Being the rockin’ little spot that it is, St. Margarets is full of people who are either a) In a band or group, b) Were in a band or group, c) Wish they were in a band or group, or d) Are not in a band or group, have never been in a band or group, have never wanted to be in a band or group and have probably stopped reading this already.
Look in any window and what do you see? Hordes of school children standing in front of the telly playing “Guitar Hero” and pretending to be in a band. College kids getting down in Soul and R&B combos. Squadrons of ‘Dad Rockers’ sitting around in front rooms strumming recently purchased electric guitars and trying to revive interest in ‘The Clash’. There are middle-aged mothers who truly believe that they are the Shirelles and grey haired bluesmen who wish that their bus passes would take them beyond Tescos to the Mississsippi delta…and young or old, they are all driven by the same thing. Rock ‘n’ Roll stardom. Standing in a spotlight. Strumming a bright red Fender. Hanging out with hot ‘chicks’. Life on the road… etc… etc…
The only trouble with all these dreams is they ignore one unacceptable and undeniable face of rock. The sheer physical hassle of it all. The humping of heavy amplifiers up and down stairs, the cramming of drums kits into the back of the Volvo, the endless hours of hauling and pulling and plugging and shoving that goes into playing a gig. It is difficult enough when you’re fit and eighteen – almost impossible when you’re stiff and over 50.
Inventors have always been looking for ways to make musical instruments smaller, lighter and easier to transport. Some of their ideas are bizarre. The Hofner ‘Fledermausgitarre’ (Bat Guitar) for example has its own built-in amplifier. Danelectro also produced an electric guitar with a built-in amplifier, this time in the guitar case. Both were very spiffy but both amps were weedy in the extreme. The Fledermausgitarre amp had only 4 watts amplification, the Danelectro 3 watts – about the same mind bending volume of an electric toothbrush.
The inventors even thought about the poor drummer and the back breaking slog of dragging around huge piles of bass drums, snare drums, tom toms (assorted), cymbals, cymbal stands and allied scaffolding. Electronic drums are clever but they have the major drawback of making you sound like you’re playing with Devo. Some say drummers are intellectually challenged – but even they wouldn’t put up with that!
Which brings us onto the second most put-upon musician in a band. The bass player. He originally played the double bass – a wooden behemoth about the size of a walk-in wardrobe. Not only was it big, it was also rather fragile and not best suited to chucking in and out of vehicles. One jazz musician of the 1930’s described transporting a double bass as ‘like dragging your mother-in-law’s coffin around – with your mother-in-law still inside it!’
The man who came to the rescue and saved many a bass player’s back was a singer and steel guitar player called Paul Tutmarc from Seattle. In 1931, at the age of 35, he discovered that it was possible to make a magnetic ‘pick-up’ using the microphone from a telephone. He first tried it out on one of his own steel guitars, amplifying the instrument through an old radio. Encouraged by his success he then tried fitting his home-made ‘pick-up’ to guitars, zithers, pianos – and eventually in 1933 he produced his first ‘electric bass’. It was the size of a small cello and although it worked well enough, it was not as light and portable as Paul Tutmarc might have wanted. After some lengthy tweaking by 1937 his company, Audiovox, was advertising the Model 736 Bass Fiddle, just 42 inches long and played horizontally like a guitar. It was the very first electric bass guitar – and the template for all the other bass guitars that followed about 15 years later.
Paul Tutmarc is largely forgotten now. His “bass guitar” idea was soon taken over and then overtaken by more famous brands like Fender, Rickenbacker and Gibson. But all bass guitar players owe him an enormous debt. It was for us that he dreamed up his invention and for that we are very grateful.
“I always felt sorry for the string bass player as his instrument was so large that once he put it in his car, there was only enough room left for him to drive. The other band members would travel together in a car and have much enjoyment being together while the bass player was always alone.”
— from Martyn Day