music, opinion and technology

the round sound

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I read the news today, oh boy… about John Entwistle, the bassist for The Who, who died yesterday, in Las Vegas. Here’s the report from BBC News. He died literally the day before The Who were to kick off a US tour, and John was also exhibiting his art in a gallery there. All that Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey have said so far is “The Ox has left the building – we’ve lost another great friend. Thanks for your support and love. Pete and Roger”.What to say about John Entwistle and his influence on my instrument of choice, the electric bass? I think it’s enough to say that a little part of him will be there every time I play; specifically, in the strings. I use roundwound strings, as do most electric bassists today, and John was directly responsible for their use in this context.

In the late 60’s, he pressed the James How company, makers of Rotosound strings, to make them available for the bass, in preference to the flatwounds in use at the time. Roundwounds were already in use on pianos and guitars, but there had been justifiable concern that they would lead to fret damage on basses. They were right, but the price is worth paying for the sound, and the frets themselves have since been hardened to compensate. This combination of elements forms the foundation of the modern electric bass sound.

They were soon adopted by other leading bassists of the time, including Chris Squire, Stanley Clarke, and Paul McCartney. You can hear the difference they made to McCartney’s sound if you compare some later Beatles songs such as Paperback Writer (using flatwounds) with Wings’ Silly Love Songs – he used his Rickenbacker on both songs, but roundwound strings on the latter. As for Squire, well, his upfront sound required such strings in the first place.

This is a real loss. It’s going to take me some time to get my head around this. I think I’ll be playing a bit more bass than usual this weekend: that’s the best way I can think of to say “Thank You” to The Ox.


Written by brian t

June 28, 2002 at 7:47 am

Posted in music

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