Eight Issues & Five Strings From Jan and Feb 1992

AS BP MOVED INTO ITS THIRD year of publication, we took another jump in frequency.
By Jim Roberts ,

AS BP MOVED INTO ITS THIRD year of publication, we took another jump in frequency. I explained it in my From The Editor column: “After starting out as a sporadic ‘Special Edition,’ then becoming a regular quarterly, then a bimonthly, Bass Player has just moved up to another level … I’m happy to tell you we’ve gotten the green light to increase our frequency to eight issues in 1992. The only problem with this schedule (aside from the fact that it means more work for us) is that there’s no good term to describe a magazine that comes out two more times than a bimonthly but four fewer times than a monthly. We’ve come up with a few names—the leading candidates are eighthly, semiquarterly, and (my favorite) octayearly.”

The increase in frequency reflected the growing size and strength of the bass community that BP was serving. The diversity of that community was reflected in the pages of the issue, with its cover story on Flea and articles on musicians like jazzman Christian McBride and producer Bill Laswell. Two stories featured bassists connected to James Taylor: Lee Sklar, who had been in JT’s band for more than 20 years, and Jimmy Johnson, who had subbed for Sklar on a tour and was about to succeed him as JT’s regular bassist.

Jimmy Johnson is one of the unsung heroes of bass evolution. While Anthony Jackson is well known for conceiving the 6-string and pushing builders to make everbetter versions, it was Johnson who quietly pioneered the low-B 5-string. He told Bill Lanphier part of the story in his 1992 interview; I later expanded on it in my book How the Fender Bass Changed the World.

From the Jan/Feb 1992 issue of BASS PLAYER:

You were one of the first bassists to use a 5-string. When do you think you started to develop a unique style on the instrument?

I don’t think I’ve developed one yet! I’ve always pursued a sound: big, clean, and full. In the beginning, the only thing unique about me was the Alembic 5-string; there weren’t too many B strings around in the mid ’70s.

Many players just starting out on the 5-string have trouble incorporating the low string into their playing. Any suggestions?

Sometimes you can tell when someone just got a 5, because all you hear are the low notes. There’s a right time to play the B string; you don’t have to be down there all the time. There’s not much else in that frequency range except the kick drum, so you should be sparse with it at first. Play the top four strings while remembering you have those low notes; then, when the music calls for a big sound, go down there.

From How the Fender Bass Changed the World:

Jimmy Johnson was probably the first bassist to use a bass with just the additional low B string, which was inspired by the C-extension upright his father played: “The idea came from my dad, because [some] orchestral basses have extensions that let you go down to low C. They have a machine just for that, and I started talking to my dad about how I could do this on electric bass.”

Johnson reportedly considered making a device that would work like the C-extension of an upright, but abandoned the idea when a string manufacturer told him it would be too much trouble to make an extra-long E string. (Phil Kubicki revived this concept in the 1980s.) Johnson then settled on the idea of adding a B string. He knew that Alembic had built custom 5-string basses with a high C, so he ordered one. After it arrived, he modifi ed the nut and bridge to accept the largest-diameter string he could find (.120), which he tuned to B—and in 1976 the 5-string bass tuned BEADG was born.