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Gollihur Music
June 2014 Bass Notes


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Finding the Right Questions to Answer
"Pickup? Microphone? Which One Should I Get?" It's a question that comes up occasionally, and when a customer asked me by email a couple weeks ago, I looked at the extensive treatise I'd written as a response... and realized that I'd just created a new FAQ for the site.

So I tightened it up and put it online. (I've also included it below.)

This is exactly how we often come up with new material for our helpful Resources. Sometimes it's hard to know what answers to provide, until someone actually asks the questions. So by all means, don't hesitate to keep asking them!

We really want our website to be tops on your list of useful sources of quality, unbiased information for the upright bassist. So I hope that our resources have been of help to you at some time or another, and continue to be so. And as always, if you go looking for something on our site, and you don't find it, please let us know.
-- Mark

Special Deal!
Acoustic Image "Blem" Sale

Presumably to simplify their lineup, Acoustic Image is "phasing out" most of their one-channel models (except for the entry-level Contra). They had the parts left to make just a handful of new one-channel Coda, Ten2, and Clarus amps - and I bought 'em all. The metal cases for the heads of these models have very slight cosmetic imperfections (minor paint finish kludges, mostly) that allow me to specially discount them as "B-Stock" - but, of course, they're structurally and electronically perfect. So you get a chance to grab a great Acoustic Image amp at a lower price. You still get free shipping, a 14-day trial, and Acoustic Image's industry-leading warranty and service. Very limited quantities, and when they're gone, they're gone. So act now - visit Bob's Bargain Basement (our "clearance section") and get one while the gettin's good!

From the FAQ File
Should You Use a Microphone, or a Pickup, for Live Performance?

Mics and surface-mount pickups work in pretty similar ways, but are applied to the instrument differently - so they have somewhat different tonal characteristics. Let's talk about the pros and cons of each.

  • A high-quality mic is always going to be the "truest" method for amplifying an acoustic stringed instrument, as it's the closest thing to putting your head (ears) in front of the instrument in question and "hearing" the sound out of the air as the instrument produces it.
  • A piezo* pickup is a surface transducer; it senses the vibrations of the wood (usually on the bridge or directly under it) and turns those vibrations into electrical signals, which are then converted to sound by the amplifier.
    * Note - in this article, I'm speaking specifically about the most common type of pickup, a piezo-electric based transducer which is mounted directly against the wood of your bridge or bass. Magnetic pickups, which work just like pickups on a bass guitar, are another beast entirely, and are even more of a tonal compromise. See sidebar.
So, how they create sound to be amplified is actually a very similar process - they're both taking vibrational energy and converting it to electrical signals - it's just that a mic is pulling the vibrations out of the air while the pickup is pulling them out of the wood.

What About Magnetic Pickups?
A magnetic pickup is a common alternative to piezo-based pickups for players who play in high-volume situations. A magnetic pickup is largely unaffected by the sort of vibration that causes "rumbling" or "humming" feedback with piezo pickups, and also doesn't pick up sound out of the air, so it doesn't suffer from the "screeching" feedback that microphones often do. The drawback for magnetic pickups is that they generally sound more "electric" since they are getting their signal directly from the strings alone; they're not really putting the wood (and resonant cavity) of your upright into the sonic equation.
So What?

A pickup, since it's in direct contact with the instrument, will (quite logically) usually have a more "direct" sound than a microphone will - while the mic will impart more "air" to the sound it is producing. So from a purely sonic perspective, the mic will usually have a more "realistic" sound.

Which is why, in a professional recording studio, the engineer would almost always use a high-quality microphone to record your instrument rather than a pickup.

However, when you're in a studio, you have some pretty significant advantages. For one, you often have acoustic baffles between you and other instruments, which prevents issues like your mic picking up the guitarist or drummer. You also usually have lower overall volumes in the tracking room -- there isn't a loud amplifier or PA system threatening to incite screeching feedback if you get too close, or happen to point your instrument/mic the wrong way (you're probably wearing isolation headphones for monitoring). And you don't have to be on a crowded stage, performing for an audience - you can stand still and not worry about how moving around can alter how the mic sounds.

So, while mics can sound best in a perfect situation, pickups are usually more resistant to feedback, and they have almost no "crosstalk" - meaning that they don't audibly pick up other, nearby musical instruments onstage. You can conveniently leave a pickup on your instrument when you pack it up and cart it out, which is nice. It's usually less fragile than a mic, and it's pretty much a plug-and-play sort of deal when you get to the gig. And it's very consistent from show to show; whereas, even a small adjustment to a microphone's placement or alignment can completely change the way it sounds (and rarely for the better).

So, here's the takeaway.

For live performance, even though a mic will almost always sound "better," a large percentage of us are content to live with the compromise of the more direct sound of a pickup, because it can usually be a more convenient - and less troublesome - way to amplify the instrument. In the mix of a band in a live performance environment, most of the subtleties are lost, anyway.

On the downside, choosing a pickup isn't always a cakewalk. There's a large number of options, and the different pickups often have quite different tonal qualities. And it's not so much about "who made it?" as it is "where is it?" The specifics of where they are installed on the instrument can have a big effect on their sound. Pickups won't add something that isn't there already, but they can shape the character of your sound. Some have a darker, woodier sound, while some others are more detailed and "in your face." Some pickups are better suited for arco, due to these differences - an overly detailed pickup will sound "scratchy" when you bow, for instance. As a result, we offer many different pickups for bass, since they vary more widely than one might think. And, you can contact us to help you figure out which pickup is likely to provide the sort of sound that you're looking for - we've tried 'em all.

I Can Haz Both?

Sure you can! If you don't fear a small bit of complication, a really nice solution can be pairing both a mic AND a pickup, and blending them using a two-channel amp or preamp. K&K Sound makes some affordable and convenient options for doing this, and you can also put together a custom a la carte solution - we have very nice mics from AMT and dpa, as well as blending preamps from Acoustic Image and Vintage Revolution that can easily blend a mic and pickup. This can often provide the best of both worlds, as you will be able to blend the "realism" and "air" of a mic with the direct, foundational tone of a pickup. And if you run into unusual feedback or crosstalk issues, you can always taper back on the mic, and just roll with "plan B" - the pickup alone.

Still Confused?

If you are trying to narrow down whether to get a mic or a pickup, or more specifically, which one to get, take a good look at our product descriptions, which purposely edit out most of the manufacturer hype, and - based on our experience with them - try to describe them in a way that is meaningful... and that pulls no punches. And if you're still unsure, call us or email us with your specific needs and expectations. We do really want you to get the right pickup... the first time.

Some new items in our stable of bass products...

Goldtone MicroBass - My new favorite "mini-bass" - the 23" scale of the Goldtone Micro Bass is much easier to play, and the larger, round-back design provides a bit more acoustic sound, than the common "uke bass" models. Available in a fretted or lined fretless model, this bass is fun and comfortable to play and sounds great. Includes active preamp with built-in electronic tuner, and a really nice, heavily padded gig bag!

Radial Engineering ToneBone BassBone OD - This is the preamp I've been asking Radial to make for years, and it's finally here! This newest version of the popular BassBone is finally Doubler-friendly. Features two channels, both with real EQ and High Pass Filters. And one channel has a 10 megOhm input impedance, perfect for upright bass. Toggling between channels is done using a footswitch and both channels may alternatively be mixed together by depressing the blend switch (which is great if you have a mag pickup and a piezo on a single upright bass, and want to blend them together!)

Pirastro Flexocor Deluxe Upright Bass Strings - These "rope core" (steel strands wound like rope) are excellent arco strings, with a warm, full tone and easy playability. Digging in for a solo passage, you can really bring out a clear, detailed tone - but with a more relaxed hand, big arco warmth is right under your fingers. Nice pizz tone, too, if you favor a slightly more "old skool" vibe. They span the gap between the Original Flexocor and the regular Flexocor strings - It's kind of like getting "The Best of the Flex."

New Bargains All the Time! - Everyone loves a deal, and we're always adding new stuff to our "Bob's Bargain Basement" Clearance Section. One-offs, discontinued items, open box items, demo products, and more - recent additions include a slightly used NS Design CR4M, a Kala U-Bass, DTAR Mama Bear Preamp, Wood Bridges for a Baby Bass, discounted H-Clamp Mic Holders, and more... All items are subject to prior sale, so act quickly!

Christopher's Corner
Playing in Tune - an Exercise

Here at Gollihur Music, we're big fans of playing in tune. I'm not claiming we're great at it, but we're always trying! On an instrument that has a scale length well over three feet (one meter for all you metric people out there) that is certainly no easy feat. I have long been a proponent of practicing scales against a drone (one sustained note, using an external tone source, like a tuner or electronic keyboard) to improve one's ear... and therefore, intonation. While this is a wonderful practice, it is not always practical.

This exercise turns your bass into the drone instrument, so you always have the tools necessary. We'll be using the open strings as our sustained notes while playing over an A major scale, up the G string. The intervals that the open strings create are all octaves, fifths, or thirds, which are some of the easiest for our ear to pick out. Don't fret (pun very much intended) all those high notes with ledger lines; even if you're reading isn't so hot, it is just a major scale and you'll be able to fish out those high notes in no time. On the descent, I wrote it as a natural minor scale to spice things up a bit and give your ear a run for the money; feel free to play it as any variation of major or minor both ascending and descending.

The joy of this exercise is that its usefulness is really three-fold, it addresses:
  1. Intonation issues
  2. Position shifting (especially over the break to get up to those high notes), and
  3. String crossing (which is especially helpful for those of you doing the exercise arco)
Have fun and don't hate me for this one!

-- Christopher

In Other News...
Your Information is Safe with Us

In the last few months, there have been a few well-publicized privacy scares on the internet. A few customers expressed some concern about whether or not your information and passwords at Gollihur Music are safe. Just to set your mind at ease, our SSL Server does not use the version that is vulnerable to the "Heartbleed Bug" that you've probably been hearing a lot about lately.

We also use two different "Hacker-Safe" services (from McAfee and GeoTrust) that try to "hack" our site daily - you can check our sidebar on every page for our daily certifications.

So your data is safe here, and there's no imminent need to change your password or do anything to protect your information at Gollihur Music. However, do keep in mind that it's always good password practice to use a unique password at every site and to change it often.

Reading to the End Can Be Rewarding
Estle Louis Fully Carved Bass

Our Estle Louis Fully Carved Bass has been a winner since we first introduced it a few years ago. It's a really good "step-up" bass for an intermediate player of jazz or classical, or for a student attending college to study bass. For $2749, you get a bass that is beautifully built, well-appointed, and fully set up and ready to play upon its delivery to you. It features an adjustable bridge, real ebony fingerboard and tailpiece, and traditional woods (Spruce top, maple back and sides). Our bass is crafted side-by-side with some other basses that wear names you've heard of (but we cannot divulge for contractual reasons) that carry much higher price points. It really is a great deal, on a truly musical bass, that is tough to beat.

Well, for those of you who read this far (I hope you've enjoyed the newsletter!) I just did beat that deal. If you order a fully carved, 3/4 size Estle Louis bass with a companion Gollihur Bass Bag during the month of June, we will ship the bass, in the bag, to the lower 48 states for FREE. Wait, what? That's at least a $250 value for most customers. And you're already getting a bass that is set up and ready to play, which at most luthiers will run you at least another $250-500 depending on where you can get the work done.

Remember, this is a fully carved bass, not a laminated (plywood) bass. It's not a "beginner" instrument. Delivered, including a padded gig bag, and no sales tax if you're not in New Jersey, you get a really nice, step-up carved bass for under 2900 bucks.

Again, this is a limited-time offer, only available during the month of June. To check out more information about the bass, click the photo to the right. To add this very special offer to your cart, click this super-secret link, which is only available to our newsletter customers. And enjoy your new bass!

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