Michael Manring

Michael Manring

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Michael Manring playing fretless bass

18 Fretless Questions: Michael Manring

1. FB: At what age did you start playing fretless bass, and how long have you been playing?
Michael Manring: I’ve been playing bass since 1969, when I was nine years old. I started playing fretless electric in 1978.

2. FB: What influenced you to play fretless?
Michael Manring: Like so many people, I was totally blown away by hearing Jaco Pastorius. I first heard him when Pat Metheny’s Bright Size Life came out and then on his solo record on the Epic label, which was released shortly thereafter. I started saving my pennies for a fretless right away!

3. FB: Are you self-taught or did you take lessons?
Michael Manring: As a teenager I studied with a great bassist in Virginia named Peter Princiotto. After High School I went to Berklee School of Music for about 8 months until I got a gig and went on the road. Later I moved to New York and studied some there with Jaco.

4. FB: Who are your main fretless bass influences?
Michael Manring: In terms of fretless electric once again, I’d have to mention Jaco. Also inspiring early on were Alphonso Johnson, Percy Jones, Ralphe Armstrong, Boz Burrell, Stanley Sheldon and Tony Levin. Since then there have too many to mention! And as for stand-up players, also too many to list.

5. FB: Who is your favorite fretless bass player and why?
Michael Manring: I’m not sure that I have a favorite. I really enjoy listening to everyone and I’m inspired by the different approaches each player has.

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Michael Manring playing fretless bass

6. FB: Do you play Stand-up, acoustic, electric, or all? Which do you prefer? Michael Manring: I played stand-up for about 7 years from 1973 until I went on the road in 1979 for a long time and couldn’t take my upright with me. I was never really that great on it, but I really lost my chops when I had to stop playing it for that long and I’ve just never had a chance to get back into it. I do miss it, though. I got a Larrivee 5-string fretless acoustic bass guitar in 1987 that I love. I’ve used it on several recordings, including the entire acoustic CD of the two-CD set that just came out of a trio I play in called McGill/Manring/Stevens. The electric fretless is my main bass, though.

7. FB: What was your very first fretless bass? Do you still own it?
Michael Manring: My first fretless bass was a Frankenstein that I created by putting a Fender fretless P-bass neck on a Univox P-bass copy I had. It’s long since gone, but I’m sorry to say I don’t recall what happened to it.

8. FB: What is your favorite fretless bass you’ve ever played?
Michael Manring: I’d have to say my current main fretless, which is a custom Zon Sonus/Hyperbass hybrid.

9. FB: What fretless basses have you owned, which do you still own?
Michael Manring: The Univox/Fender, a Musicman Stingray, a Jazz bass copy I made myself, a Riverhead Unicorn, a Paul Reed Smith, The Larrivee acoustic, a Parautaud Music Laboratories Infinite Sustain 5-string, a Zon Hyperbass, a Zon Legacy 4-string, a Legacy 6-string, the aforementioned Zon Sonus/Hyperbass hybrid and another Sonus/Hyperbass with a Lightwave system. Other than the old Univox I still have all of them.

10. FB: What types of strings and fingerboard combinations do you like?
Michael Manring: I generally prefer roundwound strings and either phenolic or pheno-wood fingerboards.

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Michael Manring playing fretless bass

11. FB: What playing styles do you use – finger, thumb, or pick (or other)? What do you like about those styles?
Michael Manring: I use several different playing styles, although sadly, I’ve never been real good with a pick. I like the different colors each style makes possible.

12. FB: What bands/projects have you played fretless bass in/on (list as many as you like)?
Michael Manring: Yikes! That’s kind of a big list. I’ve played on about 200 recordings and virtually all on fretless. I’ll be posting as complete a discography as possible on my web site.

13. FB: What is your favorite song you played fretless bass on (studio or live)?
Michael Manring: I’ve been fortunate enough to play on so much great music it would be really hard to choose!.

14. FB: What is your favorite fretless bass riff you’ve written (if different from above)?
Michael Manring: Again, I don’t really have a favorite, but I’m learning all the time and I feel I’m getting better so I usually prefer playing the more recent things, such as a solo bass piece called “La Sagrada Familia” from my solo CD, The Book of Flame or a new Hyperbass solo called “Helios.” But I enjoy playing some of the older tunes a lot, too. It really depends on my mood!

15. FB: What would you say is unique about your fretless style?
Michael Manring: I use some unusual techniques such as altered tunings, unusual effects and the Ebow and some techniques that aren’t usually thought of as fretless techniques like slapping and tapping.

16. FB: Are you still actively playing fretless bass?
Michael Manring: You bet!

17. FB: Do you have any basic advice for bass players looking to take up fretless or those who are currently playing?
Michael Manring: The hardest aspect of playing fretless is certainly intonation. My advice is to do whatever you can to improve your intonation – use a tuner, play along with synth drones, make multi-track recordings of yourself – anything that really allows you to work on being more in tune.

18. FB: Do you have a web site address you would like to share?
Michael Manring: Yes, thanks. It’s www.manthing.com.

On a typical week bassist Michael Manring may be found doing anything from an international tour with New Age keyboardist Suzanne Ciani to an avant-improv-core club gig with guitar innovator Henry Kaiser to a folk festival with celebrated troubadour John Gorka to a recording with the experimental post-metal trio, Attention Deficit with Tim Alexander (Primus) and Alex Skolnick (Testament). “It’s all music,” Manring shrugs when asked how he manages to balance so many different styles and genres, “I find the similarities to be more compelling than the differences and ultimately, I just love to play the bass.” The obvious pleasure that Michael takes in music captivates audiences and critics alike. As writer Tom Darter put it in Keyboard magazine after seeing one of Michael’s renowned solo bass concerts, “Forget his astounding technique and musicality; forget his absolute command of his instruments; forget how seamlessly the musical ideas and the performance of them were wedded together…The enlightenment came most from feeling (seeing, hearing) the joy Michael felt to be playing…his brand of transcendental chops and musical understanding…was all in the service of the final outcome, the joy of making music.”

Building on the conceptions of his teacher, the late bass legend Jaco Pastorius, Michael has developed an entirely new approach to the instrument that includes unorthodox tunings, techniques and methodologies. He has honed his skills on over a hundred recordings as a session musician and thousands of concerts throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia. One of his most rewarding and intimate musical collaborations was with the acoustic guitar genius Michael Hedges, who instantly enlisted Manring’s musical partnership when he first heard him play one of his imaginative solo bass compositions while Manring was still a teenager. Hedges’ tragic death in 1997 ended a truly extraordinary musical alliance–and a very deep friendship. Through Hedges, Manring was introduced to Windham Hill records where he was quickly signed as house bassist and solo artist. His four solo albums with the Windham Hill/BMG group (Unusual Weather, Toward the Center of the Night and Drastic Measures on Windham Hill; Thonk on High Street) have earned him an international reputation as “a master of the fretless bass without rival.” (Guitar Club Magazine, Italy). He has also garnered two gold records, Grammy and Bammie nominations, a Berklee School of Music Distinguished Alumni Award and numerous Bass Player Magazine Reader’s Poll awards including 1994 Bassist of the Year.

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