and Set Up
I don’t know why I’m
even attempting to tell you these intimate details, I should probably
preserve my dignity and keep them to myself. The thing is I
help myself, I just have to tell someone.
Well first of all, I’m
a wimp, I experimented early on with heavy gauge strings and high
string heights but it was never going to happen for me. Although I
must admit a Thomastik Spirocore Stark E string is a deeply sensual
thing of beauty. (1)
I even recorded using
the above string (2) and it sounded amazing, but as a day to day
practical option I just couldn’t do it.
Incidentally the above
recording found its way on to a compilation album, but my glorious
one off sound was falsely attributed to another player, so no
recognition or dosh for my one foray into Stark territory, such is
the music business!
So heavy gauge strings
were never for me, I always felt I could use bright light gauge
strings with a low action on a flat (I mean without a scoop)
fingerboard and make them work for me, even without an amp. If I
played without an amp I simply wound up the string height until it
was loud enough. I experimented a lot but I liked Spirocore and La
Bella 7720 Solo Tuning tuned down to orchestral pitch the best. An
inherently bright solo tuning string when tuned down has a
distinctive sound which I like.
Bit by bit though,
everything changed for me, I had an old Ampeg Baby bass for a while
and I found the pizz sound really profound in a jazz context. It made
me want to play simply and concentrate on making the music swing. It
wasn’t practical in other ways but it really got me thinking.
change finally came when I started using a Ubass though. I purchased
a Kala bass ukulele and used it when I had to travel by train, plane
or if the bandstand was too small for a double bass. It was a
revelation, amplified it sounded more like a double bass than my
double bass did, oh dear!
If I could have used a
bow with my Ubass I might have given up double bass there and then!
It was a shock and I had to completely change everything to make my
amplified sound more natural.
Since then I haven’t
used steel strings at all on my double basses. I didn’t want
gut because I’m a vegetarian (of some 40 years). I know, I
about the animal glue in my basses, but it was a step too far. The
horse hair in my bows is a big problem for me which I have to deal
with on a day to day basis. Anyway I’ve been experimenting
nylon strings of all types ever since.
Of course none of them
really sound as I would like, or feel as I would like, but I think
I’m too far down the road to go back to steel. I particularly
the way nylon instantly reacts to the bow and I like the feel of a
much thicker string under the fingers. Most players like to use their
adjusters for micro adjustments to compensate for varying conditions
but I’m looking for a setup where I can have the lowest
possible for amplified work, but then I can take the strings way up
high with adjusters for a big acoustic sound. I do that all the time.
least I’m not as
bad as the late great Ron Mathewson who had been known to adjust his
bridge as he played!
I’ve got older
I’ve suffered with a lot of genetic hand problems, but
able to keep playing, practicing and working because of the low
tension set ups that I now use.
also always been
happy to fit and adjust my own bridges and sound posts, so
confident to do a lot experimental setup work
often talk about the
sound we hear in our head and in the past mine was nearest to Scott
La Faro’s tone on the amazing Victor Feldman album,
Arrival”. I think at times using Innovation Honey strings
very low action I got passably close. These days I hear Jimmy Blanton
and that’s what I strive for.
a player he was
and what a magnificent sound he had.
(1) For a great illustration
of the Spirocore Stark E string sound listen to Chris
I used the lot on
this recording, Stark E, Mittel A, Weich D, Solo Tuning A tuned
down to G.
the bass uke has
been interesting in all sorts of ways. Even these days I think people
listen with their eyes. As long as it looks like a double bass then
everyone’s happy, it might sound like an electrified lawn
running down an escalator, but never mind, it looks right. If it
looks like something that Tiny Tim played then forget it.