In a BP web exclusive, Marcus Miller takes us inside the design and details of his new Sire bass line. In his June ’15 feature story, Miller touched on his meeting and eventual partnership with Sire, an international company headquartered in California and founded by various experts in guitar manufacturing from Japan, Hong Kong, the U.S., and Korea. Here, he further expounds upon his relationship and the resulting instruments.
What peaked your interest in Sire?
When I met with the group from Sire they were not only very accomodating and eager, I felt like they had a forward-thinking mentality and a vision of the future. They said they could make quality instruments in a lower price range, but beyond that, they could set the price point at a level that would help revitalize young musicianship—which is flat, due to video games and all the other choices kids today have in terms of how to spend their time. That was exactly in line with my thinking on the topic: Create a quality instrument that gets young musicians in the game and everyone will benefit.
What was your reaction to the first instrument Sire sent you?
I was surprised and impressed by the quality because of the price point they had given me. I played it for awhile and asked them to make some adjustments, and when it came back with those revisions I got even more excited about what I had in my hands. Then what blew me away was the final version was even better than that! And when it came out I was getting calls from all the pro players saying the bass was off the chain! I played in Detroit, Chicago, and Philly, which are heavily bass-centric cities, and everyone was saying, “I got mine,” “I ordered mine,” and “This will be a game changer.”
What was some of the input you gave Sire?
One of my initial questions was if we could have a ’60s Jazz Bass, so-called C Neck shape. Even though I’ve played on a ’70s neck my whole career, I always felt the C Necks had a nice, sleek feel that you can really get around on. They offered a bone nut, which I wanted to try, and there were a few choices of bridges. We went with the heaviest one because I wanted mass where the strings connect to the body. To me, on a solidbody electric bass the primary sound comes from the neck and the bridge—unlike an acoustic bass, where the body plays a much larger role in the sound. So between the nut and the heavy-mass bridge, these instruments have a really nice sustain. Actually, the notes last way longer than I’m accustomed to, which is unusual in a bolt-on bass. I’m used to having to incorporate vibrato or trills to keep a note ringing.
How about on the pickups and electronics side?
The first key was to make sure the bass sounded good acoustically and then plugged in as a passive bass. We experimented with a few pickup windings until we dialed in a great full-range tone. From there, I wanted to give the player some options with a flexible preamp. We came up with a 3-band EQ with a sweepable midrange, which you won’t find on many basses, beginner or otherwise. Midrange is an important component to understand. What makes a bass sound so sweet by itself in a music store—a nice hollow, scooped out sound with deep lows and crisp highs—are the same elements that disappear when you’re playing with a band onstage or in the studio. In other words, the midrange on a bass is the part that makes it fit well in the band spectrum, where you’re trying to fight through keyboards, guitars, and drums. But you have to learn how to not overuse it because too much midrange can make a bass sound honky and harsh. Our sweepable midrange, which is a smaller knob on top of the midrange knob, allows you to decide which frequency in the midrange spectrum you want to boost or cut, so you can truly fine-tune your sound for optimal focus and clarity.
What’s the difference between the Swamp Ash body/maple fingerboard configuration and the North American Alder/rosewood board combination on the V7?
The former is what I’ve always played on, with my ’77 Jazz Bass. An ash body and maple neck makes for a bright sound for slapping because the woods are so hard, but for fingerstyle you have to work a bit harder to make the notes jump out. With an alder and rosewood combination, fingerstyle seems to jump out more, but you can slap on it, as well. That’s the main difference, so we offer both.
(North American Alder V7)
(Swamp Ash V7)
What can you share about the M3?
It’s a model that’s geared to being a more modern-sounding bass, as a opposed to the funky, old-school J-Bass vibe of the V7. It has a mahogany body, a rosewood fingerboard, 3-band EQ with sweepable midrange, and Music Man-style humbucking soapbar pickups. It’s fun, I pick it up and play all my Stanley Clarke licks on it. Put it through a tube amp and you can really drive a rock band. I plan on incorporating it more in the studio when I want a different sound for overdubbing.
Are your personal Sire basses customized in any way?
Nope, they came right out of the boxes, just like everybody else’s. I got a 5-string last week, which I’ve been getting a lot of great feedback on from my peers, so I’m looking forward to digging into it. Our goal is to continue to get these basses into players’ hands and establish our role as game changers.
Learn More at: Marcus Miller By Sire
Check out the Other Basses at: Sire Guitars
Keep up With Marcus here: Marcus Miller