M U S I C I A N â€™ S H A N D B O O K
[ b a s s ] the essential guide to buying, playing and more
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s of tut orials and tip s
Choose the right BASS n LEARN STYLES AND TECHNIQUE n ESSENTIAL GEAR MAINTENANCE n SUPERCHARGE YOUR PLAYING n RECORD LIKE A PRO & MORE! n
ESSENTIALS 8......... Anatomy Of The Bass
10....... Choosing A First Bass
55....... Play Bass Safely
14....... Tuning Guide
59....... Beginners’ LESSONS
16....... Amps Guide
70....... Intermediate LESSONS
22....... Effects Guide
76....... Advanced LESSONS
26....... Strings Guide 28....... Pickups Guide 30....... Accessories Guide 34....... BASS ICONS 42....... THE History Of Bass
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85 BASS FOR LIFE
32....... Geddy Lee
85....... BASS Maintenance
52....... Victor Wooten
94....... Modding Your Bass
80....... Robert Trujillo
102..... Writing Killer Bass
100..... Stanley Clarke
108..... REHEARSAL GUIDE
110..... Recording Guide 114..... Play Amazing Gigs
Don’t forget to check out the VIDEO EXAMPLES on your cover CD! Musician’s Handbook : BASS | 5
Musician’s Handbook : bass
your bass Electric and acoustic bass guitars dissected component by component. Time to get to know your weapon of low-frequency destruction inside out!
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Also known as tuners or tuning machines, these control the pitch of the strings. Wind the non-ball-end of the string around the machine head, with the end of the string tucked inside each head. Good quality machine heads will turn smoothly and firmly with no sudden jerks.
The end of the neck opens out into this larger area of wood, containing the machine heads and giving your bass valuable balance. A string tree may also appear on the headstock, guiding the strings from the nut to the machine heads. Headless basses also exist, for example
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those made by Status and Steinberger, and have a lighter feel.
inches). Bass necks are often made of a strong, affordable wood such as maple.
Made of plastic or metal – often brass – the nut anchors each string, ensuring that the string spacing and height is even. The material of the nut affects the tone of the bass and can be replaced or recut if you prefer.
The piece of wood, graphite or a hybrid that bears the fingerboard and frets. The finish of the neck is crucial to the feel of the bass, as is its length (the ‘scale length’, most commonly 34
The metal frets determine the pitch of each string when held to the fretboard, unless you’re playing a fretless bass of course. It’s important that frets are even in height, well finished at the edges and not over-worn, as can be the case on older basses. A two-octave bass will have 24 frets: 20, 21 and 22-fret necks are all common.
This crucial strip of wood is attached to the neck and is also known as the fingerboard.
essential info | ANATOMY of the bass
acoustic bass 3
The body of an acoustic bass is designed to function without an amp, so it’s hollow and thicker than an electric body to allow a sound to resonate within it.
An acoustic bass pickup may often be a piezo unit, located beneath the bridge, or a more conventional unit located within the soundhole.
Acoustic basses often come with a preamp that allows the player to change the tone and volume: there’s often an on-board tuner and battery indicator.
Often constructed of rosewood, maple, mahogany or one of a wide range of woods, the ’board is where much of your tone is generated.
neck and which determines the angle of the neck and thus the height (‘action’) of the strings, as well as the feel and playability of the bass.
Roundwound, flatwound, halfwound or even rubber or nylon, your strings are the feature of your bass that you’re most closely in touch with. The treble end of their tone will diminish the more you play them: you’ll need to decide when to change them accordingly. See our strings guide on page 26 for more info. Four-string basses are still the most common, followed by five-strings, six-strings and then unusual configurations such as eight-strings and 12-strings.
Attach your strap here if you want to play bass standing up: consider replacing the buttons with straplocks for extra security.
Truss rod cover
Open this chamber to adjust the truss rod, a metal column which runs the length of the
vibration of your strings and converts it to a electric signal to be replicated from your amp. See our pickups guide on page 28 for more information: they come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and costs.
The main chunk of your bass! Most electric basses have a double cutaway – in other words, two ‘horns’ – but single-cutaway basses are also common. The weight, wood density and chamfering (or edge-shaping) of the body are all influential when it comes to tone and playability.
The anchor point for the strings at the bottom of the body. In general, the stronger and heavier the bridge, the more imposing the tone and solid the feel.
The magnetic device(s), either passive or active (powered), which picks up the
Also known as pots (short for potentiometers), these knobs control volume, tone and other features of your bass. There may also be selector switches and LEDs to indicate various functions. Hidden beneath the body of your bass you may also have a battery-powered preamp for extra boost.
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Musician’s Handbook : bass
Choosing Your First
So, you’ve decided you’d like to play bass? That’s an excellent decision – and having made it, you’ll want to give yourself the best possible chance of success, says Kev Sanders.
hoosing your first bass guitar is an exciting prospect – but not one to be rushed. Make sure you’re clear about what you want to achieve, and bear in mind the kind of music you want to play, your goals and every other aspect of your new project. All of these will influence your final choice, so before you spend your hard-earned cash, spend some time doing a little research – it’ll be time well spent.
LOOKS AREN’T EVERYTHING It’s usually the case that people starting out will be influenced by which instrument their heroes play, or even by how the instrument looks. This matters. One of the reasons that Leo Fender’s Precision and Jazz bass designs were such a huge success from the start is that they just looked so damn good – and they still do! Of course, you should bear in mind that if all goes to plan, you’ll soon be standing on stage in front of an audience, and you’ll want to be seen with a bass that (at least in your opinion) looks the part. Looks aside, consider whether you want to keep things traditional and go down the simple, single pickup passive design route, or go for something more contemporary with active electronics and a powerful EQ. There’s so much that’s just plain right about those early Fender designs that many would argue that choosing either a Precision or Jazz design for your first bass is the safest and best choice. On the other
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hand, if you want an active bass and you’ve tried one that you really like the sound and feel of, then by all means that’s what you should have.
FIRST STEPS On a related note, if you only ever intend to play a five- or six-string bass, then start off with one, although bear in mind that most players start with a traditional four-string and stick with it for the rest of their playing careers, only using an ERB (extended range bass) or fretless when they need to. Once you’re clear about what you want and the budget you have, you can start being a bit more specific and make a shortlist of particular models you’re interested in. If you’ve never played a bass of any kind before, then the most useful first step is to try out as many different basses as you can get your hands on. Try to experience some of the very cheapest instruments as well as a few of the most expensive. Develop a sense of value: why is one bass £500 and another £5000? Does the more expensive one sound 10 times as good? Does it feel 10 times nicer to play, or look 10 times better? You’ll soon learn that after a certain price point, buying a bass is very much a case of diminishing returns and that price alone isn’t necessarily a good guide to the intrinsic value of the bass as an instrument – as your instrument. Talk to as many knowledgeable people as you can – players, sound engineers and teachers. What are their views? What do they recommend? Online forums such as
buyer’s guide | buying your first bass
Ten great sub-£300 basses SQUIER CLASSIC VIBE 60S JAZZ Classic looks and sounds from the stable that brought you the original
EPIPHONE THUNDERBIRD Another classic design
STERLING BY MUSIC MAN SUB RAY 4 Timeless looks and a bright, punchy sound. Designed by the guys at Music Man
YAMAHA RBX 375 Yamaha have been making the RBX range for years now and they’re better than ever
IBANEZ SR300 Mahogany body, five-piece maple neck and quality hardware and pickups
SQUIER AFFINITY P-BASS No-nonsense classic design, and apparently the world’s bestselling four-string
VINTAGE EST 96 Stingray looky-likey with a top quality Wilkinson pickup and three-band EQ
EPIPHONE EB 3 The traditional look of the old Gibson SG basses, but with a full-scale neck
YAMAHA TRBX 174 Quality exotic woods and the versatility of a P/J pickup configuration
GRETSCH JUNIOR JET BASS New short-scale offering with tasteful good looks and a lovely deep, rich sound
Musician’s Handbook : bass | 11
Musician’s Handbook : bass
bass accessories guide
You’ve got a bass, and you’ve bought an amp. What else do you need? Quite a lot, says Mike Brooks – but never fear, we’re here to help you compile the ultimate accessories list.
s you’re a bass player, birthdays and Christmases are easy for your family and friends, because the list of accessories and extras you’ll need is never ending! Here’s our pick of the essentials.
GET CONNECTED Starting out you’ll need to equip yourself with a quality lead (or cable), five to 10 metres in length. Don’t buy the cheapest one available as this can be a false economy: look to spend somewhere between £15 to £40. Once it’s plugged into an amp, moving the lead should not produce any obvious noises through the amp. Make sure you buy a spare cable or two, just to be on the safe side. Next on your list is a strap. Here, sensible shopping can make the difference between whether having a bass around your neck is an enjoyable Consider upgrading to a wireless system for large gigs
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experience for you or not. Due to their dimensions, weight and physical nature, bass guitars are not always the most comfortable of instruments to wear – so ideally, you should look for a strap that distributes the weight of your instrument and lessens the impact on your shoulders and back. Thin cotton straps are fine for guitars but not very helpful when it comes to bass guitars, and don’t even consider stretchy nylon straps. A wide strap is desirable, and one that can be adjusted for length is also helpful – but for our money, the Comfort Strapp with its comfortable neoprene design is a godsend, available in a variety of lengths and priced around £30 to £35. It’s also wash-friendly if you sweat a lot during gigs, an advantage which leather lacks.
A tough case is essential for travelling with your bass
BAG IT UP You’ll need a case or gigbag if you intend taking your bass out of the house. Here, there are two main factors you need to assess: the level of protection required, and transportability. A hard case will afford more protection but will be heavier and more cumbersome, while a gigbag is easier to carry. The latter range from cheap, thin bags to expensive, heavily padded affairs, with every budget
being catered for. If your bass doesn’t come with a hard case, and many don’t, decide whether you will need a flight case (a good idea if your bass will be transported in vans with other equipment), a hard case, a semi-hard case or a rigid moulded plastic case. Each
getting started | accessories Professional-quallity gibags will protect your precious gear from careless roadies and baggage handlers Picks get dropped easily. Invest in a dozen or two for safe keeping!
has their pros and cons and can range in price from £30 to £300, while gigbags start cheaper but can cost the same amount. Your case or gigbag is also a good storage point for your strap and cable until the point comes where you need a gig case for transporting extras to rehearsals and gigs.
TUNING IN Before you learn to tune using harmonics, a decent tuner is a wise investment and will also allow you to adjust the intonation of your bass quickly and effectively. Tuners that fix to the headstock are all the rage and start around £10: their size and ease of use makes them a no-brainer, but if you want a handheld unit or foot operated pedal there are many battery- or mains-powered models from Boss, Korg, TC Electronic and elsewhere, from £20 up to £100. Straplocks, although not essential, are extremely useful and can prevent embarrassing, nay, distressing episodes where your bass decides to hurtle towards the floor having parted company with the strap. Essentially, they lock the strap around the strap buttons on the body, although history has shown that no straplock system is infallible. There are numerous systems on the market from the likes of Schaller, Dunlop and LOXX among others, ranging from £12 to £30. Many a player has made do with rubber washers, like the rubber discs found on Grolsch bottles, but for peace of mind, locks are a wise investment. Invest in some basic tools as these will
make adjusting your bass and maintaining it a lot easier, all of which can be found in any hardware supplier or online. A selection of screwdrivers, thin-nosed pliers and Allen keys for truss rod and saddle screw adjustments are all very helpful, and don’t take up much room. Planet Waves produce several products that offer a string cutter with a string winder attached to the same tool.
KEEP IT CLEAN On the cleaning front, a duster is always worth carrying as it’s surprising how quickly the neck can feel sticky: the body can also become covered in greasy fingerprints and smears. A bottle of lemon oil is often recommended for lubricating and cleaning the fingerboard, although we prefer Dr Duck’s Axe Wax due to its wood-friendly composition, or Ernie Ball Fretboard Conditioning wipes which can be bought in sachets or larger tubs. You’ll be amazed how quickly your fingerboard becomes dirty! Lubricating the fingerboard isn’t a task that needs to be done more than once a year here in the UK, but if you’re only going to change your strings after long intervals, get into the habit of lubricating and cleaning the board when you do change them. If playing with a pick is something you want to have in your playing armoury, it’s worth buying an assortment of picks of
different thicknesses and materials, perhaps from several different manufacturers, until you find a pick that works for you. You may find different picks work better for certain playing techniques than for others, and if one type doesn’t cover all the ground you need, switching between variants is an option. Some players like the rasp of a light, flexible pick while others prefer the solidity of a thicker version, particularly for rock playing. Finally, a guitar stand may not seem like a big deal until the moment when you haven’t got one and your bass falls over when you lean it against your amp! There are various configurations and you don’t have to spend a fortune: a simple A-frame stand will do the job, while a regular-sized stand that dismantles into several parts is ideal and needn’t cost more than £20 or £30. I bought my first stand in 1988 and it’s still going strong! Don’t buy cheap cables... you may regret it!
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Musician’s Handbook : Bass
THE History OF BASS Bass historian Tony Bacon takes us on a journey through the history of the bass guitar. Strap yourself in!
an you handle some time travel? To understand how the electric bass guitar came to pass, we have to go back to the 1940s. Hold on tight and… okay, you can open your eyes now. See those bass players down below? They’re all playing those big acoustic things. Double basses, upright basses. See that bassist there? He’s having a hell of a time in his dance band. Listen, now. It’s impossible to hear him over the saxes and the trumpets and the drummer. Look carefully: he’s got blisters on his fingers to show how hard he’s tried. Leo Fender and his small new firm, Fender Electric Instruments, knew all about this. Switch to 1950. They’ve just put out the Fender Broadcaster, soon to be better known as the Telecaster. We know now, of course, that it was the first commercial solidbody electric guitar and that it would dramatically change the world of guitars. More dramatic still was Fender’s second move: an electric bass guitar. Others had prodded at the
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idea. Ampeg tried adding a pickup to the upright bass. There had been experimental stick-shape electric uprights, from Regal, Vega, and others. Paul Tutmarc and his son Bud advertised a couple of electric bass guitar models from the mid 30s through to the late 40s, but they made no impact. The Fender Precision Bass arrived late in 1951, and by the end of that decade and into the early 60s it had become the industry standard, along with Fender’s second model, the Jazz Bass, launched in 1960.
NICE ‘N’ PRECISE The name of the new Fender Precision was a come-on to musicians who found the unfretted neck of the upright bass too imprecise. Don Randall was general manager of Fender’s distributor, and he soon became a key person in the growing Fender operation. He would go on to name all of the new Fender products, but he didn’t name the Precision. Randall said the Precision name was in fact a typical concoction, springing from Leo’s technicallyoriented mind.
Pic courtesy of Warwick
essentialS | THE History of bass
An entire range of Warwick basses at the company’s facility in Germany
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Musician’s Handbook : bass
Making you the best bassist you can be!
55…Play bass safely
World-renowned health expert Dr Randall Kertz warns us of the perils and pitfalls of carrying a four-kilo chunk of wood and metal around our necks every night
Twelve pages of essential tech tuition to get you up and rolling, delivered by veteran stage and session bassist Paul Geary of Nik Kershaw, Lisa Stansfield and George Michael fame
BGM regular Ellen O’Reilly walks you through five pages of next-level bass workouts
Ready to step up to the plate for the ultimate low-end challenges? Bass educator Phil Mann is ready to take you there
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© Tina K
tuition | play SAFE
play safe W
How to play bass safely, by Randall Kertz, DC
hether you’re brand new to the instrument or a seasoned pro, avoiding injury is essential to longevity and the enjoyment of playing the bass. The first factor one should consider from this perspective is that of warming up. Playing the bass can be like playing a sport. Just as an athlete trains for an event in which they have to perform at their best, so we practise, rehearse, and gig for hours at a time, frequently paying little or no attention to how we stand, move, and so on, which is how many problems occur. Without warming up, muscles won’t get proper blood and oxygen flow through the body’s circulation and may not function properly, increasing the likelihood that one’s forearms, hands and wrists will cramp up and cause pain,
especially if playing intricate or quick repetitive patterns. This usually happens around the second or third song, sometimes sooner, sometimes later depending on how hard you play.
PAIN? NO GAIN Playing through pain is a mistake, as is ignoring it and hoping it will go away: even if it does, your body is shifting strain from primary muscles to secondary muscle groups to help out, the result being that these muscles will also become overused and strained, creating more problems. Warming up doesn’t have to be elaborate: it can be as simple as shaking out the arms and wrists a little, or doing light stretching in a loose, non-rigid manner to prepare the body for performance.
The great bassist Victor Wooten suggests that to warm up only the hands is insufficient. He proposes that if we play with our whole bodies and our minds, one should warm up everything as if you were going to play a sport. Such non-musical activities as playing basketball or light calisthenics help him to feel ready for performance, he says, and ensure that his whole body and not just his hands and arms are warm and ready to go. Once one feels loose, playing something slowly and without tension can get one ready for the upcoming practice or performance. The role of posture and how it relates to playing position is also a very important consideration in playing safely and staying injury free. One should be aware of posture not only when playing but before, in preparation. In standing position, you should
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Musician’s Handbook : Bass
mod Your bass
Master modder Simon McVeigh brings you six modifications that won’t cost the earth – but will make a world of difference to your sound Upgrade your pickups If you’re unhappy with the sound of the stock pickups that came with your bass, then there may be good reasons for this. Perhaps you’ve progressed as a player and outgrown the sound that you started with a few years ago? The sound you got initially was fine back then – but now your bass ears are more mature, you might want and need more than your current pickups can deliver. Whatever the reason for the upgrade, ask
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yourself what sound you’re looking for before you undertake this task. Ask yourself what you want to achieve. More output? Better tone? Greater depth? Once you know roughly what you need to gain from a pickup replacement, then start your research into the types and brand of pickup that are in your price range. You can spend a modest amount or an absolute packet on a pickup, but remember that spending lots of money doesn’t always get you what you are looking for.
The biggest no-no when you are changing pickups is cutting a new cavity into the body of your bass to try and make another pickup fit into it. This will ruin the aesthetic of your bass and possibly reduce its resale price. Fortunately, there is a variety of replacement pickups on the market for most of the popular bass shapes these days – from bespoke handwound artisan products to mass produced units that will slot neatly into the existing cavity on your bass. This makes this a mod that you may feel capable of
BASS FOR LIFE | MOD YOUR BASS tackling yourself, even with limited DIY experience. Of course, if you don’t have any previous experience of soldiering, then practise on some old wire first before you go near your precious bass... Be very careful when using a hot soldiering iron: not only can it burn your precious digits and put you out of commission, it will also melt anything it touches – so don’t let it touch your paintwork or any other wiring. Remember, if you want to sell the bass on as an original instrument then you can put the old pickups back in, so keep everything you take off your bass, bag it, label it and keep it in the case.
Change your preamp There are loads of preamps on the market these days that will supposedly change your sound dramatically – but do some research first. The pickup rule applies here to this type of surgery: never cut the body to make something fit into it. If your chosen preamp won’t fit into your bass, then don’t make it fit: there is usually an outboard version in pedal form. I have a Sadowsky preamp as a pedal, and it’s fantastic: the advantage of this, of course, is that I can use it on any of my basses rather than have it attached to one instrument.
Upgrade your bridge A rule of thumb with the bridge is that the more surface contact it makes with the wood of the bass, then the better it is going to be, so you may well go from a flimsy piece of kit to a high-mass block that will give you individual control of each string. Note that you will have to drill into your bass to provide screw holes, as the original holes from the old bridge will not match unless it’s a direct replacement. This modification is easy enough to tackle, but be sure to take accurate measurements first. Measure twice and drill once! Measure the distance from the twelfth fret to the top of the bridge saddle: this will give you the point at which the new bridge saddle should be located. Once you have the new bridge in place you will be able to make small adjustments by sliding the saddle back or forward by using a screwdriver or allen key. Now that the bridge is the correct distance from the twelfth fret it needs to be aligned correctly: use the positioning of the old bridge to do this.
Replace your machine heads If one of your machine heads is acting up, then I replace all of them – there’s nothing more off-putting on a bass than a mismatch of heads. It looks shabby – unless that’s the look you’re going for, in which case go for it! If I’m replacing the heads, I like to get something that has the same footprint or larger than the previous one, as I don’t like drilling extra screw holes. If I do, I want the new head to cover the old holes.
Refresh your frets Frets are a personal choice. Everybody wants and likes something different – fat ones, thin ones, vintage ones... I remember seeing Lee Sklar at the London Bass Guitar Show a few years back: he was saying that when he was touring with Phil Collins he needed both a fretted and a fretless sound for the show but he didn’t want to switch bass on stage midshow. His solution was to get his fretted bass refretted using banjo fretwire, which gave him a smoother transition between notes.
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100 | musicians handbook
interview | stanley clarke
stanley clarke The great jazz pioneer Stanley Clarke discusses the philosophy that shaped a generation. What do you aim to achieve when you play bass? “There’s the responsibility of passing on the lessons of jazz music – I like to call it ‘instrumental music’. I don’t think people will ever lose the desire to love really great instrumental music, because there’s something about it – the effort, the skill – but it is a harder music to sell to, say, Taylor Swift fans. So I feel a duty. Plus, it’s a great game to find young players that want to play and can play. “The word ‘jazz’ is undefined. As years go by it has turned into a metaphorical term. The only thing that unifies music with the ‘jazz’ term attached to it is improvised soloing. That’s about it. I’ve heard young rock bands, which don’t even come harmonically close to a jazz chord, but they’ll say ‘Play a solo, play something jazzy’ – and that’s fine with me. It’s not Charlie Parker or Thelonious Monk, but why should it be? This is where me and the staunch traditionalists part ways. I’d rather see it evolve. I’m more like the Miles Davis school... I’m not sure where these other guys are coming from.” Tell us how you achieve your ideal bass tone “I believe that no matter how technically proficient you become on the instrument, you have to be able to create a bassline, and that comes purely from the compositional side of your mind. For example, one of the guys that I really like is Marcus Miller, who is not the fastest gun in the west, but when he creates a bass-line, he enhances the tune. If you’re
a bass player and your job is to come up with the bass-line, the tune has to be elevated by that line. If it isn’t, you haven’t done your job. The bass-line is a composition within a composition. “If you don’t have that one fundamental, you can study with the greatest guys, but it ain’t going to help you. Still, the job of a bass in a band is to marry rhythm and harmony together, to pinpoint where the harmony meets the rhythm, how you want it to meet. I mean, take James Jamerson – that guy,
“If you’re a bass player and your job is to come up with the bass-line, the tune has to be elevated by that line” that’s it! The bass-line is the thing. That’s one thing I like to tell young players, it’s okay to get your chops and play fast, but you’ve got to get the bass-line together. One of the things that I hate to see is a bassist who I know can solo his ass off, and you see him on stage, just waiting for his solo. He’ll just be playing the written line, waiting for his big moment!” What’s been your favourite bass gear over the years? “My first bass was a horrible-sounding
Gibson EB-0. Then when Rick Turner built me an Alembic, it changed my life, and changed the world of the bass too, because suddenly the sound of the bass became very clear. Alembic made me a five-string bass with a high C and I’m going to bring that out next year. I’ve been practising and it sounds pretty good. But you know, I like the four-string bass. It’s funny, you go to the NAMM show in LA each year and see what the bass has come to. You see these guys with nine-string basses, and it’s too much, but then I’m old-fashioned. It goes against my thinking to say they ‘shouldn’t’ do it. It’s okay I guess, and it looks cool as hell. “For amps, I use Ampeg: the SVT4PRO head for electric bass, the 2PRO for acoustic, and PN-115HLF cabinets. The stereo outs from the bass go through a pair of Alembic F-1X preamps. My pedal rig is mainly EBS: their Octaver, Bass IQ, MicroBass and Dynaverb, as well as my signature wah/tone filter.” What bass tips have you got for us? “There are some players who play ‘better’, but they have a concept, and that’s important for a bass player coming out in the world. Even Jaco, as great as he was, had something more to him – he was bigger than just the bass. Marcus Miller is the same way, and definitely so is Victor Wooten. These are non-conformists. You’re listening to the guy but you’re seeing and perceiving something else, and I think it’s the person that matters, rather than just some guy playing notes on a bass.”
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Bass For Life | 50 PRO TIPS
50 TIPS FROM THE PROS When the stars talk bass, they say it in Bass Guitar Magazine. Behold 50 pro tips from the planet’s greatest bass players! “No matter how fast I’m playing, I’m thinking of each note as it goes by. It’s really trying to get the most out of each note. Technique. You have to practise all sorts of scales and shit, but mostly practise triadic shit. This is what bass players haven’t practised, therefore it sounds like I’m doing something sort of new, which in fact it probably is. I just know because I would hear piano players warm up, or take a solo, or anything, and they’re just really playing triadically. And that’s the hardest thing to do on the bass, is to play in triads. Fast and triads, because it’s so physically hard to do. So you work in triads scale-wise: you practise dominant triads or major sevenths. If you can run through any diatonic scale, just running arpeggios up every chord in that scale, that’s some of the hardest work I can get on the bass. And just the different ways you can do it – going across all four strings and trying to keep your hand in one position as long as possible, and of course then knowing the best places to change over. There aren’t any books you can buy to learn how to do that. It’s hard, it’s physically hard, you have to be strong. Then you can learn to play some stuff. That’s what’s good about playing for years in all these gigs, where I put in all these ridiculous hours, and hating that I’d ever have to do that again. But if I had never done that, I definitely wouldn’t be able to do what I’m up to, because you gotta have that strength. You don’t get that stuff practising at home, that’s on-the-job training.” Jaco Pastorius “What I do, that I don’t know if anyone else does, is I sink the pickups down into the wood of the bass, so that when I hit a string hard, I get a really good chunky sound. I’m not one of the gentle pickers who
move around the fretboard really lightly: I chunk into it really hard, like a lead guitar player would. I like the sound of the pickup against the wood, and the string hitting both of them really hard.” Rex Brown Pantera, Down, Kill Devil Hill “When I first moved to LA, my girlfriend told me about a friend who was a drummer, who said, ‘I finally learned how to play the drums by playing the space between the beats’. If you listen to the way a note resonates in the room that you’re in, it tells you a lot about the groove. So I probably carried that through with the bass.” Ron Blair Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers “The nails on my right hand, I grow them as long as I can without splitting them, so that I can get that trebly sound. I’m very lucky that I don’t have to worry too much about them: I just have to trim them every now and again so they don’t get too long and it starts becoming a problem to play... touch wood, so far so good, ha ha! If they break, they break, you know: there’s nothing you can do about it. If they split you just have to cut them down and live with it. I might have to increase the treble on my bass to compensate for it, if that happens.” Steve Harris Iron Maiden “The industry has grown up a lot in the time since Asia first formed in 1982. The kind of excesses that were de rigueur back then just aren’t tolerated any more. It’s not OK to screw up any more: if you do, there will be someone waiting to take your place. I
was quite partial to a drink myself, and it got the better of me. I always thought that I could control it, but I couldn’t. I would say to young players not to bother. It’s an illusion that alcohol improves anything. It’s best to do it all sober. I’m not saying this in a kind of professorial way: I’m a pretty strong-minded sort of person, and it beat me. Stay healthy, stay focused and stay clean!” John Wetton Asia “I remember very early on in Joy Division, Bernard [Sumner, guitarist] saying to me, ‘Can’t you just play the root note?’ The answer was no. I suppose it is down to ego and having a style. Maybe I played bass more like a lead instrument, more like a guitar, but you just have to be true to yourself. If you want to play the root note, play it like it’s the best note in the world. I never subscribed to that way of playing bass, the bassist at the back pinning down the bass drum. A load of old bollocks.” Peter Hook Joy Division, New Order “I studied a little bit of theory, but the problem is that it makes me think. I don’t want to think, I want to feel! I can follow it, slowly, but it doesn’t seem musical to me. There are a lot of really great players who say that you’ve got to read sheet music because it helps you make a certain amount of money per hour in the studio, but that’s not what I’m into music for: I’m into music for the feeling. Theory is important – it’s just not important for me.” David Vincent Morbid Angel
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Musician’s Handbook : Bass “I actually started on piano. I was classically trained from the age of five, but from the age of about 11 it just felt like homework. I was playing Beethoven like a typist: there was no feeling. I went onto guitar and realised how much my piano tuition had ingrained an understanding in me of how music works together: every chord and key is interrelated. I figured out the notes on guitar, and then in my first school band no-one wanted to be the bass player, so I tuned my strings down an octave and played bass. I’ve never actually thought of myself as a bass player, but I’ll do anything to make the whole thing work.” Andy Fraser Free
I came up with the thumping and plucking technique, to make up for not having the drums. I was playing drums on the bass. I didn’t think I was going to be stuck on the bass, so I wasn’t trying to learn the correct way. Just backing up a little. When I was playing guitar with my mother, when I would solo, she would play a bass-line with her left hand on the piano. Then, when she would solo I would play bass-lines on the guitar. Of course my bass-lines were heavily influenced by her, and when I ended up on the bass, those bass-lines carried over. So my mom’s left hand was the biggest influence on me.” Larry Graham Sly & The Family Stone, Graham Central Station
“When I was a kid, my mum decided she just wanted our band to be her and me: her on piano, me on bass, no drummer. That’s when I started thumping the strings to make up for not having a bass drum there. I would thump the strings with my thumb, and to make up for not having the backbeat I would pluck with my fingers. That’s how
“I remember when I played with Paul Weller, who wanted me to play his music but with my particular feel. Occasionally I’d get my backside kicked for playing too much! Most artists don’t want me to bring much soul or funk technique into their music. They don’t want pops or grace notes or dead notes or any of that business, but they do
“Over the years, when parents have asked me about their kids wanting to buy an bass, I always say get the best one you can afford. If it doesn’t work out and you flog it, you get your money back, and also a good instrument is so much easier to play and sounds good. If you start off with a clunker, you’re wasting your money if the kid can’t play it and gets disheartened. For me, it’s just good insurance. It’s always a bit of a punt with anyone starting out in case it doesn’t work out, but you either spend £50 and waste the £50, or spend £150 and you’ll get £130 back.”
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© Tina K
Mark King Level 42
want some elements of my feel, just to make it swing slightly. It’s all about finding the right balance, so you’re not in their face with the wrong approach but you still bring your personality to it.” Yolanda Charles Paul Weller, Robbie Williams “The first thing new players do sometimes is try to make too big of an impression. They talk too much, ask too many questions, or try to do something that will make people remember them. Be very careful here, though, lest they remember you for the wrong reason. There are a lot of people that are very successful but are a pain in the ass during a session. I’ve worked with people who are raising their hand every five minutes. That’s not the way to do it. People who are very successful and well known in the studio seldom say anything. All they do is play.” Chuck Rainey Session legend “Session work relies on you getting to know people, being reliable, friendly and a good musician, and
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