Sunday, January 12, 2014

Recycling - a GK3B! Updates on the Toby rebirth, and Sheds: A studio phenomenon

Good times in 2014, as predicted!

GK3B recycling

First - I've retrofitted the GK3B to my 4-string 80s Aria Pro-II Integra - the only other bass I have which it will fit (all the others either have arched tops behind the back pickup, or pickups which are too close to the bridge, or both...).

This, as it turns out, is an excellent choice, as I keep this bass set up with extreme low action and very light (read 30-50-70-90) strings - this means the bass is a supremely expressive beast, good for tap, slap, and string bending. In fact, the strings are so light I have to adjust to using it if I've been using the other basses for a while.

I kicked myself into getting it done for a musical collab which is starting up with a friend of mine who works exclusively on synths, and I figured he'd love what the GR-55 can do... but as you know, the Tobias is away getting a GK kit fitted internally, so I've got nothing to drive the GR-55 with. Fortunately I carefully removed the externally mounted GK-3B before I handed the bass over!

The result is actually pretty good - the bass is in metallic white, with black hardware, so it's a great match -

The bass has a curved front with a flat central stripe, top to bottom, so the pickup fits nicely (managed to get the heights perfect with a little adjustment) but the controller still needs the full metal jacket on there as it won't mount anywhere else - the bass also has small wings (but it's still an angel).

Put a new named profile in for the Aria on the GR-55, some tiny tweaks to sensitivity for the strings, and it's go go go - and the expressive nature of the bass comes through straight away, the more organic and squidgy synth noises can do some really weird stuff, and sounds which feed back can actually move through different harmonics!

The Toby Rebirth
We're just waiting for the bridge - custom manufacture, brass with black coating. I'm expecting good things of this hipshot, apart form anything else the Toby will finally fall in-line with most of my other basses (including the aria) in having quick-string changing capabilities. We don't do it that often, bassists, but I think we all agree that changing strings is a lot less painful when you don't have to unwind the strings at the top.

Also - I recycle my strings (yeah, I'm tight) by cleaning them in a meths bath - and if you don't have to unwind the strings, it makes a massive difference to how long they'll last as you don't stress the metal in the top of the string where it winds onto the tuners.

The experience of playing the aria with the pickup just whetted my appetite for getting further into editing patches and sounds on the GR-55. That thing has some excellent sounds....

Great day yesterday. A friend down Guildford way who writes cool electronic stuff and I decided to get together for the first time to lay some bass down on some tracks he's kicked around: we got some good sounds. I took a decent amount of kit down with me too - I figured we could hunt for noises to suit his stuff, and man, was I right.

Kit that went with me included:
- Aria, now GK-3B equipped
- a 5-string fretless
- The Ashbory rubber stringed bass (great for sub-dub type bass)
- A regular acoustic guitar (I can pick out arpeggios pretty well, for Massive attack style backing and ambience)
- Bass PODxt plus floorboard
- GR-55 synth
- Warwick CCL combo for monitoring

Great afternoon and evening, 4 or 5 hours of creativity - pure play, exactly the kind of stuff which keeps all musicians energised. It turns out his electronic influences are exactly the kind of music I'm interesting in working on using live bass: Massive Attack style stuff with a lot of emotional energy.

And his studio is in a shed at the end of his garden - a BIG shed with plenty of power. It's a sweet place - heaters, good lighting, his studio gear is nice and simple and his monitors are excellent. The place was big enough to set up the gear, guitar stands etc and be able to stride about, pacing while trying out sounds, etc.

All in all, good times: I'm thinking I need to get the GK-3 pickup I've had lying about onto the Strat: 1 guitar and 2 basses all MIDI equipped? Interesting times.

Electric Bass String Cleaning: or, how I saved a fortune

This post will save you money, I guarantee it. Early on in my bass playing life, when I had paltry sums to buy strings with, I used to boil them to remove the skin, oil and cack which causes them to go flat. I've always liked zingy (played in, mind) strings - plenty of top end, good mids and rounded lows. I'm not a massive fan of the flat dull thud which some people regard as fine - not my thing, and my opinion mind, don't be offended if you're happiest playing 10 year old strings to get that tone from the 70s ;-)

Boiling worked, I even added washing up liquid at one stage - but, of course, you're effectively promoting chemical reactions. Water acts as a mild acid of sorts, and promotes rust in the steel of the strings - particularly, I noted, in the cores of the strings I was using at the time (rotosound Geddy Lee style PSDs I recall).

More recently, I've used Warwick black labels since the warwicks I have came with them, and they seem like a great compromise between cost, sound and longevity, and I hunted for a better (read: lazier and more effective) way to clean strings.


I can recommend this: the meths does less harm to the strings (they certainly seem to survive better), it actively stops water (we used to add it to petrol tanks to soak up water and improve running in cars with carbs), and it does an excellent job of removing the oils and skin grease from the windings of the roundwounds.

I use an old sweet jar, with extra sealing inside the lid to ensure there's no evaporation. Big neck (you need to get the strings in there), and buy enough meths to fill the jar. I found it in B&Q, available in smallish bottles. Don't worry if it's pricey, the meths will very quickly pay for itself.

All you have to do is wrap the strings up in a small enough loop to get them in the jar, make sure they're under the meths, stick the lid on and leave them for as long as you want. I've left strings in there for months(!) and they've been great.

When drying, make sure you do it somewhere ventilated - the meths will stink the place out while it evaporates from the strings - but it won't take that long.

I can get 3 or even 4 uses out of a set of Warwick black labels: that's a serious saving on a 6-string bass.

Let me know if this helped you via the usual buttons - like it on facebook, or RT on twitter. If you use it, why not say you found this useful on Google+? ;-)

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

I've picked a great New Years resolution... by accident!

While chatting with someone a few evenings ago, they asked me about New Years resolutions, and without thinking, I replied "to fear less".

I've adopted it now, it's great - short, specific but sweeping and punchy enough that I'll remember it.

Every time I mention it to someone they ask me what I'm afraid of - to which I reply - "everything!". I'm a bass player, the choice of instrument was probably a reflection of the lack of self confidence in an 18 year old who didn't want to overdo it.

I've pushed bass into places a lot of people don't go: this year I intend to lever the newly refurbished Toby and make some truly odd noises. I've started editing video already, finding the time to get to grips with (of all things) windows movie maker 2012, which - gasp - turns out to be very good!

Here's to 2014 - to anybody reading this, join me in fearing less, loving more and living well.