Legendary bassist Peter Hook is absolutely delighted with the brand-new Yamaha Signature Bass which has recently been unveiled by the company. Hooky spoke in detail to Andy Hughes about his pleasure in receiving the new instrument, which is already in use as he joined Gorillaz for a series of London-based livestream concerts.
Like almost all musicians starting out, you had some pretty rough basses in your earliest days, do you think that starting on a poor instrument can improve your technical skills when you move onto something better?
I’m not sure really, that’s like saying that moving from an old banger to a decent motor improves your driving skills. I will say that it helps to make up for the shortcomings in the early instruments, and the techniques you have to learn to work around them. One of the first basses I had gave me an action that felt like it was half-an-inch from the fretboard and I had to really struggle to hold down the notes. It’s all paying your dues, and when you get a decent instrument, you really appreciate it. I bought my first bass because the guy in the shop told me it was a bass guitar; I wouldn’t have recognised it as a bass otherwise! I took it home without testing it in any way. I couldn’t afford a case for it, so it came home on the bus in a black bin liner. My second guitar was a Rickenbacker copy which looked really good, but it was a terrible instrument. My third was a Yamaha BB600, and that got stolen when we went to America with Joy Division, so I replaced it with a Yamaha BB800 which was great, it had better tone and boosted treble middle and bass. Then I got a Yamaha BB1200 which had a straight-through neck construction which made it easier to tune and I liked the intonation better. Then they brought out the Yamaha BB1200S and I found my nirvana, it was like getting a Ferrari after driving Ford Escorts. I liked the Yamaha sound from my first bass of theirs, it had a nice hollowness in the tone which sat well in the middle of the track, and suited high-end melody playing which I played. I started playing my Yamaha BB 1200S in 1980, and it has been on every recording and every live track I have ever done. I have tried virtually every make of bass guitar there is over the years, and I found that the Yamaha gave me a personal identifiable sound. I started buying them because I was worried about mine getting stolen or lost or damaged, so I have a reserve stock in various places around the UK.
How did your Signature Bass design and manufacture come about?
The thing is, Joy Division and New Order never had any deals with instrument manufacturers, we were totally independent throughout our career. We did get offers, but never took them up. At some stage Yamaha asked me to review this new bass guitar, and I tried it, and the guy phoned me up to get my thoughts, and I told him I thought it was rubbish, but not as politely as that! He told me I could keep it anyway, but I had been spoiled by the BB1200S, so I didn’t play it at all. My son Jack, who is an excellent bass player is the bassist with The Smashing Pumpkins and they are sponsored by Yamaha. Jack was talking to the Yamaha rep and telling him bow I had been playing the same guitar for forty years, and the guy said that we needed to sort this out – I need a Signature Bass. Scott Marceau their Artist Relations Manager had a word with Yamaha and told them how my Yamaha bass was an integral part of the success of Joy Division and New Order, and they decided I needed a Peter Hook Signature Bass, so we designed it, and now it’s in production.
Did you have a lot of input into the design?
I did, I had loads of conversations with the luthier in California, and I told him to make it as much like the B1200S as he could. The biggest issue was the neck because I like a straight-through neck and Yamaha don’t do them anymore, but we worked around that and the model has a really strong and sturdy connection. They also redesigned the electrics to make the reverb more powerful, so it’s got a 1500DB boost in it.
When your new bass arrived and you unpacked it and set it up and played it for the first time, was it everything you hoped it would be?
It was, and I was so glad I had so many discussions with the luthier, and I was able to say exactly what I wanted the bass to have as its design and features. You can string it through the body, or from the bridge, I’m not sure what the difference is, but they suggested that, and I was happy to go along with it. They also had to change the pickups round as well because in the early 1980’s Yamaha changed the pickups on the BB’s, it gives more zing on the treble frequencies, and makes the bottom end step back a bit. I wanted to be sure that the bottom end was brought up on my signature model because otherwise it would be a bit lacking in the studio sound. I also insisted that the body was really strong, and that was always another welcome feature of the basses I used on the road. With the best will in the world, trusting a valuable and loved instrument to airline baggage handlers is not an enjoyable experience, but the Yamaha basses I travelled with were really good strong robust instruments. I have seen my bass fall off a conveyor belt and the case fall apart around the bass, and the bass still remain intact. I wanted to be sure that a bass carrying my name would stand up to the life I would be giving it, and so would a lot of other touring players.
What amp set up do you have?
I was very lucky when I got to work with Martin Hannett, sadly no longer with us, he produced us on the Joy Division records, and he was a bass player, and he introduced me to the Lembik Preamp, and he fed that into an Amcron DC300 which was an old PA amp and it had a lovely bottom-end sound and it made the high-end sound fat, which was great for me. He also used the Gauss4560’s thousand-watt output which meant the singer was not happy! But that’s part of the bassist’s job isn’t it, to make sure the singer is not happy! I like Hiwatt speakers, the eighteen and fifteen inch, not the twelves. I am absolutely over the moon that Yamaha has taken over Ampeg because we hire vintage Ampegs when we tour, where we can get them. So now after forty years I have my own Yamaha Signature bass, I can get Ampeg amps, and Line 6 pedals, which is everything I ever wanted.
And what strings do you favour?
Bass Centre have brought out a set of Peter Hook Custom Elite Strings, since I met their rep. I see him at trade fairs, and every now and again he sends me a really nice goody bag with things in. I’ve waited forty years for this, a Signature bass with my name on, strings with my name on, and you can get a Peter Hook strap from America – you can be Peter Hook, and I’ll send you the bills! It’s just fantastic to have had my new bass, it was just the pick-up I needed after the year we have all had. Being Number One in America with Gorillaz and Aries has been wonderful. Life has always been ups and downs, and my new Signature Bass is fabulous.
Which bassists do you admire?
Once I saw Paul Simenon with The Clash, and Jean Jacques Burnel with The Stranglers, I knew what instrument I wanted to play, and I knew how I wanted to look playing it, and the sound I wanted to make low-slung playing and high-end sound. Paul Simenon is a fantastic player, and Jean Jacques Burnel’s solo album Euroman Cometh is one of my favourite albums ever, fantastic bass lines, and they have both been a huge influence on me.
Do you always play with a pick?
I do yes, I used to use 1.2mm picks which tore the strings off, and now I use Dunlop 1mm with serrated edges. I always play as hard as I can, I’m from the Mick Ronson school of playing, someone asked him once how he got the guitar solos on Ziggy Stardust, and he said ‘I just turn everything up full and bash the hell out of it!’ and I think that’s a great approach. I can never understand why anyone would ever put a compressor on a bass amp? Why would I need a compressor? I want the next note to be as loud and heavy as the one before it, and every note that comes after that.
Has your new Signature Bass been put to work yet?
Absolutely. I played it on Aries on the new Gorillaz album, and I’m playing it live in this series of livestreams they are doing from London, and I’ve been using it on the livestreams we’ve done with The Light. I am so pleased to have it because I don’t have to worry about my vintage bass any more, although at the moment it’s still there with me. I have my old faithful and my new Signature, one either side of my amp on stage, which is wonderful.