Sting has played many basses in his career, but arguably the most famous—and the most distinctive—is his heavily worn 1957 Fender Precision Bass. Reportedly, it was acquired by Danny Quatrochi (Sting’s long-serving bass technician) in 1993 on Sting’s behalf, for the video shoot for his remake of the Police song ‘Demolition Man’ for the film of the same name (released that year).
Already looking somehwat roadworn by this point, Sting apparently fell in love with the instrument, and it became his favoured bass for the next thirty years and counting. Losing a little more paint each year, the bass and looks considerably different now to how it did when Sting first acquired it. For the first decade or so of Sting’s ownership, the bass was still sporting its white plastic scratchplate, though by around 2004 the scratchplate had gone, revealing the full glory of the original two-tone sunburst paint job (or what was left of it), and its distinctive wear pattern.
As a Sting tribute act, we simply had to try to recreate this classic bass. Very early on, we got hold of Fender’s ‘Sting Signature’ Precision Bass, and this certainly got us into the right ballpark. However, with its pristine polyurethane gloss finish, it didn’t give us the authentic look we needed. The next step was to have it refinished and ‘reliced’ by top bass player, guitar maker and friend of the band Oli Cahalane. Oli’s brilliant work gave us an infinitely more authentic stage look.
However, there remained some limitations with the bass itself: removing the scratchplate reveals holes in the body that are not present on the original 1950s Fender instruments. The solution? We decided to make our own replica of this iconic bass. Starting with a vintage-correct unfinished ash body and maple neck, these were finished in nitrocellulose lacquer and meticulously distressed to match the distinctive wear pattern and aged look of Sting’s bass (circa 2007, sans scratchplate and showing a high degree of wear). We then created a Maple single-screw tugbar to the original Fender dimensions, which was also finished in nitrocellulose and distressed accordingly. The bass was then assembled using geniune Fender hardware (as used on Fender’s own American Vintage II 1954 Precision Bass reissue—but with stainless steel bridge saddles). Finally, we used the Seymour Duncan Custom Shop ’51 P-Bass Stack pickup, the very same pickup used by Sting himself, and even the same strings that he uses (DR Nickel Lo-Riders, gauges 40-100).
We couldn’t let a good bass go to waste, however, and so our original Fender ‘Sting Signature’ reissue remains with its scratchplate on, and its paint job altered to match the look that Sting’s bass had in the 1990s, allowing us to pay tribute to two different eras of this amazing bass.
Naturally, we needed more than just the 1957 Precision Bass in our quest for ultimate authenticity. Next on the list was the Spector NS-2 which Sting played on the Synchronicity tour in 1983–1984. Sting started this tour using his old trusty 1962 Fender Jazz Bass (see below), and so the story goes, the white Spector NS-2 was brought to Sting on the day of a show in St. Louis, Missouri for his appraisal—and he used it for the rest of the tour.
For the task of replicating this bass, we enlisted The Painted Player to craft us a replica, and so they did, creating the Sting ‘Spectre’ bass especially for the band. This became the main bass used in The Police Academy, and also features in our theatre show STINGchronicity: The Story of Sting & The Police.
The Precision Bass and the ‘Spectre’ however, only cover the period from 1983 onwards. For the earlier part of The Police’s career, our first stop was the Fretless Fender Precision Bass played by Sting primarily between 1978 and 1981. It was seen with a natural finish in the late 1970s, and by the time of the Zenyatta Mondatta tour of 1980–1981 it had been refinished in red. It is the red 1980 appearance of this bass that we sought to replicate, and we did this by acquiring parts from various sources: an existing red Precision Bass body, a new black scratchplate, a new fretless maple neck, and a Seymour Duncan SPB-2 Hot P-Bass pickup.
The next look that the band were keen to recreate was that of the Ghost In The Machine tour in 1980–1981—in particular, the concert in Gateshead on 31st July 1982. On this tour, Sting played the very distinctive looking Steinberger L2 headless bass. Although Ned Steinberger himself has moved on, the modern Steinberger basses marketed by Gibson provide a good likeness to the old L2, and a modified Steinberger XT-2 allows us to recreate this look to great effect.
Finally, the collection wouldn’t be complete without a likeness of Sting’s 1962 Fender Jazz Bass, with natural finish. This has long been one of his favourite basses, and it dates back to before his time with The Police. Sting used this bass on stage in the early days of The Police, and it was also seen briefly at the beginning of the Synchronicity tour, as noted above. It later resurfaced in 1991 for the Soul Cages tour, and can be seen in the sessions recorded at The Lake House in 1993 (and was used for most of the tracks recorded for the Ten Summoner’s Tales album). This was a particularly desirable bass for us to recreate, as it serves so many eras of Sting’s career.
This bass shows a beautiful natural amber tinted finish, which was not one of the finishes offered by Fender in the early 1960s, so it’s likely that this bass was stripped and refinished in clear lacquer, which then darkened over time. By 1983 Sting had upgraded the bridge to a Schaller model, and in 1991 the two volume knobs were replaced with metal Telecaster-style knobs.
In any case, not being a finish that is readily available, we resorted to building a bass to match—as we had done with the 1957 Precision Bass. Starting with an unfinished alder body and maple neck with rosewood fretboard, these were finished with nitrocellulose lacquer and built with authentic hardware, and a set of Seymour Duncan Antiquity Jazz Bass pickups.