Hans Grimm - You can’t play that, can you?

Hans Grimm and his Waterstone TP-12/34 12-string bass were featured in the September, 2009 issue of De Bassist magazine, published in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Hans wrote the article.

You can't play that, can you?

Normally we dive into the history of the bass tested on the previous pages for this section. This time, multi-string expert Hans Grimm will tell you all about multi-stringed basses.

Since I bought my first 8-string in 1980, an Ibanez Musician, I have had the most varied reactions from fellow bassists over the years, ranging from ‘what is that?’ to ‘Jesus, cool!’ and " you can't play that, can you?!' In particular, this last reaction has been mentioned to me several times since I did the 'upgrade' in 2005 from 8 strings (4x2) to 12 strings (4x3). My response is always, ‘you may not, but I do!’ In order to scare my fellow bassists a little extra, I often walk around in a t-shirt with the inscription, 'Real men use 12 strings'.

Scale model of Hans’ Waterstone 12-string bass.

The trouble started in 1967; I was 10 years old and didn't know anything yet, but in that year Hagstrom came out with the first 8-string bass, the ancestor of the specimen tested in this issue. The first version did not represent much in terms of construction, but adventurous bassists such as John Paul Jones, Chris Squire and John Entwistle dived right in. A guitarist such as Jimi Hendrix could not leave the Hagstrom behind, and used it on Electric Ladyland. Later, more brands began to embrace the 8-string, such as Alembic, BC Rich and Ibanez.

In the mid ' 70s, there was a bassist, Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick, who thought the Hagstrom and Alembic 8-strings he used up until then sounded thin (!) and those gentlemen from Hamer, who already made custom guitars made for his colleague Rick Nielsen, asked to build a 12-string bass for him. This bass had to have, instead of one, two equidistant octave strings; eeE, aaA, ddD, ggG. At first, Hamer did not dare to do this because of the fear that the neck would not hold up; the compromise was a 10-string (2 x 2) + ( 2 x 3), but when the neck remained upright a 12-stringed specimen was built. Since then, the 12-string has not been out of the Cheap Trick sound; listen to the live performance of a song like ‘Gonna Raise Hell’ and you'll hear what I mean right away! The studio version of that song was played with an Alembic 8-string, presumably at the insistence of the sound engineer…

It may well be that after reading the test report of the New Hagstrom you can feel the desire for such a royal instrument, and in that case I would say: do it! In terms of sound, you won't regret it; even though you've always played on brand-new round-wounds, the octave strings tie together with the "fundamentals", what multi-stringers call the low strings, a huge wide sound carpet on which it's very nice for your band colleagues to walk. In the almost 30 years that I’ve now played on these things, I have actually never had any complaints, except for a single raised eyebrow on the part of the guitarist when I went crazy. The only reason I can come up with why you could break this is the fact that you generally lose a lot of speed. Fast parts are possible on an 8-string or even a 12-string, but I don't think it sounds right. These monsters come into their own in well-worn batches with long notes, so that they can radiate in their full width. Ballads in particular sound delicious; for years I played ‘Going to the Run’ by Golden Earring on a 12-string, often wondering why Rinus Gerritsen never came up with that idea.

The weight of an 8-or 12-string is something to watch out for; bassists with a low load capacity are better off passing the cup, because these basses do not score high when it comes to ergonomics. The head of 8 or 12 tuners quickly gives the bass a neck diving tendency, and the total weight doesn’t lie. My beautiful Waterstone 12-string (see photo) weighs about 6½ kilos, about one and a half to twice as much as a 'regular' bass. Fortunately, we don’t have a problem for every solution, so if you are nevertheless infected with the multi-string virus, power to you!