Category: Gear

As it is coming to the end of the year, there is a tendancy for you to get a little reflective and nostalgic for times passed. I realised that I created a section of my blog to look at the various equipment I’ve used and I’ve ignored this section completely. So this is my attempt at redressing the balance.
My dubious recording career began around 1990 when I went to college and spunked a percentage of my grant cheque on my first piece of serious recording gear. It was a Vestax MR-44 four-track tape recorder. In those days, I used to read Sound on Sound magazine religiously (and I still do) and I can say that I’ve learnt all I know about sound recording from that publication. Anyway, I remember seeing a review for the MR44 and deciding that this was the recorder for me for reasons long forgotten. The thing was that multi-track recorders cost a fortune back then and I needed something that was within my budget.
The Monster MR44
Again, I can’t remember who I ordered the unit from, but this was before the Internet and I sent a cheque and my order via the Royal Mail. And then I waited and waited and waited and waited. There was no “next-day” delivery in those days – people had to wait for cheques to clear and the statement “Please allow 28 days for delivery” was the watchword. So the rule of thumb was to leave it a month before complaining because invariably the assistant on the end of the phone would always snide at you: “Well you haven’t left it 28 days yet…”
So after about six weeks I walked to the phonebox and gave them a call. Again, in those days mobile phones were the size of a small child and only Yuppies could afford to own and run them, and we didn’t have a telephone. I called the shop and my MR44 had been sitting there for six weeks for some unknown reason – the cheque had been cashed, but the recorder hadn’t been sent to me. So I politely complained and it arrived two days later. Internet shoppers today don’t know they’re born! 🙂
My immediate memory of the Vestax MR44 was that it felt as if it had been salvaged from a Russian submarine. It’s design had what only could be described as a Soviet aesthetic and it had the same solid reliability of a breeze block. The buttons were small and there was an equally small LED tape counter – no fancy display screens or touch sensitive panels. The buttons clunked and clattered when you engaged the unit to record as if a series of pulleys and gurneys were being rattled into place.
There were four sturdy volume sliders and EQ knobs to play with. In terms of sound quality, the unit was pretty neat and I spent much time bouncing down rhythm tracks and putting together silly little songs. In total, I think I recorded four CDs worth of material with this four-track, reasoning that The Beatles had recorded “Sgt Peppers” with just four tracks of recording power. What I forgot was that they were consumate musicians, they had the facilities of Abbey Road at their disposal and talent of George Martin behind the desk.
Ahhh, the foolishness of youth!

Boss SL-20 1

Boss SL-20

Boss SL-20,
originally uploaded by vrooom.

The SL-20 is described as an audio pattern processor. Not sure exactly what that means, but you input your instrument into this green little box, select the pattern you want to use and the audio is sliced up and bounced around in rhythm to your playing. Quite strange, really…

Boss SL-20 2

Boss SL-20

Boss SL-20,
originally uploaded by vrooom.

This is a close-up of the SL-20 control panel.

My Ashbory Bass

A lot of people visit this website courtesy of Google looking for information about the Ashbory bass guitar. Seeing as I own one and there wasn’t a dedicated page before, I thought I’d cobble some information together for all you weary web travellers. Firstly, I got turned on to the Ashbory bass in 2000 when I saw it being used by Trey Gunn at a King Crimson concert. Expecting the instrument to cost thousands of pounds, I was surprised that you could pick one up new for around $200. At that time, there weren’t that many stockists in the UK selling the Ashbory Bass, but luckily I was visiting Los Angeles for my birthday in February 2001. A search on the web, brought up the details of Highland Park Music & Pawn. I got in touch with Doug the propreitor and arranged to pick one up on my visit. So for $200, I got myself a little bargain in black.

The Ashbory itself is a unique instrument. It is around half the size of a standard bass guitar, fretless and uses silicon rubber strings. It is the combination of the strings and the pickup that makes the unique sound – it is supposed to give you a similar tonal range to that of a regular upright fretless bass for a fraction of the price. I like the tone of the guitar, but there are issues that make it difficult to play. Firstly, it is the tuning. My instrument is always slipping out of tune, especially the “G” string. The “G” string is always the first one to snap too and it can be expensive to buy replacement strings. Luckily, I found a man on the net that sells replacement “G” strings for a fraction of the price.
Here are some pictures of my instrument:

Here are some sound samples I’ve recorded using my Ashbory:

This is the Ashbory played with just a little bit of reverb

This is the Ashbory played with a percussion track
And now I have recorded a short video clip for anyone interested in the Ashbory, so that you can see and hear what this marvellous little instrument is really like:

Or you can download a high quality version of this video file from here. Just right-click the link and select “Save As” before selecting the place on your hard drive where you want to store the file.

Ashbory Links:
The Story of the Ashbory Bass
The DeArmond Website
The LargeSound Ashbory Bass Resource Page
Replacement Ashbory G-Strings

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