Amy Humphrey

Amy Humphrey playing her Waterstone TP-1 12-string bass in her home studio.

Clatter Incorporates 12-String Bass thunder

If you guessed that a 12-string bass might sound great in a two-piece band, you would be right! Amy Humphrey has included the 12 on several songs on the latest album of her band Clatter, a bass / drums alternative rock duo with her husband / drummer, Joe Hayes. Amy is a fingerstyle player and she utilizes the instrument's full range of sonic possibilities. In addition to breaking new ground in her innovative use of multiple amps / bass effects, Amy's addition of the 12-string bass makes Clatter the biggest-sounding duo anywhere. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Amy!

Which 12-string basses do you have? Do you have a preference?

I have three Waterstones; a TP-1 34" Black, a 34" Trans Green and a 32" White. Since the 34" and 32" sound so different in tone I don't have a preference over one or the other; they just fit in their own niche. I do play the 34" on more songs on the new CD, though; it just seemed to work better for those particular songs. I just got the green bass with two pickups (my black one has only one) but a hand injury has prevented me from trying it out yet. I'm looking forward to hearing how it compares to the other two!

The really neat thing about the 12-string is that it has opened up an entire new range of sonic possibilities for us. As a two-piece band we are always looking for ways that we can fill in some of the spaces, and a lot of time we'll do that with playing. But the nice thing about the 12-string is that it adds in some of the higher notes that we were sometimes missing when we were doing the 4-string songs. It adds just this rich, huge, full sound that I think is phenomenal. It's almost like adding in a guitar player. It added a whole lot having a 12-string as part of our arsenal, and added a whole lot to our new album and to some of our new songs. I think it's going to add a lot of fun to our live shows as well, it's a neat bass to look at and it sounds incredible.

The 32" scale bass has a different tone than the full scale, which has a really big, deep rich tone. The shorter scale actually has a little bit more like a guitar tone to me, it's a little more trebly, maybe a little thinner but not in a bad way. It's "reined in" a little bit more so it's perfect for trying to duplicate a guitar solo.

Have you made any changes to your playing style while using a 12-string versus a 4-string bass? Do you find a 12 tougher to play?

I didn't consciously make any changes in my playing style, although it's possible I play differently just by instinct. Sometimes it's a little more challenging to fret all those strings cleanly, especially lower down, but it just took some getting used to and a little more finger strength.

Many bassists have a tough time singing and playing simultaneously. You make it look easy. Is this something that came naturally or was there a lot of work involved?

For some reason I've never had trouble singing and playing. With the exception of a couple songs, I've been able to integrate the vocal line and bass part without much thought. I'm not sure how I lucked out with that! I wonder if I would have a more difficult time if I were to play and sing other people's music; with the exception of "Limelight" I've never really learned cover songs. It may be that I instinctively write parts I can play and sing simultaneously.

We share a love for Rickenbacker basses. What attracted you to the Rick? How important to your sound are the Ricks?

I started playing a Rickenbacker by default when I first started playing in college. I was going to start playing bass in a band, so I needed a bass; a guy I knew was trying to sell his Ric 4001 and needed the cash, so he sold it to me for $150. It was quite the serendipitous event for me as a bassist because the Ric felt great to play and I fell in love with the tone right away. I knew nothing about basses at the time so didn't realize until later what a great happenstance that was. And in fact, to this day I still don't know much about different bass companies because since I started off playing my favorite bass, I wasn't really motivated to look at any others!

I would imagine the Ric is pretty integral to our overall sound. Its bright, piano-like tone holds its own as a lead instrument and cuts through well whether it's running through my clean amp, my effected setup, or the guitar half stack. It's just the perfect fit for what we do. The addition of the 12s adds a nice tonal variety and I think compliments the Ric perfectly because the octaves provide a nice bridge between lows and highs, just as the Ric manages to sound both bassy and trebly at the same time (to me, anyway!).

When you were in the studio, how did you record the 12? Any tips for getting a great bass tone, either live or in the studio?

In the studio, Chris Rowe, the engineer and co-producer, had a variety of signals from which to choose. There were lines direct from the bass, direct from the heads, and various mics in front of the different speaker cabinets. Having so many different sources enabled him to blend together a variety of sounds to get the tone he and I wanted, which also would vary from song to song. In addition to my usual amps and cabs, we rented an Orange half-stack to introduce a completely different tone. I think it worked nicely in some of the songs.

My technique for dialing in the tone I want in general is very unscientific: I just turn knobs (or Joe turns them while I play) until we get a sound we like. I write down the settings and those knobs stay in place forever. I'm not a tweaker; I don't have a lot of patience for trying new gadgets or altering my tone. To me, the tone is already exactly the way I would want it to sound, so there's no point messing with it. I would rather spend my time writing music or practicing songs. There are a lot of people who derive a great deal of satisfaction from being on the Quest For The Perfect Tone, always trying new basses, amps, effects, and so on, tinkering with settings, modding their basses, discussing their findings on forums, etc. I think it's great that they enjoy doing that, but it's just not what draws me to music or playing bass. I guess I'd rather just take what I have and see what I can make it do, use it as a conduit, and enjoy what comes out.

How well are the folks around your rural Missouri home dealing with your hair color? By the way, I've seen photos of you with "normal" hair color - your current color suits you!

Haha! Thanks! Joe tells me I get a lot of stares whenever we go anywhere, but I'm so oblivious I never notice. In fact, most of the time I forget that fuscia isn't my natural color because it's looked like this for so long. Usually the only time anyone ever says anything is when a little girl gets all excited and has to come up to me and tell me my hair is pink, or ask why it's pink, or is it a wig, etc. Their parents often get all embarrassed as if I'd be offended, like I might not know my hair was pink or I couldn't help looking like a freak or something. I love the honesty of little kids!

The funniest was when we were in New York City and people on organized tour buses were taking pictures out the window. We were laughing about how they were going to be back home in, say, rural Missouri showing off their pictures of all the crazy people they saw in the Big City and someone would say, "Oh, those aren't New Yorkers, that's just Amy and Joe! They live down the street..."

Finally, if you could live in any other time period, when would that be, and why?

Can I choose a made-up future? If so, I would live in Gene Roddenberry's idea of the future, as in "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Enough of a utopia to be complacent but with sufficient trials and struggles as not to be boring. Other than that, I would love to see the Earth in pre-Industrial times, just to get a glimpse of what it once looked like in its natural state.

Thanks Amy!