Tag: bass guitar

The Bass Is Not a Guitar

the bass is not a guitar 2

The bass is not a guitar.

I know, I know…. This can be confusing and even controversial. Basses look a lot like guitars, and so many people call the instrument I play the “bass guitar.” From this name, one might deduce that, like the bass flute, a bass guitar is merely a member of the guitar family which sounds lower. I will concede that the guitar and bass might seem similar and even appear to have a common ancestor, but appearances can be deceiving. These two instruments are separate and come from very different lineages. The ancestor of the electric bass is actually the double bass or upright bass, which hails back to the Renaissance, belonging to the violone family (along with the viola da gamba). On the other hand, the modern guitar’s ancestors range from the oud to Spanish instruments such as the guitarra latina and vihuela.


Upright and electric basses do typically feature four strings in the same tuning. Because they share the same note names as the first four strings of the guitar, some might see this as evidence that they are, indeed, related. Our modern guitar tuning was probably derived to accommodate chordal playing. This is why the second string interrupts the pattern of fourths with a third, which makes a whole host of chords possible and simpler to strum across all the strings at once.

To make matters more complicated, Leo Fender is sometimes mistakenly credited with the invention of the electric bass. In 1951, Leo modified his solidbody Telecaster guitar design to create the Precision Bass, so called because the frets allowed for precise intonation while playing. Later, Leo borrowed his offset body design from the Jazzmaster to create the Fender Jazz Bass. Both the Precision and Jazz basses became extremely popular and most modern electric bass designs are in some way based on them. By utilizing standardized patterns for most of his guitars and basses, Fender mastered the art of assembly-line mass production, which helped us all to see the electric bass as a type of guitar, due to the obvious similarities.

The ancestor of the electric bass is actually the double bass or upright bass, which hails back to the Renaissance, belonging to the violone family (along with the viola da gamba).

However, the first known electric bass ever made was the Audiovox Bass Fiddle, created by Paul Tutmarc in the mid 1930s. With the help of two new inventions, the amplifier and magnetic pickup, Tutmarc created the world’s first truly portable bass. While acoustic bass instruments had to be large to reproduce the extremely low fundamentals required, electric instruments changed all of that. Now, a relatively small 18-watt portable package could produce the lowest fundamentals, which had only been possible with instruments such as tubas, pipe organs, huge double basses, and 9′ grand pianos. Tutmarc’s first attempt was a small solidbody upright, but he soon realized that he could build an even more compact bass that could be played horizontally.

Many bass players who would eventually play electric basses exclusively began as upright players, continuing a long tradition that predated the invention of the electric bass by at least two centuries. From my perspective, I come out of a long lineage which began with great upright players like Jymie Merritt and James Jamerson, who switched to the electric bass in the late ’50s, mostly out of convenience. These new smaller and louder instruments were game changing because they allowed constantly touring musicians to hold down a bass role in a more transportable package.

At first, bassists transferred what they were already playing on the upright to electric. But over time, they developed new voices, techniques and approaches specifically tailored to the physical characteristics, sonorities, and capabilities of this instrument. By the time we get to Bootsy Collins, Tony Levin, Louis Johnson, Larry Graham, Jaco Pastorius, Anthony Jackson, Jeff Berlin, Mark King, Marcus Miller, Rich Brown, Victor Wooten, and so many others, there are bassists who play the electric bass exclusively, and who have developed their own astounding techniques for doing so.

The bass has spent over six decades at the forefront of cutting-edge genres from soul to R&B, country, rock, funk, disco, jazz, and fusion. Today, there are countless virtuoso bassists who have never played the guitar or upright bass and have no desire to. The bass is not a guitar or even an upright bass substitute. And it is no longer a thing played out of convenience, but an independent instrument with its own sound and rich lineage.

Going After Chuck Rainey

chasing chuck rainey

When we talked, bassist Michael Majett had actually just marked off a product on his bucket checklist: playing the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. For Majett,

the headlining collection with the War and also Treaty at the event’s Blues Stage had not been just a gig. It was a means to get in touch with the history of the event and what it represents: the deep tradition of American songs as well as culture that’s identified with the Crescent City, as well as specifically the Black heritage that birthed rock ‘n’ roll, blues, jazz, and R&B, plus some of the globe’s tastiest food. Majett’s additionally interested in tradition and taste when it comes to bass tone.” There are two tones I really want to listen to, “he associates.” There’s the James Jamerson thing– or maybe a much better summary would certainly be the Chuck Rainey thing, where you’ve got flatwounds and you’re silencing– and then there

‘s that grind-y rock point, which is somewhat overdriven but has a great deal of depth. And also I can solve in the zone with my amps, although they’re very different.” At New Orleans ‘Jazz Fest, he used a backline amp, naturally. But in the house in Nashville, where he’s earned a track record as a live-gig MVP because relocating from Atlanta with the modern Christian band Truth 24 years back, he’s obtained a set of workhorses that aid propel his penchant for deep-resonating melodic grooves: a Ampeg B-15N and a hybrid Markbass TTE 500 Randy Jackson trademark model.Depth is crucial to Majett’s playing– in both his round, abundant, plump sound, which seems to press more air than a jet engine, and his onstage adaptability. He also regularly carries out with Billy Prine (John Prine’s brother), country legacy musician T. Graham Brown, emotional singer-songwriter Jason Eskridge, haunting singer as well as songwriter Luella, and respected songwriter, vocalist, and also guitar player Tim Carroll. His gigs with Carroll, who was featured in this column in August 2021, are especially totally free ranging. Carroll is an edgy improvisor with a substantial collection of styles as well as tracks, that drops brand-new tunes into his regular two-and-a-half hour sets without wedding rehearsal. And also there’s no set listing. So, Majett has to be ready for every little thing from blowing up punk origins ‘n’ roll to jams that evoke Led Zeppelin. In addition to that, Majett seems to be in the mobile phone of every Nashville bandleader who could need a sub, so if you spend even a brief time club jumping in Music City, you’re bound to see him onstage.

” There’s the James Jamerson point– or possibly a far better description would certainly be the Chuck Rainey thing, where you’ve got flatwounds as well as you’re muting.”

For many local programs, Majett brings the TTE 500– a 500-watt hybrid head that creates tones with 3 ECC83 preamp tubes, plus an ECC81 for its compressor. The amp has traditional controls: 3-band EQ, compressor, master, and also gain dials, plus a modern-day spin in the “colour” knob, a filter Majett states makes the amp sound “extra tube-y. I’m an all-tube lover, as well as this comes actually close. I keep my EQs directly and also keep the gain reduced. The odd point is, I can transform all of it the method up and it actually doesn’t misshape. It gets a little a lot more trebly, but that’s okay.”

He seems to prefer his 1973 B-15N extra, but, despite having a 1×15 cab, the TTE 500 configuration considers simply a little over half of the Ampeg flip-top combo’s roughly 85 pounds. “I got the Ampeg 20 years earlier, and also at that time I didn’t mind carrying it almost everywhere,” he states. “I desired one for years, and when I ultimately obtained it, it was ideal. It’s only 30 watts, but is actually loud and also has that terrific, classic tone.” The all-tube rumbler has 3 6SL7 preamp containers, a 5AR4 for the rectifier, and 2 6L6 power tubes, with bass as well as treble controls and also a 15″ Eminence audio speaker.

Whether Majett connects in his Fender Jaguar or his Nate Mendel signature P bass, the results are basically the very same– a huge, cozy audio with a dapple of problem that’s perfect for his mix of tune and punch. His EQ setups for both amps are the same, and also he’s found the sweet area for the Ampeg’s master volume is around 10 or 11 o’clock. Majett additionally likes the flavor of grit that occurs when he jumps both networks on the B-15N– a stunt likewise preferred by a lot of classic Marshall owners.The functional bassist also

digs octave pedals as well as makes use of a Boss OC-2 and the dirtier, wilder 3 Leaf Audio Octabvre. His most recent purchase is a Shaw Audio Tube Injection preamp. But the core of his crucial voice truly hinges on those amps. “Honestly,” Majett observes,” with both of those amps, I ‘d have to strive to seem bad.”

YouTube It

Michael Majett, with his easy taking a trip Markbass 500 head and 1×15 bottom, holds down the reduced end for singer and also songwriter Luella, along with guitarist Goffrey Moore as well as drummer Justin Amaral, at Nashville’s Analog showcase room.

When it comes to bass tone, Majett’s likewise interested in tradition and also preference.

At New Orleans’ Jazz Fest, he utilized a backline amp, of training course.

For the majority of local shows, Majett lugs the TTE 500– a 500-watt crossbreed head that creates tones with 3 ECC83 preamp tubes, plus an ECC81 for its compressor.

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The flexible bassist also digs octave pedals as well as uses a Boss OC-2 as well as the dirtier, wilder 3 Leaf Audio Octabvre.

This 50-Piece Ensemble Is a Model for Modern Music Making

this 50 piece ensemble is a model for modern music making

The first time I experienced an orchestra I was 7. A year earlier, a roving teacher visited my class carrying a bag filled with plastic recorders. She gave us a simple challenge: “I’ll be back in a week to see how many of you can play this song without squeaking!” As promised, she returned one week later, and miraculously I made the cut. My reward was to be enrolled at the Newham Academy of Music in London. A week later, another teacher handed me a tiny violin and said, “If you can play the song I just taught you by next week without squeaking, you can stay.” I noticed a trend—squeaking on any instrument was bad. A year later, I was on stage at the Royal Albert Hall with about 50 other kids. Our orchestra was called Da Capo, which means “from the beginning.”


Over the next four decades as a composer, I continued to have close encounters with orchestras: London Symphony Orchestra at 19, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra at 40, and Detroit Symphony Orchestra at 45. It became apparent to me, even at 19, how exceedingly difficult it was for people who looked like me to become involved in the orchestral world—a world created around an enduring European tradition which rarely took us into account. This was true of all the various institutions, and even nations, that populated the long road travelled towards becoming an orchestral musician or composer. And to a large extent, this is still true today.

Due to my early experiences in Da Capo, or my fascination with the idea that 50 to 80 people could all work together in sync to create music, I had always dreamt of an orchestra that could be representative of the actual residents—and sounds—of the city where it resided.

Philadelphia’s Public Orchestra offers an alternative to traditional classical ensembles, with room for all instruments and backgrounds.

The Public Orchestra, one module of Rehearsing Philadelphia, an expansive musical project/meta score created by American artist and composer Ari Benjamin Meyers and funded and produced by a quorum of local institutions, had that same goal in mind. Thus, when they offered me the musical director gig it was an easy yes! See more about this massive project and Ari’s manifesto for it here.

The Public Orchestra of Philly is a complete reimagining of what an orchestra could, or should, be. It began with Ari’s question, “How can we be together?” We considered the vast gamut of musical communities within Philadelphia—jazz, gospel, soul, hip-hop, classical, folk, Indian, Brazilian, Mexican, Cuban, Philipino, Klezmer, Arabic, Korean, West African, and many others—and pondered how these could all be represented and coexist within a 50-piece ensemble. Just two of the orchestra’s members are Tchin, who plays the Native American nose flute, and Matthew Law, who plays the turntables. See our stage plot below for a complete listing of the instruments chosen.

Notation is a useful tool, especially within orchestras, which are notoriously expensive to rehearse. But when considering the musical traditions that exist outside the realm of Western notation—most—it can become a barrier. Not requiring our participants to read music allowed many more musical communities to be included. Repertoire was another area we considered. We knew that the orchestra should perform new works written specifically for it, which would require commissions.

We asked, “What is a composer?” The traditional conventions governing orchestral composition—the typical “top down” hierarchy involving a conductor and score, sections and parts, first and second chairs, and even the idea of pre-composed music—meant that the pool of people who could compose for orchestras was quite limited. However, our composer pool grew exponentially once we reconsidered those. We commissioned five wildly different composers: Ann Carlson (choreographer), Ursula Rucker (performance poet), Xenia Rubinos (Latinx electronic music artist), Ari Benjamin Meyers (the project’s architect), and Marshall Allen of the Sun Ra Arkestra (97-year-old free jazz luminary).

Butch Morris, Anthony Braxton, and others explored an entire system of conducting with the goal of spontaneous composition in mind. Butch’s system, with its extensive array of gestures, formed the basis of how I chose to interact with the orchestra as its musical director/conductor. With this approach, the orchestra and I were able to create complex improvisations that sound pre-composed, but which actually required zero reading. We asked our composers to create works which could be taught by ear and played from memory. Using these two methods, we were all able to create a dynamic 90-minute show representing Philadelphia.

The result? The three Public Orchestra performances at Cherry Street Pier included some of Philadelphia’s most diverse and genuinely engaged audiences. The compositions performed spanned hip-hop and avant dance, serialism and free jazz, vocal chants and soaring cadenzas, and many other unique mixes unexpected at an orchestra performance. Much like the orchestra itself, these shows didn’t speak to any one traditional or culture. They were soul stirring events, which brought people from all walks of life to experience each other, play and create great art together.

To be continued!

Rig Rundown: The War on Drugs [2022]

rig rundown the war on drugs 2022

Bandleader Adam Granduciel on how single-coils, the Dead’s Wall of Sound, and cascades of chorus build his live tones. Plus, bassist David Hartley gets weird, wild, and wonky.


For nearly two decades and across five albums, The War on Drugs’ founder and frontman Adam Granduciel has narrated our complex modern lives while his band has scored our dreams.

The captivating moods of their music, much like us, morph from dense melancholy to saturated, swirling madness and everywhere in between. Granduciel often layers his Springsteen-meets-Young proletariat prose atop a post-rock soundscape, but the heartbeat of their impressive, expansive live shows is their gear and how it is implemented.

“I could play the whole tour with two or maybe three guitars—a White Falcon, Strat, and maybe a Jazzmaster—but I bring all these out just for fun,” he says with a laugh as he considers his trove of axes.

So, let’s have some fun already! Before a full evening of The War on Drugs’ jams in support of 2021’s I Don’t Live Here Anymore, PG was invited to Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium. We covered Granduciel’s growing guitar collection, got the skinny on how Jerry Garcia’s monstrous setup played into the bandleader’s theatre rig, and we took in a cockpit view of his stompbox squadron full of tone ticklers, sizzlers, and wigglers. In addition, bassist David Hartley showed off a trio of Ps, an armada of Ampegs, and demo’d a fuzz that has ended his quest for razing tones.

Brought to you by D’Addario XPND Pedalboard.

Keeping It in the Family

If you’re a fan of Rig Rundowns or Kurt Vile & the Violators, you’ve already seen this Strat. The above Fender American Vintage ’57 reissue was once owned by Jesse Trbovich, who’s flanked Vile for years. Trbovich landed a true-blue ’70s Olympic white Strat and needed to unload this to make room. Granduciel quickly raised his hand as a landing spot because he really enjoyed how comfortably the neck played. And since bonding with it, he likes its low-output single-coils because he can “juice it with pedals.” (It’s worth noting that Trbovich put in a Seymour Duncan Antiquity II Strat Surfer Series in the middle position, allowing him to have hum-canceling operation in the second and fourth position.) All of Granduciel’s electrics take Ernie Ball 2220 Power Slinkys (.011–.048).

It’s the One

“When this thing is in my hands, I can react with it, and it becomes this whole other animal. It can be unwieldy, but this guitar plugged into a cranked Princeton or small tweed sounds incredible,” allows Granduciel. So, as you can imagine, this 1969 Gibson SG is Adam’s right-hand when it comes to recording, but, as he explains later in the video, it doesn’t coexist pleasantly with his live setup. He scooped this gem at Rivington Guitars in New York City.

Story Time

Flip a Coin

Granduciel had lusted after this vintage offset for weeks when seeing it listed on Reverb by Chelsea Guitars. The listing was removed and he thought that it was gone forever. A few months later, he was in NYC and decided to stop into the shop and, low and behold, the sunburst Jazzmaster was on their bench in pieces. Apparently, the original buyer from the Reverb listing was after a birth-year model (1964, as listed on the Reverb page), but when he removed the neck its pocket revealed a 1963 date. He traded in the guitar for a proper ’64 and, fatefully, Granduciel didn’t let a second pass before offering to buy it. Alongside the SG, this is another heavy hitter for recording.

Down Under with Terry

During a 2018 tour of Australia, Granduciel scored this 1966 Fender Jazzmaster that looks swanky with a matching black headstock. He claims the rhythm circuit in this one “sounds killer,” while the lead circuit is “super bright and used on ‘Occasional Rain.’” In addition to being a remarkable instrument, he loves that it reminds him of a short span of time that included a wonderful tour of Down Under, earning a Grammy for Best Rock Album, and the Philadelphia Eagles winning the Super Bowl.

Checked Past

Cracks aren’t meant to be beautiful, especially on guitars, but looking at the ’66’s backside reveals a twisted thumbprint.

Fly, Firebird Fly

This 1965 non-reverse Firebird was upgraded by its previous owner with a set of Lollar P-90s. If you recall the last Rundown with TWOD, Granduciel added a Bigsby, but that has since been removed.

Ol’ Reliable

This Fender American Vintage ’65 Jazzmaster has been a dependable dynamo for Adam. He prefers it because he knows what he’s going to get sonically and he can throw it around without worry. The newer pickups offer a snarlier tone, so it gets used for songs like “Pain,” and the top-end sear helps him cut through the seven-piece live band.

Hummingbird Season

This new-ish Gibson Hummingbird gets busted out for C# tunes and features a LR Baggs M1 soundhole pickup.

Bastion of Tone

Not quite the famed Wall of Sound procured by the Dead and audio engineer Owsley “Bear” Stanley, but Granduciel’s evolving setup is heading in that direction.

Alembic Ace

Since our last Rundown, Adam has ditched the Hiwatts (although he admits to enjoying that era of TWOD) for the Alembic F-2B Stereo Preamp that was used by Jerry Garcia and David Gilmour. He describes its circuity as mimicking the front end of a Fender Dual Showman. “There’s just so much clean headroom and they’re so creamy. And I don’t know what it is, but single-coils and P-90s just come to life here in a way that other amps don’t, so maybe that’s why Jerry and David used them so much.” The Mesa/Boogie Stereo Simul-Class 295 powers the Alembic. He does run a direct line signal from the F-2B to FOH for a clean DI option.

Take a Guess

In the video, Granduciel challenged me to guess how many speakers are in the oversized cab, and I said four. Seemed logical but, as he quickly pointed out, the Marshall 2041 Lead Organ has only a pair of Celestion (pre-rola) 12″ speakers. The Alembic runs through this pillar of power.

Fender Firepower

The other side of Adam’s grand equation is a 1960s Fender Bandmaster head that hits a Marshall 1960BV 4×12.

The Swart Solution

As we alluded earlier, his beloved 1969 SG doesn’t jive with his Alembic-Fender setup, so he incorporates its humbuckers into his live rig by plugging into the 5W Swart STR-Tremolo. The SG and Swart typically dance for “Thinking of a Place,” but Granduciel admits to kicking it on with the Fenders during the heat of battle and treating it like a tremolo pedal for parts of “Pressure” and other jams. To the right of the Swart you’ll notice a pair of Rockman Tom Scholz (yeah, the Boston legend) Power Soak attenuators throttling the Alembic and Fender.

Keeping Time in the Loop

The band uses this AKAI Professional MPC Live II for additional drum machines for the show.

User Input

They are harnessed by four Boss FV-500L Foot Volume Pedals controlled by Adam that allow him to bring the samples into the room mix. Additionally, the band syncs their modulation to it, so everyone is locked in. (The MPC clocks or syncs the pulsing of the tremolo for the band. Adam uses a Lightfoot Labs Goatkeeper 2, while bassist David Hartley uses a Malekko Goatkeeper.)

Horseshoe of Madness

Here’s a crow’s-nest view of Adam Granduciel’s massive pedal playground.

Bradshaw’s Boardroom

Most of what Adam does with his feet is simplified by this Custom Audio Electronics R-ST 24 + 2x PSS MIDI controller.

The Fun Begins

Here’s one of the sections of Granduciel’s expanding pedalboard that includes a Wren and Cuff Tri Pie 70, a MXR/Custom Audio Electronics Boost/Line Driver, an Ernie Ball Expression Tremolo, anElectro-Harmonix 1440 Stereo Looper, a Lightfoot Labs Goatkeeper 2, a Strymon TimeLine, a Boss DC-3 Digital Dimension, and a Morley ABC Pro (for switching amps). A Boss TU-3s Chromatic Tuner keeps his guitars in check.

To the Moon, Adam, to the Moon!

Here’s the meat and potatoes of Granduciel’s spreading stomp setup: (top left) a Boss FT-2 Dynamic Filter, another MXR/Custom Audio Electronics Boost/Line Driver, DigiTech Hardwire RV-7 Stereo Reverb, ADA Flanger, JHS Bun Runner, J. Rockett Audio Designs Archer, MXR Flanger, Moutainking Electronics Loud Box, Crowther Audio Prunes & Custard, a Fulltone OCD, and a trifecta of Eventides that rest on the right side—a Space, TimeFactor, and H9. Everything gets current by either a MXR Custom Audio Electronics MC403 Power System or the Eventide PowerMax.

Clovis the Rough Rider

At first glance, you’d probably mistake this for a ’60s or ’70s Fender P, but as bassist David Hartley attests, this is a 2002 Fender Precision named Clovis that he acquired brand new almost two decades ago. Part of Clovis’ charm for Hartley is that it’s the lightest P he’s ever held, making their “Evening With” shows a little easier on the back. It’s stock aside from him swapping out the standard anodized gold pickguard for the tortoiseshell. He uses La Bella 760FS Deep Talkin’ Bass Flats (.045–.105).

Jam Like Jamerson

Another 4-string that does a lot of heavy lifting for Hartley is this 1983 Fender Fullerton ’62 Reissue Precision Bass. While this one isn’t as light as the previous P, he does love how much it sustains.

Find the Note

And occasionally you’ll see Hartley put down all the guardrails and dance with this Fender Tony Franklin Fretless Precision Bass. The connection with this one came through when he heard how much vocal tonality it has. It’s a highly expressive instrument.

Ampeg Assault

The Ps come to life thanks to this boulder of bass tone: a pair of Ampeg Heritage 50th Anniversary SVT amps that hit an Ampeg Heritage SVT-810AV. The SVT on the left is a backup and Hartley plugs into the normal channels.

Simple but Not

Prior to this run, Hartley toyed with the idea of just plugging his Ps into a DI and his Ampeg. Clearly, that plan changed and he’s probably having more fun because of it. His stomp station contains a pair of Boss GE-7 Equalizers (one to help Clovis pop a bit more and the other helps brighten up the ambient drone of the Gamechanger), an Eventide H9, a Gamechanger Audio Plus Sustain Pedal, a Mountainking Electronics Megalith, a Malekko Goatkeeper, a Keeley Super Mod Workstation, and a MXR Phase 90. A Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner keeps his Ps sounding right.

Reverend Celebrates 25 Years with New Models

reverend celebrates 25 years with new models

In celebration of 25 years of Reverend Guitars, the company is releasing two guitars and one bass with special anniversary cosmetics.


The guitars are the Reverend Six Gun HPP, the Reverend Sensei Jr, and the Reverend Decision P. The models are in Metallic Silver Freeze, have Ebony fretboards with an XXV inlay at the 12th fret, and a brushed aluminum pickguard.

Reverend Guitars is celebrating 25 years of building guitars with a modern-meets-vintage vibe. Legendary guitar designer, Joe Naylor, designs all the guitars. Tech teams meticulously inspect, set up, and hand serial-number each guitar. Every guitar is crafted with a sense of purpose, whether you play in your bedroom or in an arena.

Reverend Sensei Jr

Often called the most versatile single-pickup guitar in production, the Reverend Sensei Jr has a single P90. But when used with the Reverend Bass Contour Control, players can get creative.

Reverend Six Gun HPP

The Reverend Six Gun HPP is a classic looking guitar with an unusual pickup arrangement. With a humbucker at the bridge, P90s at the middle and neck, and a 5-way switch, players can get many tones. Add the dialed-in Wilkinson trem, and the Bass Contour Control, and this guitar is wild.

Reverend Decision P

Loaded with a P-Blade pickup at the neck and a Jazz Bomb pickup at the bridge, harnessed to a pickup pan control, the Reverend Decision P goes from percussive funk to focused thump and all points in-between with the twist of one knob. The pickups combined deliver extended highs and lows with incredible punch and sustain.

More info at www.reverendguitars.com. These models will only be available in 2022.

How to Become a Rhythmic Time Traveler

how to become a rhythmic time traveler

There’s so much to discuss when it comes to bass playing. One of the most basic and valuable skills to be explored on bass—or any instrument for that matter—is placement, or where exactly to play relative to the beat. To a certain extent, this can be a cultural question, decided by where one was raised or what one was raised upon. However, some musicians are more intentional about their choice of placement, and thus choose to study feel and the multitude of possibilities within.


Rhythm is one of the most misunderstood subjects in music. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard “he’s got great rhythm,” or “she can play in 7,” I’d be much closer to being rich. In reality, playing in 7—or 23—will never make up for one’s lack of rhythm! As much as rhythm is misunderstood, feel is an infinitely more enigmatic subject. For most, music either feels good or it doesn’t. The why isn’t easy to put into words.

In some cultures, babies learn to instinctively nod their heads to the beat as young as 6 months old, while in others grown adults sit motionless whilst listening to grooves as deep as canyons. Yet, in our modern culture, rhythm, groove, and feel reign supreme. If there’s one thing that’s true of these elements, it’s that inconsistency sucks. A musician who is unable to be intentional about where they place things is about as much use as a brick layer who suffers the same affliction!

Nowhere is that truer than on the bass. Playing a reggae bass line such as Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” ahead of the beat would be considered a terrible sin. Playing bass way behind the beat on be-bop would be equally as egregious. Some people believe that one is either born with good feel or not. I, however, do not support this view. Great feel, that thing that nobody knows they’re missing until they do, can certainly be improved via osmosis, by spending as much time as possible around those who already have it—if they’ll have you!

The “fat” or “wide beat” may sound like something from a ’90s rap verse, but it’s actually a concept that comes from much older jazz musicians. To such musicians, the beats within a given bar—1-2-3-4, for instance—were not singular fixed entities, but rather ranges. They might intentionally choose to play in front of, right on, behind, or even way … behind the theoretical beat (or grid, as we’ve come to call this in our post-sequencer world). Playing far behind the beat might increase groove and sound relaxed, while playing far in front might sound rushed, urgent, or even uptight.

A musician who is unable to be intentional about where they place things is about as much use as a brick layer who suffers the same affliction!

But the real magic is in the combinations. Even a drummer who seems to be playing right in the pocket—like Clyde Stubblefield on James Brown’s “Funky Drummer,” for instance—can intentionally have each drum landing on a different part of the beat: kick a hair early, snare a hair late, hi-hats right down the middle. And then the bass player—Charles Sherrell on “Funky Drummer”—would play relatively behind all of that! To the listener it just sounds funky, but there are multitudes of microscopic timing complexities that make funk or swing what they actually are. These musicians understood that great feel required getting off the grid, or, rather, knowing where things should lie theoretically, but intentionally placing them where they felt good. They’re like time travelers, able to negotiate the past, present, or future at will.

The actual “grid” came decades later, with the invention of sequencers and quantization. As more music became sequenced the result was more uniformity until, by the mid ’80s, lots of pop music sounded as if it had been created by robots. Ironically, what brought feel back to popular music was hip-hop producers sampling old breaks, like “Funky Drummer!”

By the late ’90s, producers like J Dilla lived “off the grid,” which is why their productions (primarily created on drum machines and sequencers) sounded so alive. Rather than using preset quantization maps (Akai, Steinberg, or Emagic’s futile answers to their sequencers’ lack of feel), Dilla created his own, based on what he heard earlier drummers, like Clyde Stubblefield, doing. Dilla’s work with Slum Village and others created a whole generation of hip-hop inspired drummers and bassists who preferred their grooves wonky, and the rest is history!

So, what should all this mean to the modern bassist? We live in a world where time within music is a thing to be mastered. When you next sit down to transcribe Pettiford, Jameson, or Jaco, etc.—because you certainly should—don’t just listen for the notes and rhythms. Also pay attention to placement and feel. These are just as important. Pay attention to what drummers are doing and consider where you intentionally wish to play relative to them. Practice playing ahead, behind, or right on it, so that you can do any of these intentionally at will. Become a time traveler!

Bass-ic Metamorphosis: Creating Something from Nothing

bass ic metamorphosis creating something from nothing

I’m here in Trinidad and Tobago, and I’ve been exploring the bass role from the perspective of my parents, grandparents, and great grandparents, who were bought here as slaves from Africa. Looking back, there is no doubt whatsoever that my Trini roots helped shape the bass player I became, because T&T is a bass-centric place. Trinidadians might sing the bass line or melody, when it comes to recalling a favorite song. As a child, I, too, found myself constantly fascinated by whatever the drums and bass were doing.


My family’s story is similar to many of African heritage from this hemisphere, whether from Jamaica, Haiti, Cuba, Guadeloupe, Brazil, St. Lucia, or the U.S. Throughout this collective history, the African diaspora, with little means or opportunity, they became accustomed to creating something from nothing. During slavery, our ancestors’ drums were not only used for ceremonies, but also as a form of covert communication, relaying messages to neighboring plantations about escapes and revolts. As a result, slave masters banned traditional drums. Thus began the quest to create homemade instruments from whatever they found: tools, kitchen utensils, bamboo trunks, washtubs, bottles, etc. Some musicians, such as the great Wilbur Ware, began their musical careers on homemade instruments—in his case, the gut-bucket-bass—and then transferred their unique approach to other instruments, like the double bass, as they became masters of metamorphosis.

Perhaps one of the most amazing examples of ingenuity is the steel pan. In Trinidad, descendants of emancipated slaves, without instruments or the means to acquire them, made music with tuned bamboo trunks, 24″–60″ long, which players would bounce upon the ground and alternately strike with a stick. They formed Tamboo Bamboo orchestras to create rich tapestries of rhythm, similar to what would eventually become the classic calypso rhythm.

The pitch from a well-tuned bass pan set is clear, defined, and deep, with lots and lots of low end, almost as if the pans had been miked and put through a giant bass stack.

Later, orchestras slowly introduced more durable metal instruments, such as car brake drums, oil drums, kitchen pots, and biscuit tins. Around 1940, a musician named Winston Simon and some others had the innovative idea to repurpose 55-gallon oil drums—byproducts of T&T’s oil industry—by cutting and tuning them, thus creating the steel pan. This family of instruments would eventually cover the entire pitch gamut of a typical Western orchestra.

Many innovations followed: raising the metal in places to produce more defined pitches, tuning the drums in a “spider” lattice of 5ths, making the pan concave so that more pitches could be accommodated, wrapping the playing sticks in rubber to give a wider dynamic range and more melodic tone, hanging the drums from mechanically isolated stands that allow the free vibration of the pan, etc.

In 1951, the BBC broadcasted a concert featuring the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra (TASPO) that eventually reached millions across the globe, and the fascination with steel pan orchestras and Calypso music began. If you’ve ever heard a steel pan orchestra play, then you already understand just how awesome their sound can be. But, for me, it’s all about that bass!

Bass pans are the largest in the steel pan family, consisting of no fewer than six tuned 55-gallon full-depth oil drums per player and covering a range from Bb1 to Eb3—approximately two-and-a-half octaves. The sound bass pans produce is far too awesome to describe in words, but if I were to search for one, it would be … bombastic! The undertone is metallic, but the pitch from a well-tuned bass pan set is clear, defined, and deep, with lots and lots of low end, almost as if the pans had been miked and put through a giant bass stack. With four to six sets per orchestra, these are the 808 of the steel pan world. As children, my parents took my siblings and I to the London Notting Hill Carnival, annually. At age 6, I even got to hear orchestras play in T&T! The shuddering sound of the bass pans, as what seemed like hundreds of steel pans played, was always the highlight of those trips. There’s still nothing like it—and this is without discussing the amazing costumes and dancers!

Like the rest of the world, T&T was greatly impacted by the pandemic. This year will mark the third year that there will be few official carnival events. Understand that these orchestras set their clocks by the yearly occurrence of carnival: making new or repairing and tuning older instruments, training new players, selecting repertoire, and rehearsing. However, this trip may still have a slight silver lining. The word on the street is that some pan orchestras will be playing at “the Savannah” (a massive green field in the middle of downtown Port of Spain) tonight! It goes without saying that I will be there to bear witness.

Bass pans may have begun life as abandoned oil drums, but through the enduring desire of a people to express themselves musically, they have become uniquely Trinidadian instruments.

Trinidad All Stars – Woman On The Bass

A YouTube video won’t give you the full physical experience of standing in front of a steel pan orchestra, so you’ll have to use a little imagination, but this 1980 performance of “Woman on the Bass” by the Trinidad All Stars will give you an idea what it’s all about—and make you wanna dance!


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