Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Wal Woods Part 2 - Bodies

The Wonderful World of the Woods of Wal – Part 2, Bodies

In this second feature looking at the woods employed by Wal in building their basses we are going to take a closer look at the woods used for the bass bodies.

Initially, all Wal bodies were constructed from solid ash. Although not as common a tone wood as, say alder or basswood (pronounced BASS - as in the fish or the beer!) it is well known for its tonal properties. It's featured on many classic Fender models and a host of other designs. The wood is considered to give a relatively bright, snappy tone with good sustain.

However, with the introduction of the Custom Series basses everything changed and Wal stepped up into the ranks of what would later be known as "boutique basses". The Custom Series retained the same laminate neck construction (although with a streamlined headstock shape) but the construction of the body was very different. This time a sandwich of different (often exotic) hard woods was employed. At the core was a thick slab of mahogany. Initially this was exclusively Brazilian mahogany but over time as the wood became scarcer, more expensive and subject to increasingly strict export restrictions under CITES (The Convention on Trade in Endangered Species) other sources and subspecies were employed. Notwithstanding the emotional and almost mystical cachet that Brazilian mahogany and rosewood has with builders and players alike this didn't imply any reduction in the quality (aesthetic or sonic) of the woods used.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Wal Woods Part 1 - Necks

The Wonderful World of the Woods of Wal – Part 1, Necks

In Ian Waller and Pete Stevens the early 1970s cooked up a perfect recipe for bass guitar building creativity. A perfect storm of bass playing experience (in Ian's case), innovative design skills, inquiring minds, guitar building experience, woodworking skills, affability, electronics savvy and connections within the industry. Given those factors it's no surprise that something magical happened.

And there are plenty of anecdotes highlighting their skill with a chisel and a plane. Stories of Ian sizing up a job (refitting a recording studio) by eye and still perfectly dovetailing together complicated elements in perfect harmony. Ian, in particular clearly had a strong affinity with wood as a material and a living theme.

In a recent blog on his own site, The New Colloquium, Paul Phillips outlines his memories of Wal. "...Ian, on the other hand, was a bit of an electronics genius and also built guitars. Everyone called him Wal (his name was Ian Waller). He made the legendary Wal Bass...

"...When I met him, he had already built his own acoustic bass guitar, the first I’d ever seen. It was huge, and beautiful. At one point, George Harrison coveted it, but Wal wasn’t keen. I think he’d rather it went to a bona fide and great bass player.

"He started studying wood and how it aged, and dreaming up the design of the Wal Bass. To me, wood was wood. But then Wal showed me some birds-eye maple and made me study it as he saw it. I never – to this day – looked at wood the same way again."