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Gollihur Music
December 2011 Newsletter

Our Estle Louis Basses are quality, affordable instruments that arrive FULLY SET UP!
Welcome to another in a series of our irregular and infrequent e-Newsletters!
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In This Issue:
  1. Bob's Blog - Learn How to Play Your Amp! (Part 2)
  2. Guide for Holiday Gift-Giving - Cool Gift Ideas, and Getting Them on Time
  3. New Product Spotlight - Kala's new S-U-B Solidbody Mini-Bass
  4. Mark's Cool New Bass Stuff - New Books and DVDs... and now, with FREE SHIPPING!
  5. Acoustic Image Clearance - Final Days... Quantities are Shrinking Quickly!
  6. Christopher's Corner - Slap 101
  7. Thanks, Unsubscribe Info, Contact Us

Bob's Blog

It's Bob!

Learn How To Play Your Amp!! (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this series we talked about basic amp controls and specific methods for learning their effects. This article, Part 2 (now of 3 parts) covers the tools (and concepts) for managing preamp gain, as well as some of the features which can have an effect on preamp gain, like compression and alternate inputs.

Preamp (input gain) and Master Volume controls are two different controls entirely, and how you use them can have a big effect on your sound. This brings us to the important topic of...

Gain Staging
Instrument amplifiers have separate preamplifier and power amplifier circuits, and most have a volume (gain) knob to adjust the levels of each. The way these knobs are adjusted can help -- or hurt -- your sound. What the preamplifier and power amplifier do is pretty simple; they each multiply the bass signal.
  1. The Preamplifier takes the relatively low level signal of your instrument and preamplifies (multiplies) to a medium signal level that is at a high enough level to feed the power amp.
  2. The Amplifier then takes that stronger signal and multiplies it to an even higher level to power your speaker.
Generally speaking, if your instrument and/or preamp signals (volumes) are too low and your Master (power amplifier) level is too high, you're likely to have extra noise (usually "hiss" or "static.") This is because the percentage of good bass signal is low, so the preamp increases general background noise in the signal along with the bass. On the other hand, if your instrument level and/or preamp signal (volumes) are too high, they can cause distortion, and other ugly sounds, as they overwhelm the input capacity of the power amp.

The trick to setting these controls properly is to find the "window" where the incoming signal has sufficient level to provide adequate volume without excess noise, but not so "hot" that it overloads the input and causes distortion. Our friend on the left demonstrates the signal levels as you play bass; he's a 6'4" foot guy in an eight foot room. Just as you play notes, he jumps, but if you play a note that makes him jump higher than the amplifier's ceiling (maximum level)... well, it's bloody. Of course, this is just to make a point-- depending on their type of circuitry, amplifiers can exceed their maximum ratings for brief times, some better than others; that's an amp's headroom. But if you travel over that line too much and/or too long, it will get ugly.

Some amplifiers provide assistance: Peak, Overload, or similarly labeled lights, or a meter, are designed to tell you when you have reached the preamp's or amp's design limit. There is no "standard" (or if there is, nobody abides by it), so experience or experimenting should tell you just how ugly things get if that light flashes too much or stays on. To set my amp's input gain/volume control,
The Straight Dope: if an amp has a power rating of 300 watts, even if you add more preamplification (gain) to try to make it louder -- well, that's like trying to put 400 gallons in a 300 gallon septic tank. The brown seeping over the 300 watt limit represents the brown sound; let's say it sounds like something brown.

The bottom line is that an amplifier cannot sustain a level that is louder than it is designed to get, at least not in a good way.
I will play my lowest note at the loudest instrument preamp and/or volume control level (play hard and continually) and adjust all the knobs to a point (all the way up on my bass guitar) and adjust the input gain control on my amp so that little light only flashes a tiny bit. That way you'll know you shouldn't distort, but still have a strong signal that will have a full sound. Listen carefully for distortion, because those lights and meters are calibrated differently depending on each amp's design, so you will know what works best for your particular amplifier.

Note: Depending on the amp, turning up any tone controls (bass, in particular) may also increase the effective preamp volume and can put you back into that distortion place, so compensate by reducing the amp's input volume/gain control if necessary. You can also use this to your benefit: if you are at the limit and still need more volume, roll off some bass and then turn up a little; lower notes take more amplifier power to reproduce than the highs and mids, and while you won't have quite the "bottom," it may increase your percieved overall volume.

High/Low and Passive/Active are just two examples of labels you may find next to input jacks. Usually, the two different jacks allow for two different fixed levels of gain (see above) - one for the higher level of output for instruments with active preamplifiers or other electronics, and the other for lower-gain "passive" pickup arrangements. Unfortunately, there are no industry standards, but you'll find when you plug into one of them your bass will be quieter. That is the jack to use if you use an external preamp, or if one is built into your bass, meaning it is "active." The other is for basses with passive (no preamp) instruments, so it is "louder", offering more gain (volume). It is important when considering Gain Staging, above, so that your preamped, and therefore usually louder, signal does not overload the preamp inside your amplifier. Some amplifiers have only one input jack but may have a switch or button to decrease the input sensitivity; like with the jacks, your ears should tell you which to use.

Drive, if included, is usually a knob alongside the input gain control. The design goal is to add character to the sound, such as a tube saturation or mild to wild intentional overdrive, which can add thickness and/or distortion to your bass sound. Some amps include preamp tubes (aka "valves") or tube emulators, and in that case a gentle dose of drive can add heft to your notes. Off is usually a good position for these controls if you want a pure upright bass tone, but as with these other controls, experimentation is worthwhile.

Compression, Limiter: An Upright Bass, when we pluck it enthusiastically, can put out a huge burst of sound. Compressors and Limiters soften and minimize that peak so it doesn't overload the amp and/or annoy your bandmates. A Compressor can usually do it more gracefully than a simple Limiter (depending on its design), but a compressor's primary role is to squeeze the dynamic range of the notes you play, so the quietest are a little louder, and the loudest are a little quieter. You'll notice compression being used when you watch a TV show -- where if the whispers were at their original, actual volume, they would be hard to hear, and an explosion in an action scene would make you jump out of your chair. Amp makers may include simple single knob compressors, or less often, a more comprehensive unit with up to four knobs for precise control. Compression is not something generally needed for upright bass gigs, except in special situations, such as for taming the impact of rockabilly slap. Using compression well would take up an entire article on its own -- so Study user manuals, and experiment extensively before using.  Rule #1: If you can "hear" the compressor working (a "pumping" sound) it isn't set right. Subtle = good.

A final word on Too Much Bass Disease: Yes, I know you are playing a bass, but don't automatically turn up the bass or push the deep switch! If you've read my other writings, you know this is a pet peeve of mine. This is due to the many upright and electric bass players I've heard, or tried to hear, only because they are so far down in the bassment that their all their cool musical activities are buried in rumble. And dammit, so many can't take the constructive criticism or objective advice from their band members or another bass player. "This is the way I play," or some similar justification makes for the ugly status quo. And yes, I am like one of those reformed smokers, because I remember my own past self-defeating leanings towards the Deep Dark Side.

So check out these features (if available) on your amplifiers, perhaps it's time to adjust these controls and carefully listen to the results, so you are familiar with the tools at your disposal. All of these are potential ingredients in creating your Reference Sound. It may be time to revisit Part 1 and go back to the drawing board for some tweaks.

Coming soon: Part 3 - Parametric EQ, Notch Filters and other useful features!

Note: Bob's Blog (and additional blog posts) can now also be found on our Wordpress Blog Page.

Happy Holidays from All of us at Gollihur Music!

Check out our special holiday gift guide featuring upright bass-related gift-ables

We've got lots of great (and affordable) stuff for the bass players on your gift list - everything from stocking stuffers, like videos and small accessories... on up to cool instruments like the Kala U-Bass!

We've put together an assortment of useful and fun items for players of Upright and Electric Basses; Under $25 items include our popular clip-on electronic tuner, the clever Turbo-Tune string winder, our microfiber cleaning/dusting cloth, and our "nation of bass" hot beverage travel mug. We also have videos and book sets, a bass stand that fits virtually any upright bass, a great cleaning/care kit and more - all under $50!

If the bassist on your list has been especially good this year, you could give him or her a super-cool Kala U-Bass or S-U-B Solidbody, awesome small-sized basses with big-sized sound! We also have the useful PAM-5A powered monitor speaker, handy "Bass Buggie," and more...

Visit the Full List of Holiday Suggestions!


Gollihur Music is well known for our very quick shipments and well-stocked warehouse, and we'll do our part to make sure your gift needs are met in a timely fashion. Almost everything on the site is always in stock for immediate shipping, unless otherwise noted as a special order or temporarily unavailable item. If an item is not in stock or expected imminently, we'll let you know right away.

We usually ship smaller items from our New Jersey east coast location by the US Postal Service, using regular or Priority Mail. We use UPS Ground for some shipments as well as for most larger items. UPS Next Day, Second Day, and Three Day services are available at additional cost. You can specify your special needs during checkout or give us a call to place your order at 609-624-1470 10-6 eastern time, before 3pm if you need to make our same-day shipping window.

*UPS will not deliver on Christmas Day, and while they will be delivering Ground shipments on Christmas Eve, we'd strongly recommend not cutting it that close. Expensive Next Day Air with added Saturday Delivery charges is your only option to get items that you order on Friday, December 23rd to arrive on Christmas Eve.

To be certain your order arrives by Christmas Eve or sooner:

  1. Check the box during checkout ("Check this box if you need a faster than normal shipping service") and use the text box to...

  2. Tell us the precise date and time by which the item must arrive. During business hours, expect us to send you an email with a shipping cost quote in response to your request.

  3. Be available to check your email so you can approve the quote for the extra cost for faster shipping,

    • OR give us clear permission "you may charge me up to $xx.xx for faster shipping to deliver by the date I specified."

    • OR call us shortly after you place the order during business hours to confirm a shipping quote.

Bob, Mark and Christopher at Gollihur Music wish all of our customers and friends a safe and happy holiday season.


New Kala SOLID-BODY S-U-B Mini Bass

Just like the surprising "acoustic" version of the U-Bass, this is a very BIG sounding little instrument (scale length = 21"). And while other musicians may scoff when you first pull it out of its case, they'll quickly change their tune when you plug it in and start shaking the walls!

The new SUB bass features a poplar body and a fretted maple neck with rosewood fingerboard and nut. The pickup system is an active system by Shadow, with 2-band EQ and volume control. It also features quality Hipshot-Licensed tuning keys for precision tuning. The bass includes a padded gig bag.

It looks and feels like a real pro-level instrument, basically a small electric bass guitar. The 2 solid colors (and the sunburst) finish on each instrument looks very sharp, and the overall fit and feel is very good. The amplified sound is round and fat, but with definition and with a good and full frequency range.

Does it sound like an upright bass? Not really, but it's a lot closer to the URB "vibe" than a typical electric bass. It's got a big, round, warm sound thanks to the unusual strings. It comes in your choice of three finishes - (see photo):
  • Satin Red
  • Satin Black
  • Gloss 3-Tone Sunburst

The new Kala S-U-B U-Bass packs huge, booming tone into a diminuitive package. Uber-portable - and easy and fun to play - this might just become your "go-to instrument" for jams, travel, and more!

Check out our S-U-B Product page for more specs and information!

Mark's Cool New Stuff

We've Added to Our Books and Videos Section - and Now ALL Books and Videos SHIP FREE to the USA!

I've been wanting to add some new instructional and sheet music books, as well as play-along and concert videos to our site for a while now. I've found some wonderful new titles, and have organized our selection into some additional subcategories so you can quickly find what you're looking for.

And even better still, now we've updated the pricing on all our books and videos to reflect FREE SHIPPING in the USA. Buy one, buy a bunch - if it's a book or video, it ships for free; even to Alaska and Hawaii!
(Note: videos and books ordered alone will ship by Media Mail, which is not quite as speedy as Priority Mail. If ordered with other items, they will ship together in the same package.)

Some of the new items include: We also have all of our old favorites, including our Bluegrass Jam-Along, Lesson books by Ray Brown, Andy McKee, Ron Carter, and more, a Simandl Play-Along, and DVDs on Rockabilly Slap, Jazz, and Bluegrass. There are also the wonderful bass building and maintenance books by Chuck Traeger and H.S. Wake. And, of course, the great "Essential Elements" 3-book/CD/DVD lesson set!

Visit our Books and DVDs category for more information!


P.S.: I recently got a call from Kevin Mingus, grandson of Charles Mingus (mentioned above) - he's currently producing a documentary film about "a grandson discovering the truths behind the legend of the grandfather he never knew." The production company has information about the documentary - and their crowd-funding project to complete the film - at their web site, Definitely worth a moment to check it out!

Acoustic Image CLEARANCE Continues

(But don't wait too long - Coda R amps almost gone, Contras moving fast!)

"It ain't over til..." - well, she's not singing yet, but she's warming up in the wings! If you always wanted an Acoustic Image amp, now is the time to jump on one of these great discounted amps before they are gone (and they will be, really soon!)

The Acoustic Image Contra features a full-featured one-channel preamp, 400w of power, and that great Acoustic Image sound in a highly portable format. Price reduced to $899!

The Acoustic Image Coda R SE (two channel version of the popular Contra, with built-in effects) combo is reduced to $999.

Click below for detailed information, and for 24/7 ordering on our site. FYI, our 14-day trial period -- and Acoustic Image's amazing 5-years-plus Warranty -- applies to these special amps, too.

Christopher's Corner

SLAP 101 - Introduction to Playing Slap on the Upright

Slapping my bass was not a technique I had ever given much thought to, until I got a call about six months ago. A drummer friend of mine asked if I wanted to audition for a rockabilly group. Not my normal style, but a gig's a gig, right? I got a CD of the set the next day and popped it in. 100% Slap bass. I had my work cut out for me. In searching around the online world, there really wasn't too much out there, so I mostly just listened to the recordings and did what seemed natural. I'm certainly no expert in slap bass, but I thought I'd offer a few simple exercises that I cooked up over that week to get my own chops going. These focus more on the rhythms than actual right hand technique, as accepted opinions of what is "correct" vary so widely; you'll have to experiment to find a technique that works for you.

Although a bassist is always striving to bridge the gap between rhythm and harmony, slapping certainly lends itself more towards the former. My initial thought was to break out one of my snare drum rudiment books, and this was indeed a good starting point; but with 25 variations on 8th notes -- on just the first page -- I felt the need to pare it down to just a few widely used variations that, in combination, can prove to be the most useful in many situations where slapping is called for.

(click on the graphic to open it larger in your browser)

The first exercise is a basic descending line that will be used as a basis for subsequent exercises. Play through first with regular pizz, to familiarize yourself a bit with the line. Once your left hand is accustomed to the pattern, we'll add in the single slap. Instead of plucking the string, you will pull it up and release it, providing a lovely slap against the fingerboard; this is known as a single slap, also known in orchestral circles as a "Bartok Pizz." Play the line enough times until you are comfortable doing this for every note.

Now we'll change it up a bit, not every note needs to be a slap! Try the line again with regular Pizz on 1 & 3 and a single slap on 2 & 4, accenting like a drummer's hi hat would. Play these three variations slowly, with a metronome, gradually adjusting speed as accuracy increases. Try going through the three variations one after another in 4 bar phrases.

Exercise number two is going to introduce the double slap; playing the note, and then hitting the string with your palm or fingertips afterwards to make a percussive sound. This will result in a string of eighth notes that is a common feel found in many early rockabilly recordings, and previous to that, in early jazz. We will implement the same line as the previous exercise, while adding an extra slapped eighth note between each articulated note. This is one of the most common patterns, and as such it has numerous variations. Take the time to familiarize yourself with each, as they all have their own specific use. Much like in example one, each note can be played standard pizz or Bartok pizz. Now that we have begun to work with eighth notes, we have the choice to play straight eighths or to swing our eighth notes -- this is where it can get interesting, you now have 4 variations on a theme. It's a simple concept that can be greatly expanded upon.

This is just barely scratching the surface of this technique, but a simple way to get a jump (jive?) start. Next up, Triple slaps!


Thanks for reading!

Our plan is to put out occasional newsletters that highlight our latest informational Bass FAQs, as well as let you know of sales and cool new stuff. If you haven't already visited, check out the Upright Bass FAQ section (accessible from the menu bar under RESOURCES) and take a look at some of the other articles we've written. There are a number of topics like Impedance and Ohms (input AND output perspectives!), Rosin, changing strings, bridges, Mystery Basses, and more. More articles are in the works, and we welcome your suggestions for additional FAQs.

Gollihur Music is not just an Upright Bass store, it's your URB information destination.

"Life is too short for bad tone."
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