Why Are You Online? … Go And Play

Just putting another perspective on gear addicted bassists (gearheads)


Kenny, should I 'Just Say No' to gear talk so that I don't have to accompany cheesy sax music?

I appreciate the hundreds of you that now visit this site daily. Your support is highly appreciated. I’d like to take this time to do a public service announcement: Don’t spend too much time online reading this stuff and importantly don’t get addicted to gear.

There are those that love the gear aspect of music (gearheads), which is not at all uncommon. As I have mentioned in previous posts, there are people who know and focus on gear far more than playing the instrument itself, are usually mediocre bassists at best.

Most of the best musicians that I know usually don’t obsess about equipment and they don’t care about the engineering behind a product. They don’t sit there on forums everyday writing about the difference between Underwood, Realist, Fishman and K&K. They go and try out stuff and when it sounds good, they buy it and they’re done. Equipment to them is the headache part of trying to get a good sound. There are only so many hours in a day and if someone is spending hours each day on the internet talking about gear, then that’s hours less they spent actually playing.

If your going to converse with other bassists online, your time would be spent better talking about anything else that actually addresses being a better bassist. You’ve gotta question the motives of someone who is always online posting about products (and plug their store). Of course the music retailers would love to perpetuate your addiction to gear by keeping you talking and thinking about gear; they want to keep the money rolling in.

Thinking about ways of playing better is far cheaper.


Upright Bassists Playing Bass Guitar

In a previous post, I mentioned that it’s not easy to double both on the upright bass and bass guitar. It’s not that it cannot be done, but one of the biggest hurdles is that upright bass fingering is basically a three finger method (excluding thumb position) 1, 2, 3+/-4 vs bass guitar 1,2,3,4 which is the guitar method of one finger per semi-tone/half step. My brain and fingers are just wired to think the upright bass way.

There are phenomenal bassists like John Patitucci who use each method on each respective bass, but then again he’s been known to be disciplined enough to practice some insane number of hours on each type of bass per day. I don’t have the time or commitment to practice hours on each bass. I put what time I have into one bass; the upright bass.

Nowadays when I do any bass guitar work, I use the upright bass fingering mentality on the bass guitar. I wasn’t too sure what other upright bassists did, but seeing Christian McBride here and Bromberg in the past, it makes me think that maybe this really is the most logical thing to do for upright bassists that double on both types of basses. There is still the problem that if you play bass guitar regularly enough this way and aren’t 100% confident in your muscle memory for intonation on the upright bass, it could throw off your intonation somewhat.

How to Make a Living (Part 2)


Kenny, should I take that second job instead of endpin into foot?

Where is the money at for most upright bassists? It is in weddings, clubs, and concerts; it is in entertainment. One of my friends/drummers gigs at clubs, the fortunate part is that he enjoys playing pop songs. Because of this, he gets the best of both worlds; good pay and frequent gigs. For others, playing pop songs and Kenny G’s top 20 is more painful than taking off your crutch tip off of your upright bass and driving your sharpened endpin tip into your foot.

It’s not easy to be a performing musician. Some people are fortunate to get paid well frequently performing the music that they like. As you get more artistic and creative with your music, the harder it is to get wide acceptance, which means it’s harder make a living. Most avant-garde musicians will starve without supplementing their income through other means. I’ve seen this too often sadly: Highly talented and creative musicians who have a lot to offer, but don’t make enough money to even support themselves. The toughest part is that the financial strain makes it almost impossible to be fully free and creative.

This is not to discourage you future upright bassists from pursuing music. On the contrary, I want you to thrive and be successful. If you can play pop tunes and Kenny G, all the while go an be creative, then you should be set in the future. On the otherhand, if playing those gigs will cause you to burn out as a bassist altogether, consider harnessing some skills in another field, and for students this means picking up a minor with your degree.

Most musicians do have second jobs, but they just don’t mention it because there’s some stigma about it. There’s a quote out there, “Being a starving musician is romantic when you’re young, but it’s depressing as you get older”. If you’re going to get a second job, at least empower yourself to have options and get paid well for doing it. From firsthand experience, my additional business education in addition to my music degree has created the opportunity for me both make a decent living and still be fully creative doing gigs in the evenings and weekends. Even when I was gradually getting burnt out doing pop songs to pay the bills, I was only playing evenings and weekends anyhow, but now I get to choose what I want to do.

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

New Sections

Two new sections have been added to uprightbass.com. Up above, you will see the Nominate an Upright Bassist tab and the Classifieds tab.

Nominate an Upright Bassist

Since Upright Bass spans so many different genres, this is a way for us to exchange some information about what bassists are out there helping us advance the upright bass further.


Self explanitory. Post upright bass related stuff for sale or a hard sought item that you are looking for.

Brian Bromberg to Release New Album August 25th

brian_bromberg2Highly respected and regarded bassist Brian Bromberg is releasing his next album It is What It is next month. The release also means that he’s lining up venues, so be sure to keep an eye on his schedule as he lines up new shows.

Now the bad news (for upright bassists):

Brian explains, “I’ve done a lot of acoustic playing lately so I wanted to feature my electric basses more…

Brian Bromberg’s new release will feature him playing on various types of basses, including the piccolo and various other setups on bass guitar.

The music on It is What It Is shakes out – literally and figuratively – as a joyous celebration of the amazing breadth of sounds capable by the bass. On the title track, Brian doubles the melody, harmonizes with himself and grooves his tail off using both 4- and 5-string basses in addition to a tenor bass. Meanwhile on the humorously titled “Excuse Me?,” he uses different effects on his hollow body piccolo, tenor, 4-string and upright basses to simulate plucking, burping and other, um, gaseous sounds to funky effect. “Heaven” showcases the warmer, more beautiful sound of the instruments and is one of four numbers with strings arranged by Tom Zink. Brian sets up a lovely duet with himself on fretless bass and nylon string acoustic piccolo bass for a gorgeous Brazilian-lilted backbeat waltz. And on “The Mirror,” he cuts back to just a tenor bass for a solo piece that speaks to the listener like a heartfelt soliloquy. Brian stresses that while guitars are present on the disc in rhythmic and textural coloring roles, all melodic leads throughout the album are played on basses – typically piccolo basses with strings tuned to the register of a guitar.

Source: All About Jazz

Click to Play Streaming Track from Upcoming Release

The Future of the Upright Bass

Here’s a trivia question that you sci-fi geeks that also play upright bass: What’s is the late Gene Roddenberry’s (creator of Star Trek) vision of Upright Bass in the very distant future?

That’s right, it’s an Electric Upright Bass, specifically a Dean Pace Electric Upright Bass. Everyone stock up on these for your great, great, great, great, great grand children because they will be around longer than the automobile. Being a small time Sci-Fi geek myself, I remember a couple of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation that had a jazz band, which included a bassist with an electric upright bass.


I’m sure Mr Roddenberry didn’t ponder hours on end about what the future of bass will be, nor did he favor the 35″ string length of the Dean Pace over the sonically superior 42″ scale length of most upright basses. The future is just speculation, and I’m confident about one thing: everyone will disagree with at least some of my opinions. I’m not the Nostradamus of bass, nor am I completely impartial and objective. Feel free to disagree. I’d be interested in your ideas of where things are headed.

Ladies and Gentlemen; The Upright Bass Has Left The Building

The bass guitar revolutionized the bass world when it grew in popularity in the 60’s on. When Leo Fender started selling these in masses, people realized that these were so much easier to play. Add the playability with a new sound that worked perfectly for a genre that was taking over the mainstream world (rock n roll), and you have a formula for an instrument that would more than dominate the bass world for decades to come. As more and more new bassists to play the bass guitar instead of the upright bass, it seemed a matter of time before that last nail on the coffin for the upright bass in anything except classical and adamant jazz bassists.

The Evolving Upright Bass

On the upright bass side of the fence, the upright bass was not stagnant. The Upright Bass (along with string instruments) were also improving and evolving. Steel strings kept improving as did the selection from the growing number of string manufacturers. Manufacturers kept evolving the string with modern materials and manufacturing techniques. The upright bass also improved greatly in sound and playability. Opposed to previous decades where the bass was just something a shop dealt with along with violins, violas and cellos, there were people out there passionate about making a bass play and sound optimum. Set up right, the upright bass today plays and sounds is light years better than decades ago and you can play it at warp speeds just as you can with the bass guitar. If it played this well back then, maybe Jaco would have had a harder time choosing between the upright bass and the bass guitar.

The Reemergence of the Upright Bass Sound

While everyone else in a band had options to go acoustic or electric, many bass guitarists longed for a more organic, acoustic sound. There were acoustic bass guitars which found a very limited following and eventually many bass guitarists already knew of the long existing upright bass. Many tried it and loved it, which snowballed into overall popularity of the instrument. Add the reemergence of the Rockabilly and subculture variations such as Psychobilly, Punkabilly, etc. and you have bassists moving back to the upright bass.

In the Jazz realm, you had bassist who gravitated back from bass guitar back to the upright bass also. Getting back to the vast improvements in playability and sound in the last couple of decades, jazz bassists no longer had to decide between the  plability of the bass guitar versus the sound of the upright bass. With this time, you started seeing a lot of great bass guitarists start focusing on the upright bass.

Now What?

As a lot of musicians have been mentioning, technology has been changing the demand for bassists in general. There are popular genres of music out there that use electronic bass (sampled bass or synth bass) which do not need a bassist who functions only to drive the sound at the lower end of the frequency spectrum. Your average listener listening to lossy compressed music through Ipod earbuds can’t distinguish between a bass guitar or sampled bass. Live bands in rock and country still want the a bassist because it’s an expected part of a band. Pop music has greatly diminished the demand for bassists. This is not to say that bassist are going extinct, but it just means that the number of people playing bass in the world is shrinking. The synth will never be able to replace innovative bassists in roles where they need to play the instrument with voice and feel.

As for the upright bass, we are growing more in popularity each year even as the popularity of bassist in general is declining. No one takes a census of bassists, but I would guess that bass guitar outnumbers upright basses in the ball park of 50 to 1. Bass guitars are cranked out like Russians cranked out AK-47’s, while upright basses are like the expensive to make, maintain and shoot M-16. Aspiring teenager bassists think the instrument is cool, but most would still rather play the bass guitar. Maybe as the number of rock bands like HorrorPop make a big splash, more and more young bassists in rock and other mainstream music will want to play the upright bass in the future. With the existence of affordable electric upright basses, the upright bass doesn’t have to be big in size if that was an issue.

The greatest advantage of the upright bass is the organic, expressiveness that we can play through the instrument. The very complex nature of the sound of an upright bass makes it hard to sample convincingly. Similar to a bell, natural variations in overtones and waveform that occur with the tiniest variable differences with each strike, make it hard for a computer to mimic. Sampling it makes it a dead giveaway that you’re hearing the same recording repeated. Add in a bow and with our ability to alter our tone in so many ways, and we’re just as hard to synthesize as a singing human voice. Those are our assets that we bring as bassists and which ensures that we will be around for a very, very long time. We’re not likely to dominate the bass world anytime soon, but hopefully long before we start travelling on starships.