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Project of the Day, February 14

The spirit of Tal Wilkenfeld is calling to me across vast oceans of time, talent, proficiency, loveliness and, yes, even water.  From deep in the Australian outback, from the Dream Time, as it were, she whispers, "Come over.  Come over to the dark side.  Give up the guitar.  Take up the bass.  You might get in a band if you played the bass.  Guitar players are a dime a dozen.  A dozen bass players are worth at least a dollar and a half."

Tal Wilkenfeld is a twenty-one year-old girl from Australia.  She looks like she’s twenty-one going on twelve.  She came to the US about five years ago.  She was a guitar player when she came, but she soon thereafter took up the bass.  She now tours the world as the bass player for the likes of Jeff Beck, Chick Corea and others.  I saw her when Jeff Beck played on Eric Clapton’s Crossroads 2007 special and immediately fell in love with her bass playing, as well as her terminal cuteness (no point in trying to lie about it).  Watching her solo on Jeff Beck’s “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” got me all enthused about playing bass.  For no reason, really.  I’ve never been a bass player and haven’t especially wanted to be—till I saw Tal Wilkenfeld.


So, I dug out the only actual bass I have, one from my Danelectro Royal Order of Re-Issued Cheese collection.  I have about a dozen Dano (pronounced DAN-oh, as in “Book ‘em, Danno.”) reissues of one sort or another.  Some really old Danelectros, like the ones they built for Sears back in the fifties and sixties under the Silvertone rubric, can be quite valuable if they are in good or even semi-playable condition.  Not mine.  Mine are the ones that somebody calling themselves Danelectro reissued in the nineties and early 2000s.  They are actually way better instruments in most cases because, while the bodies are still made of plywood, Masonite and plastic, the necks have been hogged out of maple on a CNC milling machine.  The upshot of which is that they are, by and large, actually playable—bordering on durable, even—while retaining much of that vintage Department Store Brand look and feel.  They are often finished in sparkle and swirl and aqua.  One web wag remarked that his was made from the finest old-growth Masonite and sported a lustrous mother-of-toilet-seat finish.


I have an example of Danelectro's six-string bass, but that's cheating.  It's really just an over-sized guitar with thick strings on it, sort of an electric mariachi.  It was made for guitar players who didn't want to play the bass but lost the rock-paper-scissors thing to see whose turn it was.  No, I want a real one—the harder to play the better.  Tal won't respect me if my instrument isn’t hard to play.

The one I hauled out of the closet does work and it has a full 34" scale like a real Fender or something.  But, it needs some serious upgrading.  The bridge—the same one they use on their absolute cheesiest guitars—is sagging under the pressure of the full size bass strings.  And the tuners are right off of a sixties vintage Harmony guitar, I think.  They would be barely adequate on a guitar.  And the tiny little plastic button knobs are ludicrous.  Which is why I bought it.  I was collecting ludicrous instruments at the time.  But if I'm actually going to play it, that's a whole nuther deal.

That’s the upside of re-issues, though: you can drill holes in them and feel good about it (or at least not too bad).  It will still look ludicrous.  It is still made out of plywood and Masonite after all.  That's probably ludicrous enough.

So, today’s project, boys and girls, will be to beef up this reprobate instrument into something that can be tuned, will stay that way for an hour or so and sound kind of like bass guitar.  We’re going to make this our Valentines Day project because the guitar is red and you can almost imagine it being a heart shape if you squinch your brain up really tight.  It can be our Valentine to Tal Wilkenfeld.


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