A Personal Welcome from Lee
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The View From The Top
The Barker Vertical Bass

Article appeared in the April issue of Bass Guitar Magazine
By Bruce Jacobs

What 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 ever played.

It's 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.

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 approach.

The 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.

To 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.

The 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.

MEET 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 one.

In 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.

What do you do when you're not building instruments?
I'm a part-time bassist who plays gospel and bluegrass music.

Your wife, Linda, helps run the company. Is this a family thing?
Our family is 100% supportive and active in instrument development. My two sons play out on Barker Basses too.

The Barker Vertical Bass - Patent Pending

copyright Barker Bass, 2003

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