Geoff Gascoyne - Double/Electric Bass

Having finished a world tour with Jamie Cullum at the end of last year, Geoff Gascoyne is as busy as ever. “I’ve been doing a lot of different things this year”, he muses. “Jazz gigs, pop gigs – you name it, I’ve done it. And the best part of it is I get to use all my instruments at different volumes and different levels!"

Gascoyne grew up in London’s East End. “I remember my Grandfather played piano in a pub”, he says with a broad smile. “I studied piano from the age of 6 and went through all the grades until I eventually got my grade 8 when I was 13 – “then I gave up!”
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While studying painting at St Martin’s School of Art, Gascoyne got into playing bass in punk bands. “I dyed my hair red, picked up a white Fender Squier Jazz bass, took the frets out of it to make it into a fretless and slung it around my knees. I thought I was the coolest cat around!” He remembers spending the early 80s deciding whether he was going to be a painter or a musician. “Fortunately I decided on being a musician,” he says, “I started doing some session work and things just went from there.”

Gascoyne’s first big break came in 1990 when he did a tour of America with Everything But the Girl. “That’s when I bought my first real quality bass”, he says. “It was a Ken Smith. I went to his workshop in New York and picked out a fretted five string. It’s the only instrument that I still have from that time.”

So when did Gascoyne pick up his first string bass? “I got my first string bass when I was in my twenties. I still have that too,” he confirms. “It’s German, made around 1920 and it’s a 3/4 size flatback. I find that’s the optimum size for playing jazz, as the sound is much more focussed and it’s easier to control.” Gascoyne has recently bought a second string bass. “It’s a new bass”, he enthuses, “made by the English maker Tobias Chennell. It’s a 7/8 size and it has this wonderful lion headstock.” Gascoyne concedes that it is “a bit of a stretch with the left hand”, but counters, “the pay off is that you get a much bigger sound.” Gascoyne also owns a couple of other upright basses. “I’ve got a 5 string Steinberger”, he starts. “but that was a phase I went through – I couldn’t really swing on it and the only comfortable way I could play it was at 45 degrees!” I notice there’s a Yamaha ‘Silent’ bass propped up in the corner.

“Yeah, Yamaha gave that to me”, he says with a wry chuckle. “It’s been very important to me in the last couple of years. Since Jamie’s been playing very large venues like the Albert Hall and Blenheim Palace, I was finding it difficult to amplify a double bass. You get a lot of feedback and keeping the volume to a good level on stage is really difficult and the best thing about the Silent bass, is that you can turn it up as loud as you want and you get no feedback at all.” Talking of which, how does Gascoyne amplify his acoustic basses? “I use David Gage ‘Realist’ pickups on both acoustic basses,” he says. “It’s a little brass plate that goes under the foot of the bridge – very natural sounding and not too bright – just plug it in and away you go! Strings? “Now there’s a story,” says Gascoyne. “All my upright basses, including the Silent bass are strung with Innovation 140 Honeys. Lionel Davies, who runs the company turned up at one of my gigs with a bag full of strings and said: I think you’ll like these”. And I do! They bridge the gap between steel and gut strings because they have a synthetic core, so they are very soft and they have that kind of gut string feeling to them – and they are great for jazz. They make the Silent bass sound really mellow – they’re amazing.”

I finally get Gascoyne back to his electrics. “I was so pleased with my first Ken Smith,” he starts, “that I bought a fretless. I was doing a lot of session work, so I thought that having a fretted and a fretless would be great. But in the end I didn’t get to use it very much and it was gathering dust and I needed the money, so I sold it.” Gascoyne also experimented with a few other fretless basses. “I had a  Wal,” he says, “but it was too fiddly – trying to get the right sound.” Gascoyne’s once again in full flow. “That’s what was great about my Ken Smith, It just sounds great when you plug it in – no EQing. It’s like the Fender basses that I have – they all have their own sound specific to the job that they do.” He continues. “I have a ‘65 Fender Jazz Relic, all made from original parts in California. It’s beautiful – it’s like a new bass – but it sounds just like the original.” So what’s the string set-up? “I use the Bass Centre’s Standard roundwound Elites. 45-105 and a 135 on the five string.” And the amplification? “I have a Gallien Kruger 100 watt small combo for the acoustic bass,” says Gascoyne, “along with two SWR combos. One’s a Baby Blue with a 10 inch speaker, the other’s a larger one with a 12 inch speaker. For the electric basses I have an SWR SM900 that I match up to a Hartke 4X10 cabinet.”

This gear is currently seeing plenty of action, as Gascoyne is in the midst of a UK tour – “10 gigs in 11days.” He’s laughing. “And I’ve got Jamie as MY piano player!”

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