The Fender Marcus Miller Signature Jazz Bass – Tommy Thompson’s Modifications

Posted by Giacomo on February 10, 2012
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Tommy Thompson covers the modifications he has made to his Fender Marcus Miller Jazz Bass.



The “Marcus Miller Sound” has been very intriguing to me since my freshman year in college. Marcus Miller is the man that possesses the “magical tone.” Tommy ThompsonFrom my introduction to his sound until now, he continues to elevate his sound and talents in recording, arranging, and producing. An attempt to make a jazz bass (TheYumpy) that would duplicate the Marcus Miller Sound was initiated in 1990. The Yumpy was in a preliminary completion state in 2001 after a large number of variations and combinations of bodies, necks, bridges, preamps and pickups. The Yumpy was not in my possession from 2001 thru mid 2005. During the 1998 Winter NAMM Show in Anaheim, CA, Fender (JAPAN) introduced the Fender Marcus Miller Signature Jazz Bass. My first review on harmony-central about the Fender Marcus Miller Signature Jazz Bass was on 03/28/2000. About 11 or 12 reviews followed until the fall of 2005; only two reviews remain.

My order for the Fender Marcus Miller Signature Jazz Bass (MM4) and hard shell case was placed during February 1998 at a local music store. The MM4 arrived eight months later in October 1998. I took The Yumpy to the store with me to compare to the MM4. Two of my bass buddies in the store went to the sound room with me to hear the two instruments. Both of my bass buddies agreed that The Yumpy had better tone and more output than the MM4. The MM4 was played for about two or three weeks, then I left it alone for about three or four months. I decided to play the instrument in January or February of 1999 and the active preamp would not engage. That’s when my journey began. 🙂


A. After opening the control cavity I discovered that the “battery’s ground wire” was soldered to the “common ground” connection. Hence, the battery was fooled to believed that it was in a 24/7 “on-mode.” To solve the first part of the battery problem, I unsoldered the battery’s ground wire from the common ground connection and soldered it to one of the outside legs (opposite the hot wire) on the stereo output jack.

B. The “bare solid wire” that stems from the Fender FMEQ preamp must also be covered or insulated (use heat shrink tubing or electrical tape). If the “bare solid wire” makes contact with the shielding paint (or any other grounding point(s)) the battery will return to the 24/7 “on-mode” and drain.


The pickup cavity shielding plates were missing, Fender FMEQ preamp wires were broken, and the pickups sounded very thin. I installed shielding plates, replaced the Fender FMEQ with Aguilar and Suhr preamps, and replaced the pickups with DiMarzio, Fralin, and Suhr jazz bass pickups. NOTE: In the very end, after solving all of the problems, all of the “Original STOCK parts” were re-installed in the MM4.


Prior to 2001, The Yumpy did not have an active/passive switch. On the MM4, the active/passive switch was factory equipment. I experimented with the active/passive DPDT mini-toggle switch on the MM4 and found what I believe is the difference between bypass and “true-bypass.” When the volume controls were full-up and the DPDT switch was in the active mode, there was bleed over from the pickups output. To me, that indicated that the wiring scheme on the DPDT mini-toggle switch was normal bypass. To me, “True-bypass” does not allow bleed over when the battery is removed from the circuit and the active/passive switch is in the active mode.

THE LOW END: (The REAL story in 2002)

In 1999, a bass buddy of mine agreed to use the MM4 at his gig to see how it would support the band. During his gig he played the MM4 one song and placed it back in its case and continued to use his Fender Geddy Lee. His conclusion was that it lacked “low end.” The PROBLEM was finally located three (3) years later in 2002. “The SOLUTION was hidden in the RESISTANCE of the Volume Potentiometers (pots).” After disconnecting all of the wires on the volume pots I measured the resistance of each pot. I found that the resistance of the neck pot was 206 kohms, and the resistance of the bridge pot was 275 kohms. The difference in resistance was 69,000 ohms (69 kohms). To me, since I like to utilize the pickups individually, that was significant. The solution was to swap the pots. The neck pot resistance became 275 kohms and the bridge pot resistance became 206 kohms. Eventually, other pots were used in order to have a lesser difference in resistance between the neck and bridge volume pots. Pots are readily available for $5 each. WOW!!!


The Yumpy was returned in the fall of 2005 and all of the unfinished modifications were completed. Lessons learned from the MM4 contributed a great deal to levels of understanding that seemed to elude me for 15 years. These modifications to The Yumpy and the MM4 help determine a true evaluation of both jazz basses. The correct combination of components can take a lot longer to find than expected. In the final comparison test, both basses sounded better than when first compared.

ACTIVE/PASSIVE SWITCH – (True Bypass): In the fall of 2005, an active/passive switch with a “true-bypass” wiring scheme was installed on The Yumpy. An active/passive switch is a very useful tool. For a comparison test, it helps provide a clearer picture. In an emergency case, when the battery dies in a preamp, it can be a life saver. This one switch made all the difference in the world. Something I never paid attention to reappeared doing the final comparison test between The Yumpy and the MM4. When the active/passive switches on both basses were placed in the passive mode, the true output of the pickups and preamps were finally realized. Finally, because of the active/passive switch, I could study both instruments in detail.

PICKUPS (output/tone): Using different types of single – coil sized pickups, both basses sounded very similar. The Yumpy had a set of Bartolini 9J#4 jazz bass pickups and the MM4 had a stock set of Fender jazz pickups. The Bartolini 9J#4 pickups were completely quiet when both pickups were used together or individually. The MM4 single-coil jazz pickups were only quiet when both pickups were used simultaneously. The Bartolini 9J#4 pickups possessed more low mids, but the pickups in the MM4 (stock – industry standard) had good mids and were “twice as loud.” That was significant!!! During the previous 8 to 10 years, I never realized the Bartolini pickups were low output. Low output pickups come into play when using ¼” inputs on mixer boards that have microphone preamps of low quality; DI box is a must. Even though the Fender pickups have twice the output of the Bartolini pickups, I tend to favor the Bartolinis.

PREAMP: The preamp in the Yumpy is the Bartolini NTBT 2-band treble (boost/cut) & bass (boost/cut) controls with an adjustable gain pot. After the return of The Yumpy in 2005, a 1.5 kohms-1/8 watt resistor replaced the 2.7 kohms-1/8 watt resistor used in parallel with the gain pot to adjust the output of the preamp. NOTE: In the active mode, with the treble and bass controls set flat (detent), the trim pot on the Bartolini NTBT was adjusted to equal the “passive output” of the Fender jazz bass pickups. The change in resistors improved the bang effect in the Bartolini preamp. The Fender FMEQ preamp has a 2-band treble & bass preamp with boost only controls, and the tone and output are similar to the older Bartolini preamps I have heard.

TOTAL OUTPUT: The preamp on The Yumpy has been adjusted to equal the output of the Fender Japan Marcus Miller Signature Jazz Bass (MM4). In this mode, the MM4 has more output when the preamp controls are full-up. If the gain pot on The Yumpy is set to maximum, then The Yumpy would easily have more output; it’s loud. The volume of the Yumpy has been adjusted to make it more compatible with mixer boards and recording consoles. The advantage the Fender Japan Marcus Miller Signature Jazz Bass had was if the battery connected to the preamp failed its pickups provided more output and support. In a critical situation, the output of the Fender single-coil pickups “might be a vital parameter.” Therefore, from my perspective, the Fender Japan Marcus Miller Signature Jazz Bass was the winner!!!

Personally, I have to look at the Fender Japan Marcus Miller Signature Jazz Bass and the experience gained as a BIG lesson. “I must commend Fender Japan for recognizing the contributions of Marcus Miller and what he has done for the musical industry.” I don’t think many companies would have taken on the task of doing what Fender Japan has done. Fender Japan satisfied many “Millerheads” by re-creating a jazz bass that is truly a “custom-boutique instrument at an affordable price.” Marcus went through several iterations and variations of preamps before he finally achieved the magical tone. After years of tinkering with various bodies and necks, pickups, preamps, and reading numerous articles I have finally gotten to the point where I’m starting to understand the “Marcus Miller Sound.” The Marcus Miller Sound is the sound that pleases Marcus Miller and it is derived from his fingers and soul; the bass is optional.

Tommy Thompson, Ph.D.

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Ashly NE8800 DSP revitalizes Palace theatre

Posted by Giacomo on February 10, 2012
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TAMARAC, FLORIDA – MAY 2010: The Palace Theatre for the Performing Arts is part of the Kings Point condominium complex in Tamarac, Florida, a community of some 8,000 over-55 residents just north of Fort Lauderdale. Its season runs from November to March, complementing the snowbirds’ yearly migration from points too cold for comfortable living in those months.

The theatre books A-list acts such as Tony Orlando, Peter Nero, and Pat Cooper and seats 1,000 people without a single stair. Its acoustics are excellent, with appropriately upholstered seats, no parallel walls, and judicious wall treatments. The Palace Theatre’s sound system was passable, but hardly excellent, until the recent addition of an Ashly ne8800 8×8 DSP and a long-deserved alignment.

Veteran sound engineer Anthony Ezzo has loyally served as the Palace Theatre’s production manager and FOH and monitor mixers since 1998, when he gladly said goodbye to life on the road. Ezzo’s credits include work with Julio Iglesias, Duran Duran, Boyz II Men, Mark Chesnutt, Daryle Singletary, Michelle Branch, and dozens of other artists, including numerous thrash
metal acts.

When Ezzo arrived, the house had a single mono PA cluster based around the Altec Lansing Acoustic Engine, with an Electro-Voice 18-inch subwoofer to extend the low-end. Acoustic Engines sandwiched the subwoofer to provide coverage to the left and right sides of the audience. A single horn at a lower angle provided front fill. A now very much discontinued Peavey Architectural Processor served as the cluster’s crossover. “The coverage wasn’t very good,” said Ezzo. “There were lobes everywhere. Some seats were too loud, others too quiet, and still others too dark or too bright.”

Over the years, Ezzo used his connections within the live sound industry for the betterment of the Palace Theatre. When the Julio Iglesias tour parted with several Meyer Sound MSL-3 full-range powered loudspeakers, Ezzo snatched them up and placed them in columns on either side of the stage. He got a few more when Carnegie Hall divested some of its stock. But with the Meyers on either side, and no DSP to organize the system as a whole, the original center cluster was badly out of alignment. Ezzo simply shut it off.

It was a fateful evening of comedy that triggered a series of events that led to the purchase of the new Ashly ne8800 that reinvigorated the system. Comedian Sal Richards came to the Palace Theatre on the tail of a cold that, combined with years of smoking, gave him a nasty cough. His best jokes were so funny that even he started laughing, which led to coughing, which led to bad mic technique. He told several punch lines off-mic, which caused tremendous confusion in an audience eager to know what was so incredibly funny. “The issue was really with Sal, but the theatre wanted me to get the system tested and certified that it sounded okay,” recalled Ezzo.

He made several calls and sent several emails, and each response contained the same line, ‘we’ll bring in our equipment, tie into your DSP, and time align your system.’ But the Palace Theatre had no DSP to tie into! Ezzo did some research, recognizing that his higher-ups were very budget conscious, and came up with the Ashly ne8800 8×8 DSP. It had all the inputs, outputs, and processing power the system would require at a price point that was unbeatable.

As it turned out, the company that did the original installation, Peerson Audio (West Palm Beach, Florida), was an Ashly dealer, and they were willing to upgrade and tune the system at the Palace Theatre. Peerson sent Kevin Varnadore, who Ezzo thought was entirely too young to be working with audio.”I told him that I had socks that were older than he was,” Ezzo laughed.”But he was incredibly sharp. He spent the day blasting a rainbow of noises through the system and making adjustments to the Ashly ne8800 remotely with a stylus. He went through time alignment of everything and reconfigured the crossovers.”

At the end of the day, they fired it up with music, and Ezzo claims the difference was both obvious and astounding. With everything properly tuned and working in concert, the system now delivers much greater SPL without any increase in the amplifier output. The Altec Lansing cluster has come to life in a way that belies its age. The room’s uneven coverage is now gone. Ezzo claims that there is no more than +/- 1 dB variation at any given seat and that the frequency response is ruler flat.

A self-professed ‘analog guy’ Ezzo was relieved to see how easily he could make changes using Ashly’s Protea software. “When Kevin left, he accidentally left the brick wall limiter almost completely closed for the right stack,” he recalled. “The next day, it kept shutting down. So I went online with my Mac, downloaded the software, booted in Windows, and was into the system without a glitch. I went into the limiter and opened it up. If I can manage it, any engineer can manage it!”

With over a thirty-five year history, Ashly Audio Inc. is recognized as a world leader in designing and manufacturing quality signal processing equipment and power amplification for use in the commercial sound contracting and professional audio markets.

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Signal processing at Augusta high school, Kansas.

Posted by Giacomo on February 10, 2012
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AUGUSTA, KANSAS – APRIL 2010: Like many schools built in the 1970s, Augusta High School in Augusta, Kansas had outlived the usefulness of its sound reinforcement systems and, given the new and relatively inexpensive technologies available today, was ready to shed the clunky interfaces and fuzzy fidelity to which everyone had become inured.


The school hired Wichita-based McClelland Sound, among the largest and most experienced sound engineering and contracting firms in Kansas. Founded at the dawn of sound reinforcement in 1928, McClelland is responsible for literally thousands of installations in all manner of buildings throughout the region. Vice president Scott Martin, who began his career with McClelland in 1974, took Augusta High School’s case and, in place of a market leader, used Ashly network-ready amplification and signal processing to give the school worry-free, easy-to-use, and utterly transparent reinforcement.

The most problematic space was the school’s auditorium, which has a strangely triangular ceiling that played havoc with the original system’s ability to provide either coverage or fidelity. Augusta uses the auditorium for high school plays, assemblies, and meetings. The community also uses the space for meetings and church services. “No one could hear very well,” said Martin. “The original system really only covered the first third of the audience, and it didn’t even do that very well. The strange shape of the room led to odd reflections from a system that was trying to push more SPL than it was capable of from just one position above the stage.”

Martin chucked that failed plan and instead used an Ashly ne24.24M matrix processor to delay the signal into three separate speaker clusters: a front composed of ElectroVoice C82HCs together with middle and back sections each composed of Community Veris 6Ts. In addition to delays, the ne24.24M provides all system equalization, filtering, crossovers, dynamics, and, critical in a high school installation, protection. “The Ashly processing is easy to use and sounds great,” said Martin. “In addition, it includes contact closure access points right on the back panel, which allowed me to easily rig up a custom push-button panel for an extremely simple user interface.” The push buttons select between a Roland VMIX system at FOH for the school, and a vastly simpler Shure SCM 810 console for community use.

Ashly amplifiers service the whole room. An Ashly ne800 drives two monitor channels, and a second ne800 drives the front ElectroVoice loudspeakers. A 70-volt Ashly ne800.70 drives the middle and back Community loudspeakers. In a dramatic leap forward from the old system, a Community i212S subwoofer adds rich low-end with the help of an Ashly ne1600 amplifier. “I’m particularly happy with the Ashly NE-Series of amplifiers because they are network-ready,” said Martin. “The diagnostics and dashboard allow us to monitor Augusta’s system from our office, or indeed, anywhere in the world. If a problem arises, we can either fix it remotely or arrive at the site knowing full well what’s wrong and with the equipment and tools we’ll need to fix it.”

The original system in the gym was faring a little better than the original system in the auditorium; a handful of old speakers positioned far, far away from the bleachers and floor overly energized the room for that classic, unintelligible “gymnasium sound.” Now, two Ashly ne800s and two ne800.70s drive ElectroVoice FRI-series and SoundTube RS-series loudspeakers, this time positioned closer to the stands and floor than the speakers they replaced. An Ashly ne24.24M provides all of the processing for the system, and an Ashly WR-5 programmable wall interface allows users to mute or unmute speakers on the visitor side, home side, or court to accommodate the needs of a particular function without adding needless energy to the walls. In addition, iPod inputs on either side of the court provide the school with the ability to play music for PE class.

Last of all, Martin replaced the aging sound system on Augusta’s football field. The now familiar combination of Ashly ne24.24M processing and ne800.70 amplification combined with an Ashly WR-5 preset controller provided ample punch, fidelity, and user control. Distributed Community R-series loudspeakers are, like the gym, mutable or unmutable in zones that anticipate the various uses of the facility.

McClelland Sound finished the installations for the auditorium, gym, and football field in time for extensive use in the fall semester of 2009. They’ve already been used for two plays, several assemblies and meetings, and dozens of basketball and football games, among countless other more routine uses. “There’s really no comparison to the old systems,” said Martin. “The new ones are vastly better in terms of fidelity and user interface. And although we’ve been monitoring all of the Ashly equipment remotely since it went in, we haven’t really had to use that capability. All of the Ashly gear worked perfectly out of the box and has continued to work flawlessly ever since!”

With over a thirty-five year history, Ashly Audio Inc. is recognized as a world leader in designing and manufacturing quality signal processing equipment and power amplification for use in the commercial sound contracting and professional audio markets.



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Soundman Terry Friedman

Posted by Giacomo on February 10, 2012
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NEW YORK, NEW YORK – APRIL 2010: Longtime FOH engineer and production manager Terry Friedman (Village People, Grace Jones) has, in recent years, stepped off the tour bus to offer schools, houses of worship, and other establishments in New York City his no-nonsense approach to audio under the ironic name Noise and Distortion.


Reacting against industry dogma that sets digital equipment apart from its analog forbears, Friedman rightly points out that we only hear in analog and so a unit’s analog representation is ultimately all that matters. But Friedman is no Luddite and frequently relies on SymNet open-architecture digital signal processing equipment to convey analog warmth with digital logic, flexibility, and power, safe from tinkering fingers.

Two recent jobs highlight Friedman’s approach and philosophy. First, the all-girls private Brearly School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan required a functional sound system for its 800-seat theater. For years, they had suffered with a convoluted hodge-podge that was easy to mess up and difficult – even for the theater director – to operate. As a result, sound was perennially terrible and the only technical lesson that the students learned was that “sound systems are hopelessly incomprehensible, so don’t even try to understand them, let alone enjoy mastering them.”

Friedman gutted the existing system and replaced it with a choice selection of TOA and EV loudspeakers powered by Crown amps. On the front end, a 24-channel Yamaha mixer now provides the student techies with straightforward volume, EQ, and routing control. That part of it makes the system usable and enjoyable. To deliver great sound, Friedman installed a SymNet Express 8×8 Cobra DSP at the interface between the mixer and speakers, including the stage monitors. Unlike in the previous system, the students have no access to the SymNet unit, nor do they need it. The DSP handles all of the dynamics, filtering, delays, and EQ for consistent, wonderful sound – transparently and from behind the scenes.

The second job was again in the Upper East Side, this time at Temple Shaaray Tefila, where an ancient dinosaur of a digital signal processor was holding things back. Friedman repurposed an EV steerable line array that had previously only given the temple fair to middling sound. He introduced a rack-mountable Crest XR-20; again, a clean, easy-to-operate analog board. The users interface solely with the XR-20. A SymNet Express 8×8 Cobra DSP hides in the background and, with all of the steerable line array’s DSP disabled, provides transparent dynamics, delays, EQs, and filters.

“They thought I put in new speakers, too,” laughed Friedman. “The line arrays sounded vastly more articulate and controlled than they had been in the previous configuration. And now with all of the processing, that makes them sound so wonderful, completely inaccessible, no one can go in to make any ‘improvements.'” The same is true at Brearly. Friedman has gone back to teach new groups of students how to use the system he installed, and every time, the integrity of his previous work remains intact. He asks them if they need any changes, and the answer is always no.

When asked why he so frequently turns to Symetrix, Friedman is characteristically blunt. “Because Symetrix sounds SO good! It’s easy to program. The company supports the product with abundant resources. And the same characters who have been with the company for decades continue to work there. But the sound is the most important part, and I think Symetrix’ analog origins back in the 1970s have made the transition to digital much more musical than it has been for companies that don’t have that tradition,” he concluded.

For over three decades, sound system designers, broadcasters and sound engineers have relied upon the performance, value and reliability of the Symetrix suite of audio routing and processing products.

Symetrix continues to set the benchmark in sound quality, and user-friendly control interfaces, while providing legendary reliability hand in hand with our commitment to non-stop innovation.

You’ll love the ease of doing business with our incredible team of audio and business professionals, who excel in their commitment to serve our customers at the highest level from start to finish, again and again.

Innovative Audio Routing and Processing Solutions – Engineered by Symetrix

For more information on professional audio products from Symetrix, SymNet, Lucid and AirTools please call (425) 778-7728 or refer to websites, Symetrix AudioSym Net AudioAir Tools Audio and Lucid Audio.

The following terms are trademarks ™ of Symetrix Inc., Symetrix(tm), AirTools(tm), SymNet(tm), Lucid(tm), all rights to these trademarks reserved.

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Steve Miller chooses API 1608 console to re-record his greatest hits

Posted by Giacomo on February 10, 2012
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SUN VALLEY, IDAHO – APRIL 2010: Legendary rocker and bluesman Steve Miller continues to enjoy a life of recording and touring. Godson to Les Paul, the precocious Miller tapped the artistic veins of the Chicago and New York blues scenes before relocating to San Francisco in the midst of its artistic renaissance, where the Steve Miller Band contributed to the playlist that has become a part of the fabric of modern life.


Together with respected engineer Kent Hertz (Godsmack, Julio Iglesias, Gloria Estefan) and eminent producer Andy Johns (Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Van Halen), Miller is currently re-recording with the same passion that has attended him his entire life. The trio purchased a 32-channel API 1608 console to contribute the right sound to an otherwise ideal digital workflow.

The new collection will be released on Miller’s new record label, “Space Cowboy Records” which has signed four promising artists. All of the label’s recordings will originate from Miller’s well-appointed personal studio in gorgeous Sun Valley, Idaho.

As soon as the API 1608 arrived, Hertz ran some tracks through flat. “Even with no processing, the sound was instantly punched way up,” he remarked. “That’s what we had been looking for!” For the greatest hits project, the API 1608 acts as a front-end for newly recorded tracks and as a mixer for the tracks that have already been recorded. “For me, the analog/digital hybrid is the Holy Grail,” said Hertz. “I’m fully invested in the digital workflow – instant recall and random access are indispensable. With the sonic contribution of the 1608, we now have all that functionality with a sound that brings us back to our analog roots. It’s the best of both worlds – an inspiring way to work!”

Automated Processes, Inc. remains the leader in analog recording gear, with the Vision, Legacy Series and 1608 Recording Consoles, as well as its classic line of modular signal processing equipment.


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