Michael Manring Continues to Explore the Boundaries of the Bass

By Ross Boissoneau

Michael Manring says his love affair with his chosen instrument has been nearly lifelong. “I fell in love with bass as a kid,” he says. “I was a little young for the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, so for me it was Woodstock. It was like a bomb going off for me and my friends.”

He would listen to records and try to block out the sounds of vocals, guitars, keyboards and drums to get to the sound that enthralled him way down low – both in the musical spectrum and in the mix. “It was hard to figure out that was a bass guitar. My poor long-suffering mother said she thought it was an organ. I had piano lessons but it wasn’t that.

Michael Manring 1

photo by P Lissart

“I begged my parents to let me buy one. They said no, they were afraid of me becoming a hippie. Around ten (years of age) I rented one and became more and more passionate.”

It soon became apparent that Manring couldn’t be denied, neither his talent nor his passion. He says he still often feels that sense of engagement and enthrallment he did when he first began playing.

Over the course of his career Manring has played in a huge variety of settings and styles. He became something of the house bassist for Windham Hill, but resists the tag of “New Age” that often was used to describe all the music emanating from the label. He descirbes his first solo album, Thonk, as “new Age-death metal-fusion,” though it also worked its way into chamber music and shredding territory as well. He was also close friends and a frequent playing partner with the label’s Michael Hedges, and the two would use an endless array of loops and treatments – but what always stood out was their chops.

Michael Manring 3

photo by Mari Kawai

His recent recording Grains of Sand, with fellow bassist Alberto Rigoni and special guests, is a tour de force of bass playing. “It’s his brainchild, but it (playing with other bassists) is not an unusual thing,” says Manring. “I’ve done several projects with other bass players.” Good to hear, as among the guests are still more bassists, like Bryan Beller, Mike LePond, Lars Lehman and Billy Sheehan.

“Alberto’s like a force of nature. I love to work with people like that.”

His most recent album is entitled Small Moments, and is a series of bass solos. They do include various electronic effects, but he says the processing was done while playing live, with no overdubs and minimal editing. “These pieces were written to be played live using only the equipment the airlines will allow me to take with me when I travel!” he says on his Bandcamp page.

Manring plays a number of different bass guitars, but favors the Zon Hyperbass, his exclusive design made by Zon Guitars. They feature a three-octave fretless neck and heel-less extended cutaway, with a curly maple top laminated to a poplar body core. They also include black hardware and single humbucking pickup with ZP2-S active electronics. “Most have four strings. Four is the least number of strings I can do all the things I want to do,” he says, which includes frequent and nearly instantaneous tuning changes, both of single strings and multiple strings simultaneously.

Michael Manring 2

photo by Parker Mosby

“I’m a D’Addario guy,” he says of his strings. “EXL220 is a light gauge string I really like the sound of. They have more low end, are looser, more fundamental than a tight string. I can also tune them over a really wide range.”

“I like the sound of nickel, it’s the second brightest. And it’s always easier to make it sound darker with processing than the reverse.

Ross Boissoneau is a regular contributor to Something Else! Reviews, Northern Express and Local Spins. He’s written for the All Music Guide, Jazziz and Progression Magazines, and is a member of the Downbeat Critics Poll.

Ross Boissoneau

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please fill in the number below: *