Retro-Rama: 1981 Fleishman 5-String Electric Upright (“The Beast”)

HAILING FROM THE EARLY ’80S, THIS BASS IS ONE OF THE first “modern” electric upright basses. Some of the first EUBs were developed independently, beginning in the 1930s by Paul Tutmark, Ampeg, and Framus. This bass was built for me in 1981 by Harry Fleishman, who now lives in Sebastopol, California and runs the International School of Luthiery. There are only four or five of these basses in existence, and this one has been extensively modified over the years—hence its nickname, “The Beast.”
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HAILING FROM THE EARLY ’80S, THIS BASS IS ONE OF THE first “modern” electric upright basses. Some of the first EUBs were developed independently, beginning in the 1930s by Paul Tutmark, Ampeg, and Framus. This bass was built for me in 1981 by Harry Fleishman, who now lives in Sebastopol, California and runs the International School of Luthiery. There are only four or five of these basses in existence, and this one has been extensively modified over the years—hence its nickname, “The Beast.”

In 1977, I saw German bassist Eberhard Weber play a modified Framus in concert in London, and was totally captivated by his beautiful trombone-like tone and expressive melodic playing. A few years later, I saw a listing in Guitar Player for the Fleishman EUB and I gave Harry a call. We talked at length, and when he played for me over the phone, I knew I had found something special. Six months later my bass arrived, and my high expectations were immediately surpassed. Since then I have played it on thousands of recordings and gigs, and it has become one of my signature sounds.

The body, which is like a Gibson Explorer on steroids, is made of mahogany. The back of the neck is maple, and the fingerboard is ebony. Compared to a standard upright bass’s scale of 40" or more, the Fleishman’s 36" scale is significantly easier to navigate, especially in the upper register. The bass was designed to be mounted on a cymbal stand, and stands freely without additional support. The string-bass style bridge rests on a hollow wooden 4" square “sound box” that imparts a compelling acoustic sound quality.

Electronically, Harry’s original design combined a huge handmade pickup with coils wired together as a humbucker under a wooden cover, with a Barcus Berry pickup under sound box and an onboard blend knob to mix them together. Over the years we have added three additional pickups. (I have found that combining different pickups is the most effective way to simulate the complexity of the sound of a good acoustic bass.) As some older Nashville studios have grounding issues, I needed a completely quiet pickup option, so we added an EMG P-Bass pickup below the neck. The bridge now hosts an Underwood bass pickup, and we added a set of Bartolini “sugarcube” EUB pickups and wired them into the original preamp. There is a 3-band EQ on the back, as well. With three outputs and five pickups, there are a lot of options available, making this bass amazingly versatile onstage and in the studio.

Back when this bass was new, not all traditional Nashville music folks were ready for it, and I certainly got my share of weird looks and comments. But once I played it on Keith Whitley’s “I’m No Stranger to the Rain” in 1988—which had a big downward slide at the end of the bridge—suddenly people started asking for the “bass on a stick.” It can be heard on my solo records, band projects with Three Ring Circle and the Jamie Hartford Band (www. earwavemusic.com), Alison Krauss’s I’ve Got That Old Feeling, and perhaps my favorite record I’ve ever played on, Emmylou Harris’s Bluebird. It just goes to show that if you follow your heart, no matter where it leads you, things can work out if you believe in what you are doing. Go out there and find your muse—it’s waiting for you. Peace, Love and Grooves to all of you!

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