12-String Bass in the Kingdom of X
Doug Pinnick needs no introduction when it comes to fans of the 12-string bass. He is one of the most influential players ever to tackle the instrument, possibly second only to Tom Petersson. Ever since King's X's second release "Gretchen Goes to Nebraska", Doug has commanded the 12-string like a raging rock orchestra on songs like "Out of the Silent Planet", "Faith Hope Love", and "The Big Picture". His growling, thundering music has broken ground and helped to bring the 12-string bass to a new generation of players and fans alike.
King's X was readying for another bombastic show at Amos' Southend in Charlotte, NC when I caught up with them. Being a very busy but gracious guy, Doug made arrangements to do this interview at a later date. Thanks Doug!
What details did you have in mind for your new Yamaha 12-string bass? How long did it take to develop?
I really didn't have anything in mind for the Yamaha 12. John at Yamaha decided to make me one to get me back with Yamaha. He did it on his time off also. He got it done in a few weeks! Brought it to me in LA while we were on tour. I fell in love with it!
How does the Yamaha compare to your Hamers?
Well it's easier to play because the fretboard is wider and the neck is just easier to play. The sound is about the same. I use the same guts in all my basses.
What is its body and neck construction? Were these choices your ideas prior to meeting with the builder?
I think it's a neck bolted to the body? I don't remember and it's put away right now since I am off tour. We discussed color and pick-ups and one volume knob.
Does Yamaha have any plans to make a production 12-string? Would it be the "Doug Pinnick" model?
We haven't discussed the possibility but I hope we can do this in the future.
Are there any new 12's in the works for you?
Yes, but it will be a while because John at Yamaha is backed up with other basses to build for other Yamaha endorsers. He's just finished a drop B 6-string guitar for me.
Is your interest in the 12-string back to being strong? Will we be hearing more of it in the future?
I hope to use it much more in the future but to play it I have to write songs for it. It's such a unique animal that it needs its own songs. Like "Jeremy (Pearl Jam)... the song is written around the 12. And on Manic Moonlight (KX), I wrote "False Alarm" with the 12. "Big Picture" (KX4) also. There is so much you can do with the 12 that's unconventional.
Did you use the Yamaha 12 on "Black Like Sunday"? If so, which song(s)?
I didn't use the 12 on BLS. The songs were already written 10 years ago. They didn't need a 12.
What are you running in your rig these days? Do you feel that there is an essential piece of gear that really complements your 12?
I have used the same rig for about 10 years now. The crucial gear for me is my Traynor bass amp that I use for my high end. It is a very shitty sounding amp but it is perfect for only high end. It has a natural chorusing sound from the tubes over-driving. I haven't heard any other amp do this. I have tried almost every tube guitar amp I could find and they sounded OK but the Traynor is the magic... and the SVP-Pro bass pre-amp for the low end. It has an overdrive that does not break up like goose farts on the low end. I can get that low rumble like a pipe organ.
Your 4-string sound is very identifiable. What do you think the 12-string does to your signature sound?
The 12 really sounds the same as my 4-strings tonally. I do use a chorus for the high end of the 12 sometimes. And sometimes heavy distortion that Monty Colvin (Galactic Cowboys) turned me on to. With my 12-string on the end of "It's Love" I kick in the distortion with the power chords with a chorus and it sounds like a Hammond B-3. Check it out.
What string gauges are you using on your 12 and are the fundamentals the same gauge you use on your 4-strings? Do you get much fret buzz from your 12 since you tune down so low? There have been those who thought fret buzz might actually contribute to your sound.
I use the same as the 4... DR strings (the best strings in the world!) I really don't know the small string sizes. I have a lifetime supply of 12-string sets but they are at the storage space. Only my tech knows for sure... I don't have fret buzz on my 12... just the the 4-strings and it is a part of my sound.
Monty Colvin of Galactic Cowboys told us in his interview that you were like a mentor to him and taught him a lot about tone. Can you divulge those secrets to us or is that classified?
Monty and I spent a lot of time hanging and we always discussed bass and music in general. But everything I have shared with him I have shared with the world. I have no problem with people being inspired by me. The reason my tone and playing is what it is is because of my peers from the 60's and 70's. And it's all in the hands also. People have played through my rig and they can't make it sound like my tone so I think it's a combination of the two. I encourage bass players to find their own tone within that sound. I did an interview in Bass magazine and and detailed my rig set up a few years ago.
Other than Tom Petersson, are there any other 12-string players you like?
Dave Henning (Big Wreck) and Jeff Ament (Pearl Jam). The first time I saw a 12 or heard of one was when we were touring with Cheap Trick in 1988. Tom let me play his one time and I was immediately hooked. Shortly after that Hamer started making them for me.
Can you list the songs you've played 12 on during your career that might not be as obvious as songs that feature it prominently?
"Out of the Silent Planet", "We Are Finding Who We Are", "Black Flag", "It's Love", "Complain", "Big Picture", "Lost in Germany", "Faith Hope Love", "Six Broken Soldiers", "Human Behavior", "Happy", "False Alarm", "Prisoner"....
What's your favorite album, not necessarily 12-string oriented?
I have a million favorite albums, but for bass inspiration... Fragile, Close to the Edge (YES), Live at Leeds (The Who), Tres Hombres (ZZ Top) You Are The Music (Trapeeze), Machine Head (Deep Purple), the first two Lynyrd Skynyrd albums, Live at the Filmore (Allman Brothers) and Graham Central Station (all of them).
Where do you find musical inspiration these days?
In anything I see as inspirational. But in this cookie cutter machine it's hard to find inspiration these days. But I have 50 years of music info in my brain so I just find it inside somewhere.
When you are writing, what is the main deciding factor in whether you use a 4 or 12-string on the track?
If I write the song on the 12.
I'm really diggin' Black Like Sunday, by the way! Very interesting and cool! What's the next thing... another PH record maybe?
Yes! I am finishing it hopefully this month!
That's great... I really liked the other PH records. Any 12 on this one? Don't tell me NO... that Yamaha needs a chance to shine!
I will use my 12 on the PH album now!! It's on!!
On the first PoundHound record, you gave a co-writing credit to Sylvester Stewart for the song "Blindeye". Sylvester Stewart is none other than Sly Stone. There has to be a good story behind that meeting of the minds. How did it come about? Sly is now famous for being quite the recluse.
I really didn't meet Sly, I just borrowed a verse from "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey" off the Sly album Stand. I had to get copyrighting permission from the Michael Jackson camp. Sad but true, Jackson owns all of Sly's publishing.
What do you think of the new 12stringbass.net website? Did you see the section devoted to your Yamaha?
I think it's great...!!!
Other than Salvador Dali, what are your other interests outside of music?
Not much... Porn sites and smoking weed...
When will King's X play in Montana (Surf wants to know!)? I hear you have a friend there who is also known to play a 12 occasionally!
Jeff (Ament) and I will resume the project hopefully in the next few months...
That's it Doug! Thanks a ton for taking the time to do this for us! I know you're on break and it really means a lot that you would take time out to do this interview. Take care and good luck with the new record!
You're welcome! One thing: I would like you to give credit to Hamer for being the original makers of 12-strings. Jol Dantzig and Tom Petersson... it was their brain child. It's all because of them. Thanks!!! dUg
Done in a big way! Thanks Doug!
Editor’s note: This interview by Philip Snyder was originally published in July of 2003.