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The Gollihur Music Blog
The Top Ten Things Upright Bass Players ignore at their peril - in no particular order (and this includes me; how do you think I came up with the list?!?)
Bridge Creep - As we continually tune up our strings, those strings try to drag the bridge towards the fingerboard. This can result in poor acoustic sound quality (as feet lose firm contact with the bass table), a decline in pickup sound quality, and a permanently warped and frequently falling bridge. Keep an eye on it, your bridge should be perfectly perpendicular (a 90 degree angle) to the bass' top; usually the side facing the tailpiece is straight, and the fingerboard side is curved.
Strings - Listen to them, and listen to other players. New strings are being developed all the time, and there's dozens of variations out there. They can often really improve or otherwise change your sound and playability for the better. I'm not suggesting you become rabid over changes and become a member of the String of the Month Club - just keep your ear to the ground and to your bass. The decline of quality sound of even our favorites is usually gradual and not always so obvious... until you put a new set on!
I already know how to play - Some people keep their heads down and believe their ways are the best ways. They don't stick their heads out of their cubicles to find out what is going on in the world. Those can often be people with no prospect for advancement, and more aggressive players are passing them by. There is no shame in being confident in your knowledge, but it can be foolish not to add to it. We don't have to use it if it doesn't apply, but should not be threatened by something different. Be joyful in valuing ALL types of music, and not afraid to incorporate what we can appreciate into our own personal bag of tricks.
Learning Amplification - How many hours have you spent learning bass and honing your skills as a player - now, compare it to your time actually learning about amplification. All your musical skills are often funneled through a system to which little attention is paid. Spend the time necessary to become knowledgeable about pickups, preamps, amps, all the pieces that delivers your sound... or doesn't!
Trying New Stuff - If you usually say "I Don't Like that pickup, those strings, that bass, that amp... " within the first ten seconds, you're not giving it/them a real chance (or I could say "close-minded" if I were rude). Different is not always bad. I know I'm not smart enough to make a truly educated judgment in such a short time, give innovation a chance!
This is as good as it gets. I've seen many players who have concluded that they can't bow their bass well; those who get uneven sound from their bass, etc. Very often we haven't spent enough time to determine that it's a bow with substandard or old hair, lousy rosin, bad strings or setup, etc., that is at fault. Don't settle on this or other bass issues without determining potential issues that may be limiting you.
Focusing on only ourselves - It's easy to get caught up in our own performance. Don't miss out on what the other players are doing and how your sound, note choices, attack, dynamics... EVERYTHING fits in with what the band is trying to achieve.
Relying on Amplification. If you practice your acoustic bass through an amplifier, stop. If you haven't played a gig totally acoustically in a long time, do so. A good acoustic sound is the root of a good amplified sound. Don't let yourself get lazy and rely on amplifiers, dig in!
Believing everything you read on the net. The net has given an equal voice to both the most knowledgeable and most ignorant. Don't give immediate credence to what you read there. Consider the background and perspective of the author. My first pie in the face goes back several years, resulting from listening to a guy touting a bass string as "the best I've ever played." He was being honest, but it was only the second bass string type he'd ever played.
Forgetting how cool we are. Have you ever noticed that when an advertiser wants to communicate "cool" in their commercials, they'll have upright bass players in the ad or at least have it dominate the background music? Don't forget how cool we are - but then again, don't flaunt it. It only makes non-URB players jealous.
Getting There is Half the Fun
You probably recall the moment when you first got an upright bass... You'll distinctly remember when you were administered the Official Upright Bass Owner Pledge: Raise your right hand and repeat after me: "I (state your name), heretofore affirm I will own a Station Wagon, Truck, Van, or similarly oversized vehicle for the rest of my life."
The types of cars people have managed to stuff their basses into is a popular topic on most all the bass boards, and it can get pretty crazy. It's not something I dwell on, being a SUV owner, but must admit I was impressed when son Mark deftly slid his carved bass into his VW Jetta - it was quite a trick! I'm not up to being a bass contortionist, and even he traded his sporty Jetta for a VW SUV last month.
My Dad's '62 Ford Falcon station wagon competently transported the bass when I gigged in high school, and my girlfriend's (soon to be wife) huge '54 Ford swallowed the bass without complaint. I think my favorite college story is when Scott, the other bass major at Rowan University (Glassboro State College in 1968), took me cross country and on the ferry across the Delaware River to Pennsylvania to my first lesson with Neil Courtney (Philadelphia Orchestra; damn, I wish I'd paid better attention back then!). Good thing the weather was good, because his bass was stuck straight up in the back seat of his Corvair convertible! I wish I had a photo.
A parade of bass-capable cars followed... a '61 Ford Falcon (folding front seat!) coupe, a big fat '64 Plymouth POS with pushbutton automatic (my first and last lesson in replacing a blown engine), my beloved, long-lived '70 Opel station wagon (my first new car: just $65.24/mo for 36 months!), a rattletrap '68 VW bus (who needs heat on the way back from a NYE gig?? My fingers are still numb), '78 Ford Fairmont station wagon, '81 Ford E100 van... and the list goes on.
I know players continue to try to skirt the Bass Prime Directive, as I get calls to find out if the Gollihur Bass Case is water resistant (material, yes, but zippers and seams, no) so they can put their bass on the roof rack even when rain is predicted. Today's non-truck SUV choices in the automotive world have shrunken, with station wagons (businesslike sedan in the front, big booty in the back, kind of a Mullet Car) becoming nearly extinct. Often, the SUVs replacing them really don't have enough space behind the rear seats to enable URB transport. How about mini minivan? I think the Nissan Cube is cute, but it would probably fail the URB Test, and I probably couldn't pass the age test to own one... I guess I'll have to embrace my rapidly maturing Inner Old Fart and check out a Volvo wagon.
Or do you think GM will start selling Opel Station Wagons in the States again anytime soon? Bob
Tommy can you hear me?*
To me, one of the most important ingredients in music performance is the interaction with the other musicians. But to interact everyone has to listen.
That's the downfall of far too many players. You know them — those who play at you rather than with you. And it's no secret — most of we bassists know our place in the universe, and that's not demeaning in the very least. We are supportive, we provide the foundation on which the music is built. We work in partnership with the drummer (or in the case of bluegrass, we are the drummer) and lay down the landscape on which the other players plant. (Does that make us the grass in bluegrass?)
But that doesn't mean just a series of repeated patterns (thank God!)... oblivious to what's going on. It can mean listening to the other players and dialing back the dynamics (volume), playing a more crowded or rhythmic variation of the theme, or throwing in a more melodic, cello-like counter line. It can be holding back the beat, doin' a funky hesitation hiccup, or emphasizing a passage... the variations are endless and depend on the type of music. This is really playing with the band, and I don't mean playing in the musical sense, but playing... y'know, FUN type playing, exchanging a volley of notes with the lead player, accenting beats with the drummer... I just love it! But we also have to be listening to them to pickup on their signals!
Are you a passive or active bassist? (and this has nothing to do with electronics) We start out by actively listening and playing heads up ball. That's how we can best support the band and help to make it a cohesive unit rather than individual musicians each marching to their own drummer. Visually engage the glazed over eyes of the bored rhythm player and throw out a few notes to get their attention. Look around for something to throw at them. Or better yet, throw a couple rhythm changes at the drummer. Make him (her) listen to you so you can start to play together. And I do mean, play.
Keep it fresh! Bob
P.S. When playing in an orchestra, you may want to think twice before following some of these suggestions.
*The Who, many years ago
Choosing the Rig for the Gig
When I look back at my gigging adventures over the last forty-five years (yikes!), I can almost always relate my choices of amplification to the gigging period in time. Sure, the financial implications have always factored into choices, especially when I was raising kids and putting them through college, but I still can't make myself buy beyond what I actually need.
In my early days when URB gigs became fewer - as "Fender Bass" was the hot sound for groups - a larger amp was what I needed to have to cut the gig. However, you can never know what gig might pop up; I still remember playing that summer of regular restaurant trio gigs on URB with my big black padded Kustom 3x12 amp dominating the stage. Too bad I had to sell my old Ampeg SB-12 to buy the Kustom for the rock gigs. These memories have been instrumental in my choices of separate amps and speakers, and my preference for two speaker cabs so I can bring two and leave one in the truck if the gig doesn't call for it.
These days I use an Acoustic Image Contra for most URB situations, as volumes are low and often almost acoustic. My big Euphonic Audio rig handles the bass guitar gigs and any URB/EUB situation that the Contra won't cut.
After all those years of skimping on gear because of money, I've definitely come to the conclusion that I will always bring something I'm sure will more than carry the room. When your amp is not powerful enough or cannot be EQ'd sufficiently to cut the gig, you end up trying to compensate by playing harder, which can hurt tone and negatively influences the overall sound.
While I very much appreciate the lower weights of amps and cabs, my philosophy remains "Four sets of good sound is worth a couple extra trips to the van." That's why I have that wonderful little folding hand truck. When my sound sucks I am not a good person to be around, and it gets in the way of my musical joy and creativity that I like to bring to a gig.
What you choose and the level of that gear should largely be influenced by what your actual needs are, and it's always a good idea to try to make the rig flexible. It will also be dependent on the depth of your pockets and whether you view music as a money generating activity or if it has morphed into a "hobby"... as it has for me.
Time for Winter Maintenance...
It's Winter here in New Jersey, the time when we retreat to the warmth of our homes and avoid sticking our noses outside until Spring grows closer. Perhaps I can suggest an alternative to sitting on the couch watching the idiot box (and it has reached new lows in idiocy lately, hasn't it?). I tend to look over all my instruments and equipment and do any required, as well as preventive maintenance, so I can avoid mishaps on stage.
With instruments it's a matter of doing a thorough cleaning, removing the dust bunnies from the pegbox, checking to make sure strings are all healthy from pegbox to tailpiece. You can also examine every area for damage, cracks, scratches that need touching up, etc. (That's not much work with my own two basses, since they are pre-war and both very much look like they've been through a war; I very much doubt I could find any new scratches in amongst all the old ones.) Take a close look at your bridge -- to make sure it's in place and perfectly flat-footed on the top of your instrument -- and maybe renew the graphite at the top of the bridge (and nut) so those strings travel smoothly when being tuned.
The electronics side also needs some attention. If you don't have Electronic Contact Cleaner in your gig bag, it may be a good idea to pick some up and perform a little preventive maintenance; it not only helps to clean away existing corrosion or residue, but can also act as a protectant. Spray each of the jacks in your preamps, stomp boxes, speaker cabinets, and amplifiers (unplug first!) Check batteries in your gear and replace them if necessary. A tip -- stick a piece of masking tape on the back of preamps, electric upright bass battery covers, and stomp boxes with the date when you last replaced the batteries.
Physically checking each amp, cab, and cable is a good idea, looking them over for damage, loose screws, rattling grille covers, etc. Cables can get neglected, too, and they should be examined for cuts and should probably also be checked out for proper operation. I also tend to run through the contents of my gig bag, tossing out expired headache meds and unneeded duplicates, checking that I have duplicates of all the right stuff, my flashlight works, etc. (Note to self: "Add Gig Bag contents" FAQ).
I hope that this gives you something to think about -- besides reality TV -- for these cold winter months. Don't forget to wear gloves to keep those fingertips warm!
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