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Wednesday, February 14, 2007


I don't know how else to tell you this...
Give it to me straight.
There's been a terrible accident.
Oh no! What happened??
We tried our best, but in the end, we couldn't save...
You mean...
Yes...I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but there's been a...catastrophic accident. A freak event--in all the cases I've done, I've never seen anything like it.

You might think the above exchange was one that I had with a patient. But although I was involved in the conversation, I was not the one giving the bad news.

Your bass, he told me, is dead.

My bass? My acoustic bass?? How could this have happened??

Well, it seems that I had brought two of my basses into a local guitar shop to be worked on. Both had problems, and this place is pretty well known amongst guitarists as the best place in town to have your axes fixed. I'd actually been there several times, many years ago.

The acoustic bass, as you may or may not recall, had a pickup problem. The bottom 2 strings would lose amplification a few songs into a gig, making the bass fairly unusable.

Still, I've been bringing it to more gigs recently, so I decided to see if I could get the pickup fixed. I brought it in, and they seemed pretty sure they could fix it. In the mean time, I asked them to do a "setup" as well, which means straightening the neck and fixing the frets and whatever else needs to be done to get it playing like new.

About a week went by and I heard nothing from them. Finally I called.

"Hi, I'd like to know if my basses are ready?" I told them my name.

Silence. Then, "Hold on a minute."

A new person got on the phone, and began the conversation above.

"What do you mean, it's 'dead'?" I asked.

"Like I said, this has never happened before, but I was adjusting the metal rod that straightens the neck, and it...snapped. It just snapped. I'm sorry. There was nothing I could do."

It was such a strange conversation. It really sounded like a doctor calling a patient about a "therapeutic misadventure" as we like to call these things. I've had to call patients to inform them of a bad outcome in the past, but thankfully, not very often. But this, about a guitar, was just too weird.

To his credit, he immediately took ownership of the problem and told me he wanted to replace the bass. He offered me a Hohner Acoustic bass that was for sale in the store.

Now, I was not that familiar with Hohner. I wasn't sure if Hohner was like a knockoff of Hofner, which made the Beatle Bass. Or maybe it was the other way around. Anyway, I figured, I gotta pick up the Fender Bass (which thankfully was unharmed), so I'd check out the Hohner.

So I drove down there after work and took a look at the thing. It felt like the kind of used guitar you'd expect to get in a shop like this. Lovingly set up, not betraying its age.

While playing this thing I committed a Medical Faux Pas. See, I had just come from my third hospital, and while I remembered to take off my lab coat and leave it in the car, I had forgotten about the stethoscope around my neck.

Apparently somebody noticed it and came up to me.

"Are you Dr. S?" he asked.


"You used to be my mother's doctor." He told me the name. I remembered her fondly. As I recalled, she had left the practice a few years back because she wanted a clinic and a hospital closer to her side of town.

"Oh sure, I remember your mom! How is she?"

"She's dead."

Probably I should have said something. Or at least stopped playing the bass, which I was doing the whole time we were talking. But I was a little stunned, so I just kept doing what I was doing with my mouth hanging open a little.

"Er" I eventually said. "Uh. Sorry to hear that. What happened?"

He told me about her brain aneurysm which had suddenly burst. I said something about it being better to go quickly like that than to suffer. I threw in the story of my Father's death for good measure.

We sized each other up, and after that, it seemed we were even. He smiled at me and thanked me for the care I had given his mother, and complimented me on my playing.

I went back to the counter and told them I'd accept the Hohner in trade. Actually it's not a bad outcome. To fix the Washburn would have cost a lot of money, no doubt.

Still, I'm a little sad about the old bass. And about the guy's mother.

If you'd like to hear what the old acoustic bass sounded like, listen to the bass on Sevivon, or watch this clip from 2002:


fudge said...

but you got a new bass without even having to TALK to mommy! it's kind of like having christmas on valentine's day, right?
and the new one looks funky! i mean, it's RED!

PsychoToddler said...

You know, it should be pretty slam dunk here. I actually saved a bunch of money because they didn't charge me for the setup and didn't end up fixing the pickup on the other one.

And yet still I get the sense that she's pissed off.

tnspr569 said...

It worked out in the end...right?? A bit odd, but you're no worse off now :-P

Hila said...

i'm with fudge---enjoy the new toy!

Emily said...

Oh, that's awful. Most musicians I know love their instruments only slightly less than they would love their children if they had them (I think it's a pretty close call for some people.) They're probably a bit crazy, since they're all conservatory students, but still. No two instruments are quite the same, and you build a relationship with them. Makes me glad I'm a singer, since any damage done to my instrument is my own fault, and most anything will heal given enough time.
Hope the new bass gets along with you.

Jessica said...

I'm glad you got a new bass!

Feel free to laugh but when I started reading this post I was like "'my bass is dead' I didn't realized PT owned fish."

I'm an idiot.

Shmiel said...

Ouch....Hey my bass broke on me this week also....the output jack rotated and one of the wires attached to it broke off....one of my colleagues noticed that it was the sleeve wire and that tightening it under the jack's retaining nut would get me electrical contact....got through the gig...gotta resolder this week....funny thing is that the last time I had to do a quick repair on a gig was at this Bar mitzvah's parents wedding....fifteen years ago

yellojkt said...

For some reason I'm hearing Oscar Goldman saying "We can rebuild it. We can make it better..."

torontopearl said...

This is a funny/sad situation you described. The bluntness of "Your bass is dead" and "She's dead" plucks at the heartstrings... ;)

Doctor Bean said...

Oh, what a drag. I totally know what you mean. Just last week the dilithium crystals leaked out of my annoyophone and the guy at the shop told me that he would have to reverse polarity on the diffusion matrix. But that costs 7x10^5 credits, which is a total rip off! Anyway, it'll probably end up needed a brand new power converter. So I'm screwed.

PsychoToddler said...

tnspr & Hila: Yeah, actually it worked out well for me--assuming this thing works well in concert. Often they sound great in the store but not so great with the full band. One thing I've noticed is that the output volume is much lower than either my Fender electric bass or the old Washburn, meaning if I use the same amp I have to jack up the volume when I switch. OTOH it's louder acoustically.

emily: Hmmm...children...guitars...tough choice

Jessica: actually I used to own fish, but a bass is not a great fishtank pet. LOL.

Shmiel: Wow. I'm not good at instrument repairs. I can barely wind my strings up correctly (never been good at figuring out how much slack to leave--some strings have like 20 turns and some get 2).

The Fender had some interesting problems--the strings were not aligned correctly on the neck. They were skewed downwards. The net effect was that if I played agressively on the bottom string, it would roll off the neck and get stuck on the side of a fret. So I think I've been avoiding that string!

The problem apparently was that the neck and body were missmatched--the neck is a '73, and the body a '78, so they didn't line up correctly. What these guys did was move the bridge up a little so the strings line up correctly now. These guys did a great job with the fender, it really is a freak accident that happened with the Washburn, but I'd go back there in a second for future work. And obviously, I AM glad that they replaced the Washburn.

Now, what can you tell me about Hohner?

Yellowjkt: The bionic bass? It would cost about 6 million dollars to fix this thing probably.

While we're on the subject, what's the deal with the bionic woman? They build a super human body part for her, and what is it? An ear! Like we need another woman who can hear like a bat!



A connecting principle,
Linked to the invisible
Almost imperceptible
Something inexpressible.
Science insusceptible
Logic so inflexible
Causally connectible
Yet nothing is invincible.

Doc Bean: needed a brand new power converter

You can waste time with your friends when your chores are done.

yonah said...

I'm sure you have had some thoughts about telling this tale to the chosid who sold you the Washburn and took the money to see his Rebbe in Boston.

Did you wish the guy in the store who snapped your neck a Shlimazel Tov?

Use it well.