Eric Fortaleza is someone who thinks big. Whether it’s his playing, his bass collection, his bass IQ, or his ambitions and goals as a performer and sideman, Fortaleza likes to shoot for the stars, and so far it has worked out nicely for him. Reigning in Sydney, Australia, the 29-year-old low ender has played over 500 festivals, concerts, and television performances in his 10-year career. He’s played alongside artists such as Glenn Lumanta, Michael David, Jasmine Rae, David Ryan Harris (John Mayer), Vivian Sessoms (Pink/Christina Aguilera), and even Vulfpeck’s own Cory Wong. He also gets regular calls to serve as a musical director, which he’s currently doing for pop artists Jess & Matt. He has endorsements from companies like Fender, Aguilar, Mono, and Dunlop. And when he’s not in the spotlight on the stage himself, he even manages the careers of other artists. That’s a lot for anyone, but Fortaleza is someone who likes to remain busy.
Sculpted early on by the playing of Pino Palladino, Flea, Jaco Pastorius, and James Jamerson, Fortaleza is always expanding his skill set on bass, which is why he avidly studies the work of the next wave of bass icons in Joe Dart, Tim Lefebvre, Sean Hurley, Bobby Vega, and Michael League. He’s also knows how to utilize social media, as his gorgeous photography of his basses get shared by thousands of followers with each post. We caught up with Fortaleza amidst his busy schedule to chat about his favorite basses of his extensive collection, how the music scene of Australia has helped shape him, and why no one should take social media too seriously.
How and when did you first start playing bass?
I picked up the bass pretty late at the age of 17 in 2007. I formed a band with high school friends and the last instrument that needed to be filled was the bass guitar. I’m sure this is a very common start for most bass players, but regardless of this coincidence, sticking with it has been the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.
Why bass? What drew you towards this instrument in particular?
Other than being the last instrument needed in my high school band, it stuck with me because of the power of the bass – the power to lead and define sections and movements during songs, during jams, and during performances. Harmonically, it’s hard not to gravitate towards a strong bass player. Other than that, Flea is massive reason. That guy just looks like he is having the time of his life every time he plays.
Being from Sydney, Australia, how does the unique music of that region influence your playing?
American music, be it modern or traditional, has had massive impact on Australian musicians. I think the beautiful thing about that is, in Sydney you don’t have to travel to far to hear all the melting pots of genres spread across the United States. This has helped me significantly as the work on offer requires a session musician to be as close to the different genres as possible. With the help of records and the countless amounts of live YouTube videos, you can actually watch your heroes wherever they are around the world. The other great thing about Sydney is that because we are so far away from everyone, there aren’t many purists that can tell us what we can or can’t do. Our interpretations of music and genres has a bit more room for freedom, be it the right way or the wrong way. It helped me as a bass player to focus more on what feels good, rather than worrying too much on what is genre-specifically appropriate.
Would you say that Australia has a particular vibe when it comes to bass players and their style?
That unique melting pot of different influences from around the world really makes Sydney such a beautiful place for bassists. It’s a very small scene compared to other main cities around the world, but because it’s so small, the standard or high musicianship is quickly set. The top working Australian Bass Players are very unique, and growing up, I always looked up to these people. Steve Hunter, Phil Scorgie, Adam Ventoura are some Sydney bass legends that the world needs to know.
You’ve played with a diverse list of artists. How do you approach each gig authentically?
There are always a combination of two factors musically that I try to bring to the table regardless of the artist, regardless of the recording, and regardless of the show. Those are offering your original approach and offering to be as musically appropriate as possible. Having the mixture of both of these factors helps you move forward in your career and gives your original voice longevity. We can get lost in always trying to sound like somebody else, and we can lose gigs when we choose ego over the music. Offering a healthy musical balance is the only way not to lose yourself but also make sure you are making money to pay your bills. Regardless of how you balance those approaches, first and foremost is that you don’t be a dick. Your attitude is what is going to make people recommend you and ring you back.
What is your ideal bass tone and how do you achieve it?
As a session musician, I try to have a lot of different tones and sounds covered. Maybe that is also my justification on buying a few too many basses [laughs]. But gun to my head, if I had to pick one sound, it’s my current set up, which is a Fender Precision with flatwounds, a Bondi Effects 2026 Compressor, and an Aguilar AG700 with a SL410 cab.
To me this just sounds like a bass. Aguilar Amps to my ears offer the flattest responses and add the least color to my tone. Same deal with the Bondi Effects Compressor, which I use very subtly. Out of all the compressors I’ve tried, it colors the least and has the flattest response. I really just want to hear what the bass I’m plugging in truly sounds like, and this has been where I felt the most at home and has helped me share my music.
Not all bassists use compressors. How important is that to your sound?
I only started using compressors live for the past two years. I highly advise to not use one until you truly know the limitations and capabilities of what your fingers can do alone. Getting used to compressors early will slow down your technique of playing with a wide range of dynamics with your touch alone. Or, do whatever you want and make music however you want.
Describe your playing technique. How much do your hands factor into your overall sound?
My hands are the key to my sound. I think that’s a very common trait to most professional bass players. I studied a lot of my heroes and tried to copy their techniques as close as I can. I will never be able to play exactly like any of them, but by failing to be them it helped me mold my own technique. It’s all about what sound I’m trying to get. I feel very at home to the Pino thumb/palm mute technique. This feels very appropriate to most neo-soul / Motown / R&B style of music. But traditional finger-style is my bread and butter. I try to go from the soft Jamerson-touch to a heavier Joe Dart style depending on what’s needed and what I feel like. But when I do try to play with a plectrum, I learned my technique from the master, Bobby Vega. I remembered hitting him up when I was in San Francisco for a lesson, and seeing his approach helped me refine my way to playing with a pick. From there Bobby became a friend and it’s an enormous honor to be able to have relationships with your heroes. My playing style is seriously just my own way of trying to play like all the masters before me.
You have an amazing collection of basses. Which are your most prized ones?
My current line up of basses have all been survivors of multiple culls and refinements. I’ve bought, sold, and traded many instruments to be able to have the toolbox I have now. They all have a story, an importance, and a value in some shape or form in my current headspace and career. But if I could just name the most “prized” ones on face value it would be these:
1. 1963 Fender Precision Bass (L-Series) in Daphne Blue (refinished).
- Original Gold Hardware
- Originally 3-tone sunburst and was refinished in the 80’s
- This bass is my number 1 and will continue to travel around the world with me.
- Fender Custom Shop Master Builder “Jason Smith” will be doing a replica of this soon.
2. 1959 Gibson EB-2 Bass
- My bass with the least clarity.
- Check these basses out, they didn’t have a long manufacturing run, but they rock.
- Doesn’t work for every gig, but it has a very unique voice. Nearly like a sub-synth.
3. 1966 Fender Jazz Bass (CBS) in 3-Tone Sunburst
- This bass is like a transition period bass.
- White Neck Binding, but it has dot in lays rather than block.
- It also has the paddle tuners or lollipop tuners.
4. Fender Custom Shop Pino Palladino Precision Bass
- Some of the best precision basses Fender has ever built.
- This one is extra special, because when I met Pino I asked him to sign it, so there’s a massive signature at the back by the man himself.
You have endorsements from companies like Fender, Aguilar, Mono, and Dunlop. What advice would you give other players on landing endorsement deals?
A lot of young artists and musicians always ask me this and this is the breakdown on how I approach this.
1. You truly have to love the brand you are using. Companies will know if you have no idea what you are using and “trying” to represent. You have to truly believe in the product that you want to get an endorsement from. I would still use every single company I am endorsed by regardless if they are endorsing me or not.
2. You have to realize companies and brands don’t owe you anything. You can’t waltz in and demand and ask what they can do for you. You should walk in pretty much understanding what you can offer them. Most companies love working with grass-roots musicians, but you have to be forward thinking and be honest of what you can or can’t offer. They deal with so many artists and I’m sure they can see through someone bullshitting their way.
You also have quite the presence on social media. How big of a role does that play in being a hired gun musician nowadays?
I approach my socials and every corner of the internet as a personal show reel or portfolio. I just want to make it easy for enyone to know exactly what I do and how I do it. Having a collection of videos all over YouTube shows the capacity of my musicality and helps anyone that wants to hire me see how I play. I also make sure these videos sound good, so if anyone that wants to hire me in the studio, they know I am capable of recording a great bass sound. Instagram was just a way of me sharing my love for beautiful basses and my sharing my adventures as a session musician. This was all by coincidence really. I just really enjoy playing songs and making sure it sounds good and I enjoy taking photos of my basses and the many basses I have seen along the way. As I continued to share and do what I love, it became a platform where it was easy to search for who I am and see what the hell I do. I started understanding that these platforms became online portfolios. It gives artists and managers affirmation that the person they are hiring or the person they got recommended is someone who knows what the hell they are doing. I have a few rules that I stick to though and it has helped me not get to caught up in this online social media world. This helps me take care of my mental health.
1. Social Media is lie.
- The lack of physical and face-to-face communication diminishes people’s empathy and most comments and conversations aren’t as real as having a conversation with someone in person.
- So to achieve this, I have to accept that if the comments are negative, THEY DON’T MATTER. But with that, I also have to accept that the positive comments ALSO DO NOT MATTER. If you only focus on one, you either get depressed from negativity or you build your ego and you live in an echo chamber. You can find your own balance, but my approach is just a blanket statement to all of it. That’s how I cope.
- I would rather invest more of my emotional energy to the people I meet and see in my person. Even when I talk to my heroes on Instagram, the goal is to meet them in person and make sure that these friendships are real.
2. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t post or share it.
- I have a lot of friends who I tell them to work on their online “portfolios” but some people feel “gross” when they try to post what other people post on socials. Trying to figure out the algorithm, thinking when the best time to post, knowing the right hashtags. It can be overbearing and too much.
- So here’s my mindset: as musicians and artists we are here to share. But the moment posting something doesn’t feel right or it feels forced, don’t post or share it. Just make sure whatever you are sharing is something that feels right for you. The moment you try to keep up with everyone else, you’ll just hate yourself. Your story is worth sharing, but it has to be the way you feel comfortable sharing your story. Find your own way.
Who are the bass players that have influenced you the most?
Pino Palladino has been one of the biggest influences in my playing. He was the one that helped me realize that groove and pocket is super important. This has shaped my career and this very mindset has been the core reason why I continue to work and travel playing music today.
This is also the very reason why I look up to Sean Hurley. He is a great example of someone I aspire to be. Personally knowing him and how he approaches sessions and artists is the reason why he is one of the most sought after bass players in the US. It’s also hard not to give credit to the masters before me, from James Jamerson to Jaco Pastorious. If you haven’t personally studied them, you probably have in some way or form by studying others they have influenced. Bobby Vega also opened my ears and my mind to funk plectrum playing and his approach is something I aspire towards. The list can go on forever from Ray Brown, Michael League, Steve Swallow, Marcus Miller, etc.
But someone right now who inspires me to push boundaries is Tim Lefebvre. The way his mind works with his approach sonically and harmonically on the bass shows me that you can focus on groove-based playing and push the sounds of what traditional bass sounds are. Check out his playing on Mark Guiliana’s BEAT MUSIC (The Los Angeles Improvisations).
Fender 1963 Precision Bass
Fender 1966 Jazz Bass
Fender Custom Shop Pino Palladino Precision Bass
Fender Custom Shop Sean Hurley Precision Bass
Fender Custom Shop '64 Jazz Bass
Fender Custom Shop '60 Jazz Bas
Hofner Violin Bass - Vintage '62
Gibson 1959 EB-2 Bass
Ernie Ball Music Man Stingray Classic
Jeff Mallia Custom Made 5 String
Aguilar AG500 SC
Aguilar Tone Hammer 700
Aguilar Tone Hammer 500
Bondi Effects 2026 Compressor
EHX Nano Pog
Darkglass Microtubes Vintage
MXR Bass Envelope Filter
MXR Dunlop Bass Wah
MXR Bass Chorus Deluxe
MXR Sub Octave Bass Fuzz
MXR Vintage Bass Octave
MXR Bass Octave Deluxe
MXR Talk Box
Way Huge Pork & Pickle
Dunlop Bass Strings (Stainless Steel, Nickel, Flatwound)
64 Audio A12t IEMs
BackBeat (Rumble Pack)
TC Electronic PolyTune Clip On Tuners
Mono Creators Bass Cases & Pedal Cases
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