The Perfect Bass – July 31st, 2003
by Bing Futch
It was a 1962 Hoffner Beatle Bass. Passionate red to yellow sunburst exploding across hand-shaped German spruce; mother of pearl pick-guard. Sitting pretty and very nearly cherry on the wall of a West Hollywood music store, one of those tiny, musty little holes-in-the-wall that had been open since the 60’s and probably still had some stock that was new back in the day. I had wandered in on a whim, a serendipitous lark that had suddenly paid off in cosmic fashion. The price tag swayed daintily in the breeze of an ancient air conditioning unit that dangled out of a wall nearby. It read “$158.00”
Surely, that had to be some sort of mistake. This was the same kind of bass guitar that Paul McCartney played with the Beatles and continued to play as well. It was worth a mite more than a little over a buck fifty. I turned around, a difficult trick to pull in the tiny, crowded store, and hailed the oldish-looking guy behind the counter.
“Hey, how much is this Hoffner?” I asked.
“Hey, there’s a price tag on it,” he shot back.
So there was, I thought. So this wasn’t a mistake. It became clear right then that a flash-decision was in order and that this bass needed to be purchased, pronto. One hand reached down to my left rear pocket and discovered an empty space where the billfold had most recently been. For the love of Pee-Wee, it had to be at the bottom of the Guitar Center bag that I had just tossed casually into the trunk of my 1973 Pontiac Grandville. The huge store had just opened up across from the little dink of a music shop and I had already purchased some gear earlier in the afternoon. Just before hopping into the car and making for the band’s rehearsal space, I decided to continue my search for “the perfect bass” by ducking into Ye Olde Guitar Hut. One never expected to find such a fabulous deal hanging by its lovely neck; it’s the stuff of dreams.
“I’ll be right back,” came the immortal last words as I sped past the shopkeeper and out the door, nearly colliding with a shaggy gentleman strolling in, around the corner, past a woman with a turquoise shawl, over a sleeping bum. With my mind racing to connect the dots as the landscape blurred around me, the car faded into view and loomed larger as
something scratched at the back of my brain, clawing for purchase, trying really damn hard to sink harpoons of recognition into my thinking regions. There was surely enough money in the wallet, so there was no urgent need for connection there. No dogs or other wild beasts were nipping at my heels, a fact that might have been overlooked in my frenzied rush to acquire what is arguably one of the most incredible-sounding basses ever manufactured in small quantities. So what was this
his eyes he knows
jarring little alarm that, even now, grew louder and blared harder until the klaxon went off in my frontal lobe and the connection became clear. Just before blowing past the scruffy-looking dude who was walking into the joint, I caught a straight-shot at his eyes. We shared a brief moment, an impossibly brief snapshot in time that preserved the tableau and lit up the reality like a neon sign. Why sure, in all of the infinite distractions that plague one during a hefty sprint towards a Holy Grail, one could miss the underlying message in the wide-open gaze of a passing stranger. There was a smile in those eyes. And I knew right then what he had seen in my own twin orbs.
When I returned to the dusty little shop, it was apparent that “too late” was going to be the epitaph for a dream. A price tag lay upon the glass counter, its bright white string snaking over the display of water pipes. “$158.00,” it taunted. I looked at the man behind the counter, who blithely shrugged his shoulders and then turned to head for the back of the store. I stopped him with a quickly thought-up question.
“Hey, was that a consignment or original stock?”
He turned around and regarded me with steely blue eyes, smiling with only half of his face.
“Hey, what are you a cop?” he said, not too gruffly.
I shook my head no, looking down at the glass case, then quickly away at the tie-dye wraps hanging on the wall. Then, with a meek smile and a little salute, I stepped back onto Sunset Boulevard and looked at the wallet in my hands. The quest for the perfect bass would continue.