Wednesday, February 22, 2006

i be edumacated

The activity that has undoubtedly consumed me the most for the last two 1/2 years has been graduate school. After being out of college for 6 years and in the IT industry for 4, I got inspired (by a radio ad, as I recall) to go back to graduate school. I chose the Master of Science in Information Systems program at the University of Washington. This program was a hybrid of a technology degree and an MBA - specifically targeting both audiences; half the class (including me) was from a technical background looking to strengthen their skills and expand/apply them to business concepts as well, while the other half were from the business side doing the opposite. About 2/3 of the class work for The Boeing Company, which was footing 90% of the bill. I, on the other hand, am having to foot the bill almost entirely myself. Hello, Federal Direct Loans.

The program went well (I graduated in June 2005) and it felt fantastic to make it through and put that diploma up on my wall. I really did learn a ton about finance, strategy, marketing, etc, as well as object-oriented programming and pattern-based development, and how to integrate them.

Then the school threw us an offer - come back for another 2 quarters, and let your existing credits transfer to an MBA program. 2 quarters, 6 classes, 5 months...that's it, and another master's degree. Shoot...what's another $15K in student loans?? Pretty hard to pass up the opportunity.

So now I'm in it, once again...and our class mantra is "it seemed like a good idea at the time". We can't wait to finish. It's still an amazing opportunity to get the MBA - I'm sure some employer will be impressed by it - but it's sure grueling so far. 2 months down, 3 to go. It really is passing pretty quickly. Doesn't really make the studying any easier, though.

Can't wait for June. I miss playing bass.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Land o' Lakes

So, now that I've gone a year and a half without posting, let's talk about bass.

Most of the basses I play are made by Lakland Basses in Chicago. The concept behind Lakland's designs is to take a classic design (Fender Precision, Jazz, MusicMan, Guild Starfire) and update it to modern standards of playability, reliability, and flexibility.

Back in 1997, my wedding present from my wife was a Ken Smith BSR5J 5-string fretted bass. It had fantastic tone and playability, but for some reason it would just NOT sit well in a mix - it always got lost, and I could never hear myself on stage. Great upper register, but the low end just wasn't there. Sounded great by itself, but you couldn't hear it with a band. (Another friend of mine has one too, and I couldn't hear him either.) Never exactly figured out why - some function of an all-maple body and odd midrange voicing. It seemed to do better with a super-active preamp after it (like a Sadowsky or SansAmp).

After too many gigs where I couldn't hear myself, I set out on the quest for new tone - specifically for a bass that would punch through the mix and be undeniable. I looked at a MusicMan Stingray, but the string spacing was too narrow for my taste. (I later grew a distaste for the inflexibility of the tone, although they've improved.)

Around that time, Bass Player Magazine ran a legendary 5-string "shootout" where they reviewed 40+ models in different price ranges. One of their favorites was the Lakland 55-94, a fairly new bass on the market. It had a revolutionary (at that time) combination of a Jazz-style neck pickup and a MusicMan-style bridge pickup, all with Bartolini electronics. Moreover, the string spacing was wider than MusicMan's. I had played one at Bass Northwest earlier that year and was fairly impressed. However, they didn't carry them as a line, so I went to the Internet - and found a used one for sale (for $1600) on Harmony Central. Bought it sight-unseen, ear-unheard, hand-unplayed. It was a beautiful deep burgundy with a maple fingerboard.

That bass has gone with me on 85% of my gigs since 1998. (That's 8 years now...) I took it with me to the Bass Collective in NYC, and Patitucci used it for demos during our classes. I've loaned it out and used it on a number of recording sessions - it just sits right in the mix, not too strong or too soft. Live, it punches a hole right through the low end...when I listen to live recordings, it reminds me most of Flea's tone with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Since then, I've owned a 5-string fretless 55-94, a Bob Glaub Precision, a Skyline Hollowbody, a Skyline Jerry Scheff signature, and should be receiving my 5-string Joe Osborn fretless Jazz here in the next month. I still have my '77 Fender Jazz, and I had to go elsewhere for a 12-string bass, but other than that my stock is Lakland-exclusive, and likely will stay that way for a long time. The workmanship is exquisite, the customer service is legendary (Dan Lakin still answers the phone), and reliability has been second to none. There are a number of other similar builders (Sadowsky, Mike Lull, Fodera's NYC series) but I am more than satisfied with Lakland's place in my bass arsenal. I have been a proud endorser since 2000, and have successfully recommended them to a good number of friends who are now equally happy owners.