My Cart

0 items in your order

Cliff Williams

Cliff Williams of AC/DC joins us on the podcast to discuss his musical history prior to joining the band in 1977, his favorite memories of playing with AC/DC through the decades, his reflections on their new album, and his Music Man bass which has accompanied him through thick and thin since 1979. Ernie Ball Music Man has recently recreated Cliff’s bass and is making a very limited run available to the public. Following our interview with Cliff Williams, we speak with engineer Blair Ridings to get a behind-the-scenes look at the process of recreating Cliff’s iconic bass.

LISTEN:
SHARE:

Transcript

Evan Ball:
Hello and welcome to Ernie Ball's Striking A Chord Podcast. I'm Evan Ball. Today I'll be speaking with none other than Cliff Williams of AC/DC. In this episode, Cliff Williams, bassist of AC/DC discusses his musical background before joining the band in 1977. He talks about the early days when he joined AC/DC, as well as the present day with the release of their new album. And he recalls some career highlights in between. Also given that this is an Ernie Ball podcast, we get into some bass talk, specifically around his Music Man bass that's been his number one thorough his decades long career with AC/DC. And on that note, Cliff's interview is actually followed by a bonus interview with Ernie Ball Music Man engineer, Blair Ridings, who has spearheaded the project to recreate Cliff's bass. And we're releasing a very limited run that will be available to the public. So stay tuned for a behind the scenes look at the process of recreating Cliff's iconic bass from the 1970s. All right, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, Cliff Williams. Cliff Williams, welcome to the podcast.

Cliff Williams:
Thank you. Thanks, Evan.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Our pleasure. So of course I want to talk about the release of your bass and the new album. But first I'd love to dig in to a little bit of your history. What did your musical career look like prior to joining AC/DC?

Cliff Williams:
Well, I'll give you a quick rundown. I started playing at about 13 years old. Let's call it 16, was full-time playing in a band, 17 years old. That was called Home.

Evan Ball:
It was that early? You were only 17 when you joined Home?

Cliff Williams:
Yeah. Yeah. My buddy and I, Laurie Wisefield who played with Wishbone Ash. He'd actually gone on to join Wishbone Ash, and he's played backup for a bunch of people. We started the band. And we had about three albums out. Last a few years. I think we broke up ... I've got some notes here, so excuse me looking off.

Evan Ball:
Sure.

Cliff Williams:
Home broke up in '74. Had three albums out. So we did some touring. We got a little bit of a noise going in Europe. It was pretty good. But the band broke up '74. Then I went on to join a band called Bandit. Which lasted until about '77. That with me in the band had one album. I think they went on to make another one. But that fell apart. And so that brings me up to AC/DC in '77.

Evan Ball:
'77's the marker there. Okay.

Cliff Williams:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
Before we get there, Home actually opened up for a number of big artists, correct?

Cliff Williams:
Yeah. We opened up for Zeppelin, [inaudible 00:02:47] Crows. To quite a few over the years.

Evan Ball:
So to start your professional music career, did you move to London with the intent of starting a career? Or did you already have something in the works when you moved?

Cliff Williams:
We moved back to London. I was born in London, then my dad's job took us to Liverpool. And I stayed there until ... And the people that I, I had a little group there which went back down to London. Because there was more work for a new band down there. And pretty quickly fell apart. That's when I met Laurie Wisefield. So I was in London at that time. And we've put Home together.

Evan Ball:
Okay. So you moved from Liverpool with your band to London, the band that you were-

Cliff Williams:
I had a very started band. I can't even remember the name of them. I can, but I'm not going to tell you, because it was terrible. Yeah, so London, Liverpool, back to London to start Home.

Evan Ball:
Okay. Do you happen to support a soccer team? Everton on or Liverpool, or London?

Cliff Williams:
[inaudible 00:03:50] thing. It's weird, everyone in my school did. And everyone in England are big soccer fans. I just never got to it.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Okay. Just checking. So you make the move to London. Are you 16, 17?

Cliff Williams:
17.

Evan Ball:
17 years old. Okay. So let's move forward to AC/DC. Do you remember the first time you ever heard of AC/DC? Or heard the music?

Cliff Williams:
I do. They were on a T.V. show. I don't know, a Top of the Box, or something like that. I can't [crosstalk 00:04:19]-

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Cliff Williams:
... but a T.V. show. And they caught my attention. Because they looked like they were [inaudible 00:04:28]. And I mean, it definitely looked different. And I'd heard about they were playing in pubs and stuff around in London at that time. And then some friends of mine and other musicians had seen them in one pub. And I can't remember the name of it now. Had seen them and said, "Oh, this band's wild."

Evan Ball:
So your first recollection is actually seeing them visually on T.V.

Cliff Williams:
Right.

Evan Ball:
And the visual seems like it's what stood out to you?

Cliff Williams:
Yeah. It really was so different from anything else.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Cliff Williams:
Because [inaudible 00:04:58] bands and stuff. And this was definitely not one of those.

Evan Ball:
So can you expand on they differed from other bands of the time? Was it energy? Was it attitude?

Cliff Williams:
Definitely energy. But just completely their own thing. I mean, and apparently Mal said when he started the band with Angus, he said, "We got to ... There's a big hole here that no one's filling. So let's go do it."

Evan Ball:
What was your first impression meeting the band?

Cliff Williams:
They were fine. I mean, I got to go to audition several times. And they were all friendly and open. Yeah, they were great. Had a strange accent, but they ...

Evan Ball:
You have a few different accents in this band, don't you?

Cliff Williams:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, we got Geordie and Brian, and Phil. Well, he's in New Zealand now, but an Aussie. And Angus and Malcolm at the time still had a Scottish twang a little bit.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Yeah. So what's the setting when you first meet them? Is this in England or is it in Australia?

Cliff Williams:
Yeah, it was in London. It was in a rehearsal room. I again, forgot where it was. I can't remember. It was so long ago. I got a call from a buddy of mine. I was in between bands at the time, right? So I was not ... That group that I was a band in had gone on and gotten out of there. And this buddy said this ... I guess my name had come up to them. And they were looking for bass players. So I got a call if I wanted to go down and audition, which I did. So that's where I first met them was in London.

Evan Ball:
Were there any certain characters in the band that stood out who made more of an impression? Or was it pretty low key?

Cliff Williams:
I can't say it was low keyed. Again, everyone was friendly. But it was just playing was immediately fun.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Cliff Williams:
It's always been a great band to play with. But it was instantly a lot of fun.

Evan Ball:
I bet.

Cliff Williams:
The manager actually got me some albums to listen to and bone up on. Because I didn't really ... I'd seen the one song on the T.V. I think it was Jailbreak it was called. But I didn't really know their music. So the first audition I went along, it seemed to go okay. The manager called me and got me a bunch of albums to go listen to, which I did. I went and did my homework. So when I came back next time, I knew a few more songs.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. And you must've been impressively seasoned at this point. Because if my math's right, you probably have about 10 years of professional experience under your belt by the time you try out.

Cliff Williams:
I did, yeah. 10 years.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Is the band's home base in London at this point? Or is it still in Australia? Or were there such thing as a home base?

Cliff Williams:
They were in London to look for a bass player. They knew all the bass players in Australia. And no disrespect to any bass players in Australia, but they knew everyone there. And they thought they would test the waters in London, and thought have a greater pool to draw from. So they were staying in London. They weren't really based anywhere. When I joined the band, I joined ... And I didn't really ... We were on the road all the time, or in the studios, we'd make an album. And then on the road playing it wherever we could, to promote it.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Okay. All right. Well, let's talk about bass a little bit. How did you come to play a Music Man bass?

Cliff Williams:
Mal and Ang's older brother, George, he was in a band called The Easybeats. I'm sure you've heard of them.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Cliff Williams:
And he got a hold of one. We were in Australia, and he let me try it. And that was my first introduction was through George.

Evan Ball:
What year was that roughly?

Cliff Williams:
It would've been late '77, early '78. Something like that.

Evan Ball:
Okay. Was George Young more of a bassist or a guitarist?

Cliff Williams:
No, he was a guitarist actually.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Cliff Williams:
He just happened to have been a really good bass player as well.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Okay. So he had this bass though?

Cliff Williams:
He had the bass.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Cliff Williams:
He had a mocha brown one. Yeah.

Evan Ball:
And then so you tried it out. Did it feel comfortable early on?

Cliff Williams:
Oh, I was impressed. I had a Gibson Ripper for about five minutes. I tried that one, loved it. I had a P-Bass as well. And that was my main bass with AC/DC to start with. And when I could afford it in '79, I got my number one Music Man.

Evan Ball:
'79 you got that. Okay. And I'll just give a little context to our listeners. So Ernie Ball Music Man has recreated that StingRay bass that you just referred to, and have been playing for decades. And is releasing a very limited run, like only 26 of them. So I want to dig into that topic a bit. Obviously through the years, you've owned or played many different basses. But through it all, this bass has remained your number one.

Cliff Williams:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
Can you explain why this particular one has retained that number one spot?

Cliff Williams:
Well, it was the first one I had.

Evan Ball:
Sure.

Cliff Williams:
And it did, and still does do everything I could want it to do. And I just kept ... I had that, and had the P-Basses as a backup. And then I could afford a Music Man, I got one. But I just stuck with that one.

Evan Ball:
So many subtleties that can be hard to pinpoint. But there does seem to be something to just growing a bond with an instrument that you've-

Cliff Williams:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
... spent so much time with.

Cliff Williams:
You just [inaudible 00:10:23].

Evan Ball:
Yeah. There's a 1,000 details that go into recreating a specific bass that was build decades ago, and has weathered many storms. So a very healthy dose of attention to detail has gone into this. Are there any particular features or markers that you associate with this specific bass?

Cliff Williams:
Well, you've done such a great job of ... The cosmetics are incredible. The buckle rash, the whole bit. Even down to the felt tip marker to roll off some top.

Evan Ball:
Right.

Cliff Williams:
[inaudible 00:10:53] rebel pot. It's spot on, with the feel, the neck, the weight. Everything. The electronics I think you copied.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Recreating that specific pickup. Yeah.

Cliff Williams:
Yeah. Yeah. But the little felt tip marker gets me a lot. I love that.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. So to dive into that a little. You marked that with a Sharpie on the treble knob, right?

Cliff Williams:
On the treble pot. And corresponding on the plate, little shoulder plate there.

Evan Ball:
So you can line them up.

Cliff Williams:
I knew exactly where I wanted it.

Evan Ball:
I was wondering, is that still the mark you use? Because I was thinking you could've done that 20 years ago, and then changed your EQ preference at some point later.

Cliff Williams:
Yeah. As soon as I've figure out where it needed to be, I marked it and it stayed there since.

Evan Ball:
Still in the right spot. Okay. Yeah, there's so many minor differences you wouldn't even think of. A tinner headstock, a slightly different dot spacing on the front board. Slightly different string-through hole location. Even just focusing on one small thing like the neck plate. So it's a three-bolt neck. You have a little micro-tilt access point in there. The screws they had to use. And I thought it was really cool they were able to locate the original Music Man logo stamp-

Cliff Williams:
Yeah. That's [inaudible 00:12:08].

Evan Ball:
... for that neck plate. Yeah. Very cool bass. So props to you. And the engineering team, especially Blair Ridings who spearheaded the process.

Cliff Williams:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
Yes, well done.

Cliff Williams:
Fantastic.

Evan Ball:
Going back even further. As a kid, were you drawn to the bass over guitar or drums? Or how was it that you came to play the bass.

Cliff Williams:
Yeah. Well, there was an opening in the school band for a bass player. So I was ... Because I started on guitar. But I was walking past, it must've been a youth club or something, on a Sunday afternoon. And I was just a little kid at the time. But there was ... It was [inaudible 00:12:45] usually playing. And the bass [inaudible 00:12:47]. And it stopped me in tracks. I was listening to it and thinking, "My God, that sounds fantastic." But that's how it caught my attention first. And then again, as I say, there was an opening for a bass player in my ... It was '61, '62, The Beatles, The Stones, everyone in my school was wanting to be in a band. And I was no different. So that's when I went there.

Evan Ball:
Did they have a guitar opening also at this band?

Cliff Williams:
I can't remember.

Evan Ball:
Who knows.

Cliff Williams:
I can't remember. No. Two guitar players and a drummer, and a singer.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Cliff Williams:
And I think we called ourselves The Cubans, like the Cuban heels on The Beatle boots.

Evan Ball:
All right. That's great. So let's get to the present and the future. So AC/DC has been creating music now for more than four decades. I'd imagine it must feel incredibly familiar being in the studio together.

Cliff Williams:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
What's the atmosphere like when you're all recording an album?

Cliff Williams:
This last one you're talking about? Or any one?

Evan Ball:
Or in general or both.

Cliff Williams:
It can range from frustrating as all hell, to fantastic. And the frustrating as all hell is when you've got a situation where your producer will get you to play it over and over, and over. "No, that wasn't right." "Well, what? What?" "No, it just won't. Do it again." And you get to take 58, and you played it into the ground and it's dead, and there's so ... I mean, it's awful. That's not good. And we've had ... And in saying that, we've had producers that's done a lot of takes. Mark Lange, fantastic producer. And that was a pleasure. But there's some, and I won't mention any names. But then the last, Brendan O'Brien, he's done the last three albums with us. He just keeps it moving right along. And it's a very positive way to work. As there's no sitting around, whatever. So in those situations, it's a total joy to be in the studio. I don't really care for the recording process that much. I mean, I enjoy hearing it come together and all that. But I prefer the live aspect of it.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Cliff Williams:
I mean, this last one was great to do. It was really good.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Cliff Williams:
You had the boys back.

Evan Ball:
Right. When you think back to 2016, did you think this was even a possibility? Or did you really think that was the end of AC/DC for you?

Cliff Williams:
Well, it was my end with AC/DC. I just had got to the point where I just thought for me it was time to hang it up.

Evan Ball:
Right.

Cliff Williams:
And I was fine with that. I was fine with that. I didn't know what the guys were going to do. I had no idea. I don't know that they did. That was a tough tour to finish up that one.

Evan Ball:
Right. How do you guys normally record? Do you track together, or do you lay down drums first, or scratch tracks? Do you have-

Cliff Williams:
We'll always play together.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Cliff Williams:
Well, the ideal thing would be, hit a take, do it, it's good, it's done. But that's not often the case. You've got a good bare drum track, then you can build upon that.

Evan Ball:
So you're playing together to grab that drum track?

Cliff Williams:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Cliff Williams:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
And then do you ever keep those original guitars and basses?

Cliff Williams:
If there's something good in there, yeah. But [inaudible 00:16:18]. But now with Pro Tools and all the rest of it, I mean, it's so easy to get a bunch of tracks together and just take the best out of it.

Evan Ball:
Sure. Do you have a favorite song on this album?

Cliff Williams:
I got two. And it's Demon Fire and Wild Reputation.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Cliff Williams:
Because we rehearsed earlier this year, and played those songs. And they just came out really well.

Evan Ball:
Great.

Cliff Williams:
I like the others [inaudible 00:16:45] other day. But it's [crosstalk 00:16:46]-

Evan Ball:
Sure. Right. That's how it works. And for our listeners, we're recording this interview prior to the album coming out. So when this is released, I think it was will be out for maybe a week or a few days. So FIY. I have not heard the album. Is there a tour planned for the future?

Cliff Williams:
No, there's not. I mean, no one's touring right now. When we did our [inaudible 00:17:08] together in January, and we shot a video and rehearsed for about two to three weeks just to see how it was. And it came out really well. At the end of that, we sat around and talked about doing a few shows. And that was as far as it got. We all wanted to do that, but we can't book anything. And we all went home at that point, "Yeah, it's going to be fun to do a few gigs." And then the world went upside down for everybody. So right now, there's nothing planned. If we can do it next year, we will.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Okay. Yeah, maybe I shouldn't say anything planned. But any aspirations for a tour?

Cliff Williams:
Yeah. Not a tour. But we talked about a few shows.

Evan Ball:
Okay. A few shows. Right.

Cliff Williams:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
And you did just mention you prefer the live aspect more than studio. Do you like the touring, or do you like the ... What is it about it?

Cliff Williams:
The playing with the guys. I mean, it's just a great band to play with. And now we've got Phil back, no disrespect to Chris. Phil is the man. Angus and Brian, and Stevie's doing a great job. So this is as close as we could get to the old band.

Evan Ball:
Fantastic, yeah. Are there certain events or eras from the band's history that you look back on most fondly?

Cliff Williams:
I think when the Highway To Hell album charted in the sort mainstream rock charts in America. I think the highest it got was 47, but for us that was huge. So we had a day off where we went and hit the beach. And it was kind of like a [inaudible 00:18:39] feeling. I think that was a lot to do with alcohol at the time. But it was just that was a great time. We did one show in Moscow, and that was kind of cool. It was just wildly different. Yeah.

Evan Ball:
How was it different.

Cliff Williams:
When the Russian air force come over in those [Anitovs 00:19:01] or Antonovs, or whatever. When those comes up, and you see the trucks going in and they all fly off. And the show was supposed to be in Red Square initially. And it ended up in some abandoned airfield on the outskirts of Moscow. They reckoned it was over 500,000 people there. They could-

Evan Ball:
Wow.

Cliff Williams:
... count it, because they didn't have any money. But people came from everywhere. It was a free concert for them. So that was wildly different. When you get [inaudible 00:19:31], and you can't see anything but people. It was amazing.

Evan Ball:
What year was that?

Cliff Williams:
'91.

Evan Ball:
Wow. Okay. Wow, that's crazy. Is there video online of that, do you know?

Cliff Williams:
I don't know. If there is, I can't see it.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Cliff Williams:
Oh, yeah. Well, I think Time Warner filmed it. But I've never seen it. I've never seen footage of it.

Evan Ball:
All right. Well, this has been great. Cliff Williams, I can't wait to hear the new album. And thanks again for your time.

Cliff Williams:
Pleasure. Thank you very much. You take care. Thank you for this fabulous brace.

Evan Ball:
Our pleasure. All right. We have a nice addendum to this episode. Here's my interview with Ernie Ball Music Man engineer, Blair Ridings. Discussing the story of recreating Cliff Williams' favorite bass. Blair Ridings, welcome to the podcast.

Blair Ridings:
Thanks for having me, Evan.

Evan Ball:
Of course. So Cliff Williams of AC/DC has had this bass since 1979. And our company, Ernie Ball Music Man, has endeavored to recreate his exact bass. Not just the model, but his particular bass that's got tons of miles on it. So the bass that we're releasing is quote, "Reliced." Or is a relic bass. Can you explain what that means?

Blair Ridings:
Sure. Yeah. Relic, it seems to be kind of an industry term that really the guitar industry I think picked up. I've heard of distressing and degrading, other things, other terms for what it is. But it's basically making an item look as if it has a lot of miles on it, a lot of age, a lot of history and soul. It's been done in many industries. And even me and my buddies messing with old cars and bikes, and things. We'll thrown a little patina on it, if you will. But I really like the term, "Relic." I think it has a little more could, if you will, kind of built into the name. And really it's just about-

Evan Ball:
Making a brand new instrument look old.

Blair Ridings:
Pretty much. Yeah.

Evan Ball:
That sounds a little crass.

Blair Ridings:
Yeah. No, that's truly what it is. I'm dolling it up right now. But yeah. It's definitely easier to make old things look new, rather than make new things look old. And that is especially true with guitars. I've been having to learn. But it's been a lot of fun.

Evan Ball:
You were relicing each bass by hand. So-

Blair Ridings:
Right.

Evan Ball:
... no two will be exactly the same. But pretty darn close.

Blair Ridings:
That's correct. Yeah. And that was one of the most difficult endeavors about the whole project is how to recreate this multiple times. And to have a full production run of something like this. We could've spent years and years making one, and just kept going and going, and going.

Evan Ball:
Right.

Blair Ridings:
And so there's a lot of back and forth between our team, and Cliff and his team as well on what he felt was satisfactory. And luckily we were able to hit that, which is awesome.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Cliff mentioned in our interview that the Sharpie mark on the knob, that was your handy work, correct?

Blair Ridings:
It was, yeah. And I just thought that was a really cool feature. And we went pretty deep into that. It was Dudley Gimple and I working on the electronics package, the pickup and the old preamp. And that was clearly a sign of Cliff's favorite tonal position with his treble knob. So we created that, recreated that exactly on each bass by measuring that potentiometer. And marking it accordingly.

Evan Ball:
Do you get nervous taking a Sharpie to an expensive instrument? I guess it's just the knob. That's a little less pressure.

Blair Ridings:
Yeah. There were plenty of times throughout the process on each instrument that I get nervous, that being one of them. Double, triple check. Measure twice, cut once sort of deal.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. I mean, often you're actually digging into that finish, right? To mimic the wear spots that he's accumulated over decades.

Blair Ridings:
Correct. Correct. Yeah. And to elaborate a little more on the relicing process, when we set out to do this, we were very aware of the market. And we had talked about doing projects like these for years. And it's one of those things that very few people are in between on the relic market. It's either you love it or you hate it. We'd seen products over the years that some of them looked great, very authentic and genuine. And others looked very cheesy. So we wanted to make sure to make it as authentic and genuine as possible. And our techniques with relicing, really the best way for us to perfectly mimic, or best mimic each component and little piece of corrosion and degradation was to really make each component go through the true process of each experience throughout its life. So instead of masking off parts of the body and then painting it, we actually painted the entire body. And then scraped down or sanded down, or rubbed down the areas that were showing signs of wear, where there's exposed wood.

Blair Ridings:
If we tried to just tape it off and paint it, it just turned out really cheesy. And it really didn't reflect the true life experience of that part. That goes for the metal components as well. We machined them, and then plated them entirely. And then stripped them down, and then corroded them. So the long and the short of it is, we didn't take any shortcuts. Because ultimately, it didn't look good enough for us. So that was really a fun part of ... Well, it was a rude awakening with many of these parts that we had to do it that way.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Blair Ridings:
But it made us all feel better about the instrument as a whole.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. So the StingRay bass in general with its pickup and active electronics is known for having a fairly iconic and identifiable electric bass sound. How would you describe the specific StingRay pickup that we emulated in Cliff's bass? Because I think you can have this general StingRay bass sound, but there's still room for some variance within that sound.

Blair Ridings:
Absolutely. The pickup was an especially interesting part of the R&D process with this instrument. These pickups were made back in a time where there wasn't as much automation with any part of the manufacturing, the electronics included. So the pickups of that era were actually, the wire feeding onto the bobbin to get the number of coils, it was all done by hand back then. And so each one had a little bit of variance. And I remember Dudley and I going back and forth on, we would really have to trick our automated machines that wrapped these pickups into using the correct pitch, and number of windings, and all sorts of little idiosyncrasies with the machines to best mimic a more manual process. And so that was really interesting. One very cool history about this bass is that we measured other pickups from around that era, and Cliff's base specifically his pickup specifically had a lot more windings than most of them had.

Evan Ball:
Are you comparing to other StingRays or just basses in that era?

Blair Ridings:
No, other StingRays of that era.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Blair Ridings:
Yeah. And so that is one of the key significant features that set that era of StingRays apart was these pickups especially. They use one inch long, three inch diameter Alnico 5 magnets. They're wound with large gauge wire. And each one, back in the day, just like every part of those guitars was really done by hand. And each one was a little bit different than the one that came down the assembly line right after.

Evan Ball:
Right.

Blair Ridings:
So Cliff's pickup especially had more windings than most, but really all of the other pickups that we had tested from that era. We have a few in our stash from back in that time. And that creates a very fat, high output sound, compared to even others of the very same make, model, size, era-

Evan Ball:
Right.

Blair Ridings:
... StingRay.

Evan Ball:
So you spearheaded this project. You mentioned Dudley. And that's just a flash, that's Dudley Gimple.

Blair Ridings:
Correct.

Evan Ball:
So do you guys work in tandem in certain phases of it?

Blair Ridings:
Oh, yeah. Absolutely did. Really, I turned to Dudley for really everything. Dudley and I both have an affinity for older machines, older instruments, older cars, older bikes of all types. So we would be talking about that constantly. But especially with this, he showed me some very, very cool tricks. We call him the genius here, if no one else knew that. And it's because he truly is. He's amazing. And so I worked in tandem with him really on each little piece and component, because he's a true historian of this company. And he had some very, very cool tricks about how to identify what the exact finish was, what was exactly going on with the electronics, the woods. Even the pieces on the bass that are very corroded and it's hard to tell what type of plating is really on there, he knew basses of that era, and he was able to test for that as well. Whether it was chrome plating, nickel plating, on and on.

Evan Ball:
That's great. And the timing works out. He just retired recently. So this was just prior to the retirement, right?

Blair Ridings:
It was. It was. And that was really special to work with him on this project right before he retired here. And so it was a very cool trip down memory lane with him. We were scouring our old warehouse that we called The Way Back here for old, new-old stock parts that we actually used on this bass. Going through the old truss rod design, the old bullet nut on the headstock.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. That was going to be my next question actually was, because naturally hardware used on instruments changes every decades. So I was going to ask, how did he go about recreating a bass with hardware that was used in the 70s?

Blair Ridings:
Absolutely. That was actually, I would argue, probably the trickiest part of the entire process in terms of really availability. So to give a little background on that. Back in the 70s and prior, nickel plated steel hardware was very much the norm. Whereas now it's more chrome, and stainless. And stainless steel was pretty exotic back in those days. You couldn't go to Ace Hardware and find a big stainless steel section of fasteners, and things like that. What they would have back then is nickel plated steel fasteners. That was kind of at the ready. Whereas nowadays, it's not so much.

Blair Ridings:
There's cadmium plating, there's zinc plating, there's chrome plating of course. And this bass has some plenty of chrome on it. But the little screws and intonation pieces, the springs, the thumbscrews on the bridge. Those were all nickel plated steel that we in production here now use mostly stainless for, because it's easier, it's one less process. You don't have to plate it. It's strong, it's more available.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Blair Ridings:
Yeah, it was very interesting. Because the process really for a lot of these fasteners was, we had to order them in black oxide or zinc plating, and then actually have them stripped of their plating, replate it in nickel. And then start the degradation process.

Evan Ball:
Oh, wow.

Blair Ridings:
Which was a little tedious, but also very neat and cool to learn about. Learned a lot about hardware in general and the processes that it goes through, and why. So that was also very, very cool to me.

Evan Ball:
So a pretty laborious process if you have to basically create these parts. Where there some parts that you were able just to find?

Blair Ridings:
There were, but very few. I'll start with this, the new-old stock parts that we had actually in our Way Back. And these were ... It was very hard to tell the actual true era of when these parts were made. It looks like they were very early Ernie Ball Music Man days, '84 through '87 ish. So we found parts such as the bullet of the truss rod up at the headstock. The chrome plated hardened steel washer that goes behind that, that the bullet acts on. And the truss rods themselves were also back there. So that was really neat to find those.

Blair Ridings:
And then other parts, I scoured all parts in all the normal places. I think I was able to find nickel plated steel number eight beck mounting screws just right off the shelf, also specific to guitars. That was the only reason I could find that. But other than that, it really all had to be custom ordered, made by hand, and go through the whole process.

Evan Ball:
Wow. Yeah, yeah. I would think a big part of the relic process is the paint. It's a big part of the outer appearance. How did you get the finish to look like it's from the 70s?

Blair Ridings:
Sure. So that was another very tricky part. And yeah, I love how each topic you bring up, I keep thinking, "Oh, that was the trickiest part." But I would probably have to say that ultimately the finish was extremely difficult, because it's like anything else in finishing. Especially with finishing wood, it's very difficult to know exactly what you're working with. And then if you need to mimic an exact guitar, you really need to know exactly what's going on. So a little background on that is nitrocellulose lacquer. I don't want to misspeak here. But I believe it was a product that was manufactured by DuPont originally. And back in the 50s, and it turned to be this really great and efficient paint for all types of industries, automobile industry and guitars, et cetera.

Evan Ball:
So we often hear nitro finish. I don't know if that's specific to the guitar industry.

Blair Ridings:
Yeah. Nitro finish, that's exactly what it is. So nitro is just short for nitrocellulose lacquer. And then you'll hear lacquer, and nitro, and things like that. Now lacquer is another terms that's thrown around loosely all the time just to describe paint. But it is a specific type of paint. And then nitrocellulose lacquer is a specific type of lacquer. So it's a very interesting chemical composition, because it's very different than a lot of the paints we use nowadays. Where modern day paints are usually a two part system where you add a catalyst to it to actually change the mechanical properties of the paint.

Blair Ridings:
And so it creates just a nice, very robust paint shell around whatever you're painting. Whereas nitro is, it's very organic materials. It's made out of bugs and bug guts, and dirt, and things for the pigment of the color. And then it's added to kind of this base substance that is added on. And then just really surrounded by all these really nasty solvents like toluene and acetone, and xylene, and on and on. I'm no chemist, but I had to learn quite a bit about it. And so the final point I will make on nitro is that once you spray it, the solvents evaporate, and you're just left with this solidified base material of whatever's left over.

Blair Ridings:
And it's very brittle. So any wood movement or temperature variations, humidity can definitely affect it and cause it to crack very easily, or check as they say, checking. Nitrocellulose lacquer checking is another hot term in guitars especially. Because you just see it. You see it on a lot of the old guitars. And even if you look at old cars of that era, if they still have the original paint, you will see the same phenomenon. Some people see it as a blemish, other people see it as a very cool feature that speaks to the age of their instrument.

Evan Ball:
Character.

Blair Ridings:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
And so it checks or cracks in sort of a pattern, right?

Blair Ridings:
It does, it does. And so there's a few techniques involved in making this happen. A very easy one for the DIY guy at home in his garage is you just get a heat gun and a can of Dust-Off. And if you turn Dust-Off upside down and spray it, it sprays out extremely cold. And so it's all about messing with the temperature variations in terms of the most drastic effects that it gives. And why that is, is because the paint and the wood are expanding and contracting at different rates, and the paint can't keep up. And so then it cracks. So when you do kind of the heat gun and Dust-Off method, or compressed air, it's very drastic. It's not really the natural process. It creates a very spider webby look that ultimately can look kind of cheesy, and kind of fake.

Blair Ridings:
Sometimes it can look cool. But this base, Cliff's base it obviously went through the natural process. And that was just not getting us the results that we'd wanted. So this was where ... This is another moment where Dudley came in with another genius idea. We were thinking about it and he said, "Well, when it happens to my guitars, it's when I've left it in my trunk on a cold night and forgot to bring it out. And I get it out the next morning, and there's a bunch of checking cracks on it." So he said, "Why don't we try throwing them in a freezer for the night and then bringing them out?" And so we tried that with the bodies alone originally. And that went pretty well. But it was still sporadic in the pattern of the cracking, predominantly the cracking was happening perpendicular to the neck center line, or the guitar center line.

Blair Ridings:
And why that is, and this is where Dudley's brain came in again, and he said, "You know what? Let's put a neck on those bodies with some strings on there and get some string tension on it. And let's try it again." And that worked great. And the reason why is because it cups the body with that string tension in that clean to propagate the checking cracks in the correct directions. And so that was really a God send as far as making it look as genuine as possible.

Evan Ball:
So did that shift the cracking to go vertical, or parallel with the neck?

Blair Ridings:
It shifted the cracking to go perpendicular to the neck.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Blair Ridings:
Yes, it did. Which was ideal. And also, Evan, after you study it for quite a while, you can tell when people razor blade these check marks. Some people are screwing-

Evan Ball:
Of, really?

Blair Ridings:
Yeah. Some people ... I can tell now by looking at it. And some people are extremely, extremely good and talented at doing this far more than I am. But I will say that as human nature, it's very hard for us to draw truly random patterns that happen in nature. So you can look at it and kind of pick up on where they've gotten into those repetitive patterns of their razor blade with their hand. Whereas if you see one that's truly checked because of its natural process, temperature or humidity variation, it's much more sporadic and random. And just true to what's really going on. There's also many variations of lacquer paint. There plasticizers that you can add to it. There's articles upon articles of back in the day, all the little tricks that they used to use. Because it's a very temperamental pain. Sometimes you got to add little things in there, and each company has their tricks. And we've found our own. But it's as period correct as we could possibly come up with. Yeah.

Evan Ball:
Very impressive. Yeah. Such a cool project.

Blair Ridings:
Thank you, man.

Evan Ball:
When you first looked at Cliff's base, did it seem like an impossible task to recreate?

Blair Ridings:
It certainly did, I'm not going to lie. I mean, I am personally a huge AC/DC fan. And others that were involved with me from the beginning in taking this project on were in the same boat. So our original thought was like, "I don't care what it takes, we're going to make this happen. This is awesome. This is great." And then it came time to actually do it, it was a little daunting, definitely. It's a long process. This has really been my main focus here for the last two years. Pretty much solely focused on this project. And that's really what it took. It took that much time. And the Ball family was extremely cool in allowing me to kind of isolate myself, and go in my little cave and just keep trying things out in order to make this as good as we possibly could.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Well, I love allowing people to see just a little glimpse into what goes behind creating something like this, recreating an instrument. It's a 1,000 probably more details.

Blair Ridings:
Exactly. And it was a very cool history lesson for me, for guitars in general, as well as Music Man as a company. And I just feel so privileged to have worked on this instrument specifically for this guy and this band, and this company.

Evan Ball:
Blair Ridings, thanks for your insights. Super interesting process. Well done to you and all the team, the whole team.

Blair Ridings:
Absolutely. Yeah. It was not just me. And thank you so much, Evan. I hope that everyone enjoys these as much as I've enjoyed working on them.

Evan Ball:
Thanks for tuning in to Ernie Ball's Striking A Chord Podcast. Go check out Cliff's base, and of course AC/DC's album, Power Up. If you'd like to contact us, please email strikingachord@ernieball.com. You obviously have the original, but are going to take any of these new ones home?

Cliff Williams:
I'd like to get a couple. I've got the prototype here. Yeah. But I'd like to get a couple more.

We use technologies, such as cookies, to customize content and advertising, to provide social media features and to analyze traffic to the site. We also share information about your use of our site with our trusted social media, advertising, and analytics partners. You indicate your consent to this use by clicking “I Agree” or by continuing to use this website. View details.