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The Gollihur Music Blog

Knowing Enough to be Dangerous

There's a strongly held opinion that the setting up and repair of the doublebass is some sort of a "mysterious art;" that things that involve making some sawdust on one's bass should only be done by professional luthiers. And yes, there is definitely some merit to that point of view -- there are jobs that require an in-depth understanding (and quite often, expensive, specialized tools.) And, as I have learned from experience, some of the bigger, more complicated jobs actually cost less, in the long run, if you have them done by a competent repair-person (rather than messing them up yourself and subsequently paying someone else to fix your mistakes).

And that's why we have an extensive, free directory of luthiers on our site for your convenience, for those jobs that are above and beyond what a hobbyist should probably attempt.

That said...

One of the many useful habits I inherited from my Dad (Bob) is the willingness to just jump in and fix something when it breaks down. Yes, "I know enough to be dangerous" has turned out to be more of a truism than I'd like to admit, on occasion. But more often than not, I've been happy to discover that a little patience, some knowledge, and a positive attitude have gotten me through, whether it be repairing a minor plumbing issue in my home, rebuilding the front end of the car I carelessly slid through a stop sign as a teenager, or making some basic adjustments on my bass.

I'm pretty sure that Bob, in turn, learned this trait from his father. My Grandpop, Estle Louis Gollihur (at right) was a man who worked with his hands his whole life; even in retirement, he had a workshop in his basement where he made furniture, stained glass, wooden trinkets and clocks with fancy scroll-work -- whatever tickled his fancy. And, he often said those words above: "If a man made it, another man can fix it." (Worth noting: He also used to love to say "if it won't fit, form it." That's probably not very good advice when it comes to fixing your upright bass.)

His "I can fix anything" attitude is what enabled Bob to obtain his first upright bass, which was a "rescue" from the basement of a neighbor. It had no hardware, no fingerboard, and a garish paint job (it had last been used as a magician's prop!) My Grandpa, who until then had no real experience with the specifics of working on musical instruments, set to work with my Dad (then a teenager) rehabbing that bass. They sourced parts, they did some reading and asking around, and they were able to bring that bass back to life.

That '41 Kay bass (at left) was the one that Bob later took to college, and has played about a zillion gigs on. It's also the instrument upon which Engelhardt loosely based our special exclusive model basses. And my Dad still has -- and plays -- that very special bass to this day (in spite of its unusual past, it really sounds amazing!)

And, as you might have picked up on, this father-son bass experience led my Dad to christen our special lineup of Laminated and Carved Basses with the name "Estle Louis," as a quiet sort of tribute to his own dad's contribution to his musical journey.

So, now you've met my grandfather, on this brief, self-indulgent detour down memory lane. But it was all to say: yes, sometimes it pays to hire someone to do the job; if your bass needs big repairs, special work, etc., you should consult a pro.

But when it all came down to it, it was just another man (or woman) who built it, so if you've got a reasonable facility with hand tools, some of the less intensive jobs -- installing new strings, cutting a bridge, fitting a new pickup -- certainly could be within your skill set. All you need is a little knowledge and perhaps a bit of swagger. And doing your own work can be a great confidence-booster and make you more familiar with your instrument (and how to make it sing.) We do our best to provide you with as much help as we can, and we send you specific tip sheets with lots of the products we sell. And if you want to check one of our tip sheets out before you buy, to see if you can handle doing it yourself? Just ask!

-- Mark

Breaking With Tradition.

We are very fortunate to play an instrument with a long, proud tradition. From its beginnings in (most estimate) 17th century Europe, to the more manageable, modern basses we play today, those of us whom the bass has chosen have a rich legacy to live up to. So it's natural to feel like we ought to to stick to certain conventions that we take for granted.

But sometimes it pays to think "outside the box." For instance, the subsequent development of the overwound gut string -- improving the tone, pitch, and playability of the erewhile massively thick low strings used up to that point -- quite likely saved the double bass from extinction. Until those strings came along, the instrument was very large and difficult to play -- and the indistinct pitch of the low notes usually relegated it to simply doubling the cello line an octave down (hmmmm... "Doublebass?"). This improvement in strings alone provided access to much better-sounding lower notes, while also allowing the instrument to be resized to its more practical current dimensions (ever wonder why our modern basses are called "3/4 size"?) It all helped to evolve the bass into a legitimate instrument of its own standing.

Lots of other innovations have come along as well -- the development of steel and synthetic-based strings; less costly laminated construction techniques; useful modifications like E-string extensions and tunable afterlength tailpieces; the advent of specialized pickups and amplifiers... the list can go on forever, I'd think. We've come to a new renaissance of sorts, with all kinds of new products for the upright bass being introduced all the time. From unconventional pickups like the Ehrlund EAP Linear Microphone, to amps like the stunning Acoustic Image Flex System, there are plenty of revolutionary products in high-end amplification.

But there are even some innovations that are more "ground level" -- things on the instrument itself -- that can be reimagined, and possibly improved. For instance, we recently received our first shipments of the "Deuce Bass Bridge," which surely will challenge the sensibilities of a purist -- but it is worth a look! And the clever Hipshot Freerange Extender offers a temporary alternative to a costly, permanent E-extension.

As always, thanks for visiting, and if you come across any innovative bass thinking we should know about, let us know!

Sometimes It's the Small Things.

Upright basses are peculiar things; they're seemingly simple instruments, but there are deceptive complexities in making yours sound and play its very best. Often, seemingly minor changes can pay off with surprising improvements to its tone. Something as simple and inexpensive as a new tailpiece cable may energize the sound of your bass, and there are countless threads on "no cost" changes you can make -- quite a few folks advocate swapping the E and A string on the tuning machines, for instance. Then you have things like soundposts, replacement bridges, afterlength tuning, and more.

As we in the Northern Hemisphere plod into the Winter season, which is a slow gig time for many of us, it might do us well to look over our instruments and think of some of the small things we can do to maintain, improve, and protect our instruments.

So in this month's newsletter, we focus on the "little" things. We've reprinted our annual "winter care" article, and in our FAQ we discuss details about something small that we often take for granted - signal cables. We also focus on some of the "small" products that you might want to pick up (or put on your holiday gift wish list!), so you can baby your bass now that it's cold outside.

Sweat the small stuff - and keep warm!

-- Mark

Different Approaches

Conventions. Patterns. We're pretty much all creatures of habit. From the music we enjoy, to the "licks" we play when we improvise, to how we approach problem solving; we often fall back on the familiar, the tried and true... basically, that which seems obvious or comfortable.

It's only natural; cognitive scientists have studied the brain and found that our incredibly complex mind often resorts to "shortcuts" and conditioning to quicken decision-making. It's an evolutionary skill, as it's the sort of thing that can save your life; imagine walking through a forest, and out of the corner of your eye, you see a slithering movement -- and hear a light rattling sound. Chances are, you're 30 feet away before you've even had a moment to go through the thought process of, "hmmm... a slithering thing could be some kind of a snake, and that rattling sound, if it's related, that could be... aw, heck, I'm outta here!"

So certainly, habits and conventions - and learning from one's past - can be very valuable. But sometimes it pays to think outside the box. For instance, as a means for getting off a creative "plateau," many songwriting websites and books suggest changing the tuning of your instrument to something unusual; by changing the familiar layout, it forces you to overcome your habitual note patterns - and find an exciting new path.

So with that in mind, in this month's newsletter I talk about a new way of thinking through the process of getting a good sound when you combine a mic and pickup. And Christopher weighs in on the subject with a new practicing philosophy to try.

If you have come up with a great way to approach your bass from a different angle, drop me a line or post it on our Facebook thread!


Separating the Trees from the Forest

So, I just got back from a retailers' roundtable event with a diverse group of retail business-people. In talking to them, one thing really stuck out for me: the stuff we (meaning Gollihur Music) sell can be complicated. I mean, you've got a rather large number of pickups to choose from, right? And then you've got tons of options for preamps, amps... heck, we even briefly talked about the complexity of choosing strings in our email newsletter back in February.

A few times I looked across the table at someone selling (for instance) laser printer toner, and how easy it might be -- with such a black and white (no pun intended) item -- to direct customers to exactly what they need; "You have a Laserjet 5? HERE'S your toner!" But, with a deeper look, I'd probably find that they have their own crosses to bear. And given my choice to spend the day talking about bass - over pretty much everything else the other folks deal with - I think you know which side of the fence I'm coming down on.

In any case, a recent posting on an online message board got me thinking about how complex choosing strings can be; and how it's easy (and deceptive) to hone in on just one piece of the puzzle - in this case, string gauge. So I wrote a new FAQ to cover the subject of gauge. And I made a mental note to continue to focus on building the sort of resource-heavy website that is (hopefully) providing answers to your questions... even some of the ones you didn't even know you had!

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