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Mike Watt

Mike Watt interview, part 3: the Gibson EB3

Mike gives us the low down on 30 years of music, and his Gibson basses
Introduction/Minutemen | Other Bands | Gibson EB3 | Gibson Thunderbird | Other Gibson basses

Onstage with Iggy and the Stooges
Notice the earlier pickup configuration of the red EB3. It still has the non-original neck pickup, and a different bridge pickup. Onstage with Iggy and the Stooges (Aug 2004) - Photo courtesy of Peter Whitfield

Mike Watt with his pre-1964 Gibson EB3
Pre '64 Gibson EB-3: ZBS-440 pickup (made by Bartolini - discontinued now, I think) in the bridge, Lane Poor musicman type humbucker added to where a p-bass would have its pickup and the neck pickup removed w/a metal plate over the hole it left. Aguilar OBP-3 preamp with bass-mid-treble eq plus pickup blend control (chicken-headed knob) and a 400/800hz mid frequency mini-switch and preamp bypass miniswitch. schaller bridge replaced stock one. headstock repaired five times - this last time I put in a new piece of mahogany (see attached picture) because it was just glue on glue for the last repairs and this was not strong enough to hold. Les Paul output jack plate pounded out flat to mount output jack where body wood cracked. Strap button on back (near neck) moved lower and strap permanently screwed on to both that and the bottom peg so it don't come off!
Mikes EB3 in 2004, still with Gibson bridge pickupMikes EB3 circa 2002 - Photo courtesy of Peter Whitfield. This earlier picture shows the bass still with original Gibson bridge pickup. Contrast this to the very top image with the Stooges (2004) where this has been removed in favour of the Bartolini pickup in the mid-position, and current image, above (2007) where the neck pickup has been removed in favour of a Lane Poor at the bridge.
Gibson EB3s

GibsonBass So how many EB3 basses have you owned?

Minutemen: Paranoid Time
Paranoid Time

Mike Watt My first bass was a Gibson EB-3L slot head, early 70's. I actually conked out in a gig, fell back, passed out and snapped the neck. I used it on the first Minutemen EP (Paranoid Time). I gave it to Flea, and ten years ago when he was moving between houses, someone broke into his storage shed and stole it. It had "Pedro" painted on the front of it.

I now own two EB-3s, I found one on E Bay and they tried to make it into a 6 string. Pulled the fucking neck right off. I had to put pins where the neck joined the body. I left that with the Stooges when I was touring in November and December, So when I was flying back and forth I did not have to bring the bass. One thing I didn't like about the EB-3 is the neck pickup is too, ah, close to the neck. Too woofy sounding. So what I did was I put a pickup in, I got the proportion scale, like where a pickup is on a P bass and put a pickup there on both of them. The Red one has a Lane Poor; they do not make them anymore. It's like a soap bar with blades so you don't have to worry about the pole piece thing.

GibsonBass The strings lining up?

Mike Watt right and then the hole where the neck pickup was, my fingers kept on getting stuck there so I put a metal plate over it, (laughs) O.K.?

There was always a mismatch between the neck and bridge pickups. I saw pictures of Jack Bruce where he had two neck pickups. Yeah, I held that fucking bass, yeah, Bruce Gary, before he died, well this was in the 90's. Some guy took me to the house, he had the bass. He had traded Bruce a Chapman stick for it! It had a letter and he showed me the Albert Hall video, and it had a neck pickup in the bridge and in the neck. It played great and it had flats - what a bass, man.

With EB-3's, maybe the windings or the magnets, they were always mismatched, so when you used a preamp it buffered. The one thing I like is one volume knob. I like blending the pickups, but when you have two volumes, as soon as you go down or up, you loose your blend, so I like one volume knob and a blend control. So the chicken head knob, I turned that into a blend control and then one of the volumes is the volume and the other three knobs are bass, mid and treble. So that's how I got it set up. Both my Red and blue EB-3s have Aguilar OBP3 onboard preamps. I changed the guts to get rid of some of that muddiness.

GibsonBass What Kind of Bridges of you use?

Mike Watt One's got a Badass and the red one has a Schaller. I like the Schaller because it's got round saddles. The Badass is pointy and with the Schaller it's harder to break strings. It's a great bridge. The blue one had like fiber plastic saddles.

GibsonBass Nylon?

Mike Watt Yeah, nylon, that's it, bullshit! But the 61/62 had a one piece like my EB-2. Man those had no intonation.

Mike Watt with his early 60s Gibson EB3
1961/2 Gibson EB-0/EB-3: when I bought it, obviously someone tried to make it a six string (extra holes in headstock were pluged and painted over) so I had to put pins in the body where the neck joined it because it was cracked there because of too much tension from the extra strings. the pickguard was also removed and the controls were changed - maybe it was originally an EB-0? the neck pickup it came with had the black plastic pickup cover but I'm sure that wasn't original. I left the pickup in and have a switch to choose either it or the ZBS-440 pickup (made by Bartolini - discontinued now, I think) in the bridge. it had some Dimarzio pickup there when I got it. I put in a Bartolini musicman type humbucker added to where a p-bass would have its pickup. There's an Aguilar OBP-3 preamp but the bass/treble eq is stacked because of the holes that were there when I got it (the body had been filled and new holes drilled in non-standard locations - it was painted blue with a silver undercoat too, the original finish a brown I've seen on late 60s models). Midrange control with mini-switch for 400/800hz mid frequency and preamp bypass mini-switch. Pickup blend control (chicken-headed knob) blends the middle pickup with either the bridge or neck pickup, depending on which one is selected it came with Schaller tuners, don't know how original those are - the bridge it came with is a badass, I left both of these intact. The headstock has never been broken! what?

One thing I haven't touched on that makes Gibsons different is (except for the Grabber & Ripper) Gibson's are mahogany! There's something about mahogany, there's a warm roundness, maybe not as much definition as a maple neck. There's a character I get from my Thunderbird and EB-3s. I really like the sound of the mahogany. Not many people have tried mahogany with basses. I don't like the EB-3s from the 70's. Something about it, but they sound bad. On the Stooges tour, my EB-3's headstock broke off shipped from Australia. I played an Epiphone one they got me one; It was a black one, it played pretty good, but the sound was......

There's something about old wood. They were also solid (the original EB-3s), not this laminate stuff (Epiphone).

GibsonBass Do you plan on continuing to play your EB-3's?

Mike Watt You bet man. I love it and the Stooges love me playing it.

GibsonBass It has a vibe totally unlike any other bass. It seems like today most basses try to emulate the Fender sound so every bass sounds the same.

Mike Watt Either that or they go for the Alembic sound, which sound like pianos. I like the character of the Gibson. It has it's own trip. I also like the way the body sits on you. You don't have this big horn and oh man, it's light, not just the neck but the smallness of the body kinda helps me too.

So the cut outs there, makes it easy to finger the neck up there really well. I really like it. The ergonomics are very happening. The 70's ones had these giant headstocks and were so unbalanced.

I like the small headstock. Those pickups are dead and they weigh a ton (70's EB-3s). One of the settings would sound really thin, out of phase, like a Rickenbacker, oh man.

GibsonBass I think that was the Choke?

Mike Watt Yeah the choke, really trebly thin sounding and not much use for it at all. Laughs. I just turned that into a blend thing. I like the blend trip and like I said, one volume. I can maintain my blend no matter what volume I'm working at. I also don't think they had to put the big plastic ring around the pickup. Why'd they do that?

You know when Les Claypool saw me first play the EB-3; he goes "Watt, that's the bass, man, that's your sound coming out". He plays all these very high end, custom made basses with all these stripes and he was like, "that's the bass, that's the bass for you man, that's the sound I like, what's coming out of there".

GibsonBass Sometimes you don't need these coffee table basses to sound good.

Mike Watt (Laughs hysterically) Yeah.

Youtube Video Clips
Mike Watt playing EB3 - click the images to view clips
The Missingmen, live in Sweden 2006 Iggy and the Stooges, No Fun Left - The Missingmen, live in Sweden 2006. Right - Iggy and the Stooges, No Fun

Part 4: The Gibson Thunderbird | Got something to add? comment | other GibsonBass interviews

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