NS Design NXT Electric Upright Bass

nxt3qfull2NS Design has announced the specification for the upcoming NXT Electric Upright Bass. This bass fills the large gap between the entry level WAV basses and the high end CR series. The most notable difference between the WAV and the new NXT EUB is the difference in country of origin. The WAV bass is made in China, while the NXT EUB is made in Czechoslovakia, where the CR series is made. To save on costs, NS Design nixed certain features from the CR bass in order to keep the prices down

The NXT Series Double Bass opens up a new horizon for the serious bassist looking to play a great instrument on a limited budget.  These new instruments, crafted in the Czech Republic by the makers of the renowned CR Series, exemplify flawless workmanship at an incredible value.

Pizzicato and arco techniques have almost unlimited expressive potential, thanks to the Polar™ Pickup System. A convenient switch allows selection of the traditional arco mode for percussive attack and dynamic bowed response, or pizzicato mode for a smooth, sustained tone. Equipped with single volume and tone controls, the passive electronics deliver unlimited overhead for the ultimate sound without cumbersome batteries.

The solid maple body and neck, together with the graduated ebony fingerboard, deliver a rich, full tone that rings true for every note. Asymmetrical fingerboard relief facilitates an even ‘growl’ from the higher strings and a clear, powerful lower register.  The adjustable bridge and truss rod allow for low, fast action, or for higher string settings that encourage the traditional acoustic player to ‘dig in’ with gusto.

NS Electric Strings and most traditional acoustic strings fit all NS Double Basses, allowing the player to select from a wide range, each with a unique sound a feel. In combination with the easy adjustment of basic set-up parameters, the NXT Series Bass is adaptable to many different styles of music.

A wide array of interchangeable support systems make the NXT Double Bass adaptable to virtually any situation. Standard equipment includes a self-supporting tripod stand with full adjustments for height and angle.  A more traditional end pin stand is available, as well as shoulder strap options that allow for full mobility.

The NXT bass brings world-class design and craftsmanship to a surprisingly affordable price range. With a visual appearance as striking as its sound, the roadworthy NXT is an exciting and reliable partner for the most demanding performance career.

Official price is to be announced. Price is estimated to be in the low $1000 range.

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Choosing an Electric Upright Bass (EUB)

NA003481Some of the frequently commonly asked questions of visitors are for advice on which Electric Upright Bass (EUB) they should choose. Everyone who plays one has their preference, so if you ask ten different people you’re going to get fifteen different answers. There is no clearly superior electric upright bass among the different good quality basses (costing $2000+), which is why all of them have their share of endorsements.

I don’t have much ownership experience with the entry level electric upright basses such as the Palatino and NS Design WAV basses. What I can say about them (which bass guitar players can relate to) is that picking up one feels the same way as when you pickup a Fender Squire or some other factory produced music instrument from Asia. There is a lack of consistency and they generally don’t feel or sound as good. After reading various comments from owners of these, these basses can be difficult to play and the sound is far from ideal. It seems that from day two after taking one home, those owners are already looking forward to the day when they can trade up. Circumstances may dictate that you may have to make due with a bass that is within your budget, but these guidelines will still be relevant.

Different Philosophies

People have different ideas of the ideal electric upright bass. Some want it as a direct substitute for an acoustic upright bass, while others want it to supplement their upright bass; as another tool. Players who want it as a direct replacement want it to sound and get as close to the “real thing” as possible, so that they no longer have to deal with some of the difficulties of a regular upright bass. Others have and love their upright basses, but want an EUB to compliment it; for a different sound or different purpose.

I fall into the latter category. In the past I was in search of an electric upright bass to substitute for the upright bass, but after many years, I knew that physically there is no possible way for an EUB to sound like a good upright bass; it’s physics. A semi-acoustic is our version of a guitar with a ukulele sized body. Maybe there will be some hi-tech method of making an electric upright bass sound like an acoustic, similar to the acoustic simulators which make electric guitars sound like acoustics, but it’s impossible physically. During those years however, I did grow fond of the electric upright bass for its distinct sound which expands my tonal pallet. I do use the electric upright bass as a tool also of convenience such as rehearsals or places that just aren’t safe to bring a regular upright bass (uncovered outdoor festivals and microscopic jazz cafes).

String Options

Upright Bass strings is where the tone and timbre of an upright bass starts from. If you want your electric upright bass to sound more like an upright bass and less like a bass guitar, you need to use upright bass strings. An electric upright bass should accommodate standard upright bass strings. Some electric upright basses use bass guitar strings or limit you to strings made only by them. Bass guitar strings will make an electric upright bass sound like a fretless bass guitar and basses that limit you to proprietary strings don’t allow you to change types of strings to adjust your sound. For some odd reason (maybe it’s cost cutting) even higher end electric uprights like the NS Design CR basses come with really crappy strings. I don’t know why NS Design would want to ship out basses sounding far from ideal due to bad strings. Fortunately you can change them out with real upright bass strings, and you have to right away! It makes a world of a difference.

String Length

String length is the term that is used for upright basses, but it’s the same thing as “scale length” for bass guitars. String Length should be around 41 1/2″, which is a common string length of most upright basses. Don’t worry if a bass is off by up to one inch shorter or longer. You should be able to find out this specification on most electric upright basses online. If in doubt, measure it out: measure the length from the nut to the bridge. There are a few companies that make electric upright basses in the bass guitar scale length of 35″ so check this specification prior to purchase. 35″ string length electric upright basses are more of a marketing gimmick which is targeted towards bass guitar players , but these sound just like fretless bass guitars.

Brand Difference

There aren’t huge tonal difference between different makers of good quality upright basses. There are far greater differences between string brands, types and lines. Upright bass strings come in different types of string cores, wrap materials, and gauges, which create hugh difference in timbre. Unlike bass guitar strings which are only steel cores, string cores can also be composed of gut, synthetic, nylon, velvet rope, and various alloys. Among the better electric upright bass brands, strings make a larger difference in sound than the actual bass themselves.

Some makers include electric upright basses with small hollow bodies to allow for resonance. I’ve never been a proponent for hollow-bodied electric upright basses, since they cost more without providing resonance that is anything similar to a real upright bass (once again, it’s like a ukulele body on a guitar). Arguably it is closer to the sound of a regular upright bass, but it’s still far from the real thing. If you want an EUB is a substitute for a regular upright bass, and your goal is to get as close as possible this would be a step closer, but it’s still nowhere near.

Hardware

One of the more significant differences between basses is in the design of their endpin and/or stand. Some basses only have endpins that extend out of the bottom, some are designed held by a tripod, while others have variations of either or both.

My preference is for a stand that allows for adjustments in tilt, whether it be tripod or endpin. My reason is because I use a Laborie endpin for my regular upright bass, which changes the angle of the fingerboard relative to the floor. This is a key, but commonly overlooked factor in choosing an electric upright. The hardware design should allow the EUB to feel transparent; not feel distractingly different than your upright bass.

Some companies like to incorporate features that mimic the bouts of an acoustic upright bass. Bouts shapes vary among basses and I’ve never used it for reference in playing any upright bass. Some people do, so this feature may be important to you if you need some physical cue to help you know where you are at on the fingerboard. As for others of you who use the Rabbath/Laborie Endpin on your bass, the location of the fake bouts on the EUB won’t be in the right location, since you are used to being in contact with the back corner of the bout rather than the front corner, so they are more of a nuisance in transporting and setting up the EUB than helpful when you play.

Get It and Forget It

The purpose of a bass is to be your tool in your musical journey. Remember that music comes from you not the instrument which is your tool to convey your music thoughts. After you’ve spent a few weeks getting yourself familiarized with your EUB and getting it dialed in, focus on the playing to further improve your sound, instead of continuing to obsess about the different EUB’s out there. Remember: It’s the ideas and the ability to convey those ideas that your audience hears, not the slight variations between the different EUB’s out there.

Miking an Upright Bass: Stay Away From My f-hole

Figure3After stating that I prefer the AKG c 416 and its revision the AKG C 516, some people have emailed me and asked if I have tried the Applied Microphone Technology s25b on the upright bass. I have tried it for a few weeks, but there were a few things about it that didn’t work for me. The biggest thing is the placement of the microphone. The AMT s25b is designed to be placed at the f-hole.

I let luthiers figure out how to get the best sound out of my bass and sound engineers figure out how to reproduce the best sound. Professional studio engineers rarely agree. The ones that I have worked with all agree that the f-hole is one of the worst places to mic and upright bass. Put your ear next to the f-hole and have a friend play a little. Notice that the sound that you are hearing is an undeveloped sound? You hear air movement, uneven frequency response and loud boomy lows, and it doesn’t represent the overall sound of the bass because of the lack of definition. This is not the sound that we want if we want our tone amplified accurately.  If the flat frequency graph of the AMT mic holds true, then you are just getting a highly accurate reproduction of this undefined sound. This is equivalent to miking the port hole in you speaker cabinet. If you want to add this boominess to the sound from your pickup, (maybe it’s to make up for the lack of low end from a piezo pickup, in your bass or you just like more boominess than what naturally possible from an upright bass), but it doesn’t make sense to spend $700 on a flat frequency response mic to just to boost boominess, nor are you getting a true tone from your bass.

As a young engineer I kept running into bass players who were obsessed with something they called the “f hole”—so compulsive that at first I was afraid to ask what it was. I was relieved to learn that these were merely the two holes in the front of the bass. They are shaped like a cursive letter “f”. These bassists would insist that the very best sound is obtained by placing a mic right up on one of the f holes, and they usually had a preference for one or the other. I quickly learned that the sound coming out at that point is very dark and mushy, much like the sound of some of those pickups.

Once I was older and more experienced I found the courage and diplomatic skill to distract the bassist just long enough to place a large-diaphragm condenser mic directly in front of and about six inches from the strings, with the capsule halfway between the bridge and the bottom end of the fingerboard.

Click here for the complete source article

Move your head close to the bridge and you’ll hear a better sound. This is where a large majority of sound engineers prefer to mic and the consider the the sweet spot. I am not going to take credit for placing a condenser mic in that location as part of the amplification system, since it have been done already by some really great bassists, one of the most popular: Dave Holland. For an example, you can listen to his Extended Play: Live at Birdland CD.

This is not to say that the AMT is not a good quality microphone, but my preference is for the AKG. The newer tailpiece mounted model AMT S25b-tp would allow for miking where I’d like to pull sound from, but that mic is not removable for transport and it is too tightly focused to get a wider area of sound around it.

The AKG is not bass specific, nor does it need to be for where it’s located at. Because it is not instrument specific and AKG has the resources and experience to put together a reliable, durable, good sounding mic at a much lower cost (you’re sharing the R&D cost with tens of thousands of other people instead of a couple hundred).

I prefer BassBalsereit pickup because it picks up sound fairly even across the sound spectrum and can be cranked up with a good amount of feedback resistance. What sets the BassBalsereit apart is that you can turn the pickup and dial in the best and most accurate sound from your bass. It is the best pickup on the market based on my personal experience. The AKG mic does a great job of picking up the rich tone and nuances from that sweet spot on the bass. This all works nicely with the P.A. system and/or an accurate amp such as the Acoustic Image line of amps.

Don Hermann’s Accompanied Rudiments Course

Some beginners to the upright bass have been playing using tuners to check their pitch. While this is not a bad method, it can lead to frustration and discouragement sometimes. There is a practice aid that’s great for any upright bassists that are intermediate beginners and above. I’ve been using the Accompanied Rudiments Course for many years now, first as a method of practicing intonation and later as part of a B157scheduled routine of practice.

The Accompanied Rudiments Course is a set of CD’s that comes with a book that goes through major and minor scales and intervals in every key at various speeds. The CD is essentially a piano recorded, playing scales up two octaves in every single key so that you can hear a reference pitch while you are playing simultaneously on the upright bass. For beginners, you will also get to develop your shifting, rhythm and notation reading while playing along.

The intended level of skill for the Accompanied Rudiments Course is what I would consider an intermediate beginner; You should be at the point where you are attempting to play two octave scales.

The reason that I recommend this, is because versus a tuner that is correcting you visually, listening to the piano allows you to correct yourself through listening. In the real world, you will need this skill of pitch matching to adjust your intonation on the fly. When you are playing with other instruments, you will not have a visual reference to correct your pitch, you will have to adjust according to what you hear.

This is a efficient way to practice because it works not only on intonation, but other necessary skills simultaneously.

Accompanied Rudiments Course can be purchased through Lemur Music

On Order Acoustic Image Coda+

I have just put in my order for the new Acoustic Image Coda+ through Bass Central. They anticipate that these will start shipping in a few weeks. I’ve known about Acoustic Image since they started, but until seeing this model, I was hesitant to change my decades old SWR/Bag End setup. Quite frankly, the first couple of Acoustic Image models always looked like they were works in progress . They have finally evolved to the point where I couldn’t resist this amp: It’s even lighter weight, more compact, very refined in construction and now they’ve added a head that you can undock (called the Cabrio System) that allows for the ultimate in flexibility. Most high end PA speaker manufacturers have already moved away from wood construction and have proven that material obsolete. Class D amps and sound chamber shaping abilities of molded polymer cabinetry has made the birch cabinets and class AB amps that I had seem so dated and unnecessarily heavy. I went ahead and ordered it. I sold off my amps and some cabinets, and then used that money to get this combo.

I’ve become a minimalist and my setup is now down to:

  • Old German Bass w/ Realist
  • NS Design CR4T (still waiting, it’s a special order)
  • Acoustic Image Coda+ (on order)

That list of gear pretty much does it for me. Maybe if I get the urge to be a coda_plus-design-lggearhead someday, I’ll buy the Acoustic Image Ten2 Ex to add to the Coda+ to get more volume if needed.

I’ll do a writeup on it when I get it in. It does seem a bit odd that all 100+ lbs of gear that I sold off is consolidated into this 20 lbs combo amp, but I’m sure my back will appreciate it. With the added AI Mooradian Soft Case, I’ll be able to roll my bass and tote the combo over my shoulder. It’ll be nice to be able to get everything in one trip, and still have 450 watts of quality sound. (Yes, I know that the specs say 800 watts; that’s only if you add another speaker and get the impedance down to 4 ohms.)

Acoustic Image: No Contra+

Acoustic Image, a popular manufacturer of amplifiers for the upright bass, has upgraded the features of the Coda through theseparation_ad years. The most recent feature added is the Cabrio Docking System which allows you to undock the amplifier (“head”) section from the speakers. This allows for more flexibility if you need a different configuration (e.g. outdoor concerts, venues with no P.A.) where you would need a different speaker configuration. Systems with the new Cabrio Docking System have the suffix, such as the Coda+.

I asked Rick Jones of Acoustic Image if they plan to offer the docking system in the Contra (which would make it a Contra+). The official answer is that they do not anticipate offering that feature because they are trying to keep the price down on the Contra, which they consider to be their entry level product.

Acoustic Image can be found at www.acousticimg.com

Gearheads: Let’s Care More About "Something More Human"

What type of bass do you play? Do you know what the best amp out there is? What’s the best mic for live vs studio? Carbon fiber vs pernambuco bow. What’s better, the Realist, Fishman, Underwood, or …?

It’s good to know how to get a good sound out there, but we shouldn’t spent time on things that are not perceivable to the audience. My wife is not a musician, but she appreciates music and attends concerts with me. I can spend a ton of money on gear and she couldn’t tell the difference. She can however, easily spot a good musician or performance from a mediocre or bad one.

At a certain point, are we taking away from developing as a musician by spending time studying up and talking about gear? As a whole, we’re not as bad as guitarists by a long shot, but we do get caught up in all of that “stuff”. But at the end of the day, we don’t want to be gearheads. How many us know guitarists that talk all day about guitars, but have thought to ourselves, “if you knew as much about music as you do about gear, you’d be the Yo-Yo Ma of guitar.” To add more flavor to that analogy, here’s a past article about Yo-Yo Ma’s perspective on his highly coveted $2.5 Million US Dollar cello.

Even while Yo-Yo Ma is playing on a grand and majestic Italian cello, worth
millions and with a distinguished pedigree, secretly he is hoping you won’t
notice it at all. “My personal goal is to transcend the instrument,” he says, so
that when you listen, it’s about the music.

Of course, if you do want to transcend your instrument, it helps to have
access to a really, really good one. Or two. When Ma tears into the Lalo Cello
Concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood this afternoon, he’ll
be playing on a cello made in 1733 by the Venetian master luthier Domenico
Montagnana that is valued at about $2.5 million. He also performs on the
so-called Davidoff Stradivarius. Named for a former owner, it was also played by
the legendary British cellist Jacqueline du Pre (the instrument is now owned by
a group of investors; the Montagnana belongs to Ma). He calls the Strad
“innately gorgeous,” with an extremely refined sound, but says it is not as
forceful or versatile as the Montagnana, which he can use for rough-and-tumble
modern works as well as pieces from the standard cello repertoire. “You can ask
a lot of it and it keeps giving,” Ma says.

The Montagnana’s secret weapon is its powerhouse C string, the
lowest-pitched of the instrument’s four strings. Its sound and color are what
attracted Ma to begin with. He grew up with two violinists and a soprano in his
family, so he was “heavily into hearing treble,” he says. Ma chose the
Montagnana in the 1980s precisely because its strength was its bass.
But Ma
doesn’t get mystical about this cello, or speak, as some musicians do, about the
instrument as an extension of his soul. “It’s an object – a great object, an
artistic object – that you build a relationship with,” he says, “but if you’re
going to care about something, I want to care about something that’s
human.”

That said, a bit more fetishizing of his instrument might have come in
handy that infamous fall day in 1999 when Ma stepped out of a taxi on 55th
Street in Manhattan and left the Montagnana in the car’s trunk. Some three hours
later, after much hand-wringing and an intensive search effort that involved the
New York City Police Department, the cello was safely recovered in Queens – in
the trunk of the taxi. “I was just really absent-minded that day,” Ma says. “The
sad thing is that when my daughter loses something, and I look at her and say,
‘You can’t do that,’ she looks at me and says, ‘I come by it honestly.’ And
there’s very little I can say!”

Boston Globe 8/3/2008