Mike Dirnt: “Even Flea told me he wanted to play a P-Bass live”

Mike Dirnt of Green Day performs onstage at House Of Blues on April 16, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio.
(Image credit: Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

The likes of James Jamerson and Donald ‘Duck' Dunn may have been among the first to relay the sound of Fender’s Precision Bass to the airwaves back in the '60s and '70s, but Green Day’s Mike Dirnt is a new breed of P-Bass champion. “Billie bought me my first P-Bass, a 1969, and I’ve been hooked on them ever since,” said Dirnt in an interview with Bass Guitar magazine. “I have other basses, but nothing works as good as a P-Bass.”

It was put to Dirnt that a lot of top bass guitar players eventually return to Fender after a few years away. “Yeah. A lot of incredible players switch back to Fenders after a while. Even Flea," says Dirnt. "He told me he wanted to go to a P-Bass and an Ampeg live. Les Claypool is another example. I'd go fishing with him sometimes, and he’s such an incredible player, but he’s struggled with his sound. He played a Jazz Bass in Sausage, didn’t he?”

Mike Dirnt of Green Day performs onstage during Global Citizen Festival 2017 at Central Park on September 23, 2017 in New York City.

(Image credit: Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

Needless to say, Dirnt has acquired some veritable bass gems on his travels. “I’ve got some really great ’60s Precision basses. My wife wanted to buy me a great bass, so she found a ’58 Olympic White model – it eats my friends alive that I take it out and play it live! A few years back, Darryl Jones sold me his ’64 Jazz – it’s sick. I also have a ’62 Jazz in Olympic White.”

Several Mike Dirnt Signature models have also been produced by Fender. The current version features an ash body with a thick C-shaped maple neck in Sunburst and White Blonde finishes, as well as the Road Worn treatment to simulate years of wear and tear.

“In the beginning I asked the Custom Shop to make me a 1951 P-Bass, which is the Telecaster-looking bass, with a rosewood fretboard,” says Dirnt. “They were all freaking out, because apparently no-one had ever made one with a rosewood fretboard before. Then I added the ’55 cutaway, so you’re not rubbing your arm on that sharp ridge, and the pickups we put in are 1959 vintage-style split single-coils. I tell people that I built a Ford F-150 truck, only it looks like a Chevy!”

Last of the American Girls is probably the most overt example of Dirnt’s overdriven P-Bass tone on a Green Day recording: loaded with driving eighth notes and propelled by the super-tight rhythm section of Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool, the Green Day sound is unmistakable. 

Green Day's 2020 album, Father Of All Motherf***ers is out now.

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Nick Wells

Nick Wells was the Editor of Bass Guitar magazine from 2009 to 2011, before making strides into the world of Artist Relations with Sheldon Dingwall and Dingwall Guitars. He's also the producer of bass-centric documentaries, Walking the Changes and Beneath the Bassline, as well as Production Manager and Artist Liaison for ScottsBassLessons. In his free time, you'll find him jumping around his bedroom to Kool & The Gang while hammering the life out of his P-Bass.