Sunday, 3 April 2016

Gallery - Wal MB5 5-String Midi Bass

The Wal Midi Bass has always been a bit of a rare beast. So when one turned up for sale at Bass Direct in Warwick with a sumptuous shedua/hydua top, a Mk II 5-string body and some stunning photos attached it seemed like the perfect excuse to feature this beautiful bass on the blog. Many thanks to Mark Stickley at Bass Direct for permission to use these photos. Whoever ends up purchasing this bass is in for a rare treat!

MB4s were on the more obscure and exclusive end of the Wal catalogue and were only available for a limited period of time. That said, over that short period from around 1990 they gained a reputation for being just about the only midi-bass that actually worked.

That was largely down to the genius electronics provided by Australian Steve Chick. The stroke of genius was to remove the need for the bass to midi converter to rely on a hexaphonic pickup to sense the pitch of the note being sounded. The beauty of a keyboard synthesiser is that the keys are effectively just switches. As soon as they are "on" they are "on" - there is no delay in getting them engaged. Hex pickups, on the other hand, take a few cycles of the note to sense what note is being played. For the loser notes on the bass that could potentially take more than a tenth of a second. Definitely noticeable for the listener, positively off putting for the player. Add to that the potential that overtones in the note could be interpreted as an entirely wrong note. For this reason midi basses gained a reputation for being tricky to play and badly glitchy. At the very least they demanded a very precise playing style.

The competition...

The competition available from makers such as Roland (who produced a range of midi basses based on their hex pickup and guitar to midi controller system) was pretty limited. This included the space age G-77 bass which employed a "tone bar" to stabilise the neck and present the hex pickup with a purer, more reliable tone - it created quite a space age look!

Roland offered a couple of more conventional looking basses in midi format (the G-33 and G-88, both simply bass versions of the G-303 and G-808 electric guitar versions). In addition other builders, such as Steinberger, offered basses with Roland bass to midi controllers retrofitted. The Steinberger, with its incredibly stable carbon composite construction presented, possibly, the ideal vehicle for the bass to midi system.

The 1991 5-String Mk II Wal MB5 Midi Bass

Mahogany core, figured shedua/hydua facings, ebony fingerboard

6-ply laminate neck
Maple:Mukalungu:English Hornbeam:English Hornbeam:Mukalungu:Maple

The split frets should be clearly visible...

Note the oblong multi-channel midi signal socket on the rear of the bass

The photos below show a comparison between the early Wal Midi Basses. The photo on the left clearly shows the hexaphonic pickup squeezed in between the custom die cast bridge and the bridge pickup. This was an early model which was reviewed in Guitarist Magazine in February 1990. The photo on the right shows that by the end of 1991 the hex pickup had been dispensed with.

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