Tag: Gigging advice

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.

<aVisitor Guitar of the Month: Prelude to a Guild Blade Runner

reader guitar of the month prelude to a guild blade runner

Thank you for enabling us to share our bastardized elegances with you. I constructed this bass with the assistance of my buddy Drew in 1980 or’ 81. It was an instrument born out of necessity.

Supply instruments of the time weren’t staying on top of the musical developments that were taking place in the ’80s as well as ’70s, so if you wanted to advance your art, you had to obtain imaginative. Components suppliers and also inventive minds were there to accommodate.I desired to build something various that would certainly take benefit of the emerging components market that was coming to be offered to players and also that would also suit my playing demands. My next-door neighbor was a woodworker, so I built the body and also the electronics dental caries cover from an item of wood in his shop. I do not remember what type of timber I utilized, but I remember there were no knots, as well as the grain was very tight. The neck was from Philip Kubicki. The bridge is among the initial issues of the Kahler bass tremolo. The pickups are an initial first-year set of EMG energetic PJs. The adjusting keys are from Schaller. It has an original Hipshot D’Tuner as well as a Fathead affixed to the back of the headstock for added sustain. I did the paint work … I understand … it was the ’80s.

This bass was the model for a guitar that Drew constructed the list below year that would at some point become the Guild Blade Runner. The Blade Runner is the guitar the majority of people acknowledge Joe Perry playing in theAerosmith/Run DMC” Walk This Way” video.It seems

amazing as well as plays like a desire. The openings were strategically positioned. My relative was an acoustic designer, as well as he made some pointers as to where to make the holes based on the properties of the timber and also acoustic instruments he ‘d researched. While it resembles an ’80s trainwreck, it has fantastic unplugged vibration, tone, as well as maintain. I’ve never ever played another electric bass that resonates like this one. I’ve utilized it on jazz jobs as it can sing like a Jazz bass, it can provide you the impression of an acoustic bass once you dial it in, it’s great for soul and R&B, as well as it’s vicious for acid rock and steel. It saw a great deal of activity in its day as well as, sadly, suffered some damages from a 15-foot diminish a phase.

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loading=” lazy” src= “https://onlineguitarlesson.biz/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/reader-guitar-of-the-month-prelude-to-a-guild-blade-runner-4.jpg”/ > While it looks like an ’80s trainwreck, it has incredible unplugged resonance, tone, as well as sustain. When Drew made the Blade Runner for Joe Perry, he complied with many of my relative’s tips and a lot of what entered into this bass to determine where to make the openings in the Blade Runner body. They’ll inform you it’s an exceptionally loud guitar unplugged and has endless maintain if you’ve ever played a Blade Runner or chat to any person that has. The cuts weren’t random: There was a lot of thought as well as scientific research that went into exactly how it was done.

Send your guitar story to submissions@premierguitar.com!.?.!.

I wanted to build something various that would certainly take advantage of the arising components market that was ending up being offered to players as well as that would certainly likewise accommodate my playing needs.

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!

Guitar Prices: An Inflation Study

guitar prices an inflation study

After two-and-a-half years of Covid-created mayhem, who doesn’t want to celebrate? And what better way to celebrate survival and better times to come than with a new rig? The bucket list of guitars you’ve wanted for months or even years is long, but this is no time to start at the bottom. Whether it’s a guitar, that otherworldly octave mandolin, or an amp or boutique pedal, it’s time for a reward that only you can deliver. The top item on your list is finally available, you’re ready to buy, but suddenly you notice the price: What the …? Are they kidding? You check other sources but it’s not a misprint, and certainly not a joke. The price of your reward to yourself for sticking it out and staying safe has gone up, and not by just a few bucks. You’ve been eyeing this gear for quite a while and the price hadn’t changed much­—until now. What’s going on?

Welcome to inflation, the killjoy that punishes you for not having purchased something months earlier, perhaps before you could afford it. In retrospect, a few months of additional interest on your credit card would have been a bargain compared to the price increase you’re looking at now. Unless you’ve been living in a cave in the wilderness, you’ve heard about inflation, of course, and noticed it at the grocery store, and you’ve certainly felt it if you’re putting gas in your car. But when inflation hits your music budget, it feels personal, more insulting, and unfair.

The shock a price hike delivers depends more upon your age than you might think. For geezers like this writer, the recent price increases of guitars don’t seem that horrible. But those who started buying guitar gear less than 30 years ago usually began their shopping in a very different pricing landscape, so some time-machine data crunching might help ease the pain. Rather than wade into the Wall Street weeds of charts and graphs tracking inflation over the last several decades, we’ll use the cost of Martin’s venerable D-28 acoustic, partly because it’s so well-known but also because the model was essentially unchanged for so many years.

When inflation hits your music budget, it feels personal, more insulting, and unfair.

C. F. Martin had been forced to raise prices every year in the late ’60s, as labor costs in the U.S. were rising steadily. But inflation hit especially hard in the early ’70s. The cost of building an acoustic guitar like the D-28 was almost all labor—the prices Martin paid for Sitka spruce, East Indian rosewood, mahogany, plus a set of Grover Rotomatics and a case were a small percentage of what you were paying for when you bought a polished and playable dreadnought. Martin’s list price of a D-28 first crossed the $500 line in July 1972, when it went from $495 to $570. The next price increase came only nine months later and was even more painful, going up to $660. Then came two more price increases, and by September 1974 the price had jumped to $770. Those numbers represent a price increase of more than 50 percent between early 1972 and the fall of 1974. No wonder a popular parody of Janis Joplin’s humorous “Mercedes Benz” began:

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a D-Twenty-Eight
My friends all have Martins, how long must I wait?
The prices keep rising, I fear I’m too late,
So Lord, won’t you buy me a D-Twenty-Eight

Yet 20 years later, inflation in North America had long since cooled. Price increases throughout the ’70s and ’80s had taken their toll, and Martin’s D-28 crossed the $2,000 line in 1993 (to $2,060), but then leveled out. Ten years later, the MSRP of a D-28 was still less than $2,500 ($2,469 in 2004). That’s an increase of 20 percent over more than a decade. Needless to say, the young guitar-picker who’d been saving for a D-28 in the late ’90s, when the price was unchanged for five years and then went up only $69, didn’t feel punished for saving. But during the high-flying inflation of the early 1970s, even folk-rockers and the bluegrass faithful, at least when shopping for a new D-28, were singing the blues.

The takeaway from all this? Financial forecasts suggest that inflation isn’t going to back off in the near future. Buying that dream rig now rather than later is probably a good idea, especially if you put it to good use!

Last Call: The Fawn & the Bear

last call the fawn the bear

Playing acoustic guitar is an entirely different experience than playing electric. For that matter, playing an acoustic that’s plugged in is entirely different from playing an acoustic acoustically. Try your normal electric go-to stuff on an acoustic and you’ll probably be disappointed with the results. Plug an acoustic with a pickup straight into a DI or board, and it’s not going to respond or sound like an acoustic in your living room.

As a guitar nerd, I disliked that whole MTV Unplugged series. Mostly it was rockers just strumming away, kumbaya-style, on a harsh-sounding, plugged-in acoustic where you hear the pickup rather than the guitar body. Unless the song was either acoustically friendly or the artist came up with a completely different interpretation of the song, like Clapton did with “Layla,” most acoustic covers of electric songs undermine the guitar part.

Van Halen – You Really Got Me (Acoustic)

In 1978, Eddie Van Halen put his swagger, groove, and ferocious riffs on “You Really Got Me,” and turned a weird Kinks’ tune into a game-changing rock anthem. But watch their 2012 acoustic version: It sounds like a solid but unremarkable player sitting around a campfire. Eddie was a brilliant acoustic player, as “Spanish Fly” from Van Halen’s second album demonstrates, but that was Eddie doing a specific acoustic composition.

Acoustic guitar is a different animal than electric. Ergo, one of the greatest guitarists ever sounds like a mere mortal when trying to make an instrument do what it can’t do. In fact, a basic electric guitar in 1978 wasn’t capable of what Van Halen wanted it to do, so he built his own. But the point of Unplugged was to showcase the song more than the riff.

Most of my session work is on acoustic. I love playing acoustic sessions: low pressure. With electric sessions, you must deal with buzzy amps and scratchy pots that you only hear under the microscope of recording. Take away pedals, amps, pickups, or cables, and nothing goes wrong. There’s rarely equipment failure when you’re not plugged in. But that’s not the only benefit.

“It’s like putting something delicate and sweet, such as a tiny fawn covered in white spots, next to a grizzly bear on its hind legs.”

With electric sessions, there’s pressure to wow the audience with riffs and fresh signature parts. With acoustic, it’s always serve-the-song and rarely look-at-me. Usually you’re laying down a simple, sturdy foundation, supporting the vocals and building the bed for the electric to shred. If done well, it brings out the best in the song and the lead instruments. Acoustic sessions are probably a bit like being a pilot: smooth/simple/routine procedural bits with the occasional terrifying part where you must land a plane with a wing on fire (or play a fast bluegrass solo).

The juxtaposition of an acoustic with an electric is a tried-and-true production approach because those textures work perfectly together. Some of the most epic hard-rocking songs rock all the harder because they start with acoustic. Por ejemplo: Heart’s “Crazy on You,” Boston’s “More Than a Feeling,” Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” and Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive.”

It’s like putting something delicate and sweet, such as a tiny fawn covered in white spots, next to a grizzly bear on its hind legs. The bear and the electric guitar seem even more powerful and scary by comparison.

That said, an acoustic guitar in the right hands can sound as big and awe-inspiring as a great three-piece band in full flight. Players such as Mike Dawes, Andy McKee, and Marcin Patrzalek cover bass and lead with 6-strings, then add their percussive element by beating on the guitar. They use internal mics and reverb to get a huge drum sound that you can’t pull off on a Tele or Les Paul.

Joe Bonamassa Official – “Woke Up Dreaming” – Live From Royal Albert Hall

On the other hand, masters of bluegrass flatpicking, like Billy Strings, Molly Tuttle, and Tony Rice, play single-note melodies that, even when unaccompanied, sound complete. For an amazing example of a hybrid approach, check out Joe Bonamassa’s “Woke Up Dreaming.” At times, it’s classical fingerpicking. Then it’s Al Di Meola-eque blazing, then a hybrid thing that really sounds like two guitar players at once. I’ve listened to that track probably 20 times and I still don’t know how he does it.

Then there’s Tommy Emmanuel, who has everything in his bag. He does the percussive guitar-as-a-drum thing and combines it with Travis thumbpicking and break-neck flatpicking. And Jerry Reed played some of the most complex, funky guitar music ever recorded on his gut-string.

Guitar shredding predates electricity, so it all started on acoustic. Charley Patton, Lonnie Johnson, Skip James, Son House, and the Devil’s own, Robert Johnson (armed with a high-action wooden box with strings bought from a Sears catalog), reimagined what the instrument could do. It’s a long, winding journey, but the road to rock ’n’ roll and blues was paved with acoustic guitars.

Reader Guitar of the Month: A Tribute to Two Mentors

reader guitar of the month a tribute to two mentors

A love for Ry Cooder, Dave Bernstein, and good Tex-Mex were combined into a sentimental 6-string.

Here is my Tres Hombres Coodercaster. Look, as much as I claim to be a “serious musician,” a songwriter, and a player who is trying to develop his own original voice, I freely admit I’m a hopeless, pathetic wannabe and a fanboy of Ry Cooder. I was first introduced to Ry via his Borderline album: a masterpiece that blew my ever-loving mind in the way it combined many of my favorite genres in one cohesive, unique sound. Ry became my distant mentor, teaching me about “less is more,” the relationship between fingers and strings, the magic of open-string voicings, and the importance of listening and creating space.

Recently, I decided to refurbish my “D” Strat and go full Cooder. My Strat was already a solid working tool dedicated to slide guitar. It sounded and looked close to Ry’s main guitar but just needed a few iconic pieces. I started with a sunburst Fender Robert Cray model for the body: a great hardtail with a vintage-style bridge. I heard that Ry had a very wide neck on his Strat to help with fingerpicking, so I went with a custom 1-3/4″ nut width, ’59 roundback neck by Warmoth that’s about as wide as an acoustic guitar neck. Like Ry, I put a P-90 in the bridge position and was really happy with what I heard when I played.

But, you know, once you start moddin’, you just can’t stop. I knew I would need to make the “Supro move.” When I had the means, I began to build a guitar that would truly serve as a platform to emulate the sounds that I’d fallen in love with. I finally got a Lollar Supro in the bridge and a vintage Teisco Gold Foil towards the neck. The Teisco was not the Teisco as you can see from the screws. But it sounds fantastic, so, I’m okay with it. I kept it simple with one master tone and a Tele volume knob for faux pedal-steel tricks.

With the pickguard, I decided to pay tribute to another mentor: Bay Area guitarist Dave Bernstein, who passed away in 2008 after a heroic struggle with cancer. Dave was one of the strongest personalities I’ve ever met. To many, he was a caustic, bitter, rude bastard. For those who knew him, he was the sweetest, funniest, most patient, most generous friend you could have. Dave had two rare gifts: an extraordinary love and appreciation for music and being totally blunt. He was a respected blues guitarist, backing harmonica artist Mark Hummel for years. Dave had an enormous impact on my life, and I miss him a lot.

Once, Dave and I were having a passionate discussion about Mexican food and where we would go that night to have some. He said, “Let me show you something.” He pulled out his LP copy of ZZ Top’s Tres Hombres and opened it up to reveal a giant image of a gorgeous Tex-Mex spread. That’s the thing about LPs that still matters—the folded image! As I was savoring that spread, Dave, as usual, remarked, “Now that is the shit.” He was right of course … about so many things. In a strange way, that image has always represented my memory of Dave. So, I had Carmedon Guitar in Jacksonville, Florida, print it onto my pickguard. I love the way it plays, and it sure looks terrific. Thanks, Ry. Thanks, Dave.

Acoustic Guitars and Fender Amps

acoustic guitars and fender amps

Have you ever tried to plug your acoustic guitar into a classic-style Fender amp? There are some hurdles to overcome, and this month I’ll provide some advice on how to get past them. But first, some background.

Amps made for electric guitars are carefully designed and matched to the voltages and frequency profiles of signals delivered by electromagnetic pickups. An amp sounds best when it does a good job at amplifying or filtering out certain frequencies. So many of us have stumbled upon challenges when the input signal—say from an acoustic guitar or other instrument—is way different than what the amp expects.

A guitar signal is initially created by moving the strings. The more vibrating metal mass closer to the pickup’s magnet, the more magnetic pull and more current is induced inside the coil wire in the pickups. More windings and stronger magnets induce more current, but also reduce brightness and clarity. The coil-wire thickness, wire material, and coating material and thickness also play a role in signal strength and frequency response. The signal voltage produced by a pickup is low—typically between 0.1 and 1V—and contains frequencies between 80 and 1200 Hz.

On the amp side, there are even more factors that amplify or weaken certain frequencies—so-called frequency filtering. Take a vintage Fender Deluxe Reverb. It is designed with specific tubes, resistors, and caps in the preamp stage to amplify a weak input signal and shape it through EQ, mix in some reverb, and transport the result to the power amp circuit, which does three things. First, it splits and duplicates that result into an inverted signal, then it amplifies the two signals as much as possible, and then feeds them into each side of a power transformer that alters the resulting voltage to a suitable level for a loudspeaker. That’s typically 30 to 50V. The speaker cabinet and loudspeaker itself are the final stage in delivering a filtered and amplified guitar tone.

For acoustic guitars I prefer modern American-style speakers that can handle high power and both a firm bass response and a crisp top end.

If you hook up other instruments, like an acoustic guitar or a harmonica with a microphone, and feed an electric guitar amp their signals, you will get totally different results throughout the circuit. You may not get the tone you expect, or, in the worst case, you might damage the amp. But generally, all passive sources with electromagnetic coil pickups are safe to use. This includes piezo pickups mounted to the bridge of an acoustic guitar and vocal microphones. Since they are not powered by an external source like a 9V battery, they are passive and create a weak signal.

You should be careful using electrically powered sources like an acoustic guitar with a battery-powered preamp and EQ. Also, electric pianos, synthesizers, or Bluetooth speakers with mini-jack outputs are dangerous, too, since they can easily blow the loudspeakers due to a wrong volume or EQ setting. Electric pianos can sound very good through a vintage Fender amp. I’ve seen Fender Rhodes keyboards played through Twin Reverbs, and we’ve all heard organs through Leslie/Vibratone speakers, which can be run by Fender guitar amps.

Acoustic guitars with active pickups can be difficult. With typical default amp settings for electric guitar, the tone is narrow and focused around certain mid frequencies. It lacks fullness, top-end clarity, and overall balance. So, I have some tricks you should try if you’re experimenting with this option. First, set all the EQ knobs to 10. This allows the guitar signal to travel through the preamp section with minimum change of tone. Be very careful with volume and start low—at around 1.5—and increase from there. I find big, powerful Fender amps are best for this, since they have plenty of clean headroom and wide EQ possibilities with a full set of bass, mid, treble, and bright-switch controls. And that makes them less prone to howling feedback.

A big speaker cabinet will enhance the low end, allowing the preamp and power amp to relax more without maxing out clean headroom. Remember that the power and energy lie in the bass. I suggest the silver-panel 40-watt Bandmaster Reverb and 85-watt Showman Reverb as practical amp heads for acoustic purposes. I use my Bandmaster Reverb with a 1×12 extension cabinet loaded with an Eminence Maverick. For acoustic guitars, I prefer modern American-style speakers that can handle high power and both a firm bass response and a crisp top end. Speakers are very important for your tone. The guitar’s pickups are also important, together with a correct setup, so the action permits the optimum proximity of the pickups.

Acoustic pickups don’t have to be expensive. They just need to be balanced and clear. A good guitar amp and some careful adjustments of the controls will do the rest.

The Unadorned and Adored Wonders of the Acoustic Guitar

the unadorned and adored wonders of the acoustic guitar

I have a love-hate relationship with acoustic guitars. My infatuation with the 6-string really blasted off with the Ventures. That’s the sound I wanted, and the way to get it was powered by electricity. Before I’d even held a guitar, I knew I wanted a Mosrite, which I was sure was made of fiberglass like the surfboards the Beach Boys, Surfaris, and the Challengers rode in their off time. Bristling with space-age switchgear and chrome-plated hardware, those solidbody hotrod guitars were the fighter jets of my musical dreams. I didn’t even know what those old-timey round-hole guitars were called. As the singing cowboys Roy Rogers and Gene Autrey strummed off into the sunset, the pace of technology pushed the look and sound of the electric guitar (and bass) into the limelight and into my heart. Imagine my disappointment when I had to begin my guitar tutelage on a rented Gibson “student” acoustic. At least it sort of looked like the ones the Beatles occasionally played. Even so, I couldn’t wait to trade it in.

By the late 1960s, everybody had to have an acoustic guitar. America’s youth had gone through the Greenwich Village folk boom and entered the West Coast Laurel Canyon scene. Young women who wanted to be Joni Mitchell and Neil Young-inspired men floated on down to local musical instrument emporiums to pick out their badge of artistry. In Europe, folkies blended traditional troubadour tunes with blues and rock, creating a genre that survives to this day. The most fuzzed-out psychedelic combos proudly displayed their introspective acoustic side. Everybody had an acoustic guitar. Of course, country music never forgot. Except for a short interlude of microphone-hugging country crooners, Nashville kept the strum going.

So, what makes the acoustic guitar so indefatigable? First and foremost is the beauty of its sound. Like the violin or the piano, the unadorned guitar has a purity of sound and purpose that is moving in a way electronic instruments are not. In concert, the connection between the musician and the sound the audience hears is undeniable. It’s a tightrope walk, where technology cannot fool the listener. The fewer links in the chain, the closer the bond between performer and patron—and that’s the experience people crave.d

Before you write off the seemingly fragile, hollow-bodied cowpoke guitar as the electric’s poorer cousin, think again.

Another more practical aspect is portability. Although buskers have more recently turned to elaborate amplifier and looper setups for street concerts, not much beats a great singer accompanied by an acoustic guitar. Certainly, I can’t imagine dragging an amp and a synthesizer down to the beach to jam some Bill Evans while friends roast s’mores. Okay, maybe. But the simplicity of a naked guitar in a dorm hallway or in a coffee shop can be a refreshing break from the relentless attack of electronic pop culture. In a world of autotune, backing tracks, and the layered-to-death ambush of modern music, a fingerpicked guitar is like a walk in the woods on a spring day. The fact that it can be easily taken anywhere makes it the instrument of choice for so many.

Another strong argument for the acoustic axe is its supremacy as an accompanist. Being a singer-songwriter doesn’t leave a lot of viable options. Although Chet Baker managed a career as a crooning trumpeter, playing a horn while vocalizing requires additional backup. Singing while playing the violin isn’t much easier. The piano is probably the most versatile sounding accompanist, but as much as I like Diana Krall, Ray Charles, and Elton John, their instrument of choice forces them to bring the party to the piano, not the other way around. You can argue that the electric guitar is a contender. Unfortunately, the slight portability downside of needing an amp and its tendency to drown out vocals makes it the second choice, whereas the acoustic guitar checks all the right boxes.

This all isn’t to say that an acoustic guitar lacks the ability to deliver impressive soloing performance. Some of the most inspiring and emotionally vibrant instrumental music is delivered on acoustics. The roster of players currently burning up the fretboard in every genre is immense—possibly the most in history. The acoustic guitar’s forte is to bring passionate and thoughtful melody to any song. This secret weapon has been applied to recordings from artists as diverse as the Beatles, Kiss, and Dream Theater. In the rhythm department, the acoustic steel string has been responsible for the foundational power of the Who, Alice in Chains, Pink Floyd, Guns N’ Roses, and countless other “heavy” bands.

So before you write off the seemingly fragile, hollow-bodied, cowpoke acoustic guitar as the electric’s poorer cousin, think again. They might not be as loud, or as flashy, but they pack an emotional wallop that often flies under the radar. Many decades down the line, I wish I’d paid more attention to what that first student guitar had to offer me. Maybe I’d have kept it, too

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!

Last Call: An American Bach

last call an american bach

Ancient Egyptian paintings and sculptures all look like they were created by a sixth grader. They are stiff, flat profiles with feet, nose, and chin pointing in the same direction: no depth, no realism. All art was this primitive until the 5th century, when Greeks took a giant step forward … literally. They developed contrapposto, where a standing human figure is posed with their weight resting on one leg. The weight shift brought organic movement, bringing the paintings and sculptures to life. (Check out the 5th century Kritios Boy, which is the earliest known Greek statue to use contrapposto.)

Similarly, look at European art from the medieval times, or the Middle Ages, from the 5th century to the 15th century. Much of it is cartoonish—flat, distorted, and unrealistic. Baby Jesus almost always looks like a weird little man, not an infant. No wonder they called it the Dark Ages. Then Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and others, inspired by the ancient Greeks, built on this realism and brought about the Renaissance, pushing the world forward and making art come to life. I look at Ancient Egyptian art and feel nothing. I look at Michelangelo’s Pieta and weep. That’s what art is about.

I recently rewatched Ken Burns’ 10-part miniseries, Jazz. Sometime during the 2,280 minutes of running time, it occurred to me that American music went through a similar evolution as the world of visual art. Much as the Renaissance artists brought realism to art, jazz musicians— specifically Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong—brought realism to music. Here’s a little backstory.

“I listen to vaudeville; I feel nothing. I hear Armstrong and I weep.”

In 1877, when Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, he was looking for a way to improve telegraph communications, going for what he called a “speaking telegraph.” Maybe it’s because Edison’s first recording was of him singing “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” but quickly people figured out that if you’re going to record something, music is probably a solid option.

Partly fueled by Edison’s game-changing inventions, the United States was becoming a true superpower, leading the world in industry, tech, finance, etc. The Burns documentary suggests this was when U.S. leaders, trendsetters, and titans of industry thought that it was time for an American Bach to legitimize the nation’s contribution to the world’s music. They looked to the universities, the military, and the establishment to provide this musical genius.

One of the earliest recording artists (in the late 1800s) was John Philip Sousa, “the March King” of America. With all due respect, it’s amazing that records caught on. I’m as patriotic as the next person, but who in their right minds pours a class of wine and cranks up “The Stars and Stripes Forever” to relax at the end of a long day? Sousa’s marches feel as stiff and lifeless as an ancient Egyptian wall painting.

Louis Armstrong playing his favorite trumpet

A decade later, in the early 20th century, vocalists dominated record sales. They were mostly vaudevillians like Billy Murray and Arthur Collins, who had hits like “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” “Give My Regards to Broadway,” and “The Yankee Doodle Boy.” They were theater performers, trained to act melodramatically while singing and speaking in a loud, affected manner so they could be understood in the back of a theater. It was a stage voice—not the voice of someone genuinely communicating or expressing emotion.

Then, in the 1920s, music took a contrapposto step in an unlikely way. One of the biggest artists of the early 1920s was Al Jolson, who performed in blackface, stealing bits from African-American culture and making it more palatable to a xenophobic white audience. Based on Jolson’s success, Columbia Records execs thought, “Hey, instead of a white guy in blackface singing a white guy’s interpretation of Black music, why not record the people they’re stealing from?”

“The powerful were looking to themselves for the answer when what they sought came from slaves and their poorly treated descendants. The poetry of it all.”

Columbia found and recorded Bessie Smith, a Black orphaned blues singer who grew up supporting her impoverished family by busking on the streets of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Smith’s genuine performances connected with record buyers. The “Empress of the Blues” became a wildly successful entertainer, which opened the gate for Louis Armstrong. Not only did Armstrong introduce the world to a swinging groove, his genuine, conversational voice made those trained, affected voices seem wooden by comparison. I listen to vaudeville; I feel nothing. I hear Armstrong and I weep.

It’s the classic unlikely origin story, like baby Jesus being born in a manger. The necessary hero/savior rarely comes from the establishment. The powerful were looking to themselves for the answer when what they sought came from slaves and their poorly treated descendants. The poetry of it all.

Duke Ellington, Elvis, Chuck Berry, the Beatles, the Stones, Miles Davis, Prince, Zeppelin, Clapton, and pretty much everything I love descended from the jazz and blues of Bessie Smith and Satchmo. When Duke Ellington was asked how he felt when he couldn’t stay at the hotels where he performed, he replied, “I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.”