Galactic Cowboys, 12-String Bass, and Beyond
In the late '80’s and early '90’s several bassists were beginning to discover and experiment with the 12-string bass. This interest began to spread from one bassist to another quite often by association.
This was the case with Monty Colvin of Galactic Cowboys, who had been influenced by Tom Petersson but got the 12-string bug from Doug Pinnick of King's X. Monty went on to become known for wielding the distorted beast both live and in the studio on several Galactic Cowboys albums. His name is still mentioned when the 12-string is discussed even years after GC disbanded.
The song "Mrs. Leslie" features the 12-string bass predominately in the intro with a huge growling sound. What other Galactic Cowboys songs do you feel feature the 12 in a really strong way?
I got my Hamer 12-string while we were recording the first Galactic Cowboys album. I think the only song I used it on was ‘Someone For Everyone’. I used it more on the second CD, Space In Your Face. You can hear it really well on ‘Mrs. Leslie’ and it all opens the beginning of ‘Where Are You Now’. I also used it on the live version of ‘Idle Minds’ on the Feel The Rage EP.
Can you name several songs that you used 12's on that might not be so obvious? Were you using 8-strings at the same time as 12's or are all the octave basses 12s during that period?
All the bass on the first CD was played with TOTAL distortion, and sometimes in stereo. So it's actually hard to even tell it's bass. It's just a huge wall of distortion. I think a lot of people confused the bass for guitar because there wasn't much difference in the sounds. I wouldn't suggest doing that though. It made for a nightmare in the mix. But yeah, the bass on ‘Someone For Everyone’ is the 12. Believe it or not, I used a Kramer 8-string on that album too. I used it on ‘My School’. You can hear it real well. I think it's the only thing I played clean on that CD. There's also this song called ‘Kaptain Krude’ on there, and it's tuned to C. I had the full-on distortion going and I used an ebow on the beginning of the song to make ship sounds. It's fun to think back on that time. I was willing to try anything musically.
Did Hamer add any custom details to the basses they made for you, and if they did what were they?
I ordered my 12-string from Hamer. There wasn't really much "custom" about it. I think the only thing they did for me was put my name on the headstock. I did order a custom 8-string. I was really into Metallica at the time, and I wanted to look like James Hetfield. So I got it with a black Explorer body. It was real thick and heavy, but it looked really cool. I used it mostly live, and I loved using it in the videos!
How many 12s have you owned, and did you play them all live?
I just had the one 12-string. To be honest, I don't remember what the model was. It was a short scale, and it had kind of a SG body. All my Hamers had EMG pick-ups. I did play the 12 in the live gigs quite a bit. It actually worked better live than on record. The 12 really filled up a lot of space, and on a record it can eat up space that the guitar fits in. But when GC was playing live and it was time for a guitar solo, the 12-string sounded like there was a rhythm guitar playing with the bass.
That's a B12S model. What color was it?
I can tell you've done your homework and know more about this stuff than me! And I totally respect that! OK, my 12 was black. I never pay much attention to model numbers.
Any special gear you think is vital to getting a good sound?
Early on I was using distortion pedals. I tried them all; Metal Masters, Tube Screamers, a Boss Metal Zone (I think that's what it was called). I ended up using a bi-amp system. I used guitar heads for the high-end and bass heads and cabinets for the low. I tried a lot of different things to improve the sound. I used one of those MXR DynaComp compressors, and I pulled some of the lows out of my high-end sound with a Boss EQ pedal. I also used a noise gate on the high-end, because I had so much gain and distortion on it.
Recording tips: Anything you'd care to share about how to get a good recorded tone?
The thing we kind of found out over the years in the studio was, the less distortion the better. With 8 and 12-string basses you have to be careful or you will just fill up the whole mix with bass. The cleaner you can get the sound, the more you can actually tell that it's a 12-string. I've used the POD and Bass POD in the studio too, and those are cool and easy to use.
I understand that Galactic Cowboys disbanded a while back. What have you been up to lately? I hear that you're playing guitar now in a new band....how's that going? Do you miss playing bass?
Since GC broke up I've been doing a solo project called CRUNCHY. The first CD was called All Day Sucker. I played my Zon 8-string on a couple songs, but I mostly played guitar and did the lead vocals on that CD. I love my new role, and I love the style of music I'm writing. It's kind of a high energy Cheap Trick kind of thing with harmony vocals. I don't really miss playing bass that much, because I've always seen myself as a guitar player anyway. I'm actually a songwriter first, and then I do whatever it takes to get the song recorded. I'm currently working on a 2nd solo CD and I'm playing guitar and bass both on this one. I mostly use my Zon 4-string for the bass. It just seems to fit the sound the best.
What's your favorite GC song with the 12? Do you have a favorite 12-string bass song from any other band?
My favorite GC 12-string song was "Where Are You Now". I played the slow, droning parts on there, and also did the fast, speed metal stuff in the middle. What was I thinking?! I don't know, but I guess I pulled it off.
I'm not sure if it was a 12 or an 8, but my favorite bass sound of all time was Tom Petersson's on "He's A Whore". That sound still drives me crazy.
If you're talking about the first CT record that bass was a Gibson Thunderbird 4-string! Sounds great, doesn't it? I believe he was running it through Sound City amps at the time. That was in the days before the 12.
Ahhh, I should have known that might have been a 4-string Tom was playing on that song. It's still an amazing tone though... and it's still my favorite bass tone on record. OK, well, how about the tones on "Baby Loves To Rock" and "Gonna Raise Hell"?! That was some MEAT! The live Budokan stuff is great too. Tom is the KING! The other favorite is a song called "Tank" by Life, Sex, And Death. They were the coolest band in the early 90's and their bass player played nothing but Hamer 12's. His name is Bill Gar, and I met him a couple times and he was very cool.
Who are your biggest influences?
My biggest influences are of course, Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick and Doug Pinnick of King's X. Doug and I met when I was in college and he was a great friend and mentor to me. I learned so much about tone, and music in general from him. He has an amazing bass tone. Other bass player influences would be Cliff Burton and my cousin, Dee Dee Ramone. And believe it or not, Lemmy from Motorhead was the reason I started using so much distortion. I saw Motorhead years ago, and his sound was just nuts!
Dee Dee is your cousin?! Very cool - everybody loves the Ramones! Did he ever test-drive your 12? If he did, what did he have to say about it?
I don't think Dee Dee ever played with 12's. I don't think he would want to mess with it. I think he was more of a guy who just liked to plug in and rock!
What got you interesting in the 12-string bass? Did it take you long to adjust to it or did you take to it right away? What was the first song you used it on?
Before GC, I was in this band called The Awful Truth. I hadn't been playing bass that long, and I missed playing guitar. I found this Kramer 8-string bass in a pawn shop and bought it. It was a crappy thing with a metal neck, but I used distortion with it and it was more like playing a guitar. I played a lot of chords with it too and it sounded really big. Then Doug from King's X started playing the Hamer 12-string and I had to get one.
At first it was a little weird to play the 12. The headstock was kind of heavy and the neck was real thick. It never was as comfortable to play, but I did get used to it.
You mentioned that you have used guitar amps in your bass rig with the 12. That's becoming a common practice recently.
Yeah, I've used guitar heads for years. Doug turned me on to that idea, and I've tried some different ones. I used a Marshall early on, and then it got fried. I used a Boogie Dual Rectifier for years... and then this guy "borrowed" it and never gave it back. These days I've been using the POD in the studio for my high-end sound.
12-string bass string sets have historically been hard to come by until recently. What did you use and were they put together specifically for you? Did you have a string endorsement?
I've used all kinds of strings over the years. I used Smiths and Ernie Ball's quite a bit, and GHS made the octave strings and I would get those from them. And I must say, if you use a 12-string, it's nice to have a roadie to change the strings!
When you were playing 12s what reaction did you get from your audience? Were most people aware of the 12 or did it go basically unnoticed?
I always got good reactions when I played the 12. It was kind of a novelty thing in a way. It sounded cool, but they really freak people out. I'd see guys in the back of a crowd walk all the way up to the stage and just stare at the thing. It was kind of funny.
What was the reaction of the rest of the band when you brought in the 12 for the first time?
By the time I got the 12, the guys in GC were used to my sound. But they were all for it. We really supported each other in being creative, and anything that would be different was cool with us.
Any nightmare-gig or good-gig stories?
Well, I had many nightmare gigs. The thing is, when you have all these amps and effects and cables, things will sometimes stop working for no apparent reason. It almost became funny, because there were so many nights I would just lose sound and have to quickly figure out where the problem was. And of course, nothing EVER goes out in sound check. Only during a show when people are there.
What albums are you listening to lately?
My favorite band is The Wildhearts. I've also been listening to Disturbed, Diffuser, and Andrew W.K. I think Good Charlotte is great too. I love their vocals and sense of melody.
I'll have to check The Wildhearts out. I really like Andrew W.K. too, really fun energetic stuff! What do you like to do when you're not playing?
Besides music I also paint. I do a comic strip for HM magazine and I'm an illustrator for Gravity magazine. I also sell paintings on my website. And I'm really into sports and I collect toys. The McFarlane action figures rule! And, yes, I guess that would make me a GEEK!
I also have to admit to being partial to the McFarlane figures, I have all the KISS sets! We'll be geeks in good company! Thanks a lot for doing this interview and best of luck with all of you projects!
Editor’s note: This interview with Philip Snyder was originally published in 2004.