Wal Basses
History
Original Pro Bass brochure
Wal bass guitars first came onto the scene in 1976, when first-call session player John G. Perry asked Ian Waller (“Wal” to his friends), to build a bass that would combine the best features of the ubiquitous Fender and Gibson basses of the time. The bass that he designed looked and sounded unique and it was immediately clear to both men that this was too good an instrument to keep to themselves. The Wal bass story had begun.

Wal and his business partner Pete “the fish” Stevens (a highly skilled wood-machinist and experienced sound engineer) began a short run of Custom basses, the “JG” series, named after the owner of the first of these, John Gustafson, and its short-scale “JP” sister model based on John G. Perry’s.

From the outset Wal talked to top-flight players like Percy Jones, John Entwistle and Alan Spenner, and recording producers like Rupert Hine, involving them in the design process and in road- and studio-testing the instruments he built. This was the Wal philosophy: to build the ultimate instrument, designed by professionals, for professionals.

Virtually every component of the instrument, with the exception of the tuners, was designed from the ground up. The heart of each bass was the revolutionary Wal pickup, which has remained virtually unchanged ever since and is still unrivalled in the sheer range of detail and power it provides.
In 1978 the ‘Electric Wood’ company was formed and began production of the Wal Pro Bass, the first production line instrument. With its innovative electronics and fine build quality, the Pro Bass soon became a market leader and Electric Wood was thriving.
Original Pro Bass brochureNever one to sit still, Wal was already working on new active circuit to replace the scratch-plate mounted electronics of the Pro Bass series and in 1980 the first 20 prototype Wal Custom basses were produced (now generally referred to as the “Mark 1”). The electronics were even quieter and housed in a shielded cavity in the back of the body. Out went the pickup toggle-switch and in came the pan-pot, again an idea put forward by a local musician (with a Rickenbacker bass)

The new Custom was championed by many world-class players like Geddy Lee, Mick Karn and Paul McCartney. None of these players were endorsees, each bought their instrument.
By the mid 1980’s musicians like Stevie Wonder were beginning to push the boundaries of bass, writing parts for sequencers and keyboards that travelled lower than the range available on standard 4-string basses.

Ahead of the game as always, Wal and Pete responded to the players’ needs and the Wal 5-string bass was born. With its sleeker body-shape, the 5-string extended the range of the bass in both directions, introducing a 24 fret neck as well as the low B-string. 4-string versions of this adapted shape were soon commonly requested, and so the “Mark 2” came into being.
Original Wal Mk 1 brochureIn July 1988 tragedy struck, when Wal died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of just 43. Although devastated by the loss of his long-time friend and partner, Pete decided to continue building, ably assisted by his dedicated team, including Paul Herman, who had not long joined Electric Wood after a spell working for Roger Giffin. Pete was determined not to let the Wal bass pass away with its namesake, but to carry on building the world’s finest musical instrument.

In 1994 prompted by the demands of players, they began work on the Wal 6-string bass, taking the opportunity to improve still further on the design of the body. Once again, these improvements trickled down to 5- and 4-string versions and the “Mark 3” range was introduced.

Eventually, Pete decided it was time to retire, but he wanted the Wal name to continue and so approached the only person he could trust to carry on building to the standard that he and the world expected - that person was Paul Herman. Gradually the whole of the Electric Wood inventory made the short journey around the M25 to a brand new workshop space in Surrey and Paul is now personally in charge of production. The build-process and components will remain unchanged - even Wal aficionados will detect no differences between basses emerging from Surrey and those built in High Wycombe, save for one or two subtle design improvements that are creeping in, an evolutionary process that has continued since the Wal bass began.

Sadly after a long illness Pete died in 2011. The world of music lost a great innovator and a true craftsman, but his legacy continues to live on.