Saturday, January 18, 2014
A Visit with Lowell's Zon Bass Guitar
Gryphon Stringed Instruments, in Palo Alto, CA.
Click the link, and you'll see a description and a bunch of photos of this lovely instrument. Zon is well regarded in the bass community for its fine products, and this surely was one of Lowell's favorites. I've heard bassist Michael Manring do incredible things with his Zon.
I located the store tucked into some mixed use space behind town, across from the Mercedes-Benz showroom. After finding a parking spot on the street alongside the nondescript building, I walked around the corner and entered.
Gryphon has desks and glass counters up front, but ranging to the side and back are rooms full of all kinds of acoustic guitars, dobros, banjos, and MORE guitars. There was a long wall covered with multicolored ukuleles. I discovered a collection of banjos in one room, a grouping of shiny dobros further in. Lowell's Zon Sonus Standard five-string bass, with its lovely burl face, was hanging in a short rack of several electric basses in a soundproof room. Derek See, who found it for me, wore a 1967-style paisley shirt, which I admired.
Once inside the room, plugged into a handy amp, it was just me and the bass. I said hi to it, and then held it close, thinking about Lowell playing it. I played some runs, and some patterns from the songs I do with Tablues, my band. I twiddled the knobs, changing the pickups and tone. It sounded and felt great, as I expected.
I believe that basses are best when played with other instruments, so I invited in Oliver, who was sampling a 1941 Martin acoustic guitar in the main showroom. It had a price tag of $38,000. Oh MY. I might be scared to touch something that valuable! He played through a couple of fiddle tunes with me on the guitar before stepping back into the other room. It was a sublime moment.
I guess I hoped to channel Lowell or have some kind of cosmic experience while holding his bass, but I realized that this instrument, lovely as it was, was not going to serve as a magic conduit to my friend. The fact that Lowell owned it doesn't make it a better instrument, but I do feel that if I played it in shows and rehearsed with it, I'd remember my friend more often and share something special with him.
Sadly, at $1,275, the Zon is a little over my budget right now. I'd love to have a five-string bass someday, and this one would be perfect, but it looks like it'll have to wait.
I also was hoping to find another of Lowell's basses, a hollow-bodied Tacoma Thunderchief. With its single paisley sound hole, it was truly remarkable looking and sounding. I played it last year when I visited Lowell to bring him some dinner and hang out. Despite his illness, he was still able to pick up a guitar and we played several songs together. But the Tacoma already has a new home.
Lowell, as a Buddhist, might laugh at my attachment to material things. I continue to live here in the material world while he does not, and that's just the way it is. I like to think that even without possessing his instruments, I can use the memory of my friend to live a better life, filled with more of the humor, kindness, creativity and awareness that Lowell had in abundance in his life. I don't need a specific instrument to do that. But I do know that if I had the cash I would have a new member in my musical arsenal tonight.