Mary Ann McSweeney

I’ve been going through all of my music collection and I come across one that I don’t even remember buying. Sadly Mary Ann McSweeney’s “Thoughts of You” was purchased then buried within the collection. An excellent album not just as one with a bassist as leader, but overall in musicality. Working musician and doing a fine job at it indeed.

Wished that there were better videos to be shared. There was one of better video quality, but I think that this group performance overall (albeit short) was better than that.

She also has a site: http://maryannmcsweeney.com/

Kristen Korb, Vocalist and Bassist

By now, you’ve likely have heard a lot about the highly talented bassist and vocalist Esparanza Spalding. Several years ago, I caught an interview and some tunes of Kristen Korb on KKJZ. Both being incredible vocalists and (in a positive freak of nature way) simultaneously being able to play an upright bass, seeing Esparanza Spalding reminds me of her.

Bass Neck Breaks During Performance

What Gives? It was the neck joint this time.

This video was shared to me by a reader. Don’t worry kids, this does not happen frequently enough to worry about.  However if you abuse the bass or buy a cheap bass/poorly constructed bass, the chances are far greater. (Not that we can assume this time that this bass was abused or was cheap)

Notable Female Bassists

Lm, said:

What about notable female bassists? Did I miss something? Certainly there have to be at least some….

  • Lawrence, said:

    I’m open to suggestions on female bassists.

    I believe that there are many currently emerging that will become notable within our community in the near future.  Talent should be recognized regardless of gender or race. Rather it should be because of an individual’s accomplishments and deserved recognition. For example, creating the category “Female Bassists” implies unequal footing with male bassists. Adding a female name for the sake of adding a female name diminishes the recognition of accomplishments of female bassists in the future, thus is counterproductive. A bassist should be recognized regardless of their gender or race, likewise they should not be recognized primarily because of their gender or race.

    I’m not a big proponent of the Grammy’s, but they did two things that I applaud this year: The first was awarding Esperanza Spalding, and the second was  the announcement  that they are going to do away with separate male and female awards (i.e. Best Female Album). If we believe that women are not inferior to men, then we should not create a handicapping system that recognizes their accomplishments separate from men.

    I have no doubt that there were women in that past whose enormous bass talents never reached their potential due to social inequity and lack of opportunities. Tragic as it is, they never became influential or notable in our community. Looking forward, it’s promising that we are seeing bassists (who happen to be female), emerging and accomplishing much today. They will influence the future the way our predecessors did in the past.

Don’t Shop at Jack’s Music

There are great shops out there, but there are ones at the opposite end of the spectrum. Some businesses are so bad at what they do, I’d hate for others to experience the same thing. Jack’s Music Store (also known as River Rock Music) at jacksmusicstore.com is one of those that you should avoid.

I was in need of a new cello endpin socket for a custom Laborie project that I was putting together. Fortunately I received a $20 VISA gift card from AT&T to pay for that part, so I did a search on Google to see if I could find an endpin socket for that price. I stumbled across Jack’s Music’s website which had the part advertised within the balance that I have on that card.

I placed the order on Jan 25th and they charged me the money immediately. A week goes by and I hadn’t seen any updates to the order status so I email them to see what’s going on. I receive a email stating:

“Customer inquired about status; will contact Engelhardt for shipping information.”

Okay, that’s fair, sounds like a problem with the distributor. Okay you didn’t actually carry the part that you advertise, perhaps you should state that the item is a special order item, and perhaps shouldn’t charge me until the item ships. Perhaps you should inform a customer to expect delays and that it could take weeks to get the part in.

So I wait a week and hear nothing. I email again and hear nothing for a week. Then several days later I receive the message

“Have not received status from Engelhardt. Refunding order and canceling. Have discontinued selling Engelhardt parts.”

Even ATM machines are more polite these days. Say what you will about call centers in India, but at least they’re more polite than a music shop in Michigan.

Several days later, I still have not receive the credit and the Visa gift card is now expiring. I called up the credit card company and they said credits take up to 7 business days at most. It’s been 9 business days and no credit. Since the card now has expired, there’s nothing that Visa can do for me.

Just out of curiosity, I called up Engelhardt to see if they have the endpin sockets in stock. There was no difficulty in reaching Engelhardt and getting an answer and they were polite and helpful. They said that they did, and that I would have to order through a music store. I asked them how long it would take to get one to the store, they said it takes a few days to process, but they can definitely get it out since it is in stock.

So looks like now I’m paying out of pocket for the endpin socket.

—–Update—-

In all fairness, I emailed them a copy of my post and they once again got back to me only after I emailed them. I guess I didn’t get the credit after all, they once again didn’t inform me of what’s going on:

Lawrence – thank you for your input.
Your frustration is a mirror of ours and we apologize for your experience with us. We had not credited your card yet – because we were awaiting the confirmation of the cancellation from Engelhardt. It appears that they have now, indeed, sent your part as we have received notification via regular mail from Engelhardt.
We have discontinued selling parts as of this time, due to this type of lack of response time. It was requested by the manufacturer that we offer them, and as a convenience to our customer we agreed. But, as you can see, it is decidedly an inconvenience if we cannot fulfill the orders in a timely manner.
Again, your parts have been shipped – we have been billed by Engelhardt.
Thank you for your time in forwarding this to our Customer Service Department.



Grammy Winner: Esperanza Spalding!

Wow. Wow. This took me by surprise too. Jazz Artist, Upright Bassist, and phenom Esperanza Spalding took the award for best new artist. Great recognition of talent, promotion of jazz, women bassists and awareness of our type of bass.

Very heart warming. I’m less cynical of the Grammies which has actually recognized talent over popularity….this time. I’ll be straightforward and admit that I didn’t watch most of the Grammies; getting some sleep was needed, but none the less, what I did see was entertaining and made me a bit more open-minded about The Industry.

Interestingly enough as a side note, I saw a spike in page visits in the last 24 hour period. I’m speculating that between Esperanza and the appearance of our beloved bass even among performing acts, interest was generated and people Googled to find out more about the upright bass.

On a side note, a bunch of (presumably female, teenage) fans had edited Esperanza Spalding’s Wikipedia page in their hormone driven, pubescent angst filled disappointment that Justin Bieber didn’t clinch this award. It’s actually really funny after you’re done shaking your head. Some of the vandals wrote such comments as: “SHE IS F****** REATARD,”(SIC) and “JUSTIN BIEBER DESERVED IT GO DIE IN A HOLE.” (lack of punctuation is correctly quoted). After which the vandals slammed their bedroom doors a few times, texted their friends with morbid thoughts about how to exit this cruel world(OMG), and cried their eyes all night about about how life’s not fair and that Esperanza ruined their lives (accompanied with flying objects). Okay, I added that last part.

Reader’s comments, overwhelmingly siding with Esperanza, are entertaining too.
http://technolog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/02/14/6052555-bieber-fans-go-on-grammy-fueled-wikipedia-rampage

“The Upright Sound” Intro

What is “The Upright Bass Sound”? The sound that we associate with and expect to hear from instrument has changed over the years. In actuality, a bass has changed some in terms of sound through the centuries, but little. A bass, for the most part, sounds the same to the naked ear now as it did 100 years ago. What has changed is the amplification of the bass, which influences the live sound and live recordings. Some pillars of the bass world who have been prolific in live performances and in recordings such as Ray Brown,  Christian McBride and Dave Holland sound very different live than they do in recordings.  Listening to recordings that span several decades, the sound of the bass hasn’t changed much, because studios still incorporate the same methods when recording in a controlled environment. In live situations and live recordings, the sound has changed over the years with changes in technology

So what is “The Upright Bass Sound”? Is it the sound that we associate with the recordings of Paul Chambers, Scott LaFaro and Charles Mingus when there were only gut strings, no amplification, and recordings were through vintage microphones shared among band members? Is the “upright bass sound” Ray Brown and Ron Carter on steel strings in the early days of bass pickups and amplification? What about the newer, more accurate sound because of advances in bass amplification and reproduction or growing popularity in other types of strings; where do those fit into the picture?

I can’t emphasize this point enough: This discussion isn’t about talent, it’s about timbre and sound. It’s also not about who or what sound is better, just how things have changed over the years. High caliber players sound fantastic regardless of what they use and the limitations of what they are faced with. What we are discussing is the actual sound of the instrument itself. No matter what the tone, I could listen to these guys for hours and they are largely the reason why a lot of us fell in love with the instrument.

To simplify the categories for the purpose of discussion, I’ve divided them up to three eras

  • Pre-1970’s: Mic on a Stick era
  • 1970’s-1990: Basic piezo and multipurpose amp era
  • Post 1990: “Designed to sound like the bass only louder” systems

Here are some clips for reference that I will be discussing.

Paul Chambers

Scott LaFaro

Charles Mingus

Ray Brown

Ron Carter

Dave Holland

Eric Revis

Carlos Henriquez

Congratulations to Esperanza Spalding

I don’t know if a bassist, especially an upright bassist, has ever been nominated for Best New Artist by the Grammy’s but for 2011, Esperanza Spalding is one of the nominees. Bright new talent is what we need and I’m very pleased that she’s been recognized.

Acoustic Image Ten2Ex, Ten2 vs. Coda+

I’ve had about one month to get to know the Acoustic Image Ten2Ex and compare it with the Coda+. For those of you who are not familiar with the Ten2Ex it’s the same cabinet as the Ten2, except that it does not have the amp head built in. I already own the Coda+ so it would not make sense for my application to buy another cabinet with the same head, especially since the newer AI amps have the “cabrio system”, which allows for easy docking and undocking of the head.

If you recall, the Coda+ comes with a single 10″, 5″ mid and a 1″ tweeter. The Ten2 cabinet consists of two 10″ speakers and a tweeter, no midrange speaker .  The benefit of having two 10″ speakers is that the cabinet can move more air. More air movement equals more volume. Just like the Coda+, the Ten2 has a downfiring 10″, but instead of the 5″ midrange and tweeter mounted into the front, it has a 10″ in the front and a 2.5″ coaxial tweeter in front of the speaker. This makes the cabinet taller and heavier, yet it’s still much lighter than other brands of 2×10 speaker cabinets.

I love the Coda+ and how transparent and accurate it sounds, but it’s weakness is volume. It’s impressive for its size and weight, far louder than a polytone or GK and has way more headroom. It does have a hard time keeping up when the stage volume is up because of an aggressive drummer in more rock n roll oriented genres. I would say that 90% of the time, the Coda+ is plenty loud and that’s all that I need. I could have gotten a Contra+ to duplicate the same sound, but the idea of a 3×10 stack seemed like a better option for loud situations.

To test the Ten2 against the Coda+, I used the same head and went back and forth to hear differences between the speakers.  The most obvious thing is that Ten2 is noticeably louder. It’s at least 50% louder at the same setting based on a rough guess. The next thing that is noticeable is that it does sound different than the Coda+. There is more bottom end on the Ten2 at all volume levels. At the upper half  of volume settings the bottom sounds deeper, clearer and rounder than the Coda+. The lows are not boomy at all. The midrange frequencies on the Ten2 drop off, so it lacks the flat frequency response of the Coda+. Boosting the mids to match the levels with the lows only resulted in a midrange that sounded somewhat harsh,  similar to a Polytone.  The Ten2 sounds best with minimal equalizing. The high frequencies are clear and more audible than the mids, but their levels are also low compared to the lows frequencies. Unlike the Coda+, this cabinet is scooped in other-words, but it’s not colored like one would expect from bass guitar cabinets.

Out of curiosity, I dusted off the old ’72 Fender Deluxe Jazz to see how the Ten2 would sound. The Coda+ didn’t do so well making the bass sound good, but the Ten2 did much better. It still sounded a bit sterile and a bass guitar cabinet’s coloring would be very beneficial, but it’s still very usable unlike the Coda+.  With some eq’ing, I could get a very decent sound out of the amp. With the bass guitar, the bottom on the Ten2 was tight and fill and the highs were clean.

It’s not to say that I don’t like the Ten2, but I like the Coda+ far more. For what I want to hear out of my amp, the flat response of the Coda+ with BassBalsereit Studio active pickup + AKG microphone does a exceptional job of making the amplifier indistinguishable from my bass. If the sound coming out of your pickup/mic jack is exactly how you like it, then the Coda+ is a clear winner in terms of quality of sound. If you’re going for volume because you routinely play where stage volumes are high, the Ten2 will get the job done while still providing clean, transparent sound. You will sacrifice some detail and accurancy, but at high volume levels and playing against other instruments, that loss wouldn’t be as perceivable.

The Coda+ stacked on the Ten2Ex was the best of both worlds. How the speakers are arranged makes a very large difference in the overall sound. With both speakers on the ground, the lows are very pronounced. Stacked, the sound is closer to flat level across the full spectrum. By stacking, one cabinet off of the floor and is decoupled from the floor which reduces its bass response. The lows are still more pronounced so a little equalizing is needed to get the response to flat. This arrangement is very loud for an upright bass amplification system and for one that weighs less than 50 pounds total.

Ideally it’s probably best to have both the Coda+ and Ten2Ex, but if you had to choose one amp, you should choose one based on what you do. If you do jazz combos, the Coda+ is a very clean, accurate amp with a lot of headroom and detail. If you routinely play where the stage volume is high, the Ten2 may be a better alternative.

Upright Bass Tailpiece – Snap! Bang!

I was standing in the same room as my basses when I heard something give and then there was a loud bang. When I looked over my bass, I found that the composite tailpiece that I was going to write about had failed at the joint where the tailpiece wire goes.

I wasn’t overall thrilled about the composite tailpiece. Yes because it was very lightweight the bass seemed louder. I had my apprehension even before installing it anyhow. Tapping on the ebony tailpiece it had a nice woody sound, but with the composite tailpiece it was a thuddy sound, not unlike tapping on tupperware. The term “composite” in this instance, is really a fancy term for plastic.

I’m not at all impressed by the composite tail piece, except for the weight which did benefit my bass. There are better lightweight tailpieces made of maple which would seem the way to go.