Rare bass worked a treat for session musician's overseas career

By Shawn McAvinue

Dr Rob Burns says his rare five-string bass got him some great gigs, such as with Pink Floyd's David Gilmour and on TV shows. Photo / Otago Daily Times
Dr Rob Burns says his rare five-string bass got him some great gigs, such as with Pink Floyd's David Gilmour and on TV shows. Photo / Otago Daily Times

The oldest-surviving bass guitar of its kind helped a New Zealand session musician get work on British television comedies including Red Dwarf and Blackadder.

University of Otago senior lecturer Dr Rob Burns said his 1985 five-string bass was the third made by English company Electric Wood under the brand name Wal.

"The first two got trashed in a car crash so by default it's the oldest one in the world."

The body of the bass was a combination of walnut and mahogany sandwiched between Santos rosewood, Dr Burns said.

Inside were "more electronics than you can shake a stick at", which gave the instrument a far broader tone sweep than a standard bass and made it ideal for recording.

He called the guitar "the workhorse" because when he was a session musician in England, he was often booked because the bass could be plugged into the mixing desk.

"There was no fuss or bother. It just recorded straight away. You can get a recording sound off that in a couple of minutes."

The comedies he worked on began with Not the Nine O'Clock News in 1979 and included Mr Bean, The Lenny Henry Show, Red Dwarf, Alias Smith and Jones and Blackadder.

He played the bass in a band called the Dolphins with Pink Floyd guitarist and vocalist David Gilmour, between 1989 and 1996.

Members of Fleetwood Mac and Bad Company also played in the band and often recorded on Gilmour's barge.

Besides the session work, Dr Burns held clinics sometimes attended by more than 200 musicians, and showcased the bass made by electronics specialist Ian Waller and lute specialist Pete Stevens.

Every Christmas, he visited the factory in High Wycombe in England so Mr Stevens could give the bass a "top to tail" service.

But both craftsmen have died so the basses from the original manufacturers are becoming rare.

The instrument cost him £2500 ($4880 today) in 1985 and could probably now be sold for more than $10,000, but he would never part with it.

- Otago Daily Times

- Otago Daily Times

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