Wal custom built basses, rarities & oddities
A unique Wal bass design. Steve Chesney's custom "36 fret" fretless Wal custom bass with burled redwood top and matching headstock facing. But strangely this isn't a "one-off". It's a "two-off"!
And its non-identical twin! Also Steve's...
1990 reissue passive, single-pickup "Pro-type" bass
The legendary triple-necked Wal bass.
Roger Newell with the original triple-necked Wal in Rick Wakeman's English Rock Ensemble (thanks to Roger for this photo)
The original Wal Triple Neck in residence at the Hard Rock Cafe, New York, USA (note difference in centre neck pickup surround compared to the copy).
Chris Squire playing the replica triple neck Wal. The original was built for Roger Newell of Rick Wakeman's English Rock Ensemble in the early 1970s and later given to the Yes bassist as a gift.
Below are some more shots of the replica triple neck in the hands of Chris Squire (and Dream Theater's Mike Portnoy making the most of a "quiet moment" with one of the world's most legendary basses!).
Double-necked Wal basses.
Over the years Electric Wood have made a number of double-necked basses. Although not exactly common there are a number of examples out there. The normal recipe would be to have a solid wood body without facings (usually walnut or mahogany) but faced and sold colour versions are known. The most common versions of these rare beasts mix a fretted and a fretless four string neck although, again, with the custom-build nature of Wal variants are known - see the double 5-er pictured below. Is there a drawback of the double neck? Well they can be a bit unwieldy and take a bit of getting used to. However, Wals don't exactly have a reputation for being "feather light" and the sheer mass of wood in the bodies make them a bit back-breaking to use for extended periods. Perhaps for studio usage and curiosity value mostly, then?
Double neck - solid walnut body, fretted and fretless necks, ebony fingerboards. Wal have made several double necked basses - most famously used by bassist, Jonas Hellborg, who does happily throw his around on stage. Double necks usually have a solid wood body rather than exotic facings (often mahogany) although some faced models are known.
The Wal MB4 MIDI Bass.
The Wal MB4 midi-bass was a collaboration between Electric Wood and Australian bass player/designer Steve Chick. The system allowed a bass player to control a midi synthesizer directly from the bass with both accurate note tracking with immediate sounding notes. A common problem for early guitar and bass to midi converters was the so-called "midi-delay" – the almost imperceptible (but still noticeable and distracting) delay caused by the time taken for the midi hex pick-up to sense the note being played. The MB4 system did not rely fully on the pick-ups for pitch information. Instead, sensors were built into the frets (each of which was split into four separate pieces) to determine the basic pitch of the note. Pressing a string onto a fret completed an electrical circuit effectively acting in the same way as a key on a keyboard. Pitch-bend and dynamics information was then sensed from the pickups.
The signal from the bass was sent from a large 15-pin computer interface connector on the rear of the bass, via a special wire, to a control unit. This allowed calibration and control of the MB4 system (including three modes designed for finger-style, pick and slap/tapping playing. Further switches gave control over the octave which the synth note is played in, dynamics and monophonic/polyphonic operation. Additional pedals allowed the player to change synth patches, sustain synth notes and adding modulation effects. Despite the fact that the controller and pedals have something of a "home-made", Heath-Robinson look and feel to them the MB4 was one of the first really effective bass-synth controllers.
Around 1990 the Wal MB4 Midi bass was launched to much acclaim - mostly because it actually worked without the delay which had plagued other midi-bass systems. Unfortunately, after only a few years, the rights to Chick's midi-bass system was bought up by US guitar giant Peavey for the development of their Midibase and then Cyber-bass. This brought an end to the production of the Wal MB4 midi-bass. These remain sought after items on the second hand market.
A double-necked Wal midi bass?!?!!
This phenomenal beast came to light in late summer 2005 when it's owner at the time, Steve Payne, decided that his under-used beauty needed to go to an owner who would get more use out of it and posted it for auction on eBay. The bass is solid American Walnut and is equipped not only with the normal Wal tone circuitry on its fretted and fretless necks. The upper, fretted neck is also midi enabled using the MB4 split fret system.
But , once again, this is not a one-off. There are rumours of another one in existence which once resided in the possession of fretless wizard and top session dude, Pino Palladino. However, one thing's certain... this bass belongs on a Wal rarities page!!
The bass was commissioned by Steve in the mid-'80s (close inspection shows that the lower of the pair of headstocks bears a transfer of his name) when he was doing a lot of studio session work. He reasoned that, if the two necks would give him some extra versatility in the studio then having one of them midi-equipped and able to drive synthesizer and sampled sounds would increase that versatility to the "N-th" degree. The thinking seemed to prove right as the bass was consistently through the rest of the '80s and early '90s in sessions - both by Steve and on an loaned basis. After doing some sessions for other bands at Mike Oldfield's studio the bass was loaned to Oldfield for the recording sessions that became Tubular Bells II. Oldfield, having been an Aria SB1000 user in the early '80s went on to purchase his own Wal basses which have featured on his more recent albums, including the special 30th anniversary re-recorded version of Tubular Bells. It's also been loaned to other well known bass players, such as Greg Lake (of King Crimson and ELP) and Colin Bass of Camel - both well known Wal users in their own right.
The midi double neck, like all double-necked Wals is certainly a weighty beast but it still feels very natural to play (certainly seated anyway). The body has a wonderful natural resonance played unplugged which, no doubt feeds into the excellent amped sound. Also after around 20 years of regular professional usage it's also in amazing condition - almost completely immaculate. Clearly the bass has been treated with the respect that it deserves... and quite right too. It is a rare and beautiful beast. Quite right too!!
Above: Double neck midi bass - as on all Pro and Custom Series Wals the bass has twin laminated necks but this time with four-a-side arranged tuning heads to facilitate ease of tuning. Both neck plates are numbered - in this case W2783. Some double-necked Wals are known to have the necks sequentially numbered (W3561/W3562 - a white poly-gloss finished model. Click here for a photo from Stephan's Wal Database).
Below: Like most Wal double-necks, the double-midi is single pickup. To aid playability an additional thumb rest is included where the neck pickup would normally reside. The split frets, central to the operation of the MB4 midi system, are also just visible in the photograph.
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