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With a gushing gearhead's passion for the upright bass, Elvis Wesley not only plays the four-stringed standup thudstaff in Elvis Wesley and the Pistol Whippers, but with his startup Million Dollar Bass Company, he's building them too.
Playing the upright (or standup) bass in a rock band is a bit unique.I didn't think there were this many upright bass players, but usually every show we play, I end up talking to people about strings and basses. There are some people who even use weed whacker wire because you can't break it. And upright bass strings are really expensive. For a set of four steel upright bass strings I've paid about $150. It's like every bass you buy has a different personality for what strings are going to sound best with it. It depends on what style you need, too, because strings can make a night-and-day difference as well as pickups. Am I rambling too much?
No, not all.Okay. I get really excited when I talk about this because no one really wants to hear it. Between pickups and strings, you can make a horrible bass sound really good, but if you play it acoustic that same bass will sound horrible. I've spent over $1,000 just on strings until I found strings that I like for the bass I play now.
Are there any current upright bass players you like?There's an amazing upright bass player, Rob Wasserman, doing stuff right now. I got to do a battle of the basses with him a few years ago on New Year's Eve. I was blown away by his style. We had a great time. Afterward we talked about different styles, strings and stuff. He's Grammy-nominated and he's huge in jazz. I was talking with him and saying I want to develop a six-string acoustic upright. He said, "People have tried before but it just didn't work." And I got really excited because I have a six-string upright that I made. I was so excited, I thought I was the first person to do this. And I've been researching upright basses, and I found out that all the basses from the 1700s until the late 1800s were all six strings. I was bummed out, but I'll have the first one in 100 years. So I'm excited with my bass company to make those again. I don't know how many people are into playing that, but I'm not into just trying to make money. I want people to know that I want to bring it back.
You've developed a bass tremolo (or whammy) too?That has been one of the biggest headaches. I've been trying to make that thing since I was 17. I've talked to machinists, structural engineers and carpenters just to get different takes on it. I've actually developed the final one, and I'm installing it on a bass right now. I patented it, and that turned out to be a $3,000 nightmare, but it's protected now. I'm so into it. There are so many bass companies now where it's the same crappy bass, but instead of buying a wood one, it's red, or blue. You buy it and you get it home and you're so upset because it sounds like crap, it's heavy as hell, and you're bummed.
So the Million Dollar Bass Company is the alternative to that?Yeah. When I bought my first upright I spent $1,500 on it. I play it to this day. Then I found a catalog from a company from Japan and they were selling a bass for $300, and I'd just spent $1,500. So I bought four of them. They were a mail-order company. As soon as I put them together, it was the worst-sounding bass I've ever played.
And you were stuck with four of them?Yeah. I just unloaded them. I sold one to a guy who turned it into a coffee table. Another guy tried to play it, and it kept breaking. The wood split. For people wanting to get into bass, that's so discouraging. I know people that have spent $4,000 on a bass and it's horrible. I want to make sure that when someone buys my bass, I get nothing but a thank-you letter back.