Headbangers of a certain age will appreciate what it means to play bass in Metallica. If you’re familiar with the San Francisco foursome’s early material, you’ll already be fan of Cliff Burton’s astounding classically-influenced lines.
If you came onboard for the band’s 1988 album… And Justice For All, you’ll recall the arrival of Jason Newsted, recruited to fill the huge boots of Cliff Burton, who lost his life in a coach crash at the age of 24.
In his time with Metallica, Newsted became known as the guy with the massive bass guitar collection. Google any photo of him back then and you’ll see him with a wide range of instruments. “For Load, I used a '58 P-Bass and a 1981 Spector NS 4-string,” he told BP. “The Spectors were built really well, played well, and sounded excellent, but I had a lot of trouble with sweat getting inside. All of my instruments had to be salt-water proofed.”
“We’d done an outside show on the last tour,” said Jason. “And by the end of the gig, there was one functioning bass out of six – bad news. And when a bass going through 250,000 watts of PA all of a sudden shorts-out, people are not happy.”
By the time Metallica began their 1996 Poor Touring Me concert tour in support of Load, which was Newsted's fourth record with Metallica since leaving metal outfit Flotsam & Jetsam, Jason had begun a new relationship with Roger Sadowsky and Sadowsky Guitars. Many of his Sadowsky’s can be seen in the 1997 live show Cunning Stunts.
“When I was trying to figure out who was going to build my basses for the tour, I’d have to test each bass. I'd fill up a big tub with super hot water, dump in some salt, and submerge the bass. Then, I'd take it out of the tub and put it in front of a coil heater for a few minutes. I'd repeat this same process three times with each bass. Then I'd beat the crap out of it for a while in my studio, and finally I'd let it sit on a stand for a couple of days. Usually, the bass corrodes and doesn't play anymore. None of the basses passed that test except for the Sadowsky.”
“Jason voiced his concerns about moisture and reliability,” explained Roger Sadowsky. “Apparently some of his basses were having an intermittent output, and when his tech would remove the output-jack plate, water would literally run out of the control cavity! It turns out the humidity levels at the shows are so high from the heat, water runs down the front of the amplifiers! And moisture was building up inside the control cavities from condensation."
"Our solution was to put a thin rubber gasket on the back of the control-cavity plates and underneath the football-shaped output-jack plate. We also sealed the holes going from the pickup cavities to the control cavities with silicone sealant to keep any moisture that might come in through the pickup routs from flowing into the cavities.”
To accommodate Jason's aggressive, downstroke-heavy pick attack, Roger Sadowsky also placed the neck pickup on the 24-fret models about an inch closer to the neck than normal. "Everything else is stock," said Roger. "We didn't charge Jason any extra for the waterproofing service, but at the same time, I really want people to know he paid full price for eight instruments. I sent him a ninth bass as a gift. He didn't try to do the typical artist-endorsement thing with me; he was a real mensch.”
Jason’s arsenal of 4-string Sadowsky’s included a Lake Placid Blue Vintage model with an alder body and a morado fingerboard, a black Vintage model with an ash body, and two PJ models with quilted-maple tops. The 5-strings included three Vintage models (two black, one cherry sunburst) and two black 24-fret models with EMG-40J pickups.
“I didn't get my Sadowskys until after we had mixed Load,” said Jason, “but the Sadowskys are the shit in my book. Roger built nine basses for me, and they all have a warm tone with great mids. They were like a ‘turbo' Fender for the ‘90s."
Load is available to buy or stream.