View From The Top
Barker Vertical Bass
appeared in the April issue of Bass Guitar Magazine
By Bruce Jacobs
is the Barker Bass? Truth is, it's much easier to say what
it isn't. It isn't a conventional electric bass, an electric
upright, or an acoustic knock-off. It isn't whimsical,
it isn't a prototype, and it wasn't built for a specific
style of music. Think of it as a bass guitar neck that
is attached to a large, chambered body and totally supported
by a heavy duty stand. As unique as it looks, however,
Lee Barker's beautiful Frankenstein of an instrument is
one of the best ‚sounding, most comfortable basses I've
clear that Barker, a woodworker and cabinetmaker for over
20 years, pays close attention to details. The bass was
so well-packed that the 1,500 mile trip to my door had
no impact on its perfect setup. The maple neck, held in
place by five large-head bolts, features a rosewood fingerboard.
The fretwork was excellent. The headstock boasts a set
of Gotoh machines arranged 2 + 2. A Schaller bridge completes
the hardware package. The body is made up of a luscious
1ű2 - inch thick cherry top on a chambered alder core and
solid back; darkened maple accents the front. The woodworking,
fit and finish are excellent. A tough polyester finish
protects the body from bumps or sweat, and a long endpin
accommodates players of virtually any height.
ESSENCE OF SUPPORT
Although I thought playing a vertical, fretted instrument
would be weird, I was able to adapt quickly (though I'll
admit that using a pick and slapping took a bit longer to
master.) The familiar Jazz-Bass radius and scale felt great,
and I found that playing "vertically" was much easier on
the shoulders back and wrists than the standard horizontal
Barker's eye-catching chambered body isn't just for looksóit
adds fabulous personality to the tone, as is evidenced
by the phenomenal sustain. The bass is equipped with passive
Basslines Hot Jazz pickups selected for their warm yet
articulate and versatile character. The pickups are closer
to the bridge than they are on a Fender Jazz Bass, which
gives a serious kick to the Vertical's tonal balance. The
Barker came across broad and juicy in a blues four-piece,
and everything I played at a crosssoverjazz/R&B quintet
gigófrom standards to Tower of Power funkówas a joy.
play harmonics on this bass is to experience a revelation;
Jaco's "Portrait of Tracy" sounded better than I've ever
heard. The Barker kicks ass for rock and metal grooves
too, though using a pick is awkward.
Barker, a chameleon that always wore the right suit, was
variously punchier, crisper, sweeter, or rounder than my
standard 4- and 5-strings. It reminded me somewhat of a
good, vintage Fender Precision: It sounds good by itself,
but it sounds sooo right on the bandstand.
The positive comments and questions I got from everyone who
heard the bass were worth their weight in PR points. You'll
not only be heard, but actually noticed with this ax at your
side, which is more than half the battle. Barker may be new
to bass manufacture, but the Vertical Bass is nothing short
of a sonic and instrument-design home run.
YOUR MAKER with Lee Barker
What inspired you to design vertical basses?
In 2002 my wrists began to hurt after only an hour or so
of playing. Noting the bent aspect of both wrists as I played
my horizontal bass, I began to imagine an upright fretted
bass and how my hand positions would be different as I played
it. I couldn't find such an instrument to suit me, so I built
a world of been-there, done-that basses, the Vertical
looks, feels and sounds like something new.
Thanks, but I don't put myself in the pantheon of great innovators.
I'm just a guy who left the classroom of daily life, went
out to recess, and never came back.
do you do when you're not building instruments?
I'm a part-time bassist who plays gospel and bluegrass music.
wife, Linda, helps run the company. Is this a family
Our family is 100% supportive and active in instrument development.
My two sons play out on Barker Basses too.