The Ox and The Buzzard: The Early History
With the sad and unexpected passing of John Entwistle this summer there has been an understandable interest surrounding the origin of the Buzzard, the bass he has played since 1985. The genesis of the Buzzard has, over time, devolved into somewhat vague or contradictory accounts. To clear the record and get the real story, I sought out the help of Hans Peter Wilfer and Geoff Gould, two gentlemen who were sequentially involved with John Entwistle during the creation of his first Buzzard basses.
Hans Peter Wilfer, the founder of Warwick basses, was approached by John Entwistle to create a special bass for him in 1985. John had some very unique ideas as to how the bass should look and play, so he sat down with Hans Peter and the two of them sketched out the design that the world knows today. Hans Peter came up with the idea of the distinctive "hand grip" on the lower horn, the stylized headstock and many other design specifics that make the Buzzard such a wonderfully unique bass. Then, after the basic body shape was agreed upon, Hans Peter and John sat in a London nightclub called Maggie's and decided to name the bass the Buzzard. In all honesty, Hans Peter says that many drinks were consumed that night and he cannot remember exactly who thought of the name the Buzzard, but he thinks it was John's idea. In the days that followed, Hans Peter then made a few prototypes for John to play and critique, and the design was further polished. The photo shown below is of one of those early prototypes, which shows an early headstock design. It was after the duo decided on the name Buzzard, that the headstock was changed to more closely resemble the beak of said bird.
After playing the Warwick-made Buzzard for a while, John became curious about the various benefits of graphite necks. He contacted his friend Geoff Gould, who was the President and founder of Modulus Graphite. John had known Geoff for quite some time and the two had worked together before, so he asked Geoff to make him some Buzzard basses with graphite necks, which he did. "What John was looking for was a combination of factors", Geoff told me via email. "He liked the fact that the neck was relatively impervious to weather changes, since he liked to play with the strings so close to the frets, they were almost laying on top of them. This was quite difficult with a wood neck because it would necessitate constant truss rod adjustments. He also liked the sonic characteristics of the neck because his dynamic playing style, from the soft, deft touches to the thunderous hammering." Modulus Graphite made at least two Buzzard basses for John, which he paid full retail for as a way to support Modulus. It was later that Modulus provided Warwick with six bass necks for them to use in the production of John's personal Buzzard basses.
So, in regards to the first Buzzard basses that were made for John Entwistle, Hans Peter designed the body to John's taste, and the original Buzzard took flight. Geoff and Modulus Graphite made the next few Buzzards for John, and later provided Warwick with graphite necks for John's personal Buzzards. Warwick has built many Buzzard for the world market since the Buzzard's development in 1986. Hans Peter indicates that Warwick will introduce the latest incarnation of his Buzzard in 2003. In more recent years John's personal Buzzards have been made for him by Status, a UK-based graphite composite instrument builder. The fact that at least three different builders have made a Buzzard is probably what has led to some of the misconceptions about its beginnings.
I want to thank Hans Peter and Geoff for their valuable input, and for helping to clarify the history of one of the most distinctive basses ever made, which was made famous by one of the most important and influential bassists of all time.
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