All About That Bass

bass its a bass

One band that I was in played at a party once. The host was mixing our soundcheck and the guitarist complained about the bass being loud. We were at the same volume. “Feel the bass! Feel the bass! God of thunder-r-r!” I said in my best Gene Simmons impression. Lower frequencies only “sound” louder, because of the increased air pressure. Know your physics.

My first bass (in the late 1980’s) was a 1970’s Gibson Ripper. The kind that Gene Simmons played on “KISS Alive!” Someone had modified it, adding a precision bass pickup in the middle. It had a solid set-neck maple body and sounded really good. It was only $100 dollars. They currently sell for thousands of dollars (no thanks to Nirvana and Green Day!). I had been playing guitar for a few years. But, I equally wanted to play both. Lacking much money, I tried to maximize the interchangeability between them. I purchased a 1960’s Guild Thunderbass amplifier head on a brand new crate 4×12, useful for both basses and guitars. I later also bought a 1970’s Rickenbacker 4001 bass. I got a good deal on it, just a few hundred dollars. I had to liquidate most of my possessions a couple of years ago, to avoid homelessness, and they were sadly sacrificed with some other gear that I miss.

Ripper & Rickenbacker Basses

I began playing bass around the time that the funk metal craze happened (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faith No More, Primus). I liked those bands. But, I can’t really say that I tried to emulate them. I wanted to find my own voice, instead. My playing style got compared to Les Claypool a lot, even though I never slapped as well or as often as him. Maybe it was just because I played a lot of notes or something, instead of just playing the root note of the rhythm guitar. Maybe it was the only popular frame of reference people had. Anyway, I always looked to other players for little tricks or techniques. Most players use just their middle and index fingers. What I picked-up from Claypool was using ring-middle-index instead, making triplets and odd-meter rhythms easier to play.

I later discovered country guitarist Danny Gatton’s fingerpicking style, including the thumb like a banjo player. I am still working on that.

But, I usually reserve fingerpicking for when I am playing with a dry signal, no distortion or effects.

I prefer using a pick, recycled copper-nylon 1mm, to get more attack and articulation.

I prefer ground wound strings (GHS Brite Flats are the most readily available), brighter than flatwounds, but smoother than roundwounds.

I also looked for ideas to set my rig up with, borrowing and improving upon the peculiarities of some favorite bands and musicians. I was trying to fuse my guitar and bass set-ups together. Partially, this was because I was too poor to dedicate equipment money to both individual instruments. But, also, because I was trying to be more independent, relying less on another guitarist or another bassist. This, of course changed my playing style a little, as they were both sounding more alike. I never liked playing big chords on guitar a whole lot, except as a punctuation or color. But, I also didn’t like playing too many single notes on the bass, adding more chords to it.

Funk and jazz players usually got a good groove going. Admittedly, so did some disco and new wave players. Punk and metal players had the energy and heaviness. Progressive rock players had sophisticated compositions which were challenging. Blues, folk, and country players had soul. I try my best to integrate everything together.

I like to build-up a foundational base on something, a skeletal framework (like the rhythm section), and decorate it like a Christmas tree.

I am not a very good improviser, I admit.

If I have to come up with something on-the-fly I am more comfortable just playing a simple rhythm (or random noises) with a good drummer. Jam sessions aren’t always productive with me. But, I always try remembering to record everything when practicing. I can take that material back later, cut-and-pasting what we have got into a song. I call this “making Jam-Paste.” It is a slow-w-w-w-ass process though.

I work better alone. But, paradoxically, I often need someone around for motivation or I get depressed and nothing happens. I am trying to write more independently. But, it is taking me a long time to get used to it.

The End of Music


Noise is what punk rock wishes that it could be, but never will.

I believe that the use of noise to make music will continue and increase until we reach a music produced through the aid of electrical instruments which will make available for musical purposes any and all sounds that can be heard.

— John Cage The Future of Music: Credo (1937)
Noise music
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
Noise music is a category of music that is characterized by the expressive use of noise within a musical context. This type of music tends to challenge the distinction that is made in conventional musical practices between musical and non-musical sound. Noise music includes a wide range of musical styles and sound-based creative practices that feature noise as a primary aspect. It can feature acoustically or electronically generated noise, and both traditional and unconventional musical instruments. It may incorporate live machine sounds, non-musical vocal techniques, physically manipulated audio media, processed sound recordings, field recording, computer-generated noise, stochastic process, and other randomly produced electronic signals such as distortion, feedback, static, hiss and hum. There may also be emphasis on high volume levels and lengthy, continuous pieces. More generally noise music may contain aspects such as improvisation, extended technique, cacophony and indeterminacy, and in many instances conventional use of melody, harmony, rhythm and pulse is dispensed with.
The Futurist art movement was important for the development of the noise aesthetic, as was the Dada art movement (a prime example being the Antisymphony concert performed on April 30, 1919 in Berlin), and later the Surrealist and Fluxus art movements, specifically the Fluxus artists Joe Jones, Yasunao Tone, George Brecht, Robert Watts, Wolf Vostell, Dieter Roth, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, Walter De Maria’s Ocean Music, Milan Knížák’s Broken Music Composition, early LaMonte Young and Takehisa Kosugi.
Contemporary noise music is often associated with extreme volume and distortion. In the avant rock domain examples include Jimi Hendrix’s use of feedback,Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, and Sonic Youth. Other examples of music that contain noise-based features include works by Iannis Xenakis, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Helmut Lachenmann, Cornelius Cardew, Theatre of Eternal Music, Glenn Branca, Rhys Chatham, Ryoji Ikeda, Survival Research Laboratories, Whitehouse, Brighter Death Now, Merzbow, Cabaret Voltaire, Psychic TV, Blackhouse, Jean Tinguely’s recordings of his sound sculpture (specifically Bascule VII), the music of Hermann Nitsch’s Orgien Mysterien Theater, and La Monte Young’s bowed gong works from the late 1960s. Genres such as industrial, industrial techno, lo-fi music, black metal, sludge metal, and glitch music employ noise-based materials.