Tony Kanal / Yamaha Interview

A few weeks ago our friend Tony Kanal reached out to see if we could get some of his Yamaha BB’s studio-ready to start recording with his new project, which features fellow No Doubt members Tom Dumont and Adrian Young as well as A.F.I. singer Davey Havok.

One of the basses we received in our Burbank, CA shop was Tony’s original BB1600 that he purchased sometime around 1987 while he was still attending Anaheim High School. Out of curiosity we looked up the serial number for that bass and discovered that its birthday was March 1985 and was about to turn 31!

Every artist has a great story about their first “real” instrument that set them on their path, but few still create and continue their musical journey with it. It’s very special, so to celebrate Tony’s new music project and wish his BB1600 a happy birthday, we spoke to him about his history with the bass.

Yamaha: When did you start playing bass? How did it come about?

Tony Kanal: I started playing bass when I was 15 years old. I was already in my high school bands playing saxophone. As I was going from 9th grade to 10th grade, the bassist in the Jazz Band, a friend and great guy named Dave Carpenter, was graduating from high school. Our band director asked if anybody wanted to try out for bass and I think I was the first person to raise my hand. I'm like “Dude, I want to do that!” So during the summer between 9th and 10th grade I started to learn bass. Dave and also our band director Mike Stopher helped me.

When 11th grade came around, I met the original drummer from No Doubt who went to my high school. He'd seen me playing with the Pep Band at a basketball game and said, "Hey I'm in a band and we are about to play our first club show and we’re not happy with our bass player. Would you be interested in coming to check us out?" So I went to check out that show which was on March 14th, 1987 at Fender’s Ballroom in Long Beach. No Doubt was the first of 10 bands. I tried out a week later and the rest is history.

Yamaha: What bass were you playing at the time? How did you end up with your BB1600?

Tony: Back then I was mostly borrowing the high school Jazz Band bass which was a Rickenbacker. I think it was a 4001 model. The band director kind of got worried that I was taking it out of school and using it for gigs at clubs. He was super cool but he was like, "Hey, you can't do that."

As luck would have it, Gwen's father worked for Yamaha at the time and he was able to get me a discount on a brand new bass. That’s this BB1600. I remember looking at a pricing list and going “this one sounds cool!" I really had no idea. It was just the one that I could afford and the natural wood description sounded cool. I borrowed the money from my dad and that was the start of me playing the Yamaha BB series.

Yamaha: Back then did you have an opinion about Yamaha basses or was it just the way to get a bass?

Tony: Honestly, that's what it was. But I started playing it and it was great for me.

Yamaha: What was your practice routine like back then?

Tony: No Doubt would rehearse twice a week, Thursdays and Sundays. They were pretty intense practices. 3 hours of really high energy, going through the songs a bunch of times. We were obviously gigging too so we would have rehearsals leading up to our shows as well. And I was also playing in Jazz Band in school. So I was playing consistently every day.

Yamaha: Did you write certain songs on that BB?

Tony: For sure! One in particular is a song called 'Brand New Day' which is on our first album that came out in ‘92. I was doing a lot of slapping back and it’s a great sounding bass for popping and slapping because of its bolt-on neck. A lot of our songs even prior to our first album had a lot of slapping and popping.

Yamaha: Do you think that you play a certain way because of the bass or is your style just your style?

Tony: Hmm, I don't really know. When I was eleven years old and we first moved to California I had an accident with my left hand where I was cleaning a small fish bowl and I dropped it in the sink and it shattered. I was trying to save the fish but I cut my hand open on the sharp glass.

I ended getting 28 stitches and the doctors told my parents at the time that there was a chance I wouldn't be able to use my hand again because I had cut my tendon. Obviously I can use my hand and everything turned out fine but I do have some specific minor limitations with my finger movements. It never held me back but I think if anything, that had more to do with my playing style.

Yamaha: Were there any close calls or accidents with the bass?

Tony: As far as I can remember, just the usual nicks and scratches because I was using it all the time for every gig. I really babied that bass. I took care of it.

The handles on those original Yamaha cases sucked and would wear down quickly. I would have to constantly keep putting duct tape on the handle because it was so worn down that when I was carrying it on my walk to school it would dig into my hand. I do remember that.

Yamaha: Do you think you're going to continue to use the BB?

Tony: Forever! And you know, because of this new project that I'm in, I'm doing some slapping again so it's really exciting. Two weeks ago I used this original BB for the first time in many years to record on a song.