Machines of Death: Four Extreme Metal Bassists Lay Out Their Weapons of Choice

What happens when you get four of today’s heaviest metal bassists to break character and go full-on gear geek?

What happens when you get four of today’s heaviest metal bassists to break character and go full-on gear geek? You get a spread featuring Alex Webster of Cannibal Corpse, Jeroen-Paul Thesseling of Obscura, Derek Boyer of Suffocation, and Steve DiGiorgio of Sadus, Death, and Testament (among others) talking about their custom and/or signature axes and how they came to be. We asked each of them the following question: Why is your bass so f’ing brutal?

Derek Boyer

BAND Suffocation
AXE B.C. Rich Derek Boyer Signature Warlock Bass

Southern California native Derek Boyer didn’t even start playing until he was 17, but he hit the bricks running and quickly worked up through the death metal ranks, performing with Disgorge, Deeds Of Flesh, Dying Fetus, Decrepit Birth, and Vital Remains before joining Suffocation in 2003. A fingerstyle devotee, Boyer worked with B.C. Rich to modify a Warlock 5-string to make it Much More Metal. Boyer says, “The differences between my bass and other B.C. Rich Warlock 5-string basses are the choice of woods for tone quality and resonance, hardware, high-output active electronics, scale, and the extreme appearance. I wanted my bass to be super-heavy and aggressive, tonally and visually. The guys and gals at B.C Rich are great—they’ve been building wonderful instruments for Suffocation for years.”

It didn’t take much to get Derek to answer our Magic Question. “This bass is an absolute monster. It’s so heavy! Literally—it’s an extremely heavy bass. It’s almost funny how much this thing weighs. This bad boy has an extremely deep, grindy bottom end while maintaining a punchy midrange and top-end response. The 18-volt Seymour Duncan preamp is so versatile, you can truly achieve any extreme tone your heart desires. I can easily say if you’re after a sick-looking bass with great playability, tone, and flexibility look no further. This bass bangs!”

We think he likes it.

Construction Neck-through with beveled top
Body Swamp ash
Neck Rock maple and purpleheart
Fingerboard Ebony
Frets 24 jumbo
Scale 35.5"
Electronics Seymour Duncan
Tuners Grover
Bridge Kahler with tremolo
Tuning G#C#F#BE
String gauges .045–.130
More info

Steve DiGiorgio

BANDS Sadus, Death
AXE Thor Bass Mjolnir 5- and 6-strings

Steve DiGiorgio was there at the modern metal scene’s birth in the late 1980s, and has played with so many crucial bands that we won’t even try to list them all (find more at He pioneered the use of fretless 5- and 6-strings in death metal, and was profiled in BP’s April 2010 metal cover story. His completely custom Thor basses (“Model: Mjolnir; status: kicking ass”) are made by American luthier Karl Thorkildsen in New Hampshire. DiGiorgio really appreciated the individual attention to detail. “This is more like a micro-brewery compared to big generic businesses, in that Karl specializes in exactly what you need to feel comfortable and sound good. Each bass is custom made to fit the requests and requirements of the player. Everything from color, wood type, electronics, and the specific technical details are discussed before anything is cut. When my bass arrived, it sounded thick and punchy, with a lot of attack sensitivity, thunderous lows from Valhalla, and the clarity of a solidly made quality instrument. The feel was like a dream. They are huge basses, but they feel light and extremely smooth.”

In perhaps the most artful response to our Magic Question, Steve launched. “If brutality is the objective … I mean, look at it! It resembles some kind of surreal weapon. It slashes sonically through the avalanche of square waves from saturated metal guitar heroes. It can out-percuss beat-detected and trigger-reliant blast-happy drummers. It is a sweet destroyer and an obnoxious creator of beautiful low-end mayhem. It’s brutal when you want it to be, and even when they don’t want it to be! I have never previously found an instrument that has had such impact and changed my life to such a better place than before.”

Origin Forged from a dying star
Construction Neck-through
Body Alder
Front and back Bookmatched ash
Neck Maple with ebony stringers
Fingerboard Macassar ebony (fretless, with wide string spacing)
Scale 34"
Pickups Nordstrand
Preamp Bartolini with 3-band EQ and selectable midrange
Tuners Hipshot, with D-Tuner
More info

Jeroen-Paul Thesseling

BANDS Obscura, Pestilence, Nufutic
AXE Warwick Thumb NT 7

Perhaps the most technically advanced and detail-oriented bassist in metal today, Jeroen- Paul Thesseling plays way out on the frontier of bass guitar, and found the right partners for his extreme custom 7-string bass project in Warwick. He explains: “During my studio sessions for Pestilence’s Doctrine [2011, Mascot], I discovered that I needed a lower string than was on my Thumb 6-string. We already recorded two 8-string guitars with a low tuning, and somehow it came out weak to hear my bass in that same register they played.”

Warwick got right on the case, and the result is Jeroen’s “monster bass.” “The instrument reaches lower than 25Hz while still sounding tight and natural, with a strong attack and a well defined aggressive mid growl.” Modifications to the typical Thumb model include a smaller body, broader neck, new preamp with semi-parametric mid-frequency controls, a pair of 3-way coil-selection toggle switches, and a bubinga pommelé matched headstock. The result is a tone not often found in this genre. “That warm, punchy bass sound you often hear in jazz and fusion has always inspired me. In the death metal genre it’s quite unusual to work with such a penetrating sound, but that’s exactly what the Thumb bass is famous for—its tremendous punch and midrange.” On the outré nature of a 7-string bass, Jeroen stands firm. “It wouldn’t surprise me if more and more bassists show up with lower string configurations. Really, this instrument should be a challenge for more 6-string bass players. All positions on the F# string are audible, and the ultra-low tones can add great dynamics to their bass lines, no matter which genre they play.”

Construction Neck-through
Body Bubinga pommelé
Neck Wenge with bubinga stringers
Fingerboard Tigerstripe ebony (fretless)
Fingerboard radius 47"
Scale 34"
Pickups Bartolini
Electronics 9-volt Bartolini NTBT-918 with EZQ parametric filter, 600Hz to 5kHz
String gauges .025, .045, .065, .105, .135, .175
Weight 13 lbs
More info,

Alex Webster

BAND Cannibal Corpse
AXE Spector Alex Webster Signature

You already know Alex. He’s currently on tour with Cannibal Corpse using his Spector Signature models, which are available exactly as described. They’re based on the Euro LX 5’s he’s had with him for years. Modifications include upgraded electronics, a thinner neck profile, an ebony fingerboard, and a custom “blood splatter” finish (it’s optional, for the squeamish).

Webster is a Spector man through and through, so it was a real honor for him to be approached by Spector’s PJ Rubal for the project. “I’ve loved Spector basses since the first time I played one. The neck-throughs have great sustain, and they can have that elusive piano bass tone that everybody’s looking for. It’s amazing—I have a signature model with my favorite bass company.” Alex and PJ worked together to create the axe’s black-and-red Cannibal look, as well as the other modifications mentioned above. Alex has two signatures with him on tour, each with a purpose. “The one with the blood on it is tuned down a minor 3rd, and the one without is tuned a half-step down.” We couldn’t fail to notice that the bloody axe was tuned lower. “It had to be. It’s so low it’s bleeding.” I believe that answers our Magic Question as well.

Construction Neck-through
Body wings Alder
Top Walnut
Neck Maple
Fingerboard Ebony
Fingerboard radius 16"
Frets 24
Scale 35"
Neck width at nut 1.84"
Pickups EMG DC
Electronics 18-volt EMG BQC
Tuners Schaller


Alex Webster: To The Extreme

For the past 22 years, Alex Webster has pretty much been doing two things: anchoring the seminal death metal band Cannibal Corpse, and pushing himself to wreak technical havoc on the bass guitar.

Steve DiGiorgio, Extreme Metal Session Ace

 I just gradually became this “session player.” I love it. I don't care what it's called, I'm just so happy to just plug in and jam with somebody else. ‘Cause everyone has killer ideas, no matter what level of musician or what age of band they are, there's always something new and killer about playing with someone different, and as long as they keep giving me the chance to keep doing it, I'll keep doing it.

The Revolution Will be Improvised

LEGENDARY BASS ALCHEMIST BILL LASWELL LETS THE MEDIUM BE THE MESSAGE WITH METHOD OF DEFIANCE IF YOU VISIT THE WEBSITE OF METHOD OF DEFIANCE, A CURRENT concept of bassist/producer and master sound-manipulator Bill Laswell, what you see is not a bio, or a discography, or even any mention of who plays what. First you get a block of stark white text on solid black background: “A musical, sonic, aesthetic, mind and body experience, at once structured, spontaneous, precise, random, brash, beautiful, and above all, unforgivable.” Then at the bottom of the page, a CNN-style text crawl scrolls provocative phrases in all caps.