||"The Space Bass is
The Creation of Bootsy's Space Bass
|The Player stretches out with his new toy,
courtesy of "Sir Larry Pless." Photo by George Whiteman, 1976.
Foreword by Melissa A. Weber
No one's going to argue that Bootsy knows how to play a bass. We all
know that it's his distinct way of thumping that instrument that has made
him one of the most unique and renowned musicians ever. People have been
trying to figure out his techniques and secrets since he was laying down
his licks as a member of the original JBs in the late 60s. But that's not
the only thing that folks have been wanting to figure out.
Bootsy's space bass is as much a part of him as his music and the way he
plays it. Just like Bootsy's star glasses, his custom-made star-shaped
bass sets him apart from from other great funk bassists like Larry Graham
of Sly & the Family Stone & Graham Central Station, Louis Johnson
of the Brothers Johnson, Mark Adams of Slave, and Ronald LaPread of the
Commodores. The space bass adds to Bootsy's far-out aura and is an
integral piece of why funkateers dig him so much.
Bootsy probably knew how important and great this new space bass
creation was early on, as he gave the man who built the guitar for him
a knightly title. He is credited as "Sir" Larry Pless on Bootsy's first
So here's the story of the origin of Bootsy Collins' custom-made
star-shaped space bass in the words of Larry Pless, the bass's
creator/builder. (Thanks to Ron McGinnis for contacting Larry to
tell his story.)
The Creation of the Space Bass
by Larry Pless
"In 1974 I went with a friend of mine and drove down to Warren,
to a music store called Gus Zoppies (Editor's note: Store is referred
to as Guz Zuppi Music on the cover of Bootsy's Stretchin' Out...
album.). It was a family run music store
whose owner was a little Italian man who was known around Detroit for his
accordions. His name was Gus Zoppie, Sr. His wife and son, Gus jr., also
worked there. I took a guitar I had made with me to see if they would
sell it on consignment. It was a flying 'v' with half of the body maple
and half mahogany with a maple neck. Gus jr. Looked at my guitar and
asked me a few qustions. He then told me he was looking for a guitar
repair man and asked me if I would be interested in the job. I accepted
the job and considered it to be my lucky break as I was only 19 years old
at the time. Apparently, the repair man they had was butchering people's
A couple years went by and I kept busy repairing and building
custom guitars. One day one of the salesmen, Paul Cusamonto, came back to
my work shop and told me that someone called 'Bootsy' wanted to talk to me
up front. I had never heard of Bootsy before, but he was a interesting
person to meet. He was wearing a black leather outfit studded with
rhinestones and of course he was wearing a pair of star sun glasses. What
I noticed first was his height. This guy is huge! Then the gold
tooth--what a smile.
He told me that he had an idea for a bass guitar he wanted made.
He showed me a little drawing he had sketched on a napkin. It was a bass
guitar with the body and the headstock shaped as stars. Then we went over
the other details of the guitar such as hardware, pickups, wiring, finish
and of course a big mirrored pickgaurd. I told Bootsy that I needed some
time to work out the design and the price. This was a fun project for me.
I drew several different versions of the star bass until I was happy with
the way it looked. The problem was it did not look like the sketch Bootsy
had given me. Bootsy wanted a star shaped bass and I wanted to blend the
star idea with a more traditional guitar design. I also changed the
headstock to be be more functional. This design is known as the star
burst design. The price was somewhere around $900.
After I had the bass about half built, Bootsy called and told me
he needed the guitar for a photo shoot in Los Angeles. He was working on
the cover for the Streching Out album. The bass had a coat of
white paint on it and the pick-guard and thats about all. I can't
remember how the bass got to LA, but it made it. I miss the days of
albums when you could get a great big picture on it or in it. In this
case you could open the album cover up and there was bootsy sitting in a
space car holding his space bass with fog drifting by. But, anyway, I
guess Bootsy was happy with the design of his bass. He was excited to get
After the bass was finished, Bootsy sent me an airline ticket so I
could fly myself and the bass down to Cinci., Ohio. He was playing at the
Collosseum in his home town, and he wanted to play his new space bass.
That night he came on stage and held up the space bass to the crowd. The
crowd loved it. The space bass and Bootsy were a perfect match. I stood
by the stage and couldn't wait to see Bootsy popping out his funky
basslines on my creation. But there was a problem with the cord that
hooked the bass to the amp, and Bootsy had to grab his other guitar real
quick...what a bummer.
Even without the star bass the show was great. Live horns, backup
singers, topped off with Bootsy's bass and vocals. Bootsy's bass playing
cut through the mix easily. When Bootsy plays he uses all the finger
board and really likes the upper register. This gives him a lot of treble
and really gives his riffs a zippy punch. I don't think anyone can beat
him as a showman.
Some time later, the first space bass was stolen and Bootsy had me
make him another one. Yes, there are 2 space basses. The first one was
found in a pawn shop in Cinci., Ohio and returned to Bootsy. Who would be
dumb enough to steal such a recognizable guitar as the space bass?
The first bass had a mahogany body and maple neck. The second
bass had a bass wood body and maple neck. Bootsy told me he liked the
sound of the frist guitar a little better so I will stick to using
mahogany in the future. Every once in a while Bootsy would bring the
space back to the shop to have a few more rhinestones put on. After a
while we ran out of room. I also made Bootsy a double neck 6/12 string,
but I don't know if he used it much.
I'm proud that my space basses lasted over 23 years of concerts
and recording sessions. The wear and tear on guitars in these conditions
are extreme. As an example, I had to replace the mirror pick guard a
couple of times because Bootsy's sweat would eat through the mirror
backing. I overcame this problem by spraying the back of the pick guard
with lacquer. Anyway, I hope the space basses served Bootsy well.
I saw Bootsy's new bass he had made by a builder in New York on
the front page of Bass Player magazine (Dec 98). Bootsy
finially got what he really wanted--a bass that looks like a star just
like the on he drew on a napkin 25 years ago.
As for me, I plan to build
a limited number of space basses and maybe a 6 string version. When
Bootsy and myself first talked about building the space bass, we came to
an agreememt that I would not build a space bass for anybody else for at
least one year. I think I have more than fulfilled my part of our
I'd like to thank Bootsy for letting my guitars be a part of
P-Funk history and wish him all the best in the future." -- Larry Pless.
You can contact Larry with
inquiries about his custom-made guitars and
basses at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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