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John Turner on Bass
7-String Fretted &
Fretless Basses

Meet the Family!
Meet the Family!

GADZOOKS, 7-string bass??? What the hell is that??? John told me, over a cup o' joe.

In early 1993, I was feeling pretty bored with the concept of a 4-string bass.  I was playing a Pedulla Buzz fretless, a nice, mid 70's Fender Jazz and a sweet Rick 4001, all three of which are beautiful instruments, and I still own them, but I was becoming increasingly unmotivated by their format. Now, that's not to say that I was some monster player who had completely mastered the world of 4-strings, which is definitely not true; it's just that I wasn't as hungry for bass anymore, or at least not 4-string, and that bothered me.  I knew I had to do something about it, so I decided to upgrade to a 6-string.


OK, but what about the 7-strings?

Those would be Conklins.  They're made by a really cool company in Springfield, Missouri.  I saw a giveaway in Bass Player [magazine] in 1993, where the featured prize was this Conklin 7-string bass.  I took a look at it and cried out "Hot Carrots! That will definitely not be boring."  I called the company, and spoke to Bill [Conklin, the owner and master luthier] himself.  That impressed me.  We had a nice long talk about woods and pickups, and when I hung up the phone, I felt really, really excited about bass again, for probably the first time in eight years.  One of the really relevant and  important factors for me from the start, when dealing with Conklin, was the customer service.  Bill didn't know me from some guy on the street, but he still treated me with respect and honor, and believe me, that is rare anywhere in the music business, no matter who you are.

Tell me about your 7-String basses...

The first 7-string that I got from Bill was my fretless, (Serial # 16), which I got in December '93.  This bass has a few customizations of my own choosing, although it's still pretty much a stock instrument, as far as Conklins go.  The string spacing at the nut more approximates a Jazz bass, maybe even a bit closer together. The finger board is highly figured ebony, 24-fret, and it used to have a high-gloss urethane finish on it, which I just recently had Bill refinish, due to wear from extensive playing, and replace with a clear epoxy. It has a through-body, maple and purpleheart neck and a 34" scale length. The body is ash, with a tightly flamed maple top. Originally, I wanted a clear black or purple finish over the maple flames, but Bill convinced me to keep it just the plain wood because of the porous nature of this particular flamed maple top, and I am glad he did.


My next 7-string was my fretted, about a year later, and this had even more customizations (Serial # TurnerII).  I call it the "Blood Bass", and there are many unique features on this instrument, even for a Conklin.  The neck is 28-fret, with the same string spacing as the fretless, and is made of wenge, maple and purple-heart-- I think it is the first neck that Bill [Conklin] has ever done like that.  It's a [neck] through-body, like the fretless, and the body wood is ash, again like the fretless.  The design on the top is not painted, it's actually woods of different colors-- Conklin calls it the Melted top-- and the body design extends both into the through-body portion of the neck and the ebony fretboard.  The bright red wood on top-- the "blood" -  is purple heart, and the dark brown, figured wood on the bottom is ziricote, a Mexican ebony.  He finished the bass with a darker, golden lacquer-like finish that makes the instrument look really aged, like it's a hundred years old.

The electronics on the fretted are also pretty customized.  The pick-ups were Bartolinis, but I have replaced them with Lane Poor pickups with a volume and pan knob, and Bass, Mid and Treble tone controls, the same as my fretless. The pre-amp was a stock Bartolini, but I have replaced that with a Demeter on-board pre-amp.  The bass is also outfitted with a Piezo bridge, with its own special rack unit, where I can control from the rack my level and pan for each string individually.  Bill had been doing Piezo bridges for some time, but this was the first bass he ever made that had the pan and level control off-instrument-- usually it was controlled by switches on the back or hardwired in some configuration.  It was a little bumpy initially-- we had a few headroom problems, but we fixed those, and now the unit rocks.  

I liked the results so much that I went back and had the same setup put on the fretless, so both of my workhorse basses have the Piezo bridge setup.  I use them [the piezos] in conjunction with the magnetic pickups for recording, and every song features it somewhere, often just for a subtle hinting of stereo-- when mixed with a little chorus or flange it can make the bass really lush-sounding. I am now in the process of replacing the piezo preamp with the RMC Piezo/Synth preamp on both of my neck-through 7-strings, which will not only get me better piezo response, but also the 13-pin Roland standard Synthesizer/C-V output, for bass synth control, like my 8-string Conklins

I also have another fretted Conklin 7-string from the New Century series. Conklin has taken the most popular custom options and made them into orderable packages. Mine has a melted top on a cherry wood body, a purple heart fingerboard on a bolt on neck, Lane Poor pickups and a Seymour-Duncan active pre-amp like the one in my doubleneck bass.

I recently designed a new fretless neck for it, based on the fretted neck of the doubleneck. It has a maple fretboard with purple heart flame tongues coming from the nut and the pickups. I originally intended on having it fretted, and then changed my mind at the last minute, hence the lines, which I usually don't like on fretless. Sounds great, now I finally have a Lane Poor equipped fretless, and plays like butter. I just have to get used to the lines now - they're actually a bit confusing for me after 8 years of playing fretless 7 string without lines.

How do you tune them?

Low to high, B-E-A-D-G-B-E, except for my first fretted, which I tune low to high F#-B-E-A-D-G-C.  I chose the guitar tuning originally, when I got my fretless, to help me figure out what to do with the top two strings.  The low B came naturally-- it was like "Where have you been all my life?"-- but the two high ones were more of a stumper.  I had definite plans for them, but I needed to learn the map, so to speak, and there weren't too many guys teaching 7-string bass, so I was on my own.  I could have just practiced scales, I guess, but that wouldn't be any fun, so my rationale for the tuning was that I would learn guitar parts to cover tunes that I already knew the bass lines for, from way back in my cover tune days; then, eventually I would have a better perspective on where to play certain types of passages in different keys. The new tuning on my fretted, with the low F#, almost an octave lower than a regular 4-string bass, really opened up a lot of opportunities for me - I can play passages articulately that would have normally required a synthesizer. I love it.

You never played a 5 or 6-string?

Nope, I went directly from fretted and lined fretless 4-string to an unlined fretless 7.  Do not pass Go.  I remember when I first got the bass from Bill.  I opened the case and stared down at it and started to shake [laughs].  "What have I done?? What have I done?" I kept thinking to myself.  To top it off, right after I got it, I went to the '94 Winter Namm show, [the yearly musical instrument trade show in Anaheim CA], which is like the musician's equivalent to the Miss Nude Universe pageant-- a bunch of shred- and chop-meisters vying for cock-o'-the-walk honors, and here I am with two weeks experience on this beast.   Everyone likes to say that chops don't matter, but in a situation like that, they are the only thing that matters. Exhibitors at the show only take you seriously if they recognize you or you blow them away, and neither was happening for me.  I was having a hard time talking to some people about potential new gear-- they would blow me off. It was, quite honestly, one of the most uncomfortable situations in my life, sort of like swim suit weather sneaking up on you right after Thanksgiving.  That show was also the first time I met Bill Conklin, which made it even worse-- here he made me this fabulous instrument, and I couldn't even reliably fret the same string I was plucking! It was pretty bad.  I'm over it now, but I still cringe when I think of it.

So, you don't play 4-string anymore?

To be honest with you, not if I can help it.  They seem really boring to me now.Whenever I pickup a 4 string now, it feels like I'm holding one of them big crayons that we used to color with when we were little kids.

John Turner on Bass
7-String Fretted &
Fretless Basses

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