badly abused. And of course, we covered my involvement with the Ampeg company in 1996-1998, and the evolution into my own Scroll Basses. Geddy tried out two of my own new models and really liked them both. It was a proud moment for me, watching him play my creations!
Geddy is very knowledgeable and curious about the engineering side of basses, and we got into all kinds of technical detail. We went over the internal workings of the original Ampeg pickups, and how I've taken the design further in my basses. We looked at how the Ampeg necks and bodies were built, and the research I've done on truss rods and internal structure. He also loved my shop and all of my old antique machinery. And he got a kick out of Banjozilla.
They brought their own photographer, and Daniel recorded audio of the whole session. Plus, they allowed our own Scott Duckett to shoot stills and some video. Here are a couple of the best shots by Scott: