Up Close & Personal: MonoNeon

Subscribe to Mixdown Magazine


Up Close & Personal: MonoNeon

MonoNeon Fender
Words by Pete Hodgson

MonoNeon tells us all about his dizzyingly eye-catching collaboration with Fender on a candy-coloured Jazz Bass V.

One of the most eye-catching musical instruments released in 2022 was the Fender MonoNeon Jazz Bass V. Seriously, this thing is unavoidable on a music store rack, on a stage or even jumping at you from an iPhone screen. 

Read up on all the latest interviews here.

It’s as colourful and bold as its namesake artist – Dywane Thomas jr, better known as MonoNeon, and is the kind of signature instrument that brings more to the table than just a cool finish: it’s a fully developed, fully realised instrument with its own charms and quirks outside of its utility as MonoNeon’s primary instrument for his effervescent funk creations. 

Mixdown: So what exactly is it about the Jazz Bass format that does it for you so much?

Well, I grew up with that sound like a lot of us, you know, listening to a lot of records from the ‘70s and even the ‘60s and ‘80s. That sound was always part of the music I grew up listening to, whether it’s Marcus Miller or Paul Jackson or Herbie Hancock or whatever. That sound was always in my ear from an early age.

In terms of playability, a Jazz Bass neck is kind of tiny and I feel like a Jazz Bass kind of guides you towards playing the music it wants you to play, right?

Yeah! I just always liked the feel of a Jazz Bass. It just feels good. And it’s such a versatile instrument, and it’s comfortable in the studio and live for a long period of time on stage. It’s always been comfortable, a comfortable bass for me to play.

So when it came time to creating your own version of the Jazz Bass with Fender, what were you looking for? What features did you need and what sets this bass apart from other Jazz Basses?

I’m pretty simple when it comes to preamps and tone controls. The bass just has mid, treble, and bass controls and I told them I just wanted a simple preamp because I didn’t want to think too much about tone selection, because I’m not really picky about it.

But the only thing I was really, really picky about was the shape of the neck and how it really felt and the quality and the stability. And I told them I like the roasted maple neck, and I told ’em exactly the specs, you know, the neck width and the profile and all that stuff. So that was really the focus.

And also the colours: that’s my two favourite colours, yellow and orange. But I was really focused on the neck, the quality of the neck. 

Tell us about the pickups.

They’re humbucking pickups. I’ve always loved the sound of a humbucking pickup. They’re very growly and very versatile. You get a lot of different things from it but the most specific thing I like about it is that growl – and the sustain! You get that sustain!

So the graphic designers reading this would probably love to know how specific you were with the colours. Did you bring in colour swatches and say ‘This is the exact yellow and exact orange’?

Oh yeah, I did do that. I told them the HTML codes for the colours of the body and the headstock: the exact numbers for those particular colours and everything. I’m really big on if the colour stands out or like it glows under ultraviolet light. If it doesn’t, I really don’t like it, but this bass does, definitely!

You seem like a very visually-guided person. Do you have synesthezia?

Actually I don’t have synesthezia. I dunno where this love of colour and just wanting to have some type of, you know, visual literacy came from. But if I see a painting or I see something like a group of words, I can interpret it musically. Like, some other people may be like ‘It’s just a picture’, but I look at it and think ‘I can play that!’ 

It may sound weird, but it’s like, I wanna just play like a Mark Rothko painting and whatever that means to me. Or a Dali or Man Ray… I just wanna be able to incorporate that in some way. Even if it doesn’t really make sense to the other person, or even me, I know that there’s some inspiration there. 

One thing that really stood out to me in the Fender demo videos is just how much is going on in between your notes. There’s all this detail, all these percussive elements and ghost notes, and not in a traditional slap-and-pop kind of way. That’s a really specific style and it must be really hard to tab out! How did that develop for you? You must have been aware of doing it when you were learning it, right?

I think I was, yeah. I probably had to be since I guess I was already hearing it, and I just really just started to hone in on it and just really practise and practise it. But I really don’t know how I do it, really, cause I’m not really a technical player. I really don’t have a lot of technique. It’s really just more just the imagination and just determined to play what I hear. 

So I’m not really a technical player. I wish I was, I wish I could do all the crazy tapping! I try to work on that, but it’s more so just an imagination with what I already have and just trying to improve on that and cultivate it and build on it.

I mean, you say you’re not a technical player and I guess maybe from a conceptual point of view that could be true, but try to figure this stuff out and play it back when you’re not you! Do you find people coming up to you going ‘How?!?’ Or sending you videos of them trying to play your stuff?

Sometimes, and sometimes they actually play it right, but I don’t think my style is really hard. I know I have my own little quirks and my own little idiosyncrasies, but other than that, the way I play is really blues. It’s all blues. Cause that’s where I come from being from Memphis. And my dad played on a lot of stuff that really influenced me as a kid, knowing his work as I got older. He played on a lot of stuff that I grew up listening to, like Mavis Staples. And my grandmother, she was playing blues all the time around the house and family reunions, so the blues is really the foundation. 

Everything I do, even when I do the avant-garde stuff, trying to be like a John Cage of the bass, it’s still the blues every time.

Check out the entire Fender x MonoNeon collaboration here.