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.

One thought on “All About That Bass

  1. […] My guitar / bass playing skills are, pretty good, not virtuoso… but still, pretty good. Both are pretty similar. My techniques aren’t meant for showing off, just to be used as an accent. I typically use a pick, most of the time, though. I believe that I’m a better bassist than a guitarist and a better composer than a musician. […]

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