There was a pointer to this great video of Michael Manring explaining his Zon Bass lurking in the comments to “What I Hate Bass Licks” (a must read post if you haven’t read it already – masterfully written by Steve Uccello. In the video Michael explains how the Zon Hyperbass came about.
I first saw Michael live at an intimate gig in California. It was at a studio, as I recall, it was a recording for a webcast, in the days when live stuff on the web was a shiny new idea beyond human contemplation. I was blown away, I’d never seen a bass played quite like it. I’ve written a few post that mention Michael Manring. He approaches the bass in a very unique way, and speaks to how he got there in the video:
“I felt like it could do all this crazy stuff, and all my friends kept telling me to play [traditional corny bass lines]”
Well, if you’ve met Michael, you’d know that wasn’t going to happen.
“One of the things I started to do a lot was changing the tuning. Which is not something you normally do on a bass, but… It seemed to me the bass was really receptive to altered tunings, so I couldn’t think of any reason not to do it… Except for the degree to which it made me a social outcast [laughter]”
The most adventurous that most of us bassists get is to drop the E down to a D. Michael took things several times further than that:
“I just kept doing it [playing with altered tunings] and having so much fun that I didn’t really worry that much about what other people thought about it… …Then eventually I got to the point where people actually asked me to play solo shows”
That opened new doors, but also created some challenges with his bass, and a desire for something even more unique:
“In the solo shows I was playing I was using lots and lots of different tunings. For a lot of the shows I played every piece would be in a different tuning… …I decided the next step beyond that would be to try to get a bass that allowed me to change the tunings while I was playing, and not to have to stop to change.”
“I had some ideas for that and talked to a number of guitar builders about this idea for a bass that would allow me to change tuning while I was playing… …most of them advised me to seek therapy [lots of laughter]. But I met this guy, Joe Zon, and he thought it was a really good idea and he had some ideas of his ow.n”
So the two of them set to work to design what became the Zon Michael Manring Hyperbass. As Michael in the video, “you can by one of these if you don’t mind selling your car.”
There are a number of things that make the bass unique. The first is the tuning system, which has two parts. The head stock has drop tuners on each machine head – basically a lever that tilts the machine head and drops the pitch down. It can drop it anything from a half-step (a semi-tone to us Europeans) to a fifth. The second part of the tuning system is built in to the bridge and allows the tuning to be changed for all 4 strings at the same time, or just 2 or 3 of the strings.
The neck covers three octaves (yes, 3), with a 34 inch scale length. There is a deep cut away to allow access to the higher parts of the (fretless) fingerboard, right up to the bass’s single custom Bartolini pick up.
A very unique instrument for a very unique player!