Time Flies

Wow it’s been a long time since the last post. I’ve been really busy juggling my schedule with a baby boy so the blog didn’t get the attention it deserved. Add that to the fact that he was born 8 weeks early so he needed a lot of attention to get him through that rough beginning.

The basses have collected a layer of dust and you have been seeing the same post since March. I”m now one less bass than before; the Italian and Prochownik Bow are gone (Neonatal Intensive Care at the hospital is $3000-5000 a day). Now after a long hiatus, it’s time to start getting my playing back up to speed and get this blog rolling again. There’s that God given gift that allows some bassists to be off from playing for a decade, yet one day he/she can just pick up the bass where one last left off like it was yesterday. A truly wonderful gift. I don’t have that gift. Nine MONTHS takes its toll on me. I do surprise myself on how much I retained, but I know that my fingers feel a less dexterous and my brain feel like it has cobwebs that need dusting out.

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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.

Beginner Upright Bass Advice Section

I’ve just put together a section on the site that addresses some of the common questions that beginners have about how to get started with the Upright Bass. It’s a work in progress, but the same questions come up daily so I posted it with the most commonly asked question to get it started.

The Maple Engelhardt Tailpiece Experiment

In my last post, I mentioned that I was a looking for a lightweight tailpiece and tried a composite one, which snapped and broke. Jonas over at the Double Bass Guide mentioned the cheap maple ones that come on lower end basses. That though had crossed my mind, but Jonas’ bringing it up reaffirmed that it wasn’t a crazy idea would be worth looking into. It does seem odd to put a $20 tailpiece on the $10,000 bass, but then again, it would be odd to spend $150+ to possibly get the same results if I’m looking for functionality. The high end maple tailpiece look fantastic and are well crafted, but that gets negated on the Old German bass that I use for Jazz where I have the two XLR jacks with integrated preamps from the BassBalsereit Aktiv and AKG Mic attached to the underside of the tailpiece.

I’ve put in the order for two of the Engelhardt Maple Tailpieces for $20 each from Jack’s Music Store to experiment with. If I like the results of a maple tailpiece, I’ll consider getting one of the Mike Pecanic Tailpieces or the BassSpa ones.

Upright Bass Composite Tailpiece Failure – 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 quickly glanced at each bass, I discovered that it was the Old German Bass with the composite tailpiece that I just installed a few days ago, which I was going to write about. Yup, broken in less than a week. I found that the composite tailpiece had failed at the joint where the tailgut goes. C’mon, they were strung with Animas so I wasn’t asking them to hold bridge suspension cable type strings. “Space Age Material”… riiiiight. I’m not going to try these again, because when something breaks like that, it sticks in the back of my mind even with a replacement. I definitely don’t want to wonder it the tailpiece is going to give again when I’m on the way to my next gig.

I’ve always been open minded to newer materials and advancements in materials that seem promising in improving on older pre-existing norms. Right when I received it, I was already questioning if these composite tailpieces are an improvement over wood tailpieces. I had my apprehension even before installing it anyhow, but it was more-so because it didn’t sound very good even in hand. Tapping on the ebony tailpiece it had a resonant sound, but with the composite tailpiece it sounded like plastic, because well …. essentially it is fancy plastic. Yes, because it was very lightweight the bass seemed louder and more open, but there was some loss in quality in the upper harmonics. The bass just didn’t sound as crisp. The lighter weight is welcomed, but plastic as a material just isn’t. I’m not sure that I can recommend that you switch from the common ebony tailpiece to a composite, such as a Wittner. The tailpiece gave up on me before I did on it so let’s just part our ways and move on.

Onto the next thing. I contacted both Mike Pecanic and Jake at the BassSpa in Vancouver because they both make tailpieces out of several types of woods so maybe I can have the best of both worlds, light and resonant.

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.