On-line Interview with
Published January 1, 2004

12 & 15-String Bassist
Jauqo III-X

An Interview with Mark Rowe

Sometimes 12 strings aren't enough! Veteran bassist Jauqo III-X from Chicago has been pushing the boundaries of the bass guitar into uncharted territory with his 15-string and SubContra basses. Thanks Jauqo for taking the time to answer our questions!

You were the first bassist to play a 15-string bass. Had you ever played a 12-string before getting your 15

Yes, I was the first bassist to play a 15-string. It came about through my personal evolution from my years of playing the 12-string bass. The 15-string had been floating around in my head for quite some time. But it didn't become a reality until I was at a winter NAMM show and I came across a company called Warrior. I noticed that they had a 12-string bass, one of the better ones I had seen. I was very impressed with it's playability and it was similar to the bass I had in my head as being more related to a traditional 4 or 5-string bass. Between each group of threes it had a spacing that was similar to a J-Bass spacing. Even though it was a 12 the spacing allowed me to play it as if it was simply a 4-string but give me the big sound of a 12. From there I was blown away and very Impressed.

What kind of 12-string bass did you play?

I went through two Hamer 12's, early long scale models, from the mid 1980's.

What all was involved in making the 15-string bass a reality?

The owner of Warrior, JD Lewis, talked to me about endorsing his product and said take my time and think on it. So the next day I met with him and said I was sincerely interested in his instruments and that I had a bass in my head that's been floating around for a while. He asked me what was it and I shyly said, "It's a 15-string bass." He looked at me and asked me to be more specific and after I explained he without any hesitation said yes, I think we can. From there we went into ideas and concepts for this instrument. So Jesse Blue O'Neal (who is no longer with Warrior) and I went from there. The final result was the first 15-string bass. It was fretless and strung with a High C. I would if possible like to give a big thanks to JD for being open minded to my concept and to Jesse for being a believer in it as much as I was and putting up with my, "Can we try it like this / that?" :) I would also like to thank Mick Donner and the rest of the gang at Dean Guitars for the beautiful 12-string bass I play. It's the perfect introduction into 12-string bass at a very reasonable price.

Why did you want a 15? Was there a specific musical need that you wanted to address? Why did you choose the high C strings rather than the low B's?

The reason I wanted a 15-string bass with a High C was because I wanted to have more of a melodic freedom when I felt the need. And my personal experiences with the 12's I played did not allow me to play it in a way that was comfortable for me: The strings were just too close for me, and the string arrangement was not working for me. I use an Inverted arrangement and by it being fretless I am able to move in and out of micro tonalities at will. In regards to how one can have a 15-string bass strung it never crossed my mind to have a low B, I always had the concept of the High C from the start.

Were you concerned about the potential intonation problems that could arise with all of those strings? Some players mention they have difficulty with their fretless intonation when they switch frequently from fretted to fretless instruments. The problem arises from the differing degrees of precision needed in finger positioning. Have you ever had this problem, and if so, how did you handle it?

I have been playing bass now for close to 25 years and the majority of that has been on fretless. So for me the 15-string fretless was no problem at all. The applications I apply to the traditional fretless I apply to the 15-string fretless as well. Intonation problems were never a factor as long as I'm able to get to all the strings on the fingerboard evenly. If my finger application was ever off the sound results would remind me. I seem to have no problem with going from fretless to fretted and back. It may be due to me starting and having a sincere interest in fretless from about 6 months after I started playing bass. I approach playing the fretted bass as if it's a fretless not the other way around.

What styles of music do you prefer to play? How well does the 15 fit in with it? What reaction do you get to the 15 from other band members and audiences?

The only style of music I prefer whether it's my own projects or working with other artists is original music. I think that is the ultimate expression. Don't get me wrong, doing a version of a cover can be kool as well but if I had a choice I would go with originals every time. I listen to and have played all genres of music whether it's Avant-garde, Funk, Rock, Jazz, etc. I am very open minded to it and it's always kooler when the person or persons you're working with really got their business together.

I have to say that logically the 15-string does not fit in every musical setting, it's just the nature of the instrument. When I play the 15-string the band members have no problem with it at all they are very open to it, and the audience recognizes it's sonic voice very quick. Especially the freshness of the High C.

Are you currently working on a CD project? If so, when will be able to hear new music from the Jauqo III-X Reality?

I'm currently working on my debut CD that is and will be featuring some special guests, and I'm working on a separate recording project with The JAUQO III-X REALITY. I can't give a specific release date for either because I'm working around the guest schedule as well as mine. But when I do release it, if nothing else I think listeners will find both musical settings very interesting.

On your website you discuss the SubContra Bass, which is strung E, B, F#, C# high to low. In this configuration the E string, which is the lowest string on a standard 4-string bass, is now the high string. Tell us more about that.

The SubContra Bass takes it's name from the Contra Bass because it is lower in sound. It's another one of my concepts that I have been working on. It's tuned Low C# (.185), F# (.165), low B (.125), and standard E (.100) low to high. The E string is where the G string is on a 4-string bass. I conceived the instrument as well as the string, and had it turned into a reality as well. In the process I have dispelled a lot of myths in regards to just how low bass can really go and continue to maintain a crystal, non-muddied, focused clarity.

You are working with SIT strings to develop the low C# strings. How did you get involved with them? How's that project progressing?

I met Eddie Speedy of SIT Strings and was informed that he had heard about my concepts of string development and recognized and trusted me. We have come up with a set of SubContra strings that seem to compliment the SubContra Bass perfectly. We also did two new sets of strings for the 12-string bass. One set I refer to as a multi-octave set consisting of a standard, an octave higher, and the third string an octave higher still, therefore giving the name Multi-Octave set for 12-string bass. It gives the 12-string bass a much bigger sound in some applications. Sometimes all it takes is open mindedness, logic, and a little belief and one should not be surprised at what reality will bring.

So the 15-string bass and the SubContra Bass are both your ideas?

The 15-string and the SubContra are my original concepts and vision, the companies just made these instruments for me. The reason I wanted to mention these were my original ideas is to remind other musicians that if they have a concept and think it may be too strange or someone may not find it interesting, not to be concerned with that but to proceed with the concept and vision to its fullest.

I understand you have another 15-string bass on the drawing board. What do you want to do differently with this new bass?

I'm working on my new 15-string with Jesse Blue from Ergo Custom Guitars who is a very talented luthier in his own right, and no longer working with Warrior. He worked so closely with me on the first one that I feel it's important than I maintain that relationship, plus I trust his talents. And other than myself he knows what I want out of this instrument. One of the biggest changes on this one is that it will have a metal bridge with separate saddles for each string, and it will still be strung with a High C. And a friend of mine is making me a new 12-string that I think will be interesting as well.

Tell us about the new 12!

My friend DZ is making the 12-string for me. Two of the reasons this one is interesting for me is it's his first 12, and he is really open to the instrument and what it takes to make a great 12. He gets to apply his own ideas and concepts into the 12-string bass as well and he was very open to my concept of developing a more modern 12-string bridge for multi-octave application. We took that attitude and open mindedness and combined them for what I feel will be a 12-string bass that reflects the luthier's sincere interest in contributing to a still relatively young instrument.

You have given bass clinics at the NAMM shows. Can we expect to see you at future shows?

As far as new clinics go I'm always somewhere doing one and yes, you can catch me at the NAMM show doing a few here and there. And I have some coming up with some of the companies I endorse.

Finally, from reading through your website you seem to place as much emphasis on spirituality as you do musicianship. Would you care to comment upon that?

Life, Spirituality, and Musicianship are more deeply Intertwined than we are aware of. They are all related. They are the key ingredients to music's DNA and if we can interpret the connection it will take us beyond a shallow life and musical being. The "III" in my name represents what we are all made up of Mind, Body and Soul and the "X" represents my infinite level of self growth. I will continue to grow but only if that's what I want to do. If you read "The Life Is" section from my site, it's just little heart notes from my life journey thru this life I exist in for the moment.

Thanks for taking the time to share your views with us!

Thanks again Mark and if you have any more questions feel free to ask.