Talking Bass With Duff McKagan

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Duff McKagan is a bass legend, alright? If all he ever recorded was Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child ‘O Mine” he would go down in the history books: Slash’s introductory guitar riff is of course great but it wouldn’t have quite the impact that it does if not for Duff’s weaving lines before the song kicks into full gear. But Duff is much more than that. Elements of 70s rock, punk, Seattle sludge and English-style glam permeate his music, whether he’s out front singing and playing guitar in his band Duff McKagan’s Loaded, or contributing to Jane’s Addiction a few years back, or blasting out the low end in Velvet Revolver, or collaborating with Sebastian Bach, or his latest venture, the blues-rock band Walking Papers, which features Jeff Angell of The Missionary Position on vocals, guitar, Barrett Martin of formerly of Screaming Trees and Mad Season on drums, and Angell’s Missionary Position bandmate Benjamin Anderson on keys. The band was formed by Jeff and Barrett, with Duff and Benjamin coming on board as formal members following their contributions to the band’s debut album. “I don’t even sing backups in Walking Papers,” Duff says. “It’s the first time I’ve played just bass and that’s it!”

fender duff mckagan p bass

Duff’s bass of choice is a Fender Duff McKagan Precision Bass model based on an instrument that Duff goes way, way back with. It features a Seymour Duncan STKJ2B Hot Stack For Jazz Bass pickup in the bridge position. This noise-cancelling pickup is similar to the Classic Stack, but with increased output and a thicker-sounding mid-range response making it better suited for rock tones. “I’ve always played Seymour Duncan,” Duff says. “Always. Guitar, bass. The first Fender bass I bought when we got our record advance in ’86, I saw this bass in Guitar Center and I was one of those dudes coming in playing shit they could never afford to buy. But we finally got our record advance and I could afford it, and the bass was still there. It was a Japanese-made Fender Precision Bass Special with Seymours, and that became my sound, that bass. It’s a sweet bass. But the combination, even the pick I use, that pickup and those strings, you can really get that sound. I didn’t know anything about the pickups back then. There wasn’t an internet back then and I wasn’t a techy guy so all you had was what you had to make your sound.”

walking papers CDFor amps Duff recently made the switch to Fender Bassman amps. “That’s what I play. I played Gallien-Krueger bass amps for years. They’re great amps and I’ve got nothing bad to say about the company but they were inconsistent. I play mostly live shows all over the world in different sized rooms, and to have a consistent sound sometimes I’d have to bring in flooring, like my own carpet, to get my sound on stage. And Fender was having this bass day where the were showing some bass amps. They invited some bass players, Mike Dirnt (Green Day) and everybody, and everybody who played the amps was digging them. And Fender bass amps to me were kind of antiquated, floppy things so I was like ‘Wow, I don’t know about this.’ But I was the first one to try it and wow, it had everything. It had the gain that I’d been looking for with pedals. It’s in the amp. So I tried it, I took it on tour and that’s the true test. It can look good but if it can sound good in a room on tour, in venues big and small… and it’s now what I use. So now I’m a pure Fender guy. Which means now when I come to NAMM I only have the one appointment (Laughs).”

Walking Papers play Australia’s Soundwave Festival in February and March 2014. 

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  • chris brady

    great tunes from duff and the dudes