Updated: Jan 19
My good buddy Michael Marti has a shop in Bern Switzerland. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it is guitar heaven. I’m not sure how many guitars and basses are crammed in there at this point but if I had to guess I’d say about 150 in the showroom and a whole bunch more in inventory or in Michael’s personal stash, which I’ll get to in a minute.
I’ve been lucky enough to spend a good amount of time in this wonderful axe dungeon and a small amount of knowledge has managed to seep into my thick skull over the years. The first thing I learned is that I didn’t know shit about vintage guitars and what makes them so desirable. Michael on the other hand is an expert and he has helped me to understand and discover what I now love about these instruments. When you have, for example, 10 different Les Pauls in front of you, all varying in year, wood, electronics, hardware and hours played, you have an opportunity to learn for yourself what makes each one different and what makes these vintage instruments better, IMHO, than a brand new model. Nothing against new guitars. If you wanna buy one, do it! I wish you the best of shreds.
I’m pretty cheap compared to a lot of studio owners so I’m totally into “player” grade guitars. I’m happy with no frills, checked and faded paint, (even better!) chips and dings, as long as it plays and sounds great. I’ve had more than a few mind blowing moments plugging in guitars from Michael’s collection. You haven’t heard harmonics and overtones until you have plugged a 60’s Les Paul into a vintage Marshall JMP or Jubilee. The tones are pure joy and you would be hard pressed to find anything like it in a modern set up. And here’s the thing. You can still find these players for a decent price and they will only gain in value if you take care of them. Why buy a shiny new car off the lot when it’s just gonna be worth less when you drive away? At least that’s what my Dad always said. Of course if you are a high roller you can easily spend 10 grand on an instrument at this place. Not me! I’ll be in the player section trying every guitar until I find THE ONE.
That leads me to my recent quest for the perfect P Bass. Well, perfect for me anyway. I’m technically not a bass player but I do love playing the bass and I needed one for my studio here in Switzerland to demo with and for bandmates to play when they come to town. I know what I like when it comes to P Basses both in tone and playability. I’ve tracked and played 100 of them and at the Denver branch I have the ultimate ’73 SVT rig so I know what they are capable of!
Auditioning basses can be tricky. Unless you are in a room that is treated and has a pretty even low end you are going to hear that some notes seem much louder and some notes might even seem to disappear due to the peaks and nulls in the room. There is no getting around this and bass guitar is the first instrument that will reveal the problems with the room right away. I decided that in order to really hear the details of each bass I would bring an interface, laptop and headphones for the auditions. With a few fancy plugins and metering I was set up and ready to go!
Michael and I discussed a few parameters. I had a maximum I wanted to spend and a couple of colors that I just didn’t like. I didn’t really care what decade it was from and I would be more than happy with one of the cheaper MIJ’s if it made the cut. That’s it.
It was agreed that he would take the price tags off so I had no idea of cost or specs. He picked out 5 or 6 basses that fit the bill. I played each one for no more that 2 minutes. It doesn’t take long at all to know. I narrowed it down to 2 and played those back and forth a few more times. The one I liked best sounded rounder, hotter, bigger and brighter than the rest and also great overtones and harmonics. They all played really nice and some lucky gal or guy would be stoked to own any one of them but I had little doubt that I would find anything that I liked more than the white and black beast I had chosen. Next came the big reveal! What did I pick exactly and how much did it cost?
Side bar. In 2021 I was in need of a new acoustic and found myself in Bern at the shop. That time we had narrowed it down to only 3 guitars after months of talking and waiting for the right thing to come along. Michael asked which one I wanted to try first. I said “The cheapest one please.” After I played that Martin guitar for 2 minutes I said “I don’t think I even need to play the more expensive ones. This thing rules!” I did end up trying the other 2 and didn’t like them as much. Win!
The bass I picked just so happened to be a Fender Japan from ca. 2004 and was among the cheapest if not THE cheapest of the bunch! Another win! Sure, this was technically not a "vintage" bass but almost 20 years old! A 2004? What is happening? After that his assistant Martin (the man, not the guitar) replaced the strap buttons and adjusted the setup to my preference. We picked out a nice HSC and went to get beers and celebrate!
After many beers we went back home and I was introduced to even more vintage basses from the 50’s on through the 70’s! So many! I decided I would try them all. It was pretty amazing getting to play all of these in one sitting back to back. Each one showcasing different strengths and characteristics. Some of them costing more than my van. Here’s the raddest part. After playing all of those amazing basses I still felt like I had picked a great instrument and honestly the perfect bass for my needs and budget. My new MIJ sounds so awesome and plays so nice I can say with confidence, having played some of the finest, that I have a real rocker on my hands.
I’m not a collector but I aspire to be one some day. Until then I’m happy to play what I got! Thanks Yeahman! Check out www.yeahmansguitars.com and if you ever want me to go play something for you and have it shipped I can always use a good excuse to hang at the shop!