Thursday, September 08, 2016

Playing a “serious” gig on an unfamiliar instrument… insight and connection!

Great weekend – I played a wedding gig at Beaumont Estate in Windsor: and it got me thinking about my style of bass playing, and the way I tend to play at the moment (I’m playing a lot of open mic nights, covers of funk and soul stuff in the main).

The venue itself is pretty grand – you’d think Obama lived there (the bride and groom left via this door, epic wedding photo) – we played the first set during parts of the ceremony in the Hampton Suite (arf arf!)


The setlist was in two parts – the second being the reception, your classic wedding gig. But the first half was something else: playing around the actual ceremony – I’ve never done this before. Bird did a great job of pulling rehearsals together, including smaller ones for this “acoustic” set – no drums, but a little percussion. The setlist was a nice little collection of songs to cover the initial wait for the bride, then a song to play as the bride comes in – I had no idea what this would feel like – and a couple more tracks to play while the register was signed and the cake was cut.

So – a great little gig with something completely different!

All the rehearsals were done with the modified Tobias – I used the different modelled basses (P-Bass, in the main) for the soul and funk tracks to give a little authenticity to the sounds. I can’t recommend Roland’s bass modelling enough – it’s supremely tweakable, and the tones really are very good, particularly in a band setting. All this from the same GK-3B pickup which can drive MIDI. Genius stuff! The rehearsals went pretty well – the 4 tracks we were doing for the ceremony part were:

  • Ordinary People (while the guests were waiting)
  • Can’t Take My Eyes Off You (Aisle song – for the entrance of the bride)
  • At Last (Etta James) – for the bride and groom to walk out to
  • Somewhere Only We Know – for the register signing. This is the Lilly Allen cover, which is really stripped back and quiet, but pretty.

The night before the gig, I was looking at the tracks and wondering – could I play these in a more sympathetic way? The electric bass can be sophisticated, and quiet, but… what about double bass?

I was lucky enough recently to purchase a secondhand NS Design 5-string upright bass – this thing is futuristic, goes down to a low B, and has a switch to move from fingerstyle to bow playing – and it came with a bow! “The bass sounds great”, I thought, “but I’ve only been playing it for 3 weeks… could this work?”

The evening before the gig I tried a few ideas out: the tracks aren’t too tricky – ordinary people has a nice simple structure, I know can’t take my eyes off you really well from previous gigs. After maybe half an hour of practice, “At Last” started to sound the part – that track in particular really benefits from double bass, it makes the track swing and jazzes it up in a way the electric can’t.

But the real revelation was Somewhere Only We Know – I spent half an hour trying to make it work fingerstyle: the original Allen cover doesn’t have any bass on it, so it wasn’t working too well. Then I tried the bow – long bowed notes were a little intrusive, so i wondered about doing a sort of pizzicato bow thing – much beloved of Coldplay (irony!!!)…

It felt good – it put some rhythm back into the track, and made a great counterpoint for one or two longer bowed notes. When Nic got back home in the evening, she said it sounded great, so I decided to give the double bass a try – my first ever gig with a double bass! This is the beast…


Simple controls – volume, tone and the toggle switch to switch the pickups between fingerstyle and bowed use. If you try fingerstyle while it’s in bowed, you get a lot of attack but no sustain – the pickups align their sensitivity somehow, I suspect they may have 2 sets mounted in there at different points on the bridge.

On the day, the guys in the band were blown away by the difference it made to the set – I was really pleased with the result: it felt so much more sophisticated for the happy couple, who, of course looked amazing.

Here’s some more pics of the venue, from the inside:



Stretch yourself out there. Comfort zones can be breached – but make sure it’s going to work first!

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Basses: a wealth of styles, technologies, sounds and shapes.

I saw a picture this morning of a black Rickenbacker bass - even the hardware was black: I've always thought of the Ricky as a rather traditional bass - it certainly has a retro look about it, and the sound is notoriously unique, with the middle-focussed growl of it suited better to certain styles of music (Rush and Motörhead come to mind initially).

Here's a regular Rickenbacker: certainly beautiful, and highly distinctive with the scrolls and that headstock.

And here's the black one I saw this morning, complete with black pickup cover: there are a lot of extra elements included here, including that binding around the edge of the body. It transforms the rather retro look into something more contemporary, somehow - the Matt black paint job is great.

This got me musing that one of the things I love about being a bassist (apart from the chance to weave a bubbling line between an excellent drummer and an infectious melody, thereby being the glue which holds songs together) is the sheer wonderful variety of basses out there.

I'm lucky enough to own a number of basses, and initially any acquisitions I made were driven by some pragmatism about extending the range of sounds I could make - so I started with a 4-string fretted bass (a PJ as I recall, moved on to a slightly better 4-string, then got a 5-string (and loved the extended low end it has) - after a long pause I then got a 6-string (the Tobias pro-6 I had completely overhauled and upgraded with OBP-3 and GK-3B pickup fitted into it a couple of years back).

All these basses were fretted - I had built a 4-string fretless (which wasn't a huge success) using the body of the first bass, but I eventually bought a 5-string fretless (a Warwick, which looks and sounds amazing).

These were all sonic decisions - Warwicks also have a sound which is marmite to a lot of people.

And they all look so wonderfully different! This Warwick, for example:

That's a stunning piece of work. Basses seem to attract the kind of exotic wood luthiers dream of - I know there are exotic guitars out there, but basses just seem to offer up a wider vista of experimentation which luthiers get to let their imagination run wild with.

Maybe it's because the bass is more of a backing instrument, maybe it's because bassists like to experiment more - who knows? But it's a wonderful thing to be able to go from


Here's to our instrument.