THE LOW END
The Street: NYC’s Music Row, Part 2
Last month, I took the liberty of reminiscing
about the good ol’ days of 48th Street. The
best part about it was remembering so many
amazing, and just plain funny, things that happened. And yes, it’s all about vintage bass.
Hey kid, what tune is that?
Some of the most challenging pieces to
figure out are the melody lines to 1960s TV
shows. To develop my ear, I spent time trying to work them out. My band at the time
played a lot of Led Zeppelin, and the guitar
player had a Jimmy Page black-and-white
Danelectro, so I thought it would be cool to
have a matching bass. In the oppressive heat
of the summer of 1979, off I went to 48th
Street. Danelectros were considered throwaway pieces of crap, they were so cheap. It
was more economical to buy another Dano
with strings than to restring it. Strings were
$25 a set, and the masonite bass could be
had for roughly the same money, if you
looked hard. I must have showed up on trash
collection day, because there wasn’t a single
Dano bass to be had. There was a cool new
store that had recently opened, though, that
had a reputation for having archtops and
other good stuff. I thought, “What the heck,”
and went for a look. That was my first trip to
Rudy’s Music Stop.
Rudy’s actually had one of these basses,
and it was black and white! I was playing
this bass, ripping out TV themes, when a
guy came over to me and asked, with a mild
accent, “What’s this riff you’re playing?”
I explained that it was the theme to the
Flintstones. I sat in Rudy’s riffing out every
TV theme I knew. The fella with the accent
was Rudy Pensa. Thirty years later, we’re still
friends, and I still have the bass.
You can’t make this stuff up
About 30 years ago, a client was sitting in
one of the shops playing a Pre-CBS Jazz Bass.
He was doing some noodling at a respectfully low volume, but some really tasteful riffs.
One of the “store guys” approached this
highly skilled player and commented on his
chops. They introduced themselves, and the
store guy asked, “Do you play in a band?”
to which the client responded, “Yes, I do.”
(Keep in mind, they’ve already introduced
themselves). The store Guy asked what band,
and the player responded, “Led Zeppelin.” It
was John Paul Jones. Doh!
The names have been changed to
protect the guilty
Have you ever picked up a ‘70s vintage SVT
head? Of course you have, every bass player
has—except... let’s call this guy Joe. It’s 1979,
and Joe is 17 years old, six feet tall and 140
pounds. A successful teenage entrepreneur
(okay, he has a big paper route), Joe has
more dollars than sense. He’s outgrown his
Ampeg B25B, so he goes to 48th Street to
buy a used SVT. New SVT heads in 1979 were
There was a cool new
store that had recently
opened, though, that had a
reputation for having arch-
tops and other good stuff. I
thought, “What the heck,”
and went for a look. That
was my first trip to Rudy’s
roughly $550, and used ones about $350. Joe
buys the SVT at Alex Music with two female
accomplices in tow. One-hundred-forty-pound Joe goes to lift the 90-pound SVT.
This is not good. Joe suffers a hernia before
making it to the corner. There’s a hardware
store a block or so away, so Joe purchases a
folding shopping cart, and 45 minutes later
the SVT is on a subway headed home. Long
story short, an hour later Joe is at his home
train station looking up at three flights of
steps. By the time the head made it home
after a two-mile walk (sitting sideways in the
cart), the cart was busted, along with every
tube. Joe was busted. Lucky for Joe, his
Uncle Bernie was a Magnavox repairman.
Joe is no ordinary moron, though; he’s a
super moron. Not content with the SVT
fiasco, the following Saturday Joe ventures
back to 48th Street to buy a Cerwin Vega
B36MF cabinet. Just what is a B36MF? If
you ever saw a movie in sensurround , these
were the bass bins used for the effect—they
were three-fourths the size of a refrigerator
and just as ergonomic. They at least had
recessed handles and steamroller casters, so
if you kicked the bin back it rolled easily. Joe
has a better plan to get the CV home. He’ll
find a taxicab and leave his car at the ferry.
One problem: the cabinet doesn’t fit in a
cab’s trunk, not even a big, old Checker. Ok,
he’ll take the train.
The cab is too wide for a turnstile, and will
not fit through the revolving grated door.
It can’t go on a bus, either. Joe returns the
amp. Why? “The casters broke off!” The following week, Joe’s dad (who has a truck)
picks up a new B36MF in the carton. Of
course, Joe was actually yours truly. C’mon,
you never did anything that dumb? Sure you
have! That SVT was later bought by Chris
Donato of Marshall Crenshaw. Chris, Marshall
and Tommy Crenshaw came to my house to
pick it up—in a VW Bug!
The Lowdown Wrap-up
Many great memories surround 48th Street.
The friendships, the gear, the stories… I
could write a book. I own four basses that I
bought on “The Street” more than 30 years
ago. I was talking to Rudy Pensa about this
column a few weeks ago. He said he couldn’t
put a price on his memories—they’re priceless. Yes they are. Until next time, drop the
gig bag and bring the cannolis!
Kevin Borden has been a bass player since 1975, and is
currently President of Goodguysguitars.com.
Feel free to call him KeBo.
He can be reached at