REVIEW: 1975 Hondo Bass Guitar

A revitalized Hondo, featuring clear acrylic pickguard (by me!) that features awesome rewiring (by 5th Avenue Fretshop)

A revitalized Hondo, featuring clear acrylic pickguard (by me!) that features awesome rewiring (by 5th Avenue Fretshop)

This is a review of a 70’s Hondo II P-bass clone that I purchased while on tour. It also serves as a partial road journal of the first 9 weeks I spent on the road in early 2014 with Lydia Loveless in support of our latest record, “Somewhere Else”. My name is Benjamin Lamb, and I’m the bass player. Other characters in this story are Lydia Loveless (the singer, and also my wife), Todd May (guitar player) Nick German (drummer) and Jay Gasper (steel guitar player)

A live set on WCBE forced me to re-evaluate the roadworthiness of my beloved P-Bass.

A live set on WCBE forced me to re-evaluate the roadworthiness of my beloved P-Bass

February 24, Columbus Ohio: Our record was released on the 18th, but this is our first public performance in support of the album. We play a live performance on the local public radio station, WCBE. The last time I was here, I played upright bass, but I figured it might simplify things to bring my 1979 Fender P-bass. I played electric bass on the last 2 recordings, but usually tour with the upright, just to complicate matters. Unfortunately my Fender has developed a bit of a sloppy neck joint, which requires me to yank the neck hard to keep it in place, and to retune before and after every song. The performance goes pretty well.

A new van, a new tour. And lots of snow.

A new van, a new tour. And lots of snow

February 26, Detroit Michigan: We begin the first of 4 dates in the general Ohio area. I am using my upright bass exclusively, partially because of the problems with my electric bass, but mostly because I want people to think I am cool and some sort of musical genius. (this only works on people who don’t know much about upright bass, but that’s the majority of our audience, so this is ok)

March 6, St. Louis Missouri: This is the first night of a long stretch that will take us down to Austin for SXSW, then out to the west coast for several weeks before routing back through Salt Lake City and Denver. The show goes well, as I recall, and morale is high.

March 8, somewhere between Columbia Missouri, and Tulsa Oklahoma: The previous night we played the first of 3 shows opening for label mates Ha Ha Tonka. They are nice guys, and good musicians. Naturally I feel we must upstage them somehow. We are somewhere in Missouri on a long, rainy drive when I see a music store along the road. Our drummer is in need of sticks, and the band is in need of a break, so I pull into the parking lot.

This is a really great music store, and the first thing I notice is that they have 3 upright basses, a rarity for most shops. I can’t afford another one, and have no room for one anyway, so I take a gander at the electrics. They have several great Fenders in the $800 range, but a sunburst gem on the bottom rack immediately catches my eye. It’s a Hondo II P-bass copy, and it’s priced at $89.

I have had one prior experience with a Hondo bass; When I was 17 or so, I ended up with a Jazz Bass clone. It was ok, until I broke a string. I then realized that for some reason, the strings I bought wouldn’t fit through the holes in the bridge. This convinced me that this instrument was an inferior specimen, and I quickly rid myself of it.

This one feels much more confidence-inspiring, perhaps because 25 or so years later, I can play the bass to some modest level of proficiency. It has a nice heft, and seems to stay in tune. I plug it in and play it for the next 15 minutes. It seems to have its original P-bass style pickup replaced with a hefty Music-Man style pickup, which is extremely intriguing.

At this point, Lydia enters the store, having given up on the band’s timely return to the van. “I’m buying this”, I immediately exclaim, a pronouncement to which she immediately cringes. We certainly like buying instruments, but it is very early in the tour, money is tight, and we are already at full capacity in the van. Nevertheless, I follow up with “it’s only $89″ which seems to soften the blow. “Might need a backup…” I trail off, and the conversation ends. The rest of the band seems to view my purchase with enthusiasm, not so much for me having another bass on tour, but perhaps more that they are now individually scouring the store for their own $89 purchase that they can rationalize. Everyone tries out a few instruments, and Lydia finds a beautiful 70’s Martin that really speaks to her. It’s about $1200 though, which is too much money to part with at this stage in the tour. We’ve had to replace transmissions and have engines rebuilt while on the road, so it is ill-advised to part with too much of your initial cushion of available funds.

I take the bass to the counter, where the employees view me with a mixture of amusement and…well, it’s just pretty much amusement, but I think they enjoy the variety of a touring band coming in the shop. I ask if they can get me out the door with this bass, a strap, and “the shittiest gig bag they have” and they fully comply, handing me a paper-thin vinyl bag suitable for protection against morning dew, or the occasional sneeze. I note that the bass has a rattle, which we identify as a loose tuning key, the G specifically. “I’m not buying this until you guys make this right!” I proclaim rather emptily, as they are already in the process of applying a blop of glue to the key, which seems to fix the problem. Having repaired the bass to my satisfaction, I tuck it in the gig bag, slide it into the van, and we continue on our way to Tulsa.

Debuting the Hondo on the tiny stage of the Mercury Lounge in Tulsa

Debuting the Hondo on the tiny stage of the Mercury Lounge in Tulsa

March 8, The Mercury Lounge, Tulsa Oklahoma: We arrive at the club, and Ha Ha Tonka is already there and set up onstage. The club is extremely small, and this is punctuated by the fact that the “green room” (a private room for the band to relax in) is in fact an RV parked behind the bar. The load-in door enters directly onto the stage, which is entirely taken up by Tonka’s gear during their soundcheck. We give up on loading in, and decide to leave the gear in the van until it’s time to play. I also take this opportunity to contemplate using my new secret weapon: the Hondo II. Now while an electric bass is a much smaller instrument than an upright bass, it actually takes up more room on stage due to the neck sticking out to one side, as opposed to the much more contained vertical dimensions of an upright bass. And should I decide to use both basses throughout the set, I will need additional space on the floor to lay the upright down while I try not to step on it. (I have tried leaning it up against the wall before, only to result in a startling and expensive crash to the ground–never again).

So the extremely limited space, plus the addition of my new toy, help me decide to play the unproven Hondo exclusively tonight. When I pull it out of the bag, Luke, Tonka’s bass player thoughtfully remarks “Oh, you have an electric bass”. Luke’s bass is an actual Fender, the exact bass my cheap copy was intended to emulate. This will make it much more satisfying when I lay waste to him tonight with my intoxicating and far superior hot bass licks, performed on an obviously inferior instrument! (ok, this is my extremely embarrassing and strictly internal dialogue, but I think all artists should have a good-natured sense of competition about them, infused with a healthy dose of “LOOK AT ME AND HOW AWESOME I THINK I AM”) Regardless, they are all nice guys, and it’s not like I’m actually saying this, so we go ahead and play our set. I am immediately thinking I should have purchased a strap with a bit more friction, as the bass is a bit neck-heavy and I have to hold it up somewhat with my left hand, due to the slick nylon strap offering no resistance. The bass sounds pretty good though, and seems to pop out a bit more than the upright. (Pro-tip: the “P” in “P-bass” stands for “precision”, which is a bit of a reference to the state of bass note accuracy prior to its invention. Of course, back in the late 50’s, amplification was a bit primitive, which might have been for the best, considering the situation.)

Regardless, after the set, Mark Miller, Tonka tour manager, bass player, and long-time friend of mine, remarked that the Hondo sounded good, so I figured it was worth the investment.

Taken shortly before I bashed my nose in.

Taken shortly before I bashed in my nose

March 12, Mohawk/Spin Showcase, Austin Texas: Our show on the 9th in Fort Worth, I didn’t bother to play the electric, mainly because of space considerations and because there was another upright bass player in a band on the bill, and I wanted people to see how awesome my upright bass playing was (my apologies; my vanity simmers not far below the surface, but at least I acknowledge how superficial I am. So that’s ok, right? I am definitely a work in progress.) We played a show at the Hole in the Wall on the 11th in Austin, and I decided to stick to upright bass, once again for reasons of insecurity. This bit me in a big way though, when in one of the songs, I lost myself in a moment of onstage lack of inhibition and let myself go and began headbanging wildly. I do this quite often, and I can assure you that it’s no act–that’s what I do around the house when no one is watching. It’s a blissful and rare state of lack of self-consciousness for me and I embrace it wholeheartedly.

Onstage exuberance with the upright lead to me bloodying myself at the Hole in the Wall in Austin.

Onstage exuberance with the upright lead to me bloodying myself at the Hole in the Wall in Austin

Which made it all the more shocking to me when my headbanging connected the bridge of my nose with the neck of my bass, causing my nose to split open and spray blood, and created a pain so intense I could immediately taste it. I went cross-eyed, and could swear for a moment that I could literally see stars and little hummingbirds circling my head. I was in the middle of the song and the set, so really I could do nothing but forge ahead. When I got off the stage, I was greeted by well-wishers who immediately grimaced at my appearance. It seemed pretty rock & roll, and healed fully after a few weeks (although I have a new scar) so there was really no harm done. I was reminded though that perhaps for my more animated performances, an electric bass might be more appropriate. Anyway, back to March 12, and back to present tense.

We load into the Mohawk and I bring both basses in, but very quickly ascertain that there isn’t going to be room for both of them onstage, so I opt for the electric. I am quickly having to come to terms that my old thoughts of having to ALWAYS play upright bass are deeply rooted in superficial motivations of vanity, and don’t necessarily serve the song, or help to expedite the load-in and setup process. I played upright bass exclusively on Indestructible Machine, and on those older songs where I slap or bow, the electric bass seems like an extremely inadequate substitute. But we are here at SXSW where we are playing as many as three 30-minute sets at three different venues in one day, and we are promoting our new album (and our EP, “Boy Crazy” that we released in the fall but never toured for) and I played nothing but electric bass on both those recordings. So it is becoming apparent that I need to embrace the mindset of the Hondo II for this entire week.

An intense show, especially with the half-bear lunging through the wall at us.

An intense show, especially with the half-bear lunging through the wall at us

We have about 20 minutes to play this packed house and we give it all we can. It’s one thing to play in front of a bar full of fans of your band who know your music, but obviously SXSW is a different beast, and you are always playing for a crowd of “critics” who may be just there to see what the big deal is, and will immediately blog and tweet their impression of you, for better or worse. Fortunately this band has gotten to the point where this situation does not only not phase us, but drives us to kick even more ass, and we do just that. I feel self-conscious rocking out on the Hondo for some reason (Don’t you people realize I also play upright bass? Why am I playing the cheapest bass I own at one of our most crucial gigs?) but everything goes well.

We play the Bloodshot showcase later that evening at the Continental Club, and I decide to play upright exclusively, probably because it’s a “roots rock” crowd and I have convinced myself that people expect me to play upright and will be disappointed if I just play electric. These of course are absurd positions for me to hold, but hey, we can’t grow without some painful self-examination, now can we? Regardless, we play the song “Boy Crazy”, which is a raucous feedback frenzy for everyone in the band except me, who is expected to hold down the fort with a very busy bass line that is extremely hard to play accurately in the upper registers (at least for me, it is). Hmm, maybe there is something to this electric bass thing. The Hondo II has another chance to prove its worth when Jon Langford’s band (closing the set) is missing a bass player due to a travel snafu. They literally recruit a substitute bass player from the attendees, but he doesn’t have a bass. Nan Warshaw (of Bloodshot fame) asks if they can borrow mine, and if there was ever a task the Hondo was perfect for, this is it. It plays great, sounds great, and if it disappears, so what? I happily leave the bass behind, and we are reunited the next morning.

Scraping the ceiling at the Broken Spoke

Scraping the ceiling at the Broken Spoke

March 13, The Broken Spoke, Austin Texas: We are playing a showcase for KDHX at the crack of noon, which is like, 5 am in rock and roll time. Nevertheless, this is a classic old-school honky-tonk venue, and we aim to do it justice. Lydia writes up a great set of our most country-tinged tunes, and I feel this is a perfect show for the upright. However I am dismayed to load in and find that once I stand on the stage, the ceiling height is about 6 feet…which is not even enough room to stand up the upright bass, even before I take it out of the case and pull out the endpin. Finally logistics have trumped tradition in a big way, and I have no choice but to use the Hondo. No point in playing a self-pitying set here; there is a huge history of electric bass in country music and it’s time to get real. To be perfectly honest, the upright bass has a tone that contains a bit of mystery, and as tough as it is to play, can actually be a bit more forgiving than the clear-as-a-bell tone of the electric. But here I stand as a professional bass player and there can be no excuses. We play a very tight, if not energetic set, and I think for as hung-over and tired as we are, it feels good.

Great people, great weather, farty amps.

Great people, great weather, farty amps

Later we play the Paste Showcase at a bar that I cannot remember the name of. It takes us entirely longer to load in than to play our set, but this has the effect on us of just making us want to solidly kill for 20 minutes and destroy the audience. The backline provided is entirely of giant Orange amps, but I am the only one that utilizes them. My bass sounds like an extremely aggressive fart (sorry Orange) but no one cares. We play everything at double speed and try to feed back as much as possible. Perhaps we are unconsciously trying to play the opposite of the Broken Spoke set, or maybe we are just waking up. Either way, it seems like an immensely satisfying dream.

Later that night we return to play the Hole in the Wall for a sparsely attended but enthusiastic set. We are exhausted, and set our sights towards tomorrow’s show at Yard Dog.

Rocking out at Yard Dog, SXSW 2014

Rocking out at Yard Dog, SXSW 2014

March 14, Yard Dog, Austin Texas: This is the famous annual Bloodshot Backyard Bash. Most of Bloodshot’s current roster is here, and while we all get along famously, we all want to show that we of course are the best band on the label. The crowd knows this, and is along for the ride of an afternoon of beer-fueled one-upmanship. This is our 4th year here (I think), and it has always felt like this, like we have something to prove and are prepared to destroy ourselves to do it. I have fully embraced the rock and roll power of the Hondo II at this point. Fuck it, we are a fucking rock and roll band, not some honky-tonk bar heroes phoning it in for 3 sets a night, and we have two rocking new records out, and we are going to beat you over the head with our set until you submit. The stage is so cramped that Lydia falls backwards into the drumset at one point but can’t even fall because there is nowhere to go. Everyone onstage is feeling it, and it just gets more and more intense because we can’t move. I start “Boy Crazy” at double time, and immediately break my E string. I still have 3 strings left, but my G string isn’t working for some reason. The bridge has literally fallen apart and a pile of parts are at my feet. I play the whole song on 2 strings and probably miss half the notes but it doesn’t matter. As I am scooping up the pieces, I realize as fun as this bass is, it’s gonna require some maintenance.

March 15, Austin Guitars, Austin Texas: Steve McGann drives me to the guitar shop to try and fix the Hondo, and also to replace the tuner and cables we seem to have left behind at one of the venues. They graciously let me pick through their spare parts box and we find enough pieces to rebuild the bridge. I also replace the remaining two steel strings with my favorite strings of all time, LaBella Deep Talkin’ Bass tapewounds, an extremely dark sounding set of strings, designed to emulate the Motown/James Jamerson sound, and the upright bass, which is absolutely perfect for my needs.

Our last show at SXSW 2014.

Our last show at SXSW 2014

We run back to the hotel, and I put the new strings on. Perfect! We then head to our final show at SXSW, a showcase for our booking agency, Atomic Music Group. It’s an early show, outdoors, but in a large tent. We are all pretty worn out, and the crowd is pretty mellow and all seated at tables, so we decide to do a more eclectic set of our bonus tracks, B-sides, and stuff we haven’t played much of. The sound is great, except my new strings seem to be of a much larger diameter than the previous strings, and they will not sit into the nut. Whenever I pluck hard (which is constantly on every song) the A string pops out of place and slides next to the D string. I am then forced to slide it back into position, much to the detriment of the groove. Regardless, we pull off the set. More maintenance will be required apparently. Back at the hotel I take a knife, then a piece of sandpaper to the nut and seem to solve the problem.

Also, our hotel room is adjacent to 2 Cow Garage’s room. Prior to the gig, they take the opportunity to steal Todd May(our guitar player)’s guitar and replace the strings with bright neon green “Monster Energy” strings. Todd does not realize this has happened until we start playing. He vows revenge.

March 15, Rubber Gloves, Denton Texas: Opening for 2 Cow Garage. Full-on Hondo. I don’t give a shit anymore what anyone thinks, which is great, because I am also realizing no one but me gives a shit about what bass I play or about the bass player in general. This is a valuable revelation, and I immediately lose about 50 pounds of psychic weight. Unfortunately, the A string keeps popping out of the nut. Fortunately (as stated previously) no one notices or cares. I decide to fix the problem with the string by taking a twist tie and attaching the A string to the E string.

March 20, Seven Grand, San Diego California: Our first sold-out show of the tour. We have massive amounts of hospitality (read: free booze) and take advantage of this thoroughly. The stage is tiny, and once again, the Hondo is the only option. I cannot imagine not having this bass with me. My attempt to keep the A string from popping out backfires though, and instead drags the E string out along with it. Afterwards we stay with a friend who has a place on the beach, and we fire roman candles into the surf.

Some friends of ours hefting beers at the Satellite

Some friends of ours hefting beers at the Satellite

March 21, The Satellite, Silver Lake, California: Another sold-out show. The stage is large enough to accommodate both basses finally, and I plan to alternate between them, especially since I have some upright bass playing friends coming, and I feel obligated to impress them with my authenticity. Once again my vanity seeps to the surface. The battery on my upright is completely dead though, and I realize I haven’t played it for over a week. I replace it and all is well. We end the set with a raucous version of “Boy Crazy” and I finish the song by playing the upright and using the Hondo as a bow. It sounds like shit, but no one cares, and everyone is having a blast. Maybe it’s the medical marijuana, but it seems like the crowds have a great time in California.

above is a link to our LA video shoot – the editor wisely avoids me for all but 4 seconds

March 22, Los Angeles California: We have a video shoot, and so I of course choose the upright, so that people will think I know what the hell I am doing.

March 23, Federal Bar, Los Angeles California: We play some sort of industry showcase brunch event that we can’t really figure out. It’s a 30 or so minute set, and the stage is cramped, so I play the Hondo. The gig is uneventful except after we play, I realize my bridge has fallen apart yet again and I have to search the stage to find the parts.

Later we head to Guitar Center, and they give me a few springs and screws to try and rebuild the bridge. This time I use an extensive amount of duct tape to hold things in place. I hope to replace the bridge but they tell me they don’t have any in stock, but they could order one if I could wait a week. Hmph. I also decide to purchase an A/B box to accommodate easy switching between the Hondo and the upright.

March 25-29, Las Vegas, Santa Cruz, Modesto, San Francisco, Mammoth: Hondo, Hondo, Hondo, Hondo, Hondo. I have gone from playing the electric only due to logistical requirements, to making it the primary bass and only playing the upright when there is room onstage (which there never seems to be). The Santa Cruz and San Francisco shows are both sold out, which is encouraging. Las Vegas represents our first encounter with bars that don’t close, which seems like it could be a problem. It immediately proves helpful though, when we leave the show without collecting our money, and they are of course still open when we return for it an hour later. It is 526 miles to the next show.

The Santa Cruz show is at The Crepe Place, which is our favorite place to play in Santa Cruz. It’s also the only place we’ve played there, but that is beside the point. The staff is friendly, and people seem to really dig  the show. The day afterward, we swing by our friend Jay Lingo’s house, and drink beers and shoot guns. Ahhh…would that every afternoon could be like that.

It is a long way to Modesto, and we show up a couple hours late. We just load in from the van right to the stage just before we go on. It is during this load-in that we realize Nick has left his snare drum back in Santa Cruz. We negotiate with the opening band for use of their snare, and continue with the set.  We make some frantic calls back to Santa Cruz and arrange to have friends meet us in San Francisco with the drum.

A sold-out show in Seattle at the Tractor Tavern features some panty-flinging

A sold-out show in Seattle at the Tractor Tavern features some panty-flinging

April 1-4, Medford, Portland, Eugene, Seattle. We play a round of solid shows in the Pacific Northwest, culminating in a sold-out show in Seattle at the Tractor Tavern. I kick off the set on the Hondo, planning to switch to the upright later on. Lydia decides to play a prank on Todd and distributes panties to several women in the front row, instructing them to fling them at him on her command. They comply and completely baffle Todd. They also have terrible aim, resulting in a slew of panties littering the stage. We fling them back into the crowd and they throw them back at us. One gets stuck on my headstock for awhile, and another latches onto my cord. I decide to switch to the upright during “Crazy”, but find that there is a horrible low roar that turns to howling feedback. I can hear the soundman turning the bass down which fixes the problem, but of course removes me from the mix. Each time he brings it back up, the problem returns. You have to choose your battles on stage, so I just unplug the upright and plug the Hondo back in, and the problem goes away. Afterward, we celebrate the sold-out gig by shooting a few bottle rockets into the air in the parking lot. I decide this should be a new tradition. Unfortunately I am unable to do anything with any semblance of consistency, and this tradition is born and dies here.

The bass fell out of the back of the van in Seattle, but thanks to the magic of crazy glue, we patched it together.

The bass fell out of the back of the van in Seattle, but thanks to the magic of crazy glue, we patched it together

Later that evening as we are loading into the hotel, I open the rear doors to the van and the Hondo takes a nose dive into the pavement from 6 feet up. It is only protected by a gig bag, so I fear the worst. Upon examination in the hotel room, I find the G tuning peg has snapped off. (remember how it was loose when I bought it?) Also the nut has broken off underneath the E string. Fortunately I have packed superglue, and thanks to some vice grips, I put everything back to serviceable condition.

April 5, Green Frog, Bellingham Washington: We arrive at the venue to find it completely packed full of parents with their small children, which are running around screaming and kicking balloons. This feels like we are at the wrong place altogether, even after the bartender assures us that this is the place, and that we can have all the well drinks and draft beer we want. I do like booze, but I also do not like stepping on small children. Regardless, we load in, and sure enough the kids all eventually filter out as a stream of patrons enter. By the time we go on the place is absolutely packed. The stage is tiny so I just leave the upright in the van. About 3 songs in though, my amplifier completely dies. It turns out to be a blown fuse, but I don’t have a replacement. Fortunately, I run my bass through a D/I box, so I just instruct the soundman to turn up the bass in the monitors and I carry on. During the next few songs though, it starts to have a strange low-end feedback, and the soundman is forced to keep turning down my volume. For quite a stretch I cannot hear myself at all, and am just playing by memory. It seems to be the same problem as last night, but that doesn’t make any sense. The soundman yells at me through the monitors “It’s that cheap bass of yours!” and I believe him. Damn Hondo.

Playing the upright with extreme anger at the Green Frog. I resemble one of those troll dolls

Playing the upright with extreme anger at the Green Frog. I resemble one of those troll dolls

I ask Lydia to play a solo song while I go get the upright. I drag it in, uncase it in front of the stage, and fire it up for the rest of the set. I am pissed about the sound issues and play the rest of the set with extreme anger. This actually seems to pay off, as the crowd responds positively to our perseverance, and it turns out to be a great set. The soundman discovers that the problem is in his direct box, and after replacing it, the rest of the show sounds fine. We were a bit apprehensive about this show, but it ended up being quite memorable.  I think of lighting off a bottle rocket but I don’t want to draw the attention of the police.

April 6, Northwestern United States: 587 miles from Bellingham Washington, to Boise Idaho, with a stop in Pendleton Oregon. The van is due for its second oil change of the trip. I get that accomplished, and then decide to take the van through an automated car wash. On the first pass, the car washing apparatus smashes into the passenger side mirror, knocking it off and shattering it. I duct tape it back in place. It is functional but for the duration of the trip, lane changes now require looking into what resembles a kalidiscope.

April 7, Extended Stay America, Boise Idaho: We get to town a day early, and decide to treat ourselves to an approximation of a home-cooked meal, since we have kitchenettes in our rooms. (that’s right, we splurged and bought two rooms for the five of us, instead of the usual one room). Cooking makes Lydia very happy, especially when we’re out on the road, and she whips up a spaghetti dinner for everyone. We debate seeing a movie, but decide to just stay in and sleep instead. Except for our drummer Nick, who wanders out and finds a “swimsuit bar” and has a solo adventure.

I just figured I'd stick this picture in here to break up the text.

I just figured I’d stick this picture in here to break up the text

April 8, Neurolux, Boise Idaho: We like this bar and the people who run it. We are met by the local radio station who plan to broadcast the performance. I can’t help but wonder though if anyone wants to listen to us play a live set, then maybe they should just head on over to the show. Regardless it is an ok set but lightly attended. We are in the “heading home” phase of the tour though, after the rush of sold-out shows on the west coast, so our expectations are somewhat diminished. It is 336 miles to the next show.

April 9, The Garage, Salt Lake City: We arrive a little late for an instore performance at a record store called The Heavy Metal Shop. A kid who brought his guitar for Lydia to sign is conscripted to play in our absence, and he looks like an 11 year-old Justin Townes Earle. The store has provided beer and pizza for the band, much to our pleasure. This place is an amazing oasis of METAL, in a sea of…I dunno, salt lakes and Mormons.

We load into the venue, and it is perhaps our smallest stage yet. We are instructed to face our amps away from the crowd, and are pretty happy to pull off the show without knocking anything over. The place is crowded though and we have a good time. I start off the show with the Hondo, and end with the upright. At this point, I guess I don’t care which bass I play, which is probably the attitude I should have had all along. It is 521 miles to the next show. Rather than stay in town, we head east immediately after the show and drive an hour and a half to Evanston Wyoming, to save time the next day. At a gas station, Lydia purchases a carved slingshot themed on her spirit animal (bear) and fires projectiles at the band for the rest of the trip.

When we arrive at the hotel I notice the front tire looks strange. And upon closer examination, “strange” turns into “flat”. Todd and I limp the van over to a Pilot Travel Center, and spend $3 filling up the tire. I buy a can of Fix-A-Flat, and we hope it isn’t totally flat again tomorrow. I locate a tire repair place within a few miles. It’s 3 AM at this point, and the shop opens at 8 the next morning.

April 10, Evanston Wyoming: I get up and get the tire repaired and fill up the tank. I also get a notification from my bank that someone has made an “unusual purchase” using my credit card. Off to the show!

High-Dive, Denver Colorado: After a 7 hour drive, and not much sleep, we park in front of the bar. There is enough space to use both basses, and we play a kick-ass hour-long set after two opening bands. Lydia is feeling pretty sick unfortunately, and has been for several days. It is 527 miles to the next show.

April 11, Lizard Lounge, Wichita Kansas: We arrive late again, but “late” is kind of a relative term. We are usually assigned a load-in time, and a time for sound check, but we have found that it is often unnecessary, and make do with sliding in just before we play and doing a line check. We play a fun set at a great little bar, although we are getting pretty exhausted from consecutive 7-8 hours of travel each day. I play both basses and everything sounds great. It is 384 miles to the next show.

Lydia wrapping up things at Vaudeville Mews.

Lydia wrapping things up at Vaudeville Mews

April 12, Vaudeville Mews, Des Moines Iowa: This is the last show of this particular leg. We are tired but we have a blast. The Hondo bounces pretty well when I throw it on the stage. It is 776 miles to home.

April 23, High Noon Saloon, Madison Wisconsin: The opening band is friendly and the sound is good. The crowd is nice for the most part, but there are a few assholes that kind of taint the vibe of the evening. I don’t know why, but some people must really enjoy going to a show and saying shitty things to the band. We still have a good time and play a good set.

7th Avenue Entry. I dig this picture.

7th Avenue Entry. I dig this picture

April 24, 7th Street Entry, Minneapolis, Minnesota: The entire band is a bunch of Replacements nerds, and playing Minneapolis is very exciting to us. The club is tiny and the show is sold out. We feel relaxed and it shows, and the crowd very much feels like they are on our side, as opposed to the previous night. I play both basses, starting off the show with the upright, and ending with the Hondo. This is pretty much my go-to procedure at this point. We play a glorious version of “Boy Crazy” ending with me slamming the bass on the stage, and Lydia finishing the song while standing on it as it howls away. $89! It is 400 miles to the next show.

David Kindler gets the credit for this rad photo of us at Schuba's

David Kindler gets the credit for this rad photo of us at Schuba’s

April 25, Schuba’s, Chicago Illinois: This is the first of two sold-out shows here. Upon loading in I examine my bass for the first time since the end of last night’s revelries, and discover that the jack has smashed through the pickguard and is just floating, held only by the wiring.

Quick repairs to the Hondo to prepare for our second night at Schuba's

Quick repairs to the Hondo to prepare for our second night at Schuba’s

The soundman and I cover it in gaffer tape. I also discover that at some point the pickup screws have fallen out. More gaffer tape to the rescue. The show goes well and is fun, but the excitement of the previous evening looms overhead.

A hung-over condition and my heart on my sleeve lead this instore to end in tears.

A hung-over condition and my heart on my sleeve lead this instore to end in tears

April 26, Reckless Records, Chicago Illinois: We load in for an instore performance. I opt for the upright, just because it sounds better in a stripped-down format. Or at least I think it does, anyway. It’s just me, Lydia, and Todd, and we must be feeling it, because we play 6 or 7 songs. I know I am feeling it, because during “Somewhere Else” I am consumed with how sad this song is and start crying uncontrollably. I start playing harder and harder and eventually gouge out a chunk of wood from the top of the bass.

April 26, Rose Bowl Tavern, Urbana Illinois: We love playing this honky-tonk style bar. The place is packed and unfortunately, so is the stage. I decide not to use the upright at all. During soundcheck, I tilt my amp back against the wall, and it immediately shorts out. I bypass the amp altogether, and just run it straight through the PA. Even held together with duct and gaffer tape and super glue, the Hondo keeps performing like a champ.

Hot bass-on-bass action at Schuba's

Hot bass-on-bass action at Schuba’s

April 27, Schuba’s, Chicago Illinois: Back to Schuba’s for our second sold-out show! This time we are totally fired up and kick ass. Not that we didn’t kick ass the previous time, but it is if another ass appeared, and we kick it as well. A bonus ass, as it were. While setting up, I knock the Hondo off the stand, and the G tuner snaps off again. Once again, I apply the pliers and superglue and it holds together yet again. During the last song I smash it against the stage repeatedly, knowing it’s the last show of the tour and it will soon be repaired. I gotta say…I treated this instrument worse than any I have ever had. I wasn’t trying to intentionally abuse it, mind you. I am just hard on instruments while on tour and while on stage.

When I purchased the Hondo a month prior, I had it in the back of my mind that perhaps it wouldn’t make it home with me, and I was ok with that. If it needed to be sacrificed for the sake of a great show, then so be it. Except for the G tuning peg though, it held up to my worst behavior. And to reward it for such dutiful service, I decide that this will now be my main touring electric bass, and rather than kill it, I am going to rebuild it for the next tour, a 2 week run with the Old 97’s.

The ol' Hondo taking all kinds of liquid abuse

The ol’ Hondo taking all kinds of liquid abuse

The Hondo is currently under the care of Phil Maneri, owner of 5th Avenue Fretshop in Columbus Ohio. He is repairing it with my usual request of “let’s make it work, but let’s not go crazy with it”. Dare I say my vintage Fenders would not have performed as well as the Hondo, mainly because I never would have thought to put them in the same situations that I did. If Lydia stood on my Fender, I would have likely thrown up with anxiety, rather than scream with delight, as I did with the Hondo.

Rocking a revitalized Hondo at the 9:30 Club in DC

Rocking a rebuilt Hondo at the 9:30 Club in DC. Note clear acrylic pickguard and added string tree

In conclusion, I’d like to thank Lydia, Todd, Nick, and Jay for their amazing performances. I’d also like to thank all the fans who came out to see us. And thanks to that mysterious music store in Missouri for selling me this piece of shit bass for $89. It certainly changed the tour and perhaps changed the way I look at myself as a bass player and as a person. See you on the road!