Baker B1 7 – my entrance into the world of the seven string guitar
During the mid 90’s when it wasn’t cool to be good at guitar, I eschewed the grundge movement and threw myself into the world of jazz. Being a big fan of “Birth of the Cool” music up through the heavy, funky grooves of Medeski Martin & Wood, I decided to focus my efforts on playing bass with my organ trio (sometimes quartet and quintet), Thique. It wasn’t long before I discovered the power of the bass in music, and the bassist among musicians. Truly, the bassist has the power to subvertly (or overtly for that matter) influence the entire rest of the band through changes in groove, rhythm or harmonic structure. I was truly in awe of this awesome responsibility.
Fast forward more than 10 years later, I found myself looking to influence the music and the musicians I play with in a new way. I wanted a way to extend the range of what I was doing without playing a completely different instrument. I like the way guitar can influence harmony and rhythm. But I wanted a little of that subversion back. Enter the seven string guitar.
Steve Vai can be thanked for bringing the seven string solidbody (seven string guitars archtop hollowbodies have been popular with jazz guitarists for many years) to the masses in the early nineties via his solo album “Passion & Warfare” along with Whitesnake’s “Slip of the Tongue” (the latter gig which he took to fund and promote the prior). The seven string solidbody then experienced a renaissance in the late 90’s/early 2000’s when nu-metal bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit. However, because of its extended range and ability to be significantly down-tuned plus the addition of more modern amplification options with solid state rectifiers, most seven strings found their way into metal, nu-metal, nu-nu-meteal, etc.
Since the music I enjoy and play is more of an extension of jam bands (fusion of rock, funk, jazz, electronica, etc), I thought it would be really cool to bring the new sonic capabilities of the seven string to that sound…..to the best of my knowledge it hasn’t been done before. Only problem was most seven strings were designed for extreme metal. That certainly wasn’t going to do.
So enter January 2008. At the NAMM Tone Merchants party I had an opportunity to play a seven string Vigier through a Cornford MK50 II. Wow! What a sound! OK, now I confirmed that I wanted to explore this further. Then, after Suhr Guitars debuted their new “Modern” 24 fret model, there was talk that they might offer a seven string model. Being a fan of Suhr’s work, I was very excited about the prospects. However, that hope was short-lived as the Suhr guys soon found themselves overwhelmed with demand for their new products that had been developed, let alone any items that they might develop. So my dream of a seven string Suhr would have to wait for some time.
Based on my own tonal explorations, I knew I wanted a guitar with a mahogany body, mahogany neck, maple top and Brazilian rosewood fingerboard. The trouble was finding one. There weren’t any mass-produced models that met my needs. Ibanez is probably the most well know main stream seven string manufacturer, but there guitars always had maple necks and I can’t say enough about how much I dislike the sound of a maple neck on a mahogany body. That, and well, I’ve never cared for Ibanezes. I soon realized I would have to go boutique if I wanted anything that was of quality and with the woods that I wanted. I new Gene Baker make a few sevens years ago, but his old company was since out of business and his new pursuits were focusing on more “conservative” models. Luckily I’ve been following the muses of Matte Henderson for some time (extreme seven string enthusiast). I’ve kept in touch with him over time in case he ever wanted to sell any of his custom seven string beauties and he had one for sale…..but it was korina. I learned not too long ago (through a couple of Gene Baker BX3’s) that I greatly preferred the tonal qualities of mahogany over korina…..though they are within the same ballpark. However that interaction brought to mind another Baker seven string that I became aware of at least a year earlier.
My friend Dave Kaplowitz had acquired a fine Baker B1 7 from Joe Gamble (in of all places, about ten miles from where I live in Colorado). As fate would have it, Dave wasn’t really playing the Baker and a deal was struck to bring her back to CO.
While I would have preferred a trem and 25.5″ scale length, I’m more than happy with the quality, sound and playability of this 25″ fixed bridge Baker B1 7. I’m going to experiment with new pickups (the stock Dimarzio Airbuckers are way too dark and hot for my tastes) and some different string gauges (the low A is an .080!), but all in all, I’m very excited about the prospects of developing some new sounds with this guitar. Look out jamband scene of Colorado! This is not Jerry Garcia’s kind of guitar!