BassBalsereit Studio (Symmetrical/Balanced) Upright Bass Pickup

balsereitLooks like it’s time to upgrade again. I’ve been very pleased with the Original (Passive) Balsereit Pickup, but now it looks like I can’t resist upgrading to the recently released BassBalsereit Studio Pickup. The “Studio” model connects via XLR and has a balanced symmetrical signal. It should work wonderfully with Acoustic Image heads which has two XLR capable channels, each with Balanced XLR inputs and Phantom Power. I will be sending the AKG C516 Mic through one channel and the BassBalsereit Studio into the other. I’ll keep a Rolls MP13 handy just in case I ever need to plug into someone else’s bass amp that only has  1/4″ inputs AND there is no mixer that I can plug into (the BassBalsereit Studio is designed to sound good directly into a mixer/PA).

I like the fact that they sound phenomenal, plus you can swap it between basses easily (using one pickup for 3 basses helps offset the expensive price). Should be a very good setup and I will post the results after some use.

Just like the original Balsereit Pickup, the pickup is conic and you can physically turn the pickup to get the most accurate sound out of your bass. Here are some clips that I found online at the GEBA Online site of someone who recorded a demonstration of the original Balsereit and the new Studio version.

Each repetition played is the pickup at different positions. The idea of tune-ability is that some positions sound great, some okay, while others are downright awful. While listening, keep this in mind.

Original:

Balsereit_old360–.mp3

Studio

Balsereit_studio_360 degree

Thank goodness for Google Translate. Here is a translation of the Balsereit technical overview:

bassbalsereitaktiv

The fully balanced development of the  BassBalserite Aktiv.
Typical applications: Professionals, studio recordings, small and large stages.

Significant improvements:

  • Extremely microphone-like, natural sound
  • Delicate, balanced sound image of the instrument
  • Sophisticated tone
  • Fat basses
  • Signal / noise ratio is less than -100 dB
  • Operation only with balanced inputs with phantom power
  • Output level of about 0 dB

The BassBalsereit Studio costs about $650 including shipping to the United States. Thomann carries these in stock.

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A little lnspiration to Practice

A very hot solo by Brian Bromberg. Don’t ever think that an Upright Bass has limits.

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.

Goldstar Discount Event Tickets

I’ve been using Goldstar to purchase tickets for various events and have been pleased with the service and savings. They make arrangements with venues and performers to sell tickets at 1/2 off. They are a discount ticket seller, which means that you won’t get tickets for events that are highly in demand, but they do have many quality events. Sometimes I’ll find tickets for concerts that I was going to purchase anyhow. Paying less for concerts means that my concert budget goes further.

This is an cost saver not only for concert goers, but for sports and taking out the ms. for a show. They can be found at www.goldstar.com

The Soloist (2009) – Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, Bassist

the-soloist-movieHollywood has a reputation of changing around real life stories to do whatever it they think it takes to make a story more dramatic and marketable, for the sake of maximizing box office revenue. The 2009 movie titled The Soloist is a movie about Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, a Julliard Musician who ends up living in the streets of Los Angeles. Nathaniel Anthony Ayers is actually a bassist and studied it for most of his life. He received his scholarship to Julliard as a bassist.

Ayers’ real-life story, though, started out quite ordinary. Like many kids, Ayers wasn’t studious when he took up the double bass, his initial instrument, according to Harry Barnoff, his first teacher at the Cleveland Music School Settlement, a community school. “In the first year, he fooled around,” Barnoff says. “But later, he suddenly got a fever and said, ‘I want to be a bass player like you.’”

Ayers began practicing diligently even though, Barnoff recalls, his natural ability meant that “he could be without a bass for a month and then pick it up and you’d think he’d practiced every day.” Barnoff says both he and colleagues, upon hearing Ayers play, agreed that the teenager had the potential to join any of the Big Five. But several years later, while on scholarship at Juilliard to study with the late Homer Mensch, Ayers started showing symptoms of schizophrenia. Dropping out, Ayers bounced to Ohio, Colorado, and eventually Los Angeles, sometimes calling his former teacher collect to talk about music and bass repertoire, Barnoff says.

Except of from All Things Strings

Harry Barnoff, Nathaniel’s mentor at the Cleveland Music School Settlement, tells us about his protégé’s talent (and about his early approach to honing skills).  Though initially unfocused, the young double bass player was able to perform well even when he ignored assignments and skipped practice.

Barnoff, a  Juilliard-educated bassist with the Cleveland Orchestra, urged Ayers (who was born on the 22nd of January, 1951) to recognize and develop his gift.

Excerpt from Awesome Stories

Once again, the public limelight is taken away from bassists and what we are capable of. Imagine if they kept true to the story and had shown some virtuoso bass solos and excerpts, how it would have increased awareness of what we can do. Would the story  have been less marketable if he were portrayed as he really is in real life? I say that it’s less marketable to classical musicians and audiences, but it makes no difference to the general masses. Since Hollywood has zero pause about changing facts, why not make him a Jazz bassist, while we are at it?

NS Design CR4 Electric Upright Bass

I had sold my 5 String NS Design CR5M that I’ve had for over 5 years in favor of purchasing a CR4T. I use the NS Design Electric Double Bass very often for rehearsals or certain venues. Around here, cafes want jazz trios, but don’t have the room to spare for the acoustic upright since all three of us are put into tight corners. It’s come in handy for outdoor concerts since I don’t want to risk cracks or varnish damage to the acoustic bass, plus it is not temperamental in this environment. For rehearsals when I have to park my car far from my destination, having a compact bass that is easy to transport can make life as a bassist much easier. When I have to fly, this bass makes for a pleasant and cheaper flight (no oversize fees). It has become an indispensable option for me as a bassist. There’s only so much money I’m willing to spend on an Electric Upright Bass since I’ll never prefer one over an acoustic; so count out the spendy hollow bodied electric upright basses for me. I think that this is one of the better ones out there. It plays great and people really dig how it looks.

It sounds deep and punchy like a good upright bass, but it won’t replace the acoustic bass. Here’s the key; you should change from the provided strings (except the CR4T) to real upright bass strings. The strings that come on the CR and CRM models are terrible and will make your electric upright bass sound like fretless bass guitar. Still, the NS Design basses are definitely not for professional recordings, unless this specific type of sound is what you are looking for. It lacks the deep acoustic resonance, but it has a good quality tone when paired with the right strings. The lack of resonance is a plus where feedback would be a concern for the acoustic.

While I might not agree with a lot of the ideas Ned Steinberg has out there, I respect that he’s always pushing the envelope with creative ideas. The original incarnation, the CR4, was a leap forward in the electric upright bass world. With the collaboration of David Gage, this bass is what I consider the best in terms of an electric upright bass. Here’s what sets him apart from other electric upright bass makers; Ned Steinberg brings his wealth of knowledge of electric guitar and bass guitar construction, and David Gage brings his knowledge of upright bass setup, playability and amplification. The result is a upright bass that’s sounds great, plays wonderful and is as compact and durable as a bass guitar. He does seem to cater to bass guitar players a lot with features such as the magnetic pickup and reference dot markers on the fingerboard, and the fretted bass cello, but he is a successful businessman also so it makes sense for him to cater to a bigger market.

Durability and compactness is part of the design. The fingerboard is mounted flush with the body and the phenolic bridge is recessed, so there is nothing to catch or bump and break. Looking at it, it could probably be knocked onto its bridge without damage.

Playability is where this bass shines. It feels good and solid; the playability is a breeze. It feels natural for an upright bass player with its 41.5″ string length and angles of a regular upright bass are retained. Neck through thumb position it felt solid and easy to play. If you’re at least somewhat serious about the upright, I’d highly recommend this over their WAV series which is NS Design’s entry level product. The difference between the two is worth every penny. The WAV does not feel, play or sound as good, but you get what you pay for.

When I first purchased the CR5M, I just bought what they had in stock. This time I knew what I wanted different on my bass. Grasshopper and Beaver at Bass Central over in Florida and their distributor had assisted me with this new order. Yeah I’ll admit, when I was talking on the phone, I was picturing a grasshopper and beaver on the other end of the phone (too many cartoons growing up). They don’t know much about upright basses since they mainly deal with bass guitars, but their service is great. I ordered my previous CR5M from them years back and after price shopping they are still the lowest in price. I don’t see any benefit in paying more to buy one from an upright bass shop, since electric upright basses are really simple. I would never recommending buying a regular upright bass from anyone other than a upright bass dealer (and I’m selective when it comes to those dealers), but with this bass, it’s okay; save yourself a few hundred dollars.

Since NS Design has different flavors for their CR Basses, there was some confusion on my part about the differences between the models:

The number obviously means how many strings are on the bass. A CR5 has five strings versus a CR4, which has four. The ‘M’ in the CR5M and CR4M denotes that the magnetic pickup option is present in addition to the piezo pickup. If you chose a CR5 over a CR5M, you are getting the same bass, just that you opted not to have the magnetic pickups. The ‘T” model (i.e. CR4t & CR5T) is marketed as the “traditional”. The bass is the same as the regular piezo only model, except that it comes with the endpin stand instead of the tripod, the action is set higher, and there is a button on the back of the neck for reference of D on the G string, and it comes with Helicore Hybrids. Other than that, it’s the same in terms of electronics, appearance, construction, etc.

I chose to go from a 5 string back to 4 so that it is more consistent with my acoustic bass. I suppose I could get a 5 string acoustic, but good ones are hard to come by and the price reflects that. I never utilize that 5th string that much. At most, I went down to the D or Db, but the C and B were too slow and sounded inconsistent with other notes. These notes don’t ring or punch, they rumble with a slow attack rate. This isn’t a problem with the bass, it’s the problem that arises because of the low oscillating frequency of those low notes. The thicker string also means that the overtones are dampened, so the tone doesn’t cut through like it would with other strings. It came in handy for some more avant-garde or eclectic music, but for jazz it was more cumbersome in my mind than beneficial. It should make the transition between the two easier for me.

As far as the magnetic pickups, I always had those dialed out. I’d give them a try, but didn’t like the tone I was hearing. 100% piezo is far truer in tone to what most of us are used to. Even in considering the use of the magnetic for a unique type of tone, I still didn’t want to use it. It sounded like a cheap bass guitar. I doubt it’s a quality of components issue, since they use EMG’s which are reputable. The strings have to sit so far from the pickup, that I think that they are far from the optimum placement of the pickups’ magnetic field. Also, when using strings that are not steel core (gut or synthetic) or when playing arco, the magnetic pickups don’t work anyhow. I did try some Evah’s Pirazzi (synthetic core) strings on the bass and liked that sound and may end up using those instead of the Helicores anyhow. (Slight tangent: I did try Spirocore on it, and while they are perfect on my 100 year old German Upright Bass, they were to bright and harsh for the Electric Upright Bass). It didn’t make sense to spend the extra for the magnetics this time around. It should also make it easier to clean rosin off the bass after playing since the pickups tended to collect rosin and to clean it well you’d have to work at it with a q-tip.

I special ordered my bass without the dot markers, which is why it’s going to take months for me to get the new one. Dot markers along the fingerboard for every half step. Dot markers are a crutch and shouldn’t be used except by grade school students for the first few weeks of playing. It seems odd that NS Design puts dots standard on their bass and cello, but not violin and viola. Apparently there is a belief that bassists need the crutch permanently 😉 but if you accept that, then you’ll only live up to your own expectations. Most bassists I know ignore the dots anyhow, which is what I did, so I figured; why even have them?

There are other options like a zebrawood or burl walnut top which I had considered. I don’t know how the tone is affected, but I realized that I didn’t need a special looking electric upright bass, since and electric upright bass is already a rare sight.

My new electric upright bass is scheduled to arrive in August. There shouldn’t be much difference in quality or tone than I am already used to. I will do a full writeup anyhow when it comes in.

Korg DT-4 Tuner

My trusty 20 year old Korg DT-1 is on its last leg so it was time to go shopping for a new tuner. This tuner lasted me through a lot of rough handling in high school, college, and beyond. The fact that the Korg lasted as many years as it had me favoring another Korg tuner. Back in the 1980’s that tuner cost me about $100 if I recall right. The tuner never gave me any problems except that a few of the LED’s had stopped working over the years so I had to rely on my sense of pitch to substitute for the led’s that used to light up above Bb & Gb. It worked great until recently when I would have to hit it harder and harder to get it to start working. At that point, it was time to buy a new one.

When I was shopping for a new tuner, there were some features of the DT-1 that I wanted to have in my new tuner. Some of the features that I liked about the Korg DT-1 over other types of tuners was that it could be viewed low lighting situations. Back when it first was introduced, most tuners were the needle type which were fragile, due to the mechanical nature of them. Later I saw a lot of people using LCD tuners, but didn’t like them because they were hard to read in dark settings (even with the backlights). When you backlight something, you’re essentially looking its shadow, which isn’t as easy to read as a straightforward LED. The LCD simulated needle was also hard to read at a distance, because it was a thin line. The LCD’s also seemed slower and visually not very responsive to slight changes in pitch, but that could also be because those tuners were cheap.

The downside of the DT-1 was that the small LED’s got washed out outdoors. If I had to read it in that situation, I would have to cup the tuner so that the LED’s wouldn’t get washed out. Since the LED’s lit above an ink labeled letter for each of the 12 tones, it was also difficult to use in complete darkness since you wouldn’t know what note letter that the led was lit above. It was always accurate, reliable, and easy to use overall.

When I started shopping for the new tuner, I was drawn to the DT-4, which incorporated the same concepts but had a lot of improvements. A few revisions have passed since I purchased my DT-1 and it looks like Korg did not sit idle on their product. The DT-4 has larger and far brighter LED’s that were much harder to wash out in sunlight, it was even more compact, and it responded quickly just like the DT-1. The DT-4 also lights up the letter of the tone that you are playing so that you can use this in complete darkness. Best of all I was finding these at $30 at stores because of some heavy discounting out there. The tuner was very accurate and responsive to slight pitch changes, which allows for easy tuning. Since almost everyone has them now priced at more than 60% off, it’s a great time to try out the new Korg DT-4 tuner. I highly recommend it for use on our upright bass.