|Live at the Glastonbury festival 26/5/05 - photo Laureen Large|
GibsonBass Your main stage bass is one you've being playing since 1972; an early 1960s Thunderbird IV that you initially borrowed from Pete (Overend) Watts. Presumably he had got a few of the Thunderbirds kicking around at that time?
Martin Turner Yeah. We had been out on the road
with Mott The Hoople, we supported them on their first headline tour you know
when All The Young Dudes was a big hit. Great tour. Got on brilliantly with
them particularly Mick Ralphs, Peter and Buffin the drummer, I didnít get
to know Ian (Hunter) so well. They were a brilliant bunch of guys, were really
good to us, and the bands I think complimented each other really well. When
I rang Peter Watts up and said I need to borrow an instrument he was like
ďyeah sure, come roundĒ. He did however give me this dog of a Thunderbird
that heíd smashed to bits. I think it was in 13 separate pieces and the road
crew had glued it back together on the road. After about a week I rang him
up and I said ďPete, youíre aĒ, I wonít repeat the exact expression, and he
said ďWhat da you meanĒ and I said ďthe bloody way youíve treated this instrument,
itís a disgrace. Itís a great old machine and itís as pissed as a rat because
itís been so badly abused. So what Iím gonna do is Iím gonna buy it off you
and get it sorted out.Ē And heís like ďOh I donít wanna sell it, you know
I just lent it to youĒ and I said ďwell thatís a pity cause I was just about
to drive over to your flat with a fistful of nice crisp, new, smelly bank
notesĒ. I knew because Iíd been talking to Mick Ralphs he was quite hard up
at the time so of course he said ďoh really um, ah alright well why donít
you come over and you know weíll have a cup of tea and talk about it.Ē So
I went round there and chucked the money on the table. He was fine, he had
quite a few of them anyway and it was very sweet of him, very generous of
him. Away I went and I had to get it rebuilt then.
GibsonBass Youíve had the headstock rebuilt effectively?
Martin Turner Yeah the headstock was made from scratch
and grafted in to the neck. Not an ideal situation but I have to say that
that was done over 30 years ago and itís been as solid as a rock. You can
see the join but Iíve still got the original headstock at home to prove that
the serial number is legit. If you were hung up on that or you wanted the
instrument to be worth maximum value then it wouldnít be the instrument for
you but I wanted it for gigging, itís a tool to use and absolutely fine.
|Left: This 1973 picture of Martin Turner shows the Thunderbird IV before its refinish. Notice the unfinished replacement headstock and extra pot from the stereo wiring (see below). Right: Today the join of the new headstock is clearly visible under the refin|
GibsonBass So the bass has been refinished
to its current colour? Iíve got with me one of the Wishbone Ash albums Live
Dates (looking at the inside of the gatefold cover), is that itís original
colour there? Itís got the extra pot where the hole is on your current Thunderbird,
in the cavity
Martin Turner It could well be, that might be the
instrument. One of the crew wired it so we could split the pickups to two
separate amps. I use like a dual amplifier system, the low end is separated
from the high end and I think the concept was that we would obviously use
the bridge pickup for the high end and the neck pickup for the low end. I
didnít like it. In practice it didnít work for me so what Iíve always done
actually is Iíve always switched the bridge pickup off completely and just
used the neck pickup. Iíve got a two pickup instrument but Iím only using
|Martins early 60s Thunderbird IV -circa 2006 - notice the badass bridge (with original post holes showing to either side), and extra pot hole just to the right of the volume pot - see text - photo Graham Fieldhouse|
GibsonBass You still use that dual sound now where
you split out in to two amps?
Martin Turner Yeah. The reason being that I want
the low end to stay clean and solid and I want the high end or mid range youíd
probably call it to be able to drive it quite hard and make it grunt a bit,
make it snarl!
GibsonBass How do you find access up to the high frets cause obviously you move around the fretboard quite a bit?
Martin Turner It could be better, there have been
a couple of times when weíve got a new tune and Iíll want to get up really
high where Iíve thought I must go down the shed and fish out me Black and
Decker Jigsaw, take that little section out you know but I mean. Iíve seen
a Thunderbird on Ebay like that, itís been on their for like six months. Nobodies
going to touch it with a barge pole.
GibsonBass Not at that price
Martin Turner I even thought about buying it because
the guy obviously couldnít sell it. I bet you itís fine but itís certainly
GibsonBass It's got different pickups in it though
Martin Turner Yeah, that I object to you know but
being able to get upÖ but you ruin the aesthetics of it then and it becomes
a different instrument so Iíll happily stay with it as it is. If I really
need to get up high for recording Iíll either play it on another instrument
or there is a way where you kind of play it overhand sort of hammer on.
GibsonBass You only use the neck pickup on the
Thunderbird, how do you use the volume and tone settings? Do you adjust
for different songs or do you have a standard setting?
Martin Turner Only a little bit not a whole lot.
I back off the volume in a couple of quietish pieces mainly to not drown out
other instruments, acoustic guitar that we use now and again. Likewise the
tone, I back off just to get a duller sound and Iíll quite often mute the
strings with the side of my right hand as Iím playing so that it becomes more
of a dull thud type sound rather than ringy/twangy sound. Itís quite difficult
to get all that expression from one instrument but you can if you put an effort
in to it.
GibsonBass Do you tend to play more towards the
Martin Turner Well one of the reasons I donít use
the treble pickup is because I tend to play right on top of the treble pickup
so it just gets really nasty/clicky sounding if your using a pick, so yeah
Iím usually there. Occasionally Iíll go up more towards the neck to mellow
it out, on other occasions I get down tight on the bridge to get it thin and
spitting nails out the speakers, razor blades even.
GibsonBass As well as your white 60s Thunderbird, you also have a custom-built Hamer with Thunderbird pickups. Tell us about that.
Martin Turner We knew Paul Hamer and his partner Joel when they were second
hand guitar dealers. I wish Iíd brought some of them instruments they used
to bring down to the gigs in the early seventies, fantastic. An assortment
of 1960ís Fenders and Gibsons, I wish Iíd brought all of them but I didnít.
They finally announced that they were going to be making guitars because they
were starting the Hamer Guitar Company, was there anything we needed. I said
yeah can you do me an Explorer bass, Iíve got a couple of Thunderbird pickups
from the factory. We had gone to Gibson in Kalamazoo when we were passing
through and I bought a couple of replacement pickups, they were probably genuine
60ís pickups, theyíd been there for a while and thatís what we fitted on it.
Now although I used that for years and itís a good sounding instrument when
I got back on the road this time I just wanted to stick with the Thunderbird
keep it simple.
|Martin Turner and his custom built Hamer bass, appearing on the cover of the November 1978 issue of British music magazine Beat Instrumental|
|Playing live with his 1990s Orville set-neck Thunderbird|
GibsonBass You have used the Hamer though for a
few gigs though have you?
Martin Turner I did try it yeah, there are just
a few little things about it that it was too different to the Thunderbird.
I just want the same instrument so that I donít have to think about stuff
too much. I mean itís got stuff like the volume and tone pots are all wired
back to front. The tuning pegs on it go the opposite way to what the Thunderbirdís
do so it does your brain in you know. So I thought right, two Thunderbirds
has got to be the way it goes. Started looking at the 76 Bicentennial reissue
and obviously Iíve looked at original sixties instruments as well and they
go for silly money 3, 4, 5, 6,000 bucks and itís not that Iím a cheap skate
but I know the instruments going to see a lot of action and going to get beaten
up on the road. That kind of money, youíre investing in something that you
want to maintain itís value and you know itís going to get trashed. I tinkered
around in music shops on the Epiphone version which is a couple of hundred
quid and itís brilliant, how they put them together for that money I do not
know, itís fantastic. I even brought one or acquired it somewhere but I couldnít
get happy with it, a bolt on neck for me is a major no, no, it doesnít have the same
sustain you know, it is not a cricket bat with wings. Itís a whole different
beast like a Fender. Although it felt very similar it wasnít ok. I gave it
to a young lad who I know who is starting out, he loves it he gets on fantastic
with it. Then I had to find the guitar for me either an old 60ís instrument
thatís thousands of bucks or else thereís Epiphone reissue a couple of hundred
quid, nothing in between until I discovered Orville. And Iím like what the
hell is this Orville, I mean wasnít that the name of that beaky bird that
some comedian dude used to perform with? I thought it was a bit of a Noddy
name therefore it must be a Noddy instrument. Then I discovered that actually
it was Gibson made under licence in Japan for the Japanese market and the
only reason they had to change the name to Orville is because someone was
already using Gibson and there was a trademark dispute and I donít want to
get in to that one right now cause Wishbone Ash... So it ended up being called
Orville which was Mr Gibsonís Christian name and itís funny itís just not
the same that itís called Orville. Iíd never actually got hold of one but
Iíd spoken to a few people especially in the States about them and everyone
assured me theyíre pretty damn good instruments so I saw a guy in Scotland
with one for sale on Ebay and nobody was bidding for it, I think it went at
5 or 600 quid and I bought it from him. I didnít know what it would be like
when it arrived, it was a little bit messy, I had to clean it up a bit.
GibsonBass Did he know it was going to you?
Martin Turner Oh yeah, I told him it was coming
to Martin Wishbone. I adjusted the pickups, got the action checked out, the
intonation, usual stuff. I wanted to put heavy gauge strings on it and the
pickups are in the ballpark not quite the same. They donít quite have the
volume and punch of the old ones but theyíre very very close. The bridge Iím
not in love with, I mean letís face it the original design on the 60ís instrument
was naff. This one Iíve kind of got cosy with it, itís because I rest my hand
on it when I do the muted string business and Iím ok with it but I would prefer
to fit it with a Badass bridge.
GibsonBass Like youíve got on your Gibson?
Martin Turner Yeah, which is sacrilege but Iíve
done it and I get on great with that. The only other difference is that it
does not have pickup surrounds, which I would prefer it did and also the wood
is a little bit lighter cause it slightly less dense being much more modern
timber. I immediately had to remove the Orville thing over the truss rod adjuster
because to me it is a Gibson. I mean the only difference between the cricket
bat with wings is that Itís a set neck, which is a perfectly reasonable compromise.
GibsonBass A lot of people prefer set necks to
through necks, thereís a whole wide debate on the two but looking at it compared
to your Gibson itís a well made instrument and aesthetically it looks good,
it looks like a Gibson.
Martin Turner When I put it on, before I played
a note it felt the same, slightly lighter. Now I reckon if I put a Badass
bridge on there, that is a beefy lump of brass itís quite heavy, that would
probably help it a bit more. Iím pretty happy with it.
GibsonBass Have you tried the modern Thunderbirds?
Martin Turner The Teflon ones I call them. Oh man
what can I say, theyíre probably great, guys who started out playing one of
them probably defend them to the hilt. I just canít get comfortable with the
black Teflon business and the modern tuning pegs, I love those old blackberry
type chrome things. I have to be honest with you, Iíve only ever picked them
up and given them a try and they just feel too modern somehow. Iím being a
bit snobby now maybe I donít know, maybe itís just better the devil you know.
I donít know what my reason or feeling is, I canít explain what it is but
I just prefer the feel of the old ones which that Orville is based on.
GibsonBass So around the first albums you were
experimenting, did you ever try any other Gibson basses around that time at
Martin Turner I tried, is it called an EB-O? Hated
the bloody thing to put it in a nutshell, the balance of it. I had a friend
who had one and I didnít like it at all. The scale is different and itís got
a mushy sound. A Gibson Thunderbirds got a mushy sound if you play it with
your fingers but you know the minute I picked that instrument up it just felt
right for me. In fact compared with playing the Rickenbacker which Iím still
real fond of, you play the Rickenbacker bass and itís like making love to
a girl, you get hold of that thing, the Thunderbird itís like making love
to a woman, youíve got to get hold of it by the scruff of the neck and itís
a big beast you know like a Viking long ship we used to call it. On stage
for me thatís what itís got to be, it feels like part of my body. The whole
balance of it, everything about it and Iíve often thought when I do eventually
go up to the big gig in the sky maybe I should take that with me cause I donít
think itís much good for anyone else. Itís such a dog of an instrument.