Kev Sanders has a Bass threesome with Ashdown Engineering boss Mark Gooday and top British bassist Guy Pratt.

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Kev Sanders has a Bass threesome with Ashdown Engineering boss Mark Gooday and top British bassist Guy Pratt.

Artist/endorser and manufacturer relationships are seldom as successful or as long standing as the one between Ashdown’s Mark Gooday and Bass Player Guy Pratt. That could be because the two are genuine friends who’s working relationship has real benefits on both sides.

Bass Guitar Review’s online editor and bass specialist for MIN Kev Sanders, listens to artist and manufacturer alike in this Talking Heads exclusive.

Guy Pratt is a funny, funny guy; a naturally self-deprecating story teller and a hilariously raucous raconteur. Speaking to MIN from his home in Brighton it’s easy to see how his stand-up comedy routine (which he’s performed at the Edinburgh festival and toured nationally) and his book ‘My Bass and Other Animals’has been such a success – and not just with bass players and musicians. He’s also a composer, an actor and has worked on several TV and film tracks. But you could describe all of this is a bit of a side-show, a distraction from his day job.

Guy is one of the most recorded and successful bass players this country has ever produced. As well as being the long-time bass player with Pink Floyd, and bassist for Dave Gilmore and Nick Mason’s solo projects, he’s also worked with Bryan Ferry, David Bowie, Madonna (playing ‘that’ bass line on ‘Like a Prayer’), Michael Jackson and dozens of other top names. He’s won a Grammy, and two Ivor Novello awards. Unlike his contemporary and another unsung hero of British bass playing, Pino Paladino, Guy has always seen himself as less of a session musician (he doesn’t actually read music) and, in his own words, “I was never really the session cat people might have imagined, although it must have sometimes looked like that. For me it was usually a case of feast or famine so I’ve always viewed myself more as a serial band member.”

Whether in the studio or on stage, Guy Pratt has worked with a huge number of top performers, but when it comes to his amplification, there’s just one name: Ashdown. Few working relationships in the music industry have lasted as long, or have been as successful as that of Guy Pratt and Ashdown amplification. In fact, the driving force behind Ashdown, director Mark Gooday has been supplying amplification for Guy as far back as the mid ‘80s, when Gooday was still head honcho at Trace Elliot.

Mark Gooday took time out from his schedule at Ashdown HQ in Essex to talk to us about bass amplification in general and his long-term working friendship with Guy Pratt in particular; “Probably about 35 years ago, back in the old Trace (Elliot) days, Guy and I hooked up at a gig. We chatted about bass gear and the industry and immediately got on really wellwe’vebeen friends ever since and when I started Ashdown in the late ‘90s it was just a natural progression for us to supply Guy’s amplification. Literally the week I signed the company deal we sent him one of our ABM bass heads to try out and he loved it.  Guy’s liked what we’ve done here ever since and has always given us valuable feedback on products, especially the pedals. I think he’d agree that for the last 20 odd years Ashdown has been an important part of his signature sound, particularly with the built in octaver (sub-harmonic generator) which, along with a little bit of drive, has always been part of Guy’s sound.”  

It’s obviously been a valued relationship for Guy too – he confirmed;Mark has been making my amps for my entire professional life, in fact I bought my very first bass amp off him in 1982!Guy’s current gig is with Pink Floyd drummer Nick mason’s band ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’ a psychedelic band playing the music of Pink Floyd recorded before the ’73 release of Dark Side of the Moon. As well as Nick Mason on drums and Guy on bass, the band also features ex-Spandau Ballet Gary Kemp on guitar and vocals, guitaristLee Harris from The Blockheads and keyboard player/composer Dom Beken.

I asked Guy which Ashdown products he’s using with this band at the moment. I’ve used an ABM 900 head and Ashdown custom shop cabs on all the bands’ tours so far, and I’ll be using the same rig for the up-coming European Tour”.

 When it comes to effects pedals, it seems that playing psychedelic rock requires quite a range of stomp boxes! MIN asked which ones he’ll be using on the forthcoming  tour. He laughs; Oh f*** I’ve got a huge pedal board! This gig with Saucerful of Secrets requires more effects than I’ve ever used before – even with Pink Floyd!I use an MXR phase 90, a Boss DD200 delay, OC2 and TC Sub‘n’up Octavers, a Boss dimension C/D chorus, a TC ‘Hall of Fame’ reverb, and Parachute Wah, Foxgear Echosex and Knee Trembler pedals and of course the Ashdown drive pedal and my signature three band compressor, the Machiato.

Ah yes, the Ashdown Macchiato Three Band Compressor. This is the result of a collaboration between Guy and Mark Gooday of Ashdown. Mark explains how it came about.“Actually, Guy was involved with all the new pedals, including the new ‘Triple Shot’ drive pedal. With regards to the Guy Pratt signature Macchiato Comp, Guy came to us with three or four different compressors that he liked to use, and we built him one which exactly met his needs plus two others – basically just because we could! This led to us realising just how many different types of compression bass players use in different situations, both musically and in terms of where in their signal chain they put it. With all this information we were able to fine tune a pedal which exactly met his varying needs and that’s really how the Macchiato came about. Unlike the Norman Watt-Roy preamp we released last year which was a limited run of 50 units, the Macchiato will be readily available for everyone.

 When it came to back-line amplification for the Saucerful of Secrets gig, it was naturally Ashdown that Guy turned to again. Mark picks up the Story; “Guy came to us a while ago and said to us ‘I really want some vintage, retro-looking gear, something that harks back to the ‘70s.’ At the time, we were playing around with some different cabinet configurations including a 3×10 speaker column cab with two HF units, kickback wheels and recessed handles on the side in the style of some of the old ’70s PA cabs. When we showed him what we were thinking of it just immediately became ‘his’ product.”For a tour with Dave Gilmour, Ashdown made some of the cabs with WEM style grill cloth to match Dave Gilmour’s guitar cabs. Mark quickly points out; We don’t sell them like that obviously, even though the grille cloth used by WEM in the ’70 was just an ‘off the shelf’ product, we would never want to copy someone else’s design so we sell them with our own red woven grille cloth which looks amazing. They’re incredible cabs which will do most of what a 4×10 cab will do and maybe even out perform one dynamically. Guy likes to put two side by side with an ABM900 head on top. He also has an RM500 which he’ll use with a single cabinet and for some of Dave Gilmours gigs he uses a Retroglide head and a little 1×10 cab we made for him, so he has a wide range of Ashdown products that he likes to use live. It’s a valuable ‘quid pro quo’ which Mark Gooday sees as an important part of Ashdown’s product development strategy.

 “it’s educational for us, seeing how a player like Guy uses our amplification in a range of different situations and styles”

 And if there’s anyone who knows about playing bass in a range of different situations and styles it’s Guy Pratt. I asked him whether he’d be using his favourite go-to bass ‘Betsy’ – a 1964 Fender Jazz in ‘Burgundy mist’ a rare Fender custom colour. “No”he said, “actually for the Saucerful of Secrets tour I’m not using either of my go-to basses” (Guy also owns a 1964 Fender Precision also in Bergundy mist, one of only three made in that year and found for Guy by Mark Gooday) He continues, “I like to be as authentic as possible so for this next tour so I’ve just bought another 2 Rickenbacker 4001s to add to the one I already use, as well as 2 Precisions. One is the new American Professional and the other is a Bill Nash Precision which he made for me years ago and which I really like. So Betsy won’t be making an appearance? – well, not exactly. Guy explains– I do actually use a jazz bass and for this next tour I’ll be using The Bass Centre ‘Betsy’ which is based on my own Jazz. In effect I’ll be using a copy of my own bass!”  That’s quite an arsenal! “It is”says Guy, “and actually there’s one other I haven’t mentioned. For one song I use a Warwick Buzzard, the bass designed for John Entwistle of the Who”

This neatly brings us full circle. John was also one of the bass players Mark Gooday chose to try out his new Ashdown designed amps in the late ‘90s, although his initial meeting with John didn’t go quite as well as he’d have liked. “I took him one of the first amps I’d made at home behind my sofa. I finished it at 2am and took it over to John’s place first thing in the morning. John didn’t get up until the afternoon so I was stood around the house feeling nervous and excited for hours until he eventually got up. He plugged it in and – BANG! I’d been so tired that I’d wired it for 110 volts instead of 250!”Mark went home and built another that afternoon, returning later the same day. This time, not only did it work, but John Entwistle loved it, the powerful growling sound perfectly suiting his sound and style.Ashdown continued to make John’s amps and cabs until his untimely death in2002.

Other artists who have enjoyed long and friendly relationships with Mark and Ashdown have included Mark King, U2’s Adam Clayton, Stuart Zender and Nate Mendel of the Foo Fighters. We don’t really do endorsements in the traditional senseMark tells us. These amazing musicians use our gear because they like it and we support them however we can, there isn’t really any money involved. In fact most of our artists pay for their equipment. It’s rare that we give away anything, but if an artist buys our equipment and it’s in situations where the exposure for us makes it worthwhile, we go out of our way support around the world because of the global support we have from our distributors One British rock legend that has more recently turned to Ashdown for his specific amplification needs is Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath. Mark and the team designed the awesome ‘Head of Doom’; a massively powerful amp with the emphasis on loud and, when needed, overdriven bass. It’s a specific amp designed for a specific job and it won’t be for everyone. But part of Ashdown’s success is down to the fact that this small, family run business designs bass amps and pedals that work for every bass player, whether a Rock Icon or a versatile ’bass player’s bass player like Guy Pratt, who’s knowledge, experience and versatility has given Ashdown an invaluable insight into precisely what it is a working bass player needs, whether it’s a reliable and cool looking back line rig, or an effects pedal that delivers just the right sound – even if it’s something that’s only required when playing for a band performing the early songs of Pink Floyd.

www.ashdownmusic.com