April 2015 Bass Notes
UPRIGHT BASS SPECIALISTS... ON THE WEB SINCE 1997
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Breaking With Tradition.
We are very fortunate to play an instrument with a long, proud tradition. From its beginnings in (roughly) 17th century Europe to the modern basses we play today, those of us whom the bass has chosen have a rich legacy to live up to. So it's natural to feel like we ought to to stick to certain conventions that we take for granted.
But sometimes it pays to think "outside the box." For instance, the development (in the mid-1600's) of the overwound gut string -- improving the tone, pitch, and playability of the erewhile massively thick low strings -- quite likely saved the double bass from extinction. Until those strings came along, the instrument was very large and difficult to play -- and the indistinct pitch of the low notes usually relegated it to simply doubling the cello line an octave down (hmmmm... "Doublebass?"). This improvement in strings alone provided access to much better-sounding lower notes, while also allowing the instrument to be resized to its more practical current dimensions (ever wonder why our modern basses are called "3/4 size"?) It all helped to evolve the bass into a legitimate instrument of its own standing.
Lots of other innovations have come along as well -- the development of steel and synthetic-based strings; less costly laminated construction techniques; special modifications like E-string extensions and tunable afterlength tailpieces; the advent of specialized pickups and amplifiers... the list can go on forever, I'd think. We've come to a new renaissance of sorts, with all kinds of new products for the upright bass being introduced all the time. From unconventional pickups like the Ehrlund EAP Linear Microphone, to amps like the stunning Acoustic Image Flex System, there are plenty of revolutionary products in high-end amplification.
But there are even some innovations that are more "ground level" -- things on the instrument itself -- that can be reimagined, and possibly improved. For instance, we recently received our first shipments of the "Deuce Bass Bridge," which for sure will challenge the sensibilities of a purist -- but it is worth a look! And the clever Hipshot Freerange Extender offers a temporary alternative to a costly, permanent E-extension. We're featuring some of those sorts of products in our newsletter this month; the ones that break with conventions in design or materials.
As always, thanks for reading, and if you come across any innovative bass thinking we should know about, let us know!
From the FAQ File
Choosing and Using a Bass Transport Wheel
There are wheels available (we sell 'em here) that can be inserted into the bottom of your bass. They're great - I have certainly appreciated having one when I had to cover long distances between car and gig. By turning your unwieldy bass into something like a handtruck, you can push, rather than carry, your bass over long distances with ease. Hey, that's just how we roll.
You simply remove the endpin shaft (ok, sometimes it's not "simply" -- some endpins have a crossbar or other mechanism on the inside of the endpin that prevents it from falling out. In that case, you just shove the endpin into the bass, retrieve it from a f-hole, and remove or grind off whatever is preventing its removal.) and slide the wheel's shaft in. Good wheels have a flat side on the shaft that you can orient towards the thumbscrew, so you can use it to keep the wheel locked into the right direction.
It's important to choose the correct shaft size, so you'll probably have to measure the bass' endpin shaft. The most common size is 10mm (about 3/8 inch), followed by 8mm. Kays and Engelhardts with original endpins (all steel, both shaft and the receiver) are 1/2 inch; that size is typically only found on those brands, and keep in mind that some folks remove and replace those endpin mechanisms.
If you don't have a caliper, micrometer, or other device to measure the shaft, there are ways to get around that. My personal favorite is to go out to the garage and grab a few open-ended box wrenches (both SAE and Metric) - find the one that fits around the shaft the most perfectly, and read the size right off the wrench. No mechanic in the family? Get a piece of stiff cardstock or cardboard, and cut a notch in it. Continue to slightly widen that slot until the endpin fits perfectly - then measure the gap with a conventional ruler. Do the measurement with both inches and millimeters; as you can see, shafts are available in both metric and SAE (inches) sizes, and some of the sizes are very close.
Consider the bass and wheel you use; they are designed for use on relatively flat surfaces - but how much "give" there is in the wheel as well as the fragility of the bass still has to be considered. I use one of the less expensive wheels with my Kay because it is a laminated instrument, and while the wheel has some softness to absorb shock, the bass can take the vibration. My carved bass is more fragile and would call for the Gaines' pneumatic wheel, as it offers more shock absorption. Regardless, it's usually best to lift your instrument over rougher surfaces that might transmit too much shock. Please, don't jump the curb!
I like aligning my wheel so my bass rolls sideways-- I lean the bass shoulder into my right shoulder, reach over to grab the case handle or upper bout, and roll forward. You'll get the hang of steering in no time (people usually get out of the way when they see it coming, so who cares?)
Bass Wheel Alternatives:
There are some basses that cannot effectively use an endpin wheel. For instance, some endpins use a retainer thumbscrew that doesn't simply "jut against" the endpin, but rather tightens a collar around the entire endpin. Since this type does not press directly against the flat spot on the wheel's shaft, it cannot prevent the wheel from rotating. This is a bad thing; imagine walking at a good clip, and suddenly the wheel flips sideways. Not good. You might also have a non-removable endpin, or a solid wood non-adjustable one. Don't worry, there is an option for you: The Bass Buggie is a small two-wheeled "cart" of sorts that quickly straps onto your bass and makes it as easy to "drive" as a hand-truck. It's one of my favorite products, and it solves most of those issues that make a bass wheel impractical or unusable.
NEW PRODUCT SPOTLIGHT
The Deuce Upright Bass Bridge
It might be tempting to look down your nose at the Deuce Bridge and write it off as "too weird" without giving it a chance. On an instrument that is steeped in classical history, with graceful, varnished woods, and beautiful compound curves, something made of angular, welded metals looks a bit out of place, almost a bit "steampunk." But I urge you to give it a chance, it's actually a smart bit of design, and might be just the thing you've been looking for to improve a bass that's been lacking.
The middle part of the bridge is crafted from T6 aluminum alloy, and has several useful adjustments and features, like built-in pickup clamps for "wing" style pickups. With its asymmetrical foot design, the Deuce provides enhanced stability over a typical bridge. The string height is adjustable through the use of threaded posts to attach the feet, and the top "saddle" portion can be easily replaced, so separate "winter" and "summer" options, or saddles specific to music genre or string types, are easily provided for.
The materials that make up the bridge are excellent conductors of sound, and the manufacturer and some early adopters both report that the bridge improves not only overall volume, but the depth and fullness of the tone as well. So swapping out for this bridge might help improve a bass that's a little shy in its low-end response.
We put the bridge on a new, relatively unplayed carved Estle Louis bass here at the shop; we found that it had no notable effects on the tone (good or bad); there might have been a slight increase in overall volume, but it's tough to say. It does make putting a pickup on the bass quick and easy (with no sawdust) -- but it's important to note that while it does make using a wing-mount pickup much easier, it completely removes the ability to use some others (like the Full Circle or Lifeline.)
These bridges have already found a strong market in the Rockabilly/Psychobilly genre, where its unconventional looks are viewed a bit less... suspiciously. But even players of jazz and orchestral music should consider giving it a serious look. Symphonic players have reported excellent tonal response, with blooming fundamentals and improved overtones when using this bridge.
Available in Silver and Black, and a special new gold finish, which is EXCLUSIVE to Gollihur Music. Designed to fit 3/4 size basses.
Trying Something New
Here's a small listing of some other unconventional options -- like the Deuce Bridge, above -- for upgrading your upright bass...
Wittner Composite Ultra-Light Tailpiece - This durable but extremely lightweight "space age" composite tailpiece from Wittner is designed to maximize your bass' performance; it weighs a mere 5.4 ounces. It is a common school of thought that a tailpiece of lower mass has a positive impact on your sound, and this one was designed with that in mind. It's very traditional looking, with a matte finish, so from a few feet away, it's your little secret.
Carbon Fiber Replacement Endpin - Why make an endpin of carbon fiber? CF has a high strength-to-weight ratio, while having a much lower density than steel. So this high-quality endpin assembly weighs only 248-250 grams (about 8.8 oz.) and has the strength and rigidity of a standard steel endpin, which is usually much heavier. I've got one of these on my own bass, and it's strong and stiff, slides smoothly and quietly, and never buzzes.
Hipshot FreeRange Xtender - Upright Bass String Drop-tuner - Hipshot originally made their name creating innovative replacement de-tuning keys for electric bass and guitar. Now they've taken that same concept of quick, accurate re-tuning, and applied it to the upright bass. Using the Hipshot FreeRange Xtender, you can play musical pieces that were previously out of the range of your bass (or impractical to try to quickly re-tune the low string onstage between songs.) This is a non-permanent alternative to hacking up your bass permanently to install a Low E Extension. And it works!
Kolstein Deluxe Adjustable Ebony Upright Bass Tailpiece - This isn't so much made of unusual materials, but it offers something fairly uncommon: adjustable intonation control for each individual string's afterlength. If you're a tone junkie, having more control over the "afterlength" can actually have a notable impact on tonal quality; its own vibration, audible or not, can work for or against the overall sound of the string and the total instrument. Neat!
Shhhh... We also have a less expensive version in our Bargain Basement - limited quantities available!
Ehrlund EAP Acoustic Pickup - The EAP (Ehrlund Acoustic Pickup) is a specially designed "linear microphone" which attaches to your bass top, and produces a realistic, mic-like sound. It uses a special hybrid "contact mic" sort of design in conjunction with piezo technology to sense both vibration and sound, thereby getting a full, realistic signal without the characteristic "quack" of many piezo systems. If you've tried other "contact mics" and been unimpressed, don't pre-judge the Ehrlund -- this thing is a game-changer.
David Gage Metropolitan Carbon Fiber Bow - David Gage and Coda Bow knew that simply copying a wooden bow in standard carbon fiber was not the way to go. The methodology was to work interactively with prototypes in order to reach their goal: to create a bow with the feel and performance of pernambuco, but without dead spots - and to retain the responsiveness of wood without objectionable stiffness. The result? Stunning performance in an affordable pro-grade bow.
Innovation "Rockabilly Reds" String Set - These new strings from Innovation hold nothing back. They make a big visual impression with their "look at me" style, and have a gutsy, slap-friendly tone. The pizz sound, especially on the carved bass, is huge, with a great mix of articulation and that gut-like thud that roots players are accustomed to. But, brash RED outer windings aside, their tension and tone is designed specifically for the needs of rockabilly bassists.
Super-Sensitive Clarity Synthetic Rosin - Traditionally, rosin is made of natural tree resin; Super-Senstitive has broken with tradition, creating an alternative synthetic which is resistant to staleness, and is also hypo-allergenic.
We're a STOCKING Dealer
We always maintain healthy stock levels whenever possible, and we're loaded up on popular products; Lenzner gut strings direct from Germany, Bass Stools, Innovation Strings, Bass Stands, Traynor Amps, and much more! Brand new, factory-fresh and ready to go right out the door. Order today by 3pm EST, most orders ship same day!
As always, we are grateful for the opportunity to earn your business, as well as your friendship. We thank you for your many kind words and wishes, and always welcome your questions and concerns.
-- All of us at Gollihur Music
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