Gear Rundown: Les Claypool

Ever Wondered What A Whamola Sounds Like?

To refer to Les Claypool as eccentric is a gross understatement - this dude is one of the weirdest people to ever make music. Renowned for his work as frontman and bassist in Primus, Claypool made a name for himself in the '90s as an unbridled wrangler of all things squeamish and off-kilter, and built an insane cult-following for his ability to somehow shape them into virtuosic funk metal bangers, enshrining him as one of alternative music's finest purveyors of low frequencies in the process. As well as totally reinventing bass guitar for an alternative generation, Claypool boasts an impressive resume as a session artist, writing the theme song to the much-loved television series South Park as well as collaborating with the likes of everyone from Sean Lennon to Death Grips. This week, we're getting weird: strap yourselves in as we nose-dive into the murky waters of sweat, melted cheese, and insane bass solos that power Primus, the worst band on earth.





Since the release of their major label debut Sailing The Seas Of Cheese in 1991, Claypool has endorsed the designs of luthier Carl Thompson, a master of creating eyebrow raising, brilliant custom instruments for Claypool to concoct disgusting sounds from - the most notable of which is the 'Rainbow' bass. Claypool's infamous instrument features a unique multi-wood construction made by combining strips of curly maple, walnut, padauk, purple heart, ebony and cocobolo, and boasts six strings with absolutely zero frets. The bass also features a string-thru design, as well as a hand-made wooden bridge and Schaller tuning heads, with an Indian ebony fingerboard and an EMG DC active pickup. 





When Claypool feels the desire to get less weird - if that's possible at all - and use a four-string bass, this Carl Thompson model is his go-to. Decked out with an EMG 35 pickup, an EMG-BTC preamp and featuring a walnut body, this bass features the interesting addition of a Kahler locking tremolo system, which Claypool employs for divebombs and pitch bends throughout 'Those Damn Blue-Collared Tweakers' and 'Wynona's Big Brown Beaver'.





In addition to his whacky 'Rainbow' bass, Les owns another six string Carl Thompson model, a maple fretted design which can be seen in the above image.





Although he tends to stick with his Carl Thompson basses for live work, Claypool can be spotted with a red Fender Jazz Bass in the music video for 'Wynona's Big Brown Beaver', which he dons in unison with a very creepy silicon cowboy suit. Claypool's bass in this video looks similar to the basses favoured by virtuosic Rush bassist Geddy Lee, a longtime hero and occassional collaborator of Claypool's.





After years of endorsing Carl Thompson basses, Claypool recently made the decision to retire his trusted instruments in favour of a new model he co-designed with luthier Dan Maloney, dubbed the Pachyderm bass. Les owns a few of these models, which feature a P-Bass style pickup configuration, and are constructed with specs similar to his old Carl Thompson basses with the notable addition of LED fret-markers.





A celebrated purveyor of different approaches to the bass guitar, Claypool often uses a Ned Steinberger Upright Electric Bass when performing several tracks from 1993's Pork Soda live, including 'Mr. Krinkle' and the haunting 'The Air Is Getting Slippery'.





This old school upright bass can be spotted in the video for 'Mr. Krinkle', featuring a creepily masked Claypool doing his thing in front of a surreal, Wish You Were Here-esque backdrop. Honestly, this band is just too much sometimes.





Ever heard of the Whamola? Don't worry, we hadn't either. Apparently, the Whamola is a one-stringed upright bass with a lever behind the neck to adjust the pitch. In this video, Claypool can be seen hitting the Whamola with a double-bass bow to concoct some absolutely wild sounds, and it's actually not even that weird - in fact, it sounds pretty cool. 





For the most part of his career, Claypool has been a devotee to Mesa/Boogie amplifiers, using their heavy, thumping tone in conjunction with his vapid slapped and tapped style to form the sonic basis of his playing in Primus.



Throughout the '90s, Claypool favoured a Mesa/Boogie Bass 400+ head paired with two 2x15 Mesa/Boogie Diesel cabinets. In the above image, you can also see Claypool incorporating an APA MP-1 MIDI Tube Preamp into his rig, which was used to buffer and beef up his tone in a live setting.



These days, Claypool plays through Mesa/Boogie Subway D-800 heads paired with four Subway Ultra Lite 1x12 cabinets.





Claypool is a lover of all things weird, and his pedalboard definitely reflects this. In the above image, you can spot his board boasting a Boomerang Phrase Sampler, a Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler and a DM4 Distortion Modeler, a Korg ToneWorks AX300B multi-effects used for its envelope filter effect, a Roland PK5 Dynamic MIDI pedal, a Boss VE-20 Vocal Performer, and a Fractal Audio Systems AX-8 Amp Modeler/Multi-Effects unit.