VH1: What was your first bass? Billy Sheehan:
Well, actually my first one was a Hagstrom. It was a funny looking thing, kind of small, 3/4 size with a plastic top force, which is one knob. It had a plastic thing around the 1/4 jack which always cracked. I glued it a bunch of times. And eventually it kind of—as I got my first real bass, my (Fender Precision) P-Bass – I took the frets off that and tried to experiment around with it and eventually, I don’t know what happened to it. But somebody actually turned me on to a fully intact version of it that I purchased so I could have a reminder of my very first bass.
So was the P-Bass your first good piece of gear?
Yeah. My grandmother lived with us and she says, “As long as I’m alive, there’ll never be an electric guitar in this house.” So bass or guitar, to her there’s no difference. So when she passed away, with the insurance money, I got my first bass. It was a good thing because then I got my bass. I mean, not a good thing that she died, but you know. But we have an RPM meter on her grave to see how fast she’s spinning now that there’s unrelenting piles of electric instruments all over the place (laughter).
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What’s your favorite song to play live and why?
That’s a tough one. In The Winery Dogs we do a song called “Not Hopeless.” I say that now because we’re here with The Winery Dogs. There’s a whole bunch of other songs that I do with other people, of course, that I enjoy. But that’s the hot issue for me right now. And there’s a cool solo thing that when we did it, we didn’t think about it at all. It was just, “3-4-go!” And I did this thing, but then I had to learn it later and I still don’t really know what the heck I did. Now when I play it, I play an approximation of it, but I still can’t really figure out what it actually is. It’s kind of interesting, I think, when you just sort of fly off the handle and just do a thing, winging it. Then trying to figure it out later sometimes is harder than you imagine.
What gear are you playing live these days?
I have my Yamaha signature Attitude bass, that’s the version 3 now- whole bunch of new features that I won’t bore you with, but it’s pretty exciting. They put a lot of great technology in it: artificially aged wood and new neck to body joints. It’s quite a great bass. We have a Facebook page now with the Attitude Bass owners on there. And I’m always on with them answering questions and their tweaking and changing stuff around. It’s a great little community of people.
I’m using Hartke amps. I’ve been using them for, Jeez, 7 or 8 years now. They’ve never let me down yet. They’re rock solid. I really love them. I got a new EBS Billy Sheehan Signature Distortion pedal for bass, although, you can use it on anything really. Basically it’s two channels; one’s completely clean, unaffected and you can ghost in, to any degree, how much distortion and what kind of distortion you want. It allows you as a bass player to never lose your low end, your big, deep, royal bass tone. But you can ghost in a little distortion that gets some fun on top of it. And then DiMarzio pickups, Rotosound strings, Hipshot D-Tuner, Line 6 wireless [mic]. I’m sure I’m leaving somebody out, but a lot of stuff.
Do you have one favorite bass?
Yeah. All the Attitudes are alike. There’s version 1, version 2, version 3. The one I’m playing now is a prototype for version 3, and I love that. I remember when I first got it; I sat there and played it for hours and hours and hours in my house. I just really connected with it right away. So, it’s going to change again and it has changed before, but right now my favorite is the bass I have with me that I’m performing on. Before I went on the road with it the last time I went out, I took it all apart and made sure everything was working and made sure the bridge to body joint was all flush and the neck to body- I did the tighten up on the whole thing. So I really made it my own. Before a show I change my own strings and I do all my own adjusting and my own fret work, other than re-fretting. So I’m really finely tuned into the instrument, I think, best as I can determine myself. So that’s the one I’m most finely tuned into right now, so that’s my main axe.
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