Sitting vs Standing to Play the Bass

I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I was a strong proponent for sitting in my early years as a bassist up through college, but then later switched to standing. Most orchestral bassists sit, while most jazz bassists stand, but convention shouldn’t be the determining factor.  Setting aside convention, let’s talk about the advantages and disadvantages to each. It doesn’t hurt to try both, but here are some things to consider

Henry Franklin plays sitting

Sitting:

  • No balancing required. Since the bass is held up mostly by your legs and at the bout, there’s no balancing involved. Balancing while playing standing becomes less of a conscious effort as you get used to it, but many years later as a bassist I still notice how taking balancing out of the equation is noticeable.
  • Easier to play in pitch. The pitch location relative to your body stays constant. Because the bass doesn’t move or twist, it’s easier to play in tune than standing. Using the same stool, same length endpin, and anchoring the endpin tip at the same distance, the location of each pitch is virtually the same. This is even more true when playing in thumb position.
  • Puts you at a better angle when bowing. When sitting on the stool, you’re behind the bass rather than to the side of the bass. This makes for a more natural angle for bowing
  • Less Fatigue. I can sit for far longer than I can stand for. This is obvious. Also, there is less fatigue on your arm. When you stand, your hand holds up the bass.

Dave Holland plays standing

Standing:

  • Volume and sound. Less of the mass of the bass is against your body, your bass will resonate more, which results in a louder and more open sound. You can minimize this when sitting to some degree, depending on the angle of the bass and how much weight your body is supporting, but a bass usually sounds better and louder to the listener when you stand.
  • No need for a stool. It’s more of a practical and convenience consideration, but toting around a stool is another thing that you have to carry or go back for. I never assumed that a venue has a stool available, because often they didn’t. When I switched to playing standing, not carrying around a stool was liberating. I tried every type of portable stool in existence. Even the most portable stool is a lot more effort than no stool at all.
  • Freedom to move. When standing, you can boogie if you feel compelled to. Behind a stool, you’re limited to head nodding. That sounds silly, but what/how we play is influenced by how much we get into the music. If moving gets you into it, it will affect your playing.

Rufus Reid with Laborie outfitted bass

Trying to Make Standing Work

I’ve never been able to play with complete comfort on a conventional bass endpin while standing. I like the advantages, especially the improvement in the bass’ response so I looked at ways of making the bass more comfortable standing.

When I switched to standing, I had the basses converted/setup for the Laborie endpin. That made balancing the bass far easier and reduced the amount of weight on my hand. Not too many bassists outside of the orchestral/solo circuit use the Laborie setup. Rufus Reid is likely the most notable. The most basic setup will run about $250 to buy the endpin and have a luthier properly drill a hole to install it. Do NOT do this yourself without proper guidance, tools, and knowledge! If you don’t want to drill, you can spend a lot more and have the KC Strings block installed as I did on the German bass. Part of the logic for me is that I could convert the bass back if some day, I just didn’t want to stay with the Laborie. However to this day, I absolutely have to have it and have a similar setup for my other bass.

I’ve never tried an angled endpin (an endpin bent at an angle), but I’ve known some people who swear by it as a low cost alternative. This is another way to try it, but some people say that you lose some tone and the endpin tends make the bass feel like a pogo stick. It’s more of a transitional solution for those saving up for a Laborie or those just trying to get a feel without committing to it.

Angled Endpin (courtesy of Slava Music)

Conclusion

Never say never. I can’t say with absolute certainty that I’ll never go back to sitting while playing. Right now, I like the Laborie setup a lot which makes standing while playing a lot easier. It’s closest to the best of both worlds for me.

For some beginners that have been having difficulties with intonation and coordination, I actually have recommended that they start off sitting just to take a few variables out of the equation. It actually helped. Some stayed with sitting, while others moved to standing. It’s a personal preference call.

Whichever way you currently play, sitting or standing, I encourage you to experiment with both to see which works best for you.

Life as a Musician

Interesting article in the LA Times with some insight about being a musician. No matter what genre you specialize in, the lifestyle is similar. Unless you get into the top paying Los Angeles Philharmonic or the other 9 orchestras in the U.S. where you can make over $100,000, making ends meet is a juggling act. No one really goes into music for the money right? There are many easier ways to make money, but are there really many better ways to make money? You make the call.

BTW, statistics say that it’s easier for an athlete to get into the NBA than a musician to get into the top ten U.S. Orchestras. If you’ve got the talent, then kudos to you.

LA Phil = $127,140
Typical non-major symphony = $32,775
LA Opera =  $28,000

An LA Opera musician humbly thinks that she has it good compared to “a lot of musicians”. That is an eye opener.

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/music/la-ca-musicians-20101226,0,5967344.story?page=2

Outside the orchestra pit

For three L.A.-area classical players, life offstage illustrates the luxuries and complexities of making a living in music. Teaching, film work, even poker-playing all help pay the bills.

When the conductor’s baton comes to a halt and the instruments are tucked away, the lives of professional classical musicians continue past the clef notes of that night’s repertoire. For three L.A.-area musicians, life offstage illustrates the luxuries and complexities of making a living as an orchestra musician.


FOR THE RECORD: Classical musicians: In the Dec. 26 Arts & Books section, an article about making a living as a professional classical musician gave an incorrect last name for one of the subjects. She is Tina Chang Qu, not Tina Nguyen.

For Dana Hansen, 31, days off from playing are usually spent in a children’s gymnasium or a park, where she totes around her cherub-faced daughter, Phoebe — an entirely different kind of instrument.

As a full-time busy violist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, it’s a luxury when Hansen find herself in a room full of toddlers, shuffling barefoot on a carpet as she sings “Ring Around the Rosy” or enjoying a moment of laughter with her 18-month-old daughter in the park.

With the birth of her first child, Hansen is still learning how to navigate her time between mastering notes of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and swing sets.

“It’s a hard career to go into,” she said. “A bunch of people my age in this field are struggling. I’m not complaining with where I’m at.”

Her full-time spot with a major orchestra allows her to lead a comfortable lifestyle in Pacific Palisades, where she and her husband, Noble Hansen, who works in finance, moved last year. The annual income for an L.A. Phil musician in 2008-09 was $127,140, according to the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians.

Hansen’s route to becoming a professional musician began with a degree in modern European history from Harvard College.

“I’m not naïve,” she said recently at her home. “Music was what I wanted to do. But it’s not exactly a sure thing. I wanted something else to fall back on just in case.”

She began violin studies at age 5 and viola at 15.

“I definitely want Phoebe to learn how to play an instrument,” she said. “I think it’s important. Look at her — she’s already formed a connection with music. Whenever she hears a tune she likes, she’s dancing.”

Paul Zibits, bass

Now bassist and personnel manager for the Pacific Symphony, Chicago native Paul Zibits, 59, has been an active studio musician since moving to California in 1979.

“I learned early on that music was what I was good at,” Zibits said. “I was lucky to be good enough to make a living with it.”

A father of two boys and husband to Kimiyo Takeya (a violinist in the Pacific Symphony), Zibits has seen his musical abilities extend beyond the stage and onto the big screen: He has performed on the scores of more than 500 motion pictures, including “Titanic,” “Spider-Man,” “Jurassic Park” and the first”Pirates of the Caribbean” film.

When he’s not performing onstage or in a movie theater (or tweeting as @pzibits) Zibits can be found at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music at Cal State Long Beach, where he teaches double bass.

For the few minutes (or hours) outside of that, he’s mastering his poker face.

The hands of professional bass player Paul Zibits are in a tight grip.

Tap, click, tap, click.

There are no music sheets around and that humming isn’t the sound of fingers plucking strings. The chorus comes courtesy of tapping chips at work during a game at one of the monthly poker nights Zibits hosts at his home in Long Beach.

Mastering music and mastering poker go hand in hand, he said.

“It’s all about technique. In music, you learn an instrument’s scales and positions. With poker, you become skilled at learning when to bet certain hands, when to raise hands, and your position at the table.”

In 1999, he outplayed 233 others to finish seventh in the World Series of Poker’s $2,500 buy-in, hold-’em tournament held at Binion’s Horseshoe in Las Vegas — pocketing nearly $15,000 for two days’ work. At this year’s tournament, he pocketed just over $3,000. Not bad, considering that section musicians with the Pacific Symphony would earn about $32,775 if they were to play every concert and rehearsal offered for a year, according to the orchestra’s site.

During off hours, Zibits often can be found among the herd at Commerce Casino — the “mecca of poker” as he refers to it — or Hawaiian Gardens Casino. In 2006, he became a published author and editor of the book “Poker Face 2.”

“Poker is fun … and it can be a great stress reliever,” Zibits said. “But it can be exhausting at times. Your mind is racing, constantly analyzing everything. It’s like playing a Mahler symphony. Sometimes you need a vacation from it.”

Tina Nguyen, violin

Juggling separate jobs is not unusual for some musicians. Many teach privately in their homes or perform with several orchestras and other ensembles. Others record for the motion picture industry.

It’s the kind of hectic lifestyle that Tina Nguyen, 35, is all too familiar with.

For Nguyen, playing violin for the Los Angeles Opera is not a full-time gig, so additional jobs are needed to supplement her income — especially as the opera seasons get shorter; she gets paid per performance. The approximate salary for a musician for L.A. Opera’s 2010-11 season is $28,000.

“This season has been rather difficult,” she said. “We reduced our season because of the economy. Most of us have to work on something else. Next year, it’s going to be pretty tough. Normally, we have about nine shows; now we’re down to five or six.”

Nguyen currently gives private violin lessons to three students.

“A lot of my colleagues teach more,” she said. “They might have like 10 or 15 students. For me, my goal is to have six. I don’t have much time to devote to it; I often have concerts on the weekends.”

And she does recording for film and TV series — the latest being ABC’s “No Ordinary Family” — and performs for other outlets, including the New West Symphony, where she’s an assistant concert master.

“A season like this, with tremendous reductions … it’s worrisome,” Nguyen said. “In this town, unless you’re in the L.A. Phil, you have to do other jobs to make it.”

Qu estimates that 70% of her income comes from her L.A. Opera performances.

“There are a lot of musicians in a much worse position,” she said. “Of course, I would like to have a more reliable full-time job. But this is where I’m at right now.”

A Thomastik Spirocore Story

Seems that there are a lot of newbies that know to ask for Spirocores, but don’t know why. I still love Spirocores, even though I’ve moved away from them in recent year.

I’ve been a long time Thomastik Spirocore user when it came to strings for most jazz work. These  are considered THE STANDARD, for jazz players, and have been for decades. A vast number of jazz bassists as well as known names such as Ray Brown, Dave Holland, and Christian McBride use Spirocores. If you are a jazz bassist, at some point you’d have used Spirocores. They are bright, loud and have a ringing that people associate with a bass sound in jazz. There are many reasons to love them. They aren’t expensive, they sound good on almost any bass, they don’t get washed out by other instruments in ensembles, they are durable; among other reasons. You’ll hear complaints about the G string being to twangy, the set being too high in tension, or some other complaints; remember it’s not a perfect string but it’s a highly regarded and respected string.

We at Thomastik have created a revolutionary orchestral jazz bass string.

Spirocores were not designed with the intent of making the best Jazz string; their intention was to create a better orchestral string. Some bassist would say that it was fate or divine intervention that Thomastik-Infeld created an orchestral string that worked so well for Jazz; a string that jazz bassists still highly regard and love to this day. It is not as if Thomastik surveyed jazz bassists and set out to design a string based on that criteria, the truth was that Thomastik created a new line of strings which Jazz bassists ended up liking and gravitated towards because it had characteristics that worked great for jazz.

How I Ended Up Wanting Spirocores

As most young bassists, I started out with a pretty lousy plywood bass for several years before college. What strings the bass came with were the ones that you played. You were lucky to have matching strings, and even luckier if yours had Spirocores, but you were clueless that it was a Spirocore since the local music store was clueless in identifying bass strings. Actually it was a curse because you’d spend years hoping to find that great sounding string via happenstance that you didn’t know was a Spirocore. Gut strings?… No one ever brought them up. If you were savvy enough to ask for a gut string, you’d either get a response that no one uses gut anymore and/or find out that gut strings cost more than what your bass was worth. Gut was the boogieman, we’ve heard about it, but never seen it and we were to forget that we heard about it. So we spent years getting very familiar with steel strings.

When you broke a string and had the money to replace that one string (what kid had the money to get a whole set?), you went and asked for a bass string. They’d point at the various packages on the wall, until you clarified that you need a double bass string. At that point they’d dig in their drawer and try to find are replacement for the string that you broke. After displacing dozens of violin strings, voila! “oh oops, this is an A you need a D”… voila! they get you your shiny new string. You might get whatever brand they happen to have in that drawer. It might be a Spirocore by chance, but it usually was some cheap string such as Super Sensitive or the like. Most of the time you’d end up with some other orchestral string until …. one day you were handed the string that looked like the one that you remembered sounding so good with the words “Spirocore …Thomastik-Infeld”

Parting Ways in College

Things between me and the Spirocores were good until college and the bass curriculum required technically difficult orchestral pieces in addition to jazz.  At this point, I started learning about the existence of other brands and types of strings, ones that bowed a lot easier. I bounced back and forth between the Flexocores which were great in orchestral and the Helicore Hybrids: the-worst-of -both-worlds orchestra and jazz string, but they worked for both.  After college I couldn’t get a hold of a second bass fast enough so that I could have a dedicated jazz upright bass with Spirocores.

Other companies have tried to create strings that “improve” on what people like about the Spirocores, but most players seem to inevitably return to the Spirocores. I’ve moved away from steel core strings, so they no longer are on my basses, but I still recommend them to beginners who want to play mostly pizz because you can’t go wrong with them. Competitors of Thomastik have tried to improve on the Spirocore with their own steel core “jazz string” and have failed to upstage them, because it’s hard to beat the tried and true set of Spirocores.

Upright Bass Strings

Strings are the biggest factor on how a bass sounds and plays. With a properly set up bass and good set of strings, you’re all set to start your journey on the upright bass.

Strings come in a wide variety of materials and design. These difference greatly affect the overall sound that you will get. For beginners on a starting budget, the choices are more limited, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t get good strings at that price levels. It’s always best to start out with a good set of strings and then move from there.

Materials

It would take a book to cover the topic of strings, but there are some general knowledge that would be useful for any bassist to know.

Strings are basically comprised of two components, the core and the windings.  Cores and windings vary depending on what the string manufacturer is trying to achieve in sound and feel. The core runs along the inside of the string, while the windings is wound around the outside of the string.

The way the two interact with each other is more than the sum of each part. This an oversimplification of the roles of the core and winding, but here are some generalities just to get your feet wet on how they work. The core has greater effect the flexibility, sustain, and tension of the string while the windings affect the sound (especially how bright or dark it sounds), thickness, and feel of the string. To give you an appreciation of the complexity of creating a string, consider that it generally takes a string company an average of 5-10 years of experimentation to design a string. String makers have said that award winning winemakers have it easy, that’s how painstakingly difficult it is to design a good string.

Cores are the most common differentiators between strings. They can be categorized as steel, gut, or synthetic. Steel cores are usually stranded wire rope, gut are made of animal guts and synthetic is a general category for any core that is non-metallic.

Windings vary a lot. They can be alloys (mixture of different mentals), nickle, silver, copper. chrome, nylon, tungsten, gold, or pretty much anything under the sun.

Thickness and Tension

Some strings only come in one thickness and tension, while others come in light, medium, heavy (Respectively called weich, mittle, stark for German strings). Thickness and tension is usually used synonymously when it comes to string gauge. Between two gauges of the same string: the thicker the string, the higher the tension. There is no immediate correlation between tensions between different brands and types of strings. In other words, a medium gauge Helicore is lighter in tension than a medium Spirocore.

Medium gauge is the most common choice for beginners. Light gauge is also good for those who want strings that are easier to bow and finger. The problem is that it’s a give and take; lighter strings will not sound as full and deep as mediums. They also are quieter than mediums. Sometimes a bass will actually sound more open and respond better with lights than mediums, others might respond better to mediums and heavy strings.

At this point as a beginner, the middle ground medium gauge is ideal. You can adjust from there if you feel the need to try a different gauge in the future. This is the way most bassist experiment with strings anyhow. If they find a string that they like, they’ll usually try other gauges to see how it feels and how their bass responds.

Bass String Suggestion for Beginners

Strings can vary widely in price depending on brand and materials used. Buying $500 gut strings is a waste of money if there’s no specific reason that you need them. More expensive doesn’t equate to better strings in terms of quality, sound or longevity. When you are a beginner, you’re just getting started with intonation, consistency of sound, and form. Since you will be working on the basics; decent, consistent, reliable strings are what’s needed.

There’s plenty of time to try strings. Most bassists constantly try different strings to find that string that they love. Don’t spend too much time, money or brain power obsessing over it at this point, a reliable and easy to play string is what you need to get you started.

For students that want are studying jazz and orchestral. If you have a choice of strings, I recommend that beginners start with D’Addario Helicore Hybrids, which are steel strings. I generally recommend them because they are affordable, good quality and last long, so I consider them the best entry level string by far. They aren’t the best strings in the world, by far, but they are a great strings to start with and a great value. They are easy to bow with (arco) and for pizz. If you’re on this site, you probably aren’t considering playing with a bow, but it’s a facet of bass playing that everyone should consider as not to limit themselves on the instrument. Your bass instructor will likely want you to spend time using the bow to help you work on your intonation and to make sure it’s part of your arsenal. I’ve had many students who wanted to learn pizz only who quickly grow fond of using the bow also.

Sometimes a bass already comes with strings. You’ve probably already spent a good deal of money on buying a bass so at this point; if it can stay in tune, you can start your first year on them. If you’re renting, a store should not object to your request that they put D’Addario Helicore Hybrids because they are very reasonable in price. Many of you have heard of a popular string; the Thomastik Spirocores. I like them a lot, but they are very difficult for beginners to do any bowing on. A beginner will not play or sound any better on Spirocores than Helicore Hybrids, plus Spirocores cost more. If you’re curious about other strings, just wait for now, your money can go towards better things such as lessons, books, and maintenance.

Strings for Magnetic Pickups

Most people use piezo pickups. If you are using Fishmans, Underwoods, The Realist, Balsereit or any other similar pickups, then they are piezo pickups. Any string will work with these pickups. If you are using magnetic pickups such as the String Charger or Biesele, then you can only use steel core strings. Magnetic pickups will not work with gut or synthetic core strings.

Getting an Upright Bass

The Instrument

Size

Unless you are exceptionally tall, you’re going to want a 3/4 size bass. Most basses are 3/4 size basses and pretty much every professional bassist ranging from major symphony players to the best jazz bassist use a 3/4 or an even smaller 5/8 bass. Full size basses are extremely rare and almost no one makes them. The problem with full size basses is that they require a larger than average hand span on the left hand to play. I’m 5′8″ and had the opportunity to play a full size bass before. The bass itself sounded very boomy and deep on the low notes, but I had to shift my hands even when they were playing adjacent notes and it was nearly impossible to play fast. If can see a 4/4 working great if you play bluegrass I & V’s with a club grip, but otherwise it’s not a practical instrument unless you had the average hand the size of a guy that is 6′8″. A 3/4 is fine for anyone down to 5′2″ tall unless you have smaller than average hands for someone of that height. If you are, it’s not that bad for you since I’ve come across many great sounding 5/8 size basses, although you selection is significantly smaller. Once you get down to a 1/2 bass, they start sounding shallow.

Carved Vs. Plywood (Laminate)

Top Being Carved

One of the biggest differentiators between basses is whether they are carved or plywood (laminate). Carved basses are made from wood boards and the luthier carved and shaped the different parts of the bass. Plywood basses are made from plywood which are formed to produce the different parts of the bass. Because of the labor and expertise required to carve wood, properly carved basses cost much more than plywood basses. Plywood basses have the advantage that they can be more consistently made because plywood is more consistent than natural wood boards and can be shaped and molded using templates. Plywood basses also are much more durable because of they can handle impact and extreme weather better than solid wood. A properly carved basses generally sounds more complex in tone than a plywood bass which is what makes them generally more desirable.

Not all carved basses are better than plywood basses. If a bass is not carved right, a plywood bass can play and and sound better than a poorly made carved bass. There is also a newer type of bass called solid wood (not carved) that’s a ticking time bomb. Basically they take a solid wood board, wet it and form it. Solid wood basses (not carved) should absolutely be avoided. Some people are happy with plywood basses for their whole careers, so it shouldn’t be assumed that plywood basses are beginner basses. Also if you decide to step towards a carved bass, make sure that it is a good carved bass, because as I said before, not all carved basses are better than plywood basses, they’re only good if the person carving them does it well.

There is also the hybrid bass which uses a plywood back, usually ribs are plywood too, but has a carved top. Since the top of the bass makes the most significant difference in sound, the hybrid bass gives a lot of the carved sound without the cost of a fully carved bass.

Buying a Bass

Thompson Bass

How Much You’ll Need to Save

You’ll need to save least $1500 to buy a starter bass. Forget any of those shoddy basses that are available on Ebay. Many have been tempted to buy them only to regret it. They are so poorly made that you’ll end up dumping so much money making them playable and fixing them, that you’d end up spending as much as it would have cost buying a good bass in the first place. You’ll never recoup that money back when it’s time to upgrade because potential buyers will prefer to buy the better make an/or accuse you of ripping them off for trying to sell the same bass they saw on Ebay for more than twice the price.

Hear it Before You Buy It

It is common practice to have the shop play the bass for you. A bass sounds different close up vs out 5 feet away. I even have this done in my process of evaluating a bass in addition to playing it myself because it may sound good up close, but maybe not for a distance which is what your audience will hear. Since you are a beginner, you definitely need someone to play a bass for you. Listen for the tone, buzzes, and also if the person struggles on the higher or lower register because that may reveal issues with the instrument. If a shop is knowledgeable and experienced in the upright bass, they should be able to play the thing competently after all. Have them play it arco and pizz. Up and down the fingerboard. You definitely don’t want to buy a bass that you’ve never heard nor do you want to be stuck with a bass that you don’t like the sound of. For mail order shops, ask them to play it for you over the phone before they ship it. Every bass sounds different even if they look and are built alike. Shipping, repackaging and return shipping usually will be at least $700, which the buyer will incur if they send back a bass. With the hassles and risks of shipping a bass, its something of a must to at least hear a bass before buying it. I like the fact that Upton Bass puts video clips of their basses online and more stores should do the same.

Some Popular Deals

As for recommendations, I’ve come across every beginner bass available through students and for the money, Thompson Basses are a fantastic deal. Christopher basses and Samuel Shen Basses are also spoken highly of in the community and are found in many bass specific shops as their entry level offering. If you have the ability to spend more, Upton Basses are a solid deal. These are my list of basses because they are consistently good and reliable, and I trust the shops that sell them. Don’t just take my word for it, Google Thompson basses or Upton Basses for owner’s opinions on it. Steve Koscica runs String Emporium that sells the Thompson basses and he is a highly seasoned, professional bassist who evaluates these basses prior to selling them. He brings a lot of perspective from a performing musician’s point of view, and will play on a prospective bass for you over the telephone if you ask him to so that you get an idea of how the individual bass will sound. Upton bass offers basses that they make and set in their own shop from an award winning luthier. You can hear their basses online at their website. If you’re going to buy something locally, Engelhardts are the most widely available basses and are consistently good instruments in the beginner range. Any music store can order these for you.

“You Sound Like a Used Car Sales Guy”

A little warning. I’ve always said that if someone is offering advice on products which financially benefits themselves, they are called salesmen. I don’t let salespeople tell me what to buy and you should be suspicious if they try to do the same to you. There are people who try to come off as a bass authority (it’s easy for anyone to claim to be anything that they want to be online), but I’ve been around long enough to see the lineage of people who trained in the trade versus someone who is just Internet educated and regurgitating what they read online and one day just decided to start selling bass products. “The proof is in the pudding”, if they are that knowledgeable and straightforward about their recommendation, they will accommodate requests such as playing an instrument for you.

Samuel Shen Bass

Say No To Drop Shipping

A reputable shop will have a luthier inspect each bass. Do not get drop shipped basses. For those unfamiliar with terminology, “drop shipping” is where a dealer pretty much brokers the sale of a product. Instead of a dealer getting the product in their store first, they have the manufacturer ship the item directly to the customer. With the costs and difficulty associated with returning a bass I had mentioned before, do not get a drop shipped bass. If they drop ship basses, then they are just adding profit to their bottom line without providing you with anything for that added expense.

The purpose of being a bass dealer is to offer service which includes inspecting, adjusting and evaluating each individual bass, inside and out, to spot trouble signs or defects. If you get a bass drop shipped to you and it is defective, you now have to deal with the time, hassle and expense of shipping it back. Experienced shops can spot problems that would not be apparent to bassists, especially beginners. Ask the dealer if they will have a luthier inspect the bass you are purchasing. Again if they don’t have a bass inspected and setup, they are just adding profit to their bottom line without providing you with anything for that money.

Country of Origin of a Bass

I would take caution in buying basses coming out of Bulgaria, Yugoslavia or Romania, especially carved, because of the inconsistent nature of their instruments and there have been a lot of cases that the wood is too fresh which leads to warping over time. As I mentioned earlier, carving is a skill, and just because they market it as carved doesn’t mean that it’s better than a plywood bass. Americans make assumptions that since it’s a string instrument from Europe, it has some heritage. Europeans view the quality of products from those Eastern European countries the way Americans view products from Mexico. Until you have enough experience with upright basses to spot trouble, you’re more far more likely to get a money pit than a gem. In general, basses from those countries have been wildly inconsistent and if you’re considering purchasing a bass from that region, the bass should be properly setup up for you to try. Do not buy a bass from that region unless a luthier has set it up and you can try it in person.

Renting an Upright Bass

Engelhardt Bass

Engelhardt Bass

If you do not have the money, then the next best option is to rent from a local string shop, if there happens to be a upright bass shop within driving distance, that’s idea. Shops that focus on band instruments I haven’t seen good rental basses at so beware. Most stores have a rent to own option where you can bank the money paid to rentals toward a purchase of a new instrument later. Ask for them to give you pricing on the new prospective bass to make sure that they will give you a fair deal on the new bass.

There are several advantages of renting an upright bass. If you end up deciding that an upright bass isn’t for you, you won’t have your money locked up into something that’s slow to sell. It takes quite a while to sell a bass since it’s not a commonly sought item. It’s not uncommon for a bass to take over a year to sell. For rental instruments, string shops are responsible for maintaining and adjusting the bass so you’ll save on that. If you hear buzzing, bring it in, because it is their responsible for fixing things that sometimes

happen on basses such as seam splits and cracks (unless you damaged it from lack of care). Different shops have different opinions on strings. If you are responsible for replacing broke strings during the course of a rental, then it would be reasonable that the shop should install new ones when you first get the bass.

When it’s time to trade in your rental for your very own bass you may be limited to what the dealer can get through their channels. Shens and Englehardts are fairly easy for any dealer to get. Shens are very highly regarded and both are consistently good. If you’re renting from a bass shop, they probably will have a much better selection than a string shop or music store so try them all out.

Going Upright (Part 1): Introduction

This series isn’t so much of an ‘Upright Bass vs Bass Guitar” as in which is superior, than considerations for aspiring professionals and serious amateurs when making commitments to either types of basses. In multi-series segment, we will look at the differences and similarities between the two types of basses from different aspects, such as musicianship, technique, function, tone, and perceptions.

For younger musicians and those that are trying to become a professional upright bassists, I would say that it is very beneficial for upright bassists to know how to play the bass guitar. Being able to pick up the bass guitar and site read makes you a more employable upright bass professional. There were times when I was doing shows as an upright bassist, but I still played the bass guitar on a few tunes because the music director arranged it that way or because the audience associates that tune with a Fender P-bass sound. Not having to bring a bass guitarist for a couple of songs each evening is a money and headache saver for directors. There are a few noteworthy bassists that are able to keep playing both at a phenomenal level, so maybe you’re the exception to the norm; your intonation on the upright is impeccable while your technique and tone is so flawless that you can express yourself better than Picasso on canvas. For the other aspiring professionals, there are considerations in trying to be highly proficient at both upright bass and bass guitar. This is especially true for those that play multiple genres such as classical and jazz on the upright bass.

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First, I’d like to give you a little background of myself so that you can understand how my journey took me to where I am. As a performing musician, I used to play both, but gravitated the upright to a point where I where I’ve considered the bass guitar retired. As an instructor, the percentage of students learning upright bassist vs bass guitarists is hard to define, since most of my students are/were transitional bassist; good bass guitarists moving to the upright.

When I first picked up a bass back when I was 14, it was a bass guitar. The only other instrument that I played was as a child, which was the violin. That lasted for a few years until I was 11. It did give me exposure and created a basic appreciation of classical music. I grew to become a big fan of rock music in my teenage years which is why I wanted to learn to play something that I could in a band. I tried guitar, but connected to the bass a whole lot more. I took lessons at the local music shop from a Guitar/Bass teacher and took it seriously for years with the lessons and practice. Outside of lessons, I progressed by playing in bands and improved at a fairly average pace.

A couple years after starting to learn bass guitar, I started playing the upright because I love the way it sounded and the way that it felt. I didn’t spend a lot of time on it yet because of the problem of not being able to transport the upright bass outside the house (sometimes the reasons for certain things in life are the most practical). With a bass guitar, I could just strap the gig bag over my shoulder and hop on my bike. There was also a perception that the upright bass was harder to play, thus too slow to play fast intricate phrases. I will discuss this perception later.

When I went to college the majority of the time that I spent was on the upright bass, since I focused on jazz and classical. Having a car that could transport the bass also meant that I could bring the bass where ever I wanted. This didn’t mean that I immediately stopped playing the bass guitar. While in college, I played and enjoyed all types of music, so I still played both types of basses. For fusion or rock, I still played the bass guitar, because that was the status quo. I considered myself proficient in either, but as I progressed as a bassist, I became to favor the Upright over bass guitar. One of my fellow bassists in college who is a phenomenal musician, went the other direction and favored the bass guitar over the upright. There are several reasons which I will discuss in this series.