The Bass Geek - Words about Music, Circuitry, and New Orleans
The Bass Geek

My New Bass Ramp!


The New Bass Ramp!

The New Bass Ramp!

Benjamin Strange did a great job of describing the crafting and installation process on his site, so I'll focus here on why I actually did it. My practice (and there's NEVER enough practice, but I'm doing what I can) focused recently on right-hand technique, including picking techniques from Matthew Garrison, Steve DiGorgio, and Alex Webster). And I'd been intrigued by bass ramps from seeing a bunch of high-end basses and trying out what Kokomo phenom Eric Hyman had on his Pedulla. So I decided to take the plunge on my Fender Jazz bass.

Mind you, this instrument has already seen the installation of a MIDI pickup, a Hipshot D-Tuner, and some Nordstrand split-coil Jazz-style pickups. So it's already seen some modifications, but the wood and neck on this thing are amazing. I'm just tweaking it a little.

Benjamin does stellar work, and the craftsmanship that went into this is top-notch. The only thing left to do is play, and it plays spectacularly. I've only spent a few hours with it so far, but it already feels natural, and I couldn't be happier with the way it turned out. The picking techniques come to me easier (still needs some polish on my end, but that's a given), and it doesn't get in the way of other plucking or slapping closer to the neck. This modification just brings another option to an already wonderful instrument. Looking forward to much more playing on this. Thanks, Benjamin!


Playing and Gear Update

Part of trying to use too many toys is finding out how they work together. And part of moving into a new place is discovering all kinds of fun buzzing and grounding issues. So I've spent the past few months trying to locate the best places to place gear and try out configurations of pedals. My usually reliable Q-tron had to make a trip back to the EHX factory for reconditioning (the good folks at Webb's Bywater Music suspect a short somewhere after a switch fell out of the housing), and working with the virtual modeling effects on the iPad and Alesis IO dock have been less than satisfactory. Right now, the Loopy software is the only thing I'm happy with, and I've been loving playing at home with that. Not sure how many folks outside my place want to hear it, but it's still fun. But I think I have the placement figured out know so that I can test configurations at home without crappy buzz and hum.

I REALLY want the modeling stuff to work - it would be great to carry the iPad along instead of a huge pedalboard, but especially the response on the envelope filters just isn't the same. The fuzz and chorus seem to work well enough, but it's not fully functional enough. Guess I need to do more tweaking.

The new-to-me Markbass amp has been a wonderful acquisition, though - going up and down steep stairs is much better at one-third the weight and half the size. And it's still way loud enough for the gig. Can't recommend them enough.


Grabbing Your Tools

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a good portion of my Saturday learning more about my instrument from the technical side instead of the musical side. Strange Guitarworks in New Orleans presents a setup workshop the first Saturday of every month, and I was lucky enough to be part of the first class. Check out Benjamin's thoughts on the workshop here - for me, the workshop drove home a couple of concepts:

  • No instrument is perfect - the Jazz bass I used as part of the workshop has been one of my main instruments for several years now, but this workshop showed me where the instrument still had some imperfections and flaws to deal with. That doesn't make it a bad instrument by any means, it just means that nothing is perfect. The setup does show how to deal with those issues and get your instrument as playable as it can possibly be.
  • I have such a long way to go as far as visually assessing instruments. Measurements in hundredths or thousandths of a millimeter can make a difference, and it's not something I'm used to dealing with. Even with my glasses, I'm still not seeing some of these measurements easily. So much experience goes into this kind of work.

The access to the experience, advice, and tools presented in this workshop is invaluable, and I feel more confident tweaking the truss rod or setting up the bridge on my instruments now. This was time well spent, and I can't recommend it to folks in the New Orleans area enough.

I've also started playing with a cover band down here, which means travelling to a bunch of different clubs with different technical setups in the general area. My usual gear tote can be done in one trip (gig bag, pedalboard, and amp on a hand truck). But there have been a couple of times where we had a part go bad and an extra DI box or cable could have helped. I had the gear, but it wasn't in the gig bag. Also, just given the increased distance I'm travelling and the fact that I'm in more bars now, I'm liking the idea of having more solid housings for the gear I bring. So the extra cables and boxes went into a tool box I can move easily on the hand truck, and it's time to break out the hardshell cases again. It might end up being an extra trip, but it's worth it for the extra peace of mind right now. At least until I can get a much smaller amp and ditch the hand truck.


Recycling Strings

Many bassists (including myself) don't change the strings on some of their basses very often. My main players get a regular rotation, but the flatwounds on my fretless are . . . vintage. When they do come off the instrument, though, they're usually useless to the player. In my case, I usually cut them at the tuning peg for easy removal, so I can't practically return those strings to a bass later. That's why it's good to have viable alternatives to using these strings after they're done vibrating:

  • Recycling them for Mardi Gras throws - as detailed by Benjamin Strange at Strange Guitarworks, you can donate them to be used in beads and such coming off the floats.
  • Recycling them for jewelry - I've actually donated a set to Restrung Jewelry, and a portion of the proceeds goes to the New Orleans Musicians Aid Fund (a WONDERFUL cause).
  • Recycling them for playing - Janek Gwizdala recently promoted a wonderful cause to get strings to those who might not otherwise have access.

No matter how often you change the strings, think about these programs before your strings hit the trash can.


All On A Mardi Gras Day

Just some quick notes on this:

  • four tracks of bass
    • slap bass attempting to replicate a bass and snare drum
    • palm-muted and thumbed bass for the bass line
    • some chords in there
    • the lead line
  • I play the wrong instrument to be in a brass band, so I had to make some adjustments
  • I'm a transplant - please forgive any trespasses. I just heard the song and tried to make it work as a solo bass piece
  • Happy Mardi Gras!


To China with You!

Nope, I'm not shipping jobs overseas. However, Wiley Publishing recently licensed my book Teach Yourself VISUALLY Bass Guitar to receive a Chinese translation and publish, expected some time next year. Honestly, I just want to see what it ends up looking like. I'm also hoping for a press tour - not likely, but I can dream.


Made It!

For the most part, I'm here and functional in my new home of New Orleans. Moving a ton of musical gear is never an easy feat, but compressing it into a smaller area than before is truly a challenge. On the plus side, I managed to turn up three or four pedal power adapters I'd forgotten about - that pedal board will be much happier with less batteries now.

Now that everything is back together, I should be able to get the Playboy Psychonauts EP uploaded to Bandcamp for sale to the general public within the next week or so. Still tweaking the files a bit, but everything else should be ready to go.

And Victor Wooten is in town next week, with a bonus Anthony Wellington clinic earlier in the day, at Howlin' Wolf. Gotta manage my work schedule.

And, of course, gotta find a gig now. 🙂 So I'll be hitting the streets - let me know if you hear anything, okay? And if you're just running across this blog for the first time, feel free to peruse sound samples at my SoundCloud site.


This was a triumph…

Portal BassNo sound samples coming from this one, but that's not really the point. This bass represents a triumph, a huge success. Make a note of it. And hope it doesn't drop through any holes in space or something. If you lose the bass, you don't get any cake.


Propellerheads Reason and Rack Extensions

Many months ago, I sold my Digitech Bass Whammy pedal to some lucky soul in Detroit. It was a cool effect, but I just didn't use it that much. I didn't really expect the effect to come back into my life (and that particular pedal hasn't - just the overall effect), but Reason's Polar has done just that. Check out the video to see exactly what's going on there. And that's why Rack Extensions make Reason so much more fantastic. It finally allows 3rd-party developers into Reason's walled garden, and I'm having loads of fun playing with what's now available. The best part is that, combined with my SoftStep, I have the Whammy effects back (without messing with a finicky pedal). So very cool.


Yes, Another Pedal . . .

I picked up the Electro-Harmonix Steel Leather pedal more on a whim (with available store credit) than anything else. Bassists usually emphasize compression (making the notes more level overall volume-wise) over expansion (making louder notes louder), and I'm not needing to cut through any metal-crazed mixes any time soon (the advertised reason for the pedal's existence). I'm finding that a little of the pedal (9 o'clock on both knobs) brings out a nice presence with tapping, though - just a little extra shine. And it's tiny - my gig bag is getting a little too packed at this point. Good stuff.