Jaco Pastorius Bass Guitar Jaco Pastorius’s favorite fretted Jazz Bass was never owned by the man considered by most to be the greatest jazz bassist that ever lived. Yet the instrument contributed immensely to the early development of his signature sound, in part because it was one of the first Jazz Basses he modified in his attempts to replicate from wood and strings the sounds in his head, and in part because of the classical music he learned on it.
The bass, a 1960 natural Fender Jazz Bass, is owned by Southern Florida bassist, concert promoter and former friend of Pastorius, Rod Glaubman, who reflects on his first impressions of the guitar: “This was a great bass. It felt great, the balance was amazing, the shaping of the neck was unique – it was very thin at the nut and had a much better feeling than a regular Jazz Bass. The neck was straight as an arrow and the frets were perfect.”
Glaubman knows a thing or two about basses, not to mention jazz. He started playing upright bass with the Miami Philharmonic at age 16, and was an integral player in Southern Florida’s fledgling jazz scene of the 1970s. Glaubman created and managed Performing Arts for Community and Education (PACE), which produced concerts in the Miami area from 1974 to 1986. Artists including Pastorius, Steve Morse, Phyllis Hyman, Pat Metheny, Will Lee and Hiram Bullock all performed at PACE events, many of them free concerts and fundraisers.
Glaubman was playing a contemporary jazz bass in 1970, but didn’t like the sound or feel of it so he went looking for another jazz bass. About $300 (US) bought the 1960 Jazz Bass, which Glaubman used in various bands for years. He also loaned it to friends like Will Lee, who had the instrument for several months after Pastorius’s death. The guitar was played over the years by other bass luminaries including John Paulus, Rob Watkins and Mark Egan. Egan recalls: “I know that bass very well. I would go to Rod’s house and play it. It piqued my interest because I was looking for a very early Jazz Bass, and this one sounded great.”
But it was Pastorius, who played it whenever he visited Glaubman’s house and when he was in the Miami area for concerts, that loved the instrument more than anyone else did. Other than Rod, Jaco was the most frequent user of the bass, borrowing it regularly over the course of 10 years. “Jaco played it more than anyone else. He played it, loved it, and it helped form his signature sound. This guitar was his playground, the beginning of the trademark Jaco Pastorius sound,” says Glaubman.
Ironically, it wasn’t the bass that first drew Pastorius to Glaubman’s house to check out his gear. It was Glaubman’s Acoustic 360 amplifier, one of the first such amps in Miami and – contrary to some stories – the first Acoustic 360 Pastorius ever saw or used. “I was there the first time Jaco turned on an Acoustic 360. He thought the distortion was ‘the bomb’ and he borrowed the amp a lot, along with the Jazz Bass,” Glaubman remembers. (Years later, Mark Egan bought the amp from Glaubman, breaking apart one of Pastorius’s favorite Acoustic 360/Fender Jazz Bass combos. The amp has since been sold.)
According to Jaco close friend and Weather Report bandmate Bobby Thomas, Jr., Glaubman is an unsung hero of Pastorius’s early musical development, having been one of several key contacts who contributed to Pastorius’s classical music education. In particular, Glaubman and Pastorius covered the Bach Cello Suites and violin partitas, and the concept of harmonics that became so integral to Pastorius’s sound. “When Rod gave Jaco the Bach music, everything changed. Jaco shocked the world when he started playing these difficult movements on a fretless bass. Rod hasn’t received any credit for this contribution,” explains Thomas.
“Jaco was interested in what I could teach him from my classical training, so we would show each other stuff. He was always looking for ways to expand the vocabulary of the bass, which was still a relatively new instrument in the early 1970’s,” says Glaubman.
“He was really interested in harmonics, and playing legato instead of the typical thumpy playing. Although he had been fooling around with harmonics for a while by this time, the first time he heard harmonics in the context of the melody, which is common in classical music, was at my house. It blew him away.”
“In fact, I remember spending two hours one day playing harmonics with him on the Jazz Bass. Two or three weeks later he came back doing things with harmonics that turned my head around,” says Glaubman.
Glaubman laughs remembering how Pastorius and Lee tried to make him “funkier”. While that never happened by Glaubman’s own account, Pastorius did absorb much of the classical training he was picking up from Glaubman and others, proving to be a sponge who soaked up not only classical but also swing, pop, funk, R&B and of course jazz music, to create an entirely new language for the instrument.
“Jaco had his eye on Rod’s bass in a big way,” Egan recalls. “Jaco wanted to make it fretless, but Rod wanted to keep it.” Glaubman knew that he would never see the guitar again if he let Pastorius remove the frets, so he resisted his friend’s attempts to make any major changes. “I told him he could take out the frets if I could take out one of his teeth for each fret he took off the guitar!”
However, Glaubman did let Pastorius make some minor modifications around 1977, with the help of Pastorius’s guitar technician, Kevin Kaufman.
“Jaco joked about going ahead and removing the frets. He considered this bass ‘a great axe’ to use his words, and he though it would make a great fretless instrument,” Kaufman recalls. Kaufman’s slight modifications to the bass included removing a resistor, adding a faceplate to re-position the knobs further apart, and refinishing the neck to make it smoother.
The removal of the resistor was the most technically significant of these alterations, as it made the sound brighter than the warm jazz bass sound typical of the times. This new sound was integral to Pastorius’s well-documented transformation of the electric bass from rhythm-keeping bottom line to lead instrument.
The modifications were also meaningful because they facilitated the technique that allowed his special sound to come through, as this highly original, innovative musician inhaled different influences, melded them together in his head, and then churned out music the world had never dreamed of. Pulling out frets on his favorite guitars was no obstacle in his search for the right sound. These changes to the 1960 Jazz Bass were among the first of many experiments with his fretted Jazz Basses over the years.
The modifications Pastorius made to the 1960 Jazz Bass, and the classical music elements he practiced on it, both became integral to his playing, his compositions, and his persona.
“When Jaco played, it sounded like a voice from heaven. Before him, everybody looked at the bass in the same way, but Jaco gave every other bass player on the planet a new avenue to go down,” sums up Thomas. “This Jazz Bass is a piece of history, a piece of Jaco and a piece of his legacy.”