Interview: David Ellefson of Megadeth Discusses His New Signature X Series Basses by Jackson
To say David Ellefson has Jackson is his blood is no exaggeration.
Ellefson, who was born in the small town of Jackson, Minnesota, was drawn to the bass immediately. Over the course of his musical career, he has inspired many budding musicians to take up the bass.
Now Ellefson and Jackson Guitars have teamed up to release X Series basses. The basses, which are available in four- and five-string models, give players a chance to play Jackson quality at a price tag most anyone can afford.
I struck up a new partnership with Jackson. One as a guy who plays them, and two, to get involved with the design aspect. Jackson is one of those companies that has made fantastic instruments, but they're primarily a guitar company that also has basses.
One of the artist-relations people who worked for them at the time said, “You are the face of the bass. When you think of a Jackson bass, David Ellefson of Megadeth is the guy." I was honored to take that role with them.
The first ones we did were around the Rust in Peace tour. There was the black and the quicksilver. Those initially were offered out of the custom shop. They were quite expensive, several thousand dollars, but they are hand made by the original luthier who built my Jacksons back in the day, Mike Shannon. He came over when Fender acquired the company.
We just rolled out the import series that drops the price point down to around $500 MSRP. These are much more affordable. They still have the EMG pickups and the electronics are laid out the same. It's just an import version. The necks are actually skinnier, which make them more like the basses I played back in the day.
Are they all rosewood?
They are rosewood, but I have some maple. We have a new design, the Kelly-bird, which we are going to be bringing to market. There will be a signature series for me that will be a neck-through, and we’ll do a less expensive bolt-on. That’s just a sling-it-down-by-your-knees, rock and roll kind of bass.
As far as the body, what do you like in the wood? What makes a good body?
It depends. If you're doing a bolt-on, most of the necks are maple with whatever finger board you want. The bodies are then typically alder. Fender really set the tone for that. Some basses have maple bodies, but to me that is too hard. It delivers a real punch. But for how I play, I want something a little softer. I generally tend to like ash, alder or even swamp ash.
When you go with a neck-through, it is one piece of maple from the neck all the way through the body. Then they glue the wings on.
Do you play with a pick with Megadeth or do you mix it up?
In Megadeth I almost exclusively use a pick. There are a couple of moments in the middle of "Trust" in the breakdown where I will switch to fingers. There are a couple of things I recorded with fingers for tone sensitivity. I prefer the pick because there is a better attack. It sits better with the drums and cuts through the guitars better.
Did you play guitar before you played bass?
Nope, I picked up bass first. I remember being really pissed off because I kept asking my mom and dad for a bass. One morning, I woke up and there was a nylon-string guitar my neighbors had given us. I was like, “What the hell is that thing?” Of course, the action was super high and impossible to play. I was begging my parents to get me a bass.
I know for many guitarists it's hard to put the pick down when they pick up the bass.
I took up guitar afterwards. I like guitar and I especially like heavy metal and hard rock guitar. That’s what I play. Those are the styles I know. On bass, I know all different types of playing. I’m a pretty good rhythm guitar player and even a backing melody player.
Fans in Europe and Asia can catch Ellefson on tour this summer with Megadeth. You can find all the details at davidellefson.com and megadeth.com. More information on X Series Jackson basses can be found at jacksonguitars.com/products.
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David Ellefson photos: John Katic
Bass photos: Jackson Guitars