Archive for November 21st, 2013

Today’s topic.  Gibson EB3 Bass. “CREAM of the crop. Why you need one!  Hey, I am child of the 60’s and 70’s. Gimme a break, okay?! I have always loved the Gibson EB3 bass. Well, at least from the first time I was blown away by Cream. Jack Bruce played bass unlike anybody I had seen before. Not just a blur of nondescript deepness to give some bottom end to a band’s sound, Mr. Bruce was quite articulate, lyrical, and definitely expressed himself with clarity and authority. Sometimes it seemed like he was a frustrated lead guitarist but in a great way, who was competing with and battling with Eric Clapton for the helmsmen position of the band. Jack Bruce would weave his bass lines into his own underlying story behind a song and would counterpoint Eric Clapton’s power chording and soloing at the same time. This put a very satisfying tension into the final product which became their trademark band sound and literally established over night, the 3 piece power trio as a viable recipe for a successful rock band, defined the significance of a singing bass player; no easy feat, and further show cased Cream as a very new and unique force to be reckoned with the likes of which we never heard before and arguably since. This band really put the 3 piece format on the map, the limited success of Blue Cheer not withstanding. I had previously thought that a three piece band no matter what, would sound lacking. What are you kidding me? Cream totally rocked and tore down every venue where they performed. Most honorable mention also to The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Led Zeppelin, 3 piece with a lead singer, and Grand Funk Railroad, Rush, Police; also with singing bass player, Sting, and the list goes on. Nevertheless, Cream, for me, was the band that opened up the existence and gave major significance  of the 3 piece band concept to me, and with an explosion of sound! Cream seemed to me to be a very appropriate name as they were arguably the top of the heap and henceforth the “CREAM” of the crop of the three piece genre.

BTW, ever try singing lead and playing bass at the same time? Try it and you will see what I mean when I say; “no easy feat”. Yet, since I first witnessed Sir Paul effortlessly doing just this thing, I was captivated by it. Sort of like the split brain piano thing, but different.  Of course we can take that to Good Gestalt; give a microphone to Joey Defrancecso and strap a harmonica on his collar as he right and left hands the Hammond B3, plays bass with his left foot, and mans the expression pedal with his right, whew!!,..but that just might veer us off topic, and so maybe we”l hit that up in another rant at some point in the future.  Joey could really host a 2 piece power band; B3 and a drummer! Then again if we gave Mr. Clapton a set of bass pedals back in the day, we might not be having to this discussion. Sheesh!!…Aw heck, Cream would NEVER be the same without Jack Bruce on his EB3, right?!!! Gotta love the  Gibson EB3 Bass.  And so it is time for a rant! 

GIBSON EB3

Gibson EB3 Bass. “CREAM” of the crop.

Gibson EB3 Bass. “CREAM” of the crop. Why you need one!                   Why you need deep thump!

And so as much as I am a fan of Clapton’s  “woman tone”, I am equally enthralled by Jack Bruces fat, clear, and ripping bass tone as well. And how did he get this sound? The Gibson EB3 became the instrument of choice for his sonic onslaught. Chcek out; http://www2.gibson.com/News-Lifestyle/Features/en-us/cream-jack-bruce-eb-3-bass-player-0514-2012.aspx The so called “mudbucker’ pick up at the neck supplied the pounding deep thump and the treble pickup at the bridge supplied the clarity and definition that made Bruce’s bass lines cut though the mix with the authority of a lead guitar solo. The EB3 bass had that certain deep, twangy thump to it and I suspect the short scale had a bit to do with it by giving the strings just a touch more elasticity than a long scale bass. Perhaps’s it was due more to Jack Bruce’s style, but in any case, to me this bass was the best and perfect bass for Cream’s unique sound.

Gibson EB3 Bass. “CREAM” of the crop. Why you need one!    Controlling your tone:

The controls are at first pretty straight forward. 2Volumes, 2 Tones. Then instead of the standard toggle switch for selecting pickup combinations, there was a 4 position varitone that would roll off some tones and concentrate others. You could be deep and thunderous, also hard hitting with treble clarity, or dial in tons of mid range bark to your soild foundation which what I loved about Jack Bruce’s Cream sound. this was a passive system meaning no battery powering it, but obviously very effective.  For further EB3 history check; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gibson_EB-3

So here I am years later Jonesing for an EB3 bass only to get sticker shock when I start to scan Ebay and the ads in Vintage Guitar etc. Sure there are bargains available, but they are either beat up or circa 70’s editions which I am not at all fond us as they deviate from the original format of what this bass is all about, at least to me. Abbreviated body contours, the neck pick up moved more towards the bridge, and that dreadful slotted headstock. What’s up with that?! This is neither a classical guitar nor an upright  bass feh cryin’ out loud! This a rock bass! Also they had a working formula, why screw with it? Okay so then there is the newer SG bass. Icks-nay! No varitone. Look I’m sure it is a wonderful instrument. The varitone is a line in the sand for me. And the obvious choice now would be an Epiphone Elite. What’s that? The name on the headstock is different, you say? Okay then back to square one emptying your bank account to get one, especially if it is one of the earliest models with the spread out volume and tone knobs like Mr. Bruce used, or just get over it! Problem with the Elite models was they seldom come along and I really did not want to wait. I could consider the standard Epiphone EB3 but it is long scale and has trapezoidal inlays. No way. I always loved even the compact look of the short scale EB3. That was the way it is supposed to be. And so I figured I’d just have to wait and see what come along. After all I am not a gigging bassist at the moment so I really can’t justify any urgency. I just want it damn it!

 

Refurb

And so a few weeks go by and I spot something on Ebay that really grabs my eye. It is an EB3 bass, short scale, with dot inlays, what looks like varitone with the chicken head knob etc. More about that later. So far so good! The headstock says Epiphone, but the only short scale EB3 I’ve ever seen was the aforementioned Epiphone Elite offering. Hmmm. And so I start to read the description. Apparently this was one of those refurbs where they get the guitar from the manufacturer, “refurbish” it, lose the original serial number, replace it with a new one, and sell it as a refurb, no manufacturers warranty/you’e on your own pal!  Sometimes they even stamp a “2” on it as well; sort of like “Scarlet Letter” of musical instruments which designates that it has at least one flaw. Yet,the more I looked at this bass in the photos, the more I liked it. I mean, it even had my beloved deep scarfed contours around those devilish bass and treble horns. Damned that if they didn’t nail the body shape of the original, it was darn close indeed. The price was also right at $299.00. Look when you buy one of these refurb instruments obviously you are not looking for a blue chip investment okay? You are looking for the best representation of what you want with nice sound and playability without laying out breaking the bank. Apparently this rendition of the EB3 bass was intended for sale in Japan only and that is why you might never see one of these without the refurbished pedigree,…. or lack thereof.

Epiphone Custom Shop EB3 Refurb

Gibson EB3 Bass. “CREAM” of the crop. Refurbished  or not this bass is as flawless as they come!

Pristine vs. Relic

Another thing I liked was that it was brand new and beautiful. I like my instruments new and pristine. I am not at all a fan of beat up instruments whether it is genuine old mojo or new so called  “distressed”or “relic” ized. New and shiny my friends, and I really endeavor to keep them that way. All things considered, if I am going to own a beat up guitar with considerable wear, in my world it will be because EYE am the one who caused it, yeah?!  And to pay extra to have someone beat it up for me  in order to simulate years of wear  and tear? Preposterous! Hey you may like guitars with the paint purposely worn off or the hardware purposely tarnished and rusted, or to have your guitar worn and beat to look exactly like your favorite performer with wear marks, scratches, and dings perfectly replicated. Fine, I can accept that . To each his or hers own, I suppose. Just not for me. New and shiny. Did I say new and shiny? Also clean. Yes, to me a clean instrument like a clean car just performs better. Don’t ask me why, just take my word for it.  Go polish your guitar and wash your car. Shiny and clean is very good! Your instrument will sound better, and your car will run smoother. Yes.

And so I took the plunge and hit the buy it now. Of course add another $89.95 for an Epiphone hard shell case. If you want to keep your axe in mint shape, a hard shell case is a must. Still all in all a relative bargain.

About a week later the bass arrives ahead of the case. No biggie. I’ll carfully store it in the shipping box until the case arrives. And so with great anticipation I unwrap the bass and give it the raised eye brow scrutinizing inspection. Simply beautiful. I can’t find a flaw anywhere. Deep cherry with nice grain just like its uptown Gibson cousin. Clean and shiny. The beautifully scarfed contours look even better in person. Okay so the headstock doesn’t say Gibson and it is a bit elongated in comparison to the Gibson headstock. T o me being a life time fan of Epiphone remembering the glory days when they were made in the same factory as Gibson, I never had any bias towards the brand and loved the name and logo etc. Yep, not a Gibson in name, but a beautifully inlaid and executed headstock over all. Nice period perfect elephant ear tuners add to the vintage Gibson,… er, Epiphone vibe.

 

I tune her up and off the bat the action is simply awful. No surprise. I’ve never purchased a guitar that I liked the action on the mark right off the bat and some, like Martin acoustics, can arrive downright finger slicingly high to the touch and in my book, totally unacceptable. Yep, this baby was definite;y going to need a set up, just not tonight. Tonight is just for checking out the bass, evaluating it and deciding what has to be done to make it totally kick ass.  In any case, the build quality overall looks excellent, the fret board looks like a nice slab of rosewood and the finish is beautiful, No orange peel or paint drips to be found. Just beautiful. The scale length is right on target, the balance of the bass is really nice and the weight seems just right. Knock on the body and it has a nice ring to it. Acoustically the bass sounds bright and clear.

 

Epiphone Cusom Shop EB3

Gibson EB3 Bass. “CREAM” of the crop. Epiphone Custom Shop EB3  Bass

First impressions in summary:

Got the bass. It has it’s pluses and minuses and the pluses GREATLY out weight the minuses, which is  a good thing.

On the plus side:

1)      Scarfing or Body Contours are deep, correct and satisfying.

2)      Build quality for the ridiculous low price is outstanding.

3)      Required minimal set up to get very low action with no buzzing.

4)      Cherry Color is deep, rich, and Gibson correct.

5)      Pickups are loud, deep, and clear.

6)      Tuners are vintage correct tributes and hold tune perfectly.

7)      Intonation acceptable if not perfect out of the box.

8)      Bridge somewhat adjustable.

9)      Fit and finish is outstanding. No lacquer drips, orange peel, overspray or underspray. Excellent gloss.

10)    Fret dressing is excellent. No sharp edges when you run your hand up and down the neck which is

typical in this price range.

11)  Epiphone mother of pearl logo headstock inlay as well as the Gibson crown inlay excellently done.

12)  Set neck heel joint which is ridiculous in itself at this entry level price is as precise and as aesthetic as on

my $4000.00 Gibson Les Paul/SG Custom.

13)  Rear Body cavity electronics access cavities are excellently cut. The body covers fit perfectly with

Very uniform “gappage” surrounding.  

14)  Overall, looks, feels, and almost sounds * like it’s up town and more expensive Gibson cousins.

 

On the minus side:

1)      No case included. At this price, no surprise.

2)      The pick guard does not have the vintage WIDE bevel that I love. Well neither does the

current Gibson SG Bass.

3)      No chrome hand rest cover later relocated to a bridge pick up cover. Again, the current

Gibson SG Bass lacks this as well.

4)      * Most importantly and MOST disappointing at least to me, NO VARITONE. The bean counters

at Gibson did a good job at baiting and switching on this one. What looks like a varitone set up is simply

a standard 2 pickup arrangement disguised as a varitone circuit. Instead of having a 3 position toggle

switch as on the normal typical 2 pickup Gibson, they used a three position rotary switch instead

to accomplish the same thing while looking VERY “varitonish”. Pretty slick those Gibson bean counting so and sos!!

I did not notice this until I got the bass. Then I went back and checked again. All Gibson EB3 basses have

Varitone, as also does the Japanese Custom Shop Epiphone Elite/Elitest EB3; evidenced by the

FOUR!! Position rotary switch. As it turns out, with the exception of the Elite/Elitest line all Epiphone EB3

basses short or long scale have this duplicitous but subtle 3 position rotary switch arrangement.

 

What to do?

1)      I bought the appropriate Epiphone hard shell case. A no brainer but was a bit difficult to find.

2)      I am having a custom made wide bevel pick guard fabricated.

3)      Found a cover.

4)      After much research and interchange with Rothstein Guitars I am having them build me a

custom made replacement wiring harness with a better than original varitone circuit. Why better?

The original has 4 positions. This one will have 6 and with superior EQ presets than the original;

i.e. 5 tone variations with position 6 being true bypass.

 

That should get this bass exactly where I want it and STILL be a great deal.

 

Next up, time to plug  in and ‘er it rip.

 

Please stand by………

 

To see Jack Bruce “rip it up!” with his Gibson EB3 bass, click on the following link of Cream playing Whit Room:

http://youtu.be/ecQwfvVN_K0

 

 

 

 

 For some interesting further reading on Gibson basses:

http://www2.gibson.com/News-Lifestyle/Features/en-us/gibson-basses-0705-2011.aspx

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