John Entwistle’s amps are the responsibility of Bill Harrison, who stands to the rear of the bass cabinets when the Who are onstage. Each of the two signals of John’s stereo output is sent to its own Stramp 4120 stereo preamp, where they are again divided and relayed to one of four Sunn Coliseum slave amps. The Stramps are turned all the way up, the Sunns set at about 5 or 6. The current speaker array includes a pair of Sunn W bins, each with an 18″ Vega speaker; two standard Sunn enclosures, each with a Vega 18; two Sunn 4x12s; and two Sunn 3x12s. Entwistle describes his goal: “Mainly the sound qualities that I am looking for in this particular amping system center around the fact that I like separation between low and high notes. I can have four different sounds going on at once, with the equalization of the preamps and four amp heads. Just flicking two switches on the preamps allows me to select which sound I want at any given point.”
Unlike the vast majority of bassists, John has his strings (Rotosounds) changed before every concert in order to attain maximum crispness. The task is another of Alan Rogan’s responsibilities. Entwistle says, “You don’t get that initial twang if you use the strings again. You can always turn up your treble control to get it like the day before, but then you end up getting a lot of whistle.” Entwistle’s action is probably the lowest of any modern electric bass player. As John laughs, “I like my strings on the *other* side of the frets.”
The Who’s bassist has a huge collection of vintage instruments, though all of his road basses are currently Alembics. His newest ones are a matched set of three, constructed to be as identical as possible. About two years ago, while one of the “Fenderbirds” was being repaired, John happened to pick up a stock Alembic for a rehearsal. He liked it so much that he ordered several — unmodified except for their extremely low actions. Alembic president Rick Turner recalls, “John then inquired as to the possibility of our doing some Explorer copies. I kind of resisted, because I’m not usually into doing copies of stuff, but then I said — what the hell; might be interesting — so we went ahead.”
The Explorer-shaped Alembics have necks and bodies of birdseye maple and walnut. The seven-piece laminate necks are long-scale. Each instrument has two master volume controls with a selector switch so that John can preset two levels and then switch back and forth. The electronics are otherwise stock Alembic circuitry: two pickups that are medium impedance and gain-adjustable, internal preamp, and a dummy pickup for hum cancellation; the tone controls are active low-pass filters. The instrument attaches to the cable through a 5-pin connector and may be sent to an Alembic IN-2 input module that distributes the signal to any of various components — PA, amp, recording console, etc. Turner adds that the Alembic recently sent John another bass, a new model with a medium scale graphite neck, and an ebony body with a Bigsby vibrato tailpiece.