Gibson honors Nirvana bassist Novaselic with signature model

(Dave Molter | Posted 2011-10-03)

Gibson honors Nirvana bassist Novaselic with signature model

"It was 20 years ago today ..." that Nirvana released their seminal "Nevermind" LP in 1991. The late Kurt Cobain is the first name associated with Nirvana for many people, and rightly so, not only because of his tragic suicide, but also because he was the guitarist/singer/songwriter of the group that helped define grunge movement. The 20th anniversary of "Nevermind" was a natural time for Fender to announce a Kurt Cobain Signature Jaguar guitar, and now Gibson is following suit by releasing a Krist Novoselic Signature RD bass.

As a bass player, I have to say that one of the great moments in music video history took place at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards when Novoselic threw his Gibson Ripper into the air, looked up to catch it, and caught the falling instrument … full in the face. So I’m kinda disappointed that Gibson chose the RD Artist as the Novoselic signature mode. Of course if Novoselic had been clobbered by the original RD bass – which weighed only slightly less than a fully loaded cement truck — he’d be as dead as Cobain. Plus, the Ripper is still the only Gibson bass I have really liked — I played one for almost 10 years, mainly because it didn’t have the typical Gibson “fart in a paper bag” sound. But Gibson reissued an updated Ripper a few years back, so I suppose it’s OK that they chose the RD for Krist, who did occasionally play one. For younger players, a bit of RD history may be in order

When the RD series basses debuted in 1977, there was nothing quite like them. First, they featured active electronics designed by Bob Moog, which feature compression and expansion modes that allowed a range of sounds from the two pickups unlike anything but the basses being produced by Alembic in that time period. The body was vaguely reminiscent of the Gibson Firebird guitar or Thunderbird bass, and it had a long, glued-in, chunky neck. Plus, they weighed upwards of 12 pounds. Groundbreaking, yes. But unfortunately, few bassists knew what to do with the electronics, and the RD series never quite caught on. That doesn’t stop the basses from selling for more than $2,000 on EBay today.

The Novoselic Signature model is not quite the same animal as the original RDs. First, it’s a passive bass. Second, it uses a pair of Seymour Duncan Bass Lines STK-J2n and STK-J2b "Hot Stack" pickups rather than the proprietary Gibson pickups of the original. (Novoselic played several versions of the RD with Nirvana, including one that he equipped with Jazz-style pickups that bypassed the active electronics.) The pickups are controlled by individual volume pots and a single master tone control. The 20-fret neck is glued in and topped with an obeche fingerboard (the original RDs had ebony boards). It has a 12” radius that gets chunkier as you move up the fingerboard, moving from .860” depth at the 1st fret to .960” at the 12th. That may take some getting used to, especially if your current bass has a compound radius neck. The bass is available only in an Ebony Black finish. At a suggested retail price of $2,000, the Novoselic Artist should sell for around $1,500, which is a steep price for Gibson’s version of what amounts to a stock Fender Jazz bass (albeit with a chunkier neck.

So, what’s the bottom line on this bass? I’d pass. Or buy a Jazz Bass. Players looking to replicate Novoselic’s “Nevermind” sound would do better to find an original Ripper, which usually can be had for about $1,000, and load it with Rotosound Swing Bass rounds. Or search out an original RD Artist with the Moog electronics. You might pay $2,000 for the original RD, but you’d be getting a one-of-a kind instrument, not an overpriced, boring reissue that's not really like the original.

Dave Molter is MGR's Managing Editor and Bass Guitars Editor. He has played bass professionally since 1965.

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