Second Bass

Bass ClefSome years ago — some many years ago — I played bass. Upright. Classical. That was in high school. My college, being rather small, didn’t have much of a music program, and I was inclined to other pursuits at the time, so it went no further. And yet, the bass has followed me. I wouldn’t liken it to an albatross, but there, in the corner of my living room, stands the dark, towering monstrosity that is my 7/8ths-sized American Standard bass (#343). It looks attractive, gathers dust, and occasionally emits strange resonances when a passing truck or a particularly gripping moment of 5.1 splendor sets it off. It deserves better.

Very occasionally — annually at best — I take a cloth to it, fiddle with the tuning (it stays surprisingly well tuned), and noodle through some dimly remembered licks. There’s a particular classical run that I must’ve once woodshedded fairly seriously, for while I’ve no recollection of the piece it belongs to, my fingers find it almost effortlessly. That, and the walking line to Miles’ “All Blues” are about all I can muster. The latter courtesy of a long-ago instructor who probably knew that if he didn’t try to get the kid playing something other than classical, he was likely to walk away from the old nagybögö for good (it’s Czech Hungarian for bass, I think… strange, the things one [almost] remembers). And so it came to pass.

Still, music hath charms, no? If nothing else, it’s a worthwhile exercise of otherwise underutilized parts of the brain, stimulating and channeling thought in different and hopefully more intuitive ways. And so… I’m thinking it might be nice to have an electric bass. Just, you know, because. Because it’s a damned sight more portable than a double bass, can be played sitting down, is something one might actually hope to become nimble upon, may be noodled with while wearing headphones, and maybe — just maybe — if I learned to play it, it might prove a useful social skill if nothing else. Hell, if I made any headway with it, the knowledge I’d gain is likely back-portable to the upright, so I might come full-circle.

I make no claim to musicianship, but I do have a fairly decent sense of rhythm, know when things are out of tune, and can read bass clef. In fact, that’s about all I’ve got going for me — I’m hopeless reading treble, my theory is for shit, and my ability to improvise or even play chords is non-existent. Still, were I to pick up an instrument again, it seems preferable to attempt to resurrect what I do know of playing bass, rather than trying an entirely new instrument (like, say, the Theramin… I almost bought one a few years ago. I’m sure that had I, it would be just as dusty as the bass.)

So, if I am to buy a bass, what to buy? General advice to beginners seems to be to pick something suitable for the style of music you’d like to be playing, which is assumed to be the music that you, yourself, like. What do I like? Well, there’s vintage Calypso, but that pre-dates electric basses, isn’t performed (or much listened to) anymore, and it’s the lyrics that I enjoy anyway. At the risk of generalizing, there are a handful of calypso melodies that got recycled over and over again, and not in an “I Got Rhythm” way. Hot Club? Again, not electric, and its merits are in the swing guitars and Grappelli-style violinistry. The Pogues? I’ll grant that Lorca’s Novena has a pretty kick ass bass line, but I don’t think pseudo-Irish folkpunk is quite my calling. The Beastie Boys? I love ‘em, but purely as an appreciative audience member, I assure you. There again, a lot of it’s lyrics. I loves me a whole mess of electronica, too, but where does that get me? Nowhere, really, but I’m pretty sure that metal’s out. No metal, and no Christian rock (or non-rock, for that matter). Nothing with a -core suffix either.

A Gretsch BassLeaving that aside for the moment, another — albeit somewhat superficial — bit of guidance to the beginner is to select an instrument that looks nice, on the theory that if you think it’s a sexy piece of work, you’re more likely to spend quality time with it and may actually practice with sufficient regularity that you learn something. This is advice I can easily follow. Questions of personal musical direction be damned: click through some major instrument retailers’ web sites and see what strikes your fancy. And so, based on pure personal aesthetics, I should be considering a hollow-body of some sort. Perhaps this one, this one, this one, or anything by Gretsch. I like ‘em nice and rounded, with f-holes … friendly-looking instruments that look like they’re designed to make a warm, woody noise, even if they couldn’t push an unamplified note across the room. And, for obvious reasons, given that the upright form is the one I’m most accustomed to, I also kinda like the Höfner 500/1 viol-shaped bass and its cousins, though the absence of f-holes seems strange.

The Rogue VB100Believe it or not, I didn’t know that Paul McCartney played a Höfner… guess I never paid much attention to the instruments. Remarkable the number of knock-offs that his choice of bass prompted, generally identifying themselves as “Beatle Basses.” I gather that there’s a single factory in China — maybe another in Korea — cranking out slight variations of these puppies and branding them for Epiphone, Jay Turser, Johnson, Brice, Rogue, Dillion and others. The Rogue model is pleasantly inexpensive and very well-reviewed. I stopped into a local music store this evening, thinking to sample a bass or two, and fortuitously found that they had a used Höfner 500/1 knock-off in stock (unknown brand, made in Japan c. 1970). I played around with it some, and think I could get used to something like that. Definitely enjoyed the size and weight of it compared to a solidbody. Nicer tone, too. We’ll see. It was the only semi/hollowbody bass they had in the shop, so there are other avenues to explore yet. Portland Music Co. is listed as a Gretsch distributor, so that may be my next stop.

Note: on closer inspection of the Gretsch product line, it appears that the only basses they’re making these days are in their Professional line (i.e. ~ $2K). Pity :(

12 thoughts on “Second Bass

  1. 85cHi guys. Here’s my update. I got into conctat with a local investigator and they got hold of Brian. He FINALLY agreed to send me my promised parts. But the biggest joke? This only shows how much more of a moron and fraud Brian is. This is what he sent me:- 2 pots instead of 3 for the electronics- A BLACK body instead of my specific order of Olympic White. Furthermore, the relic work sucks. Just random dings and dents- A set of 1962 Klein pickups. BUT I ordered a Jazzy Cat set- Tortoise pickguard with a WHITE backplate (I ordered neither of these. It was supposed to be Olympic White with Mint Green and NO backplate)- Rusty metal parts that are more like junks instead of relic’ So the verdict is I highly doubt any decent guitars are going to come out. The dude has no tracking of his own orders and he exercises his mouth of excuses more than actually building anything. Imagine it took me another 2 months just trying to come up with ways to engage local law enforcement to put pressure on this guy. Brian did not return me any emails until that local investigator talked to him. I saw that FB page too. You can’t see anything now. But earlier this year, Brian still had the time to post stuff on his FB, especially on Joe Bonamassa’s page about how much he adores him. Basically, he has time to roam around FB instead of worrying about his long line of backlogged orders. My thought is that if possible, someone from the US should really file a lawsuit against him. I would have done it if I was from the US. I find it hard to have sympathy with whatever health issues he’s facing (or whether he really has them or not, that’s another possibility). Many people are affected in this with hundreds of dollars lost.

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  3. Welcome back! It was only the other day that I was going through my RSS feeds and realised that you hadn’t posted in ages. I thought you’d probably br working on something top-secret-and-cool, and I was half right. Congrats on the engagement and I hope that you have a great 2006.

  4. Hi, Sundsmo’s! Sounds like you had a terrific time at MOA. I loved Mia’s “accidentawy crying” comment–what a character! It’s so neat that she and Kylie enjoy playing together. I know I loved having a sister (MOST of the time!–but don’t tell your mom!) Talk to you soon. Love, Judy

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  6. Palmas para você Noshpie, e vaias para aqueles que escrevem posts patrocinados disfarçados. E para aqueles que escondem posts caça-paraquedistas dos feeds (história aliás que já redeu demais)Se você quiser eu posso conseguir uma tabela de valores de um site de esportes de uns brothers meus que tão na ativa a muito tempo. Dá para se basear pelo valor que eles combram nos anúncios =P

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