JR: Most players talk about the sound being in your hands, but how much does your main bass contribute to your overall voice?
Michael Manring: It’s a great question, and I like how you’ve phrased it. I’ve seen some pretty fiery debates on the subject of whether tone comes from the instrument or player and often wondered if what was needed wasn’t a better definition of the concepts involved. Using the phrase “overall musical voice” is a lovely way of clarifying.
In my case, I would say my instrument plays a very large role in my overall musical voice. As I think you know, I help design the instruments I play, and they have some unusual capabilities. In my personal conception, the form of the bass guitar is not yet fully fixed and established, so experimenting with aspects of its design and implementation are part of the creative process for me. While I spend a lot of my time very happily playing a “conventional” instrument, a 4-string fretted built along roughly the standard Fender parameters, the addition of unconventional tools and approaches is what really makes things interesting to me.
Marcus Miller: It’s a partnership. I’ve been playing – like, you called it my main bass – I’ve been playing it – well, I had two jazz basses before I got the one that I have now. But I’ve been playing a jazz bass since I was thirteen or fourteen years old, and I’ve been playing that bass since I was seventeen. So, what happens is that when you have a particular instrument, especially like an organic instrument made of wood or something like that - there are things that it does well, there are things that it doesn’t do so well. And so my style kind of obviously evolved around the things that I thought sounded good on that particular bass. So, I feel like I grew up together with my bass.
If the sound was solely in your hands, it wouldn't matter what bass you played. Well that certainly isn't true in my case. I'm most comfortable on my main instrument. I love what Marcus said about it being a partnership. I like to believe that the sound is in my bass, strings, and amplifier, but my tone, style, and feel, are in my hands. I hate playing someone else's bass and prefer to bring my own amplifier even if a backline is provided. I know my gear!
How important is your rig to your playing?