September 2014 Bass Notes
UPRIGHT BASS SPECIALISTS... ON THE WEB SINCE 1997
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Conventions. Patterns. We're pretty much all creatures of habit. From the music we enjoy, to the "licks" we play when we improvise, to how we approach problem solving; we often fall back on the familiar, the tried and true... basically, that which seems obvious or comfortable.
It's only natural; cognitive scientists have studied the brain and found that our incredibly complex mind often resorts to "shortcuts" and conditioning to quicken decision-making. It's an evolutionary skill, as it's the sort of thing that can save your life; imagine walking through a forest, and out of the corner of your eye, you see a slithering movement -- and hear a light rattling sound. Chances are, you're 30 feet away before you've even had a moment to go through the thought process of, "hmmm... a slithering thing could be some kind of a snake, and that rattling sound, if it's related, that could be... aw, heck, I'm outta here!"
So certainly, habits and conventions - and learning from one's past - can be very valuable. But sometimes it pays to think outside the box. For instance, as a means for getting off a creative "plateau," many songwriting websites and books suggest changing the tuning of your instrument to something unusual; by changing the familiar layout, it forces you to overcome your habitual note patterns - and find an exciting new path.
So with that in mind, in this month's newsletter I talk about a new way of thinking through the process of getting a good sound when you combine a mic and pickup. And Christopher weighs in on the subject with a new practicing philosophy to try.
If you have come up with a great way to approach your bass from a different angle, drop me a line or post it on our Facebook thread!
From the FAQ File
A New Way of Looking at Mixing a Mic with a Pickup
In past newsletters, I've talked about how to choose a pickup, or a microphone, when you're looking to get a great amplified tone in your live performances. What quite a few players have chosen to do, however, is to get the best of both worlds by combining a mic and a pickup, using a blending preamp. This allows you to combine the things that each element does well, to (hopefully!) create a combination that achieves more than the sum of its parts.
In speaking to a customer on the phone last week - who was trying, unsuccessfully, to do just that - it dawned on me that perhaps the "obvious" means for getting the combination to work well might not be the best one.
This particular player was doing what seemed quite logical: he dialed in a good sound, separately, from both the pickup and the microphone. He then blended them together, in varying amounts, until the "magic" happened. This approach makes total sense (and for some players, might work just fine.) Unfortunately for him, the magic failed to happen (or maybe he just didn't wish hard enough...) And that's what got me thinking.
As an aside, I have a personal home studio where I record, engineer, and mix my own music. I've done a lot of reading on mixing, in particular, to find out the "secrets" of a great mix. A huge revelation, early on, was that good engineers don't just mix with the volume sliders, they mix with EQ. Meaning, by creatively cutting and boosting certain bands, you carve out a sonic "space" for each instrument, where it excels -- and everything blends together without stepping on each other's toes. If you were to "solo" a well-mixed song's bass track, all by itself it might not sound its absolute best -- in fact it might sound pretty bad. But in the context of the entire mix, it's not fighting other instruments, but is, rather, complementing them. And that's when that weirdly EQ'd bass track suddenly springs to life and sounds amazing. And it's easier for the engineer to get a coherent mix on the whole track, because all of the volumes are in check, relatively even, and nothing is overwhelming everything by taking up the entire frequency spectrum.
So, back to our mic and pickup conundrum: how do we apply this approach to blending (mixing!) a mic and a pickup, which are both essentially trying to amplify the same thing? I'd suggest considering what each element "does well." The microphone adds realism and "air," and really shines in the upper frequency range. Meanwhile, the pickup is a pretty "direct" sort of sound, which is helpful for providing a big, full-bodied sound in the low range. So my approach would be to reduce the high frequencies for the pickup -- letting it do the "heavy lifting" down low -- and to reduce the low frequencies on the mic, to let it excel in the upper frequencies without stepping all over the pickup. This way, you capitalize on the strengths of each component -- while eliminating, through cutting the EQ, their "weaknesses."
So it's really about looking at it a little differently... taking a step back and considering something that seems less "obvious" until you think about it. This approach may give you a more easily "mixable" blend, since the two sources will no longer be fighting for the same sonic space. It may work well for getting the sound you hear in your head, and it might not - but at least it's got you thinking!
NEW PRODUCT SPOTLIGHT
Some new items in our stable of bass products...
For many years, Fishman's Pro-EQ Platinum Preamps have been very solid, feature-laden performers for upright bassists and other acoustic instrumentalists. Bob himself has used (and often recommended!) a Pro-EQ Platinum Bass for quite some time. But it was time for a facelift. With other, high-quality preamps coming on the scene, Fishman decided that now was the time to strike. And strike hard they did.
This is more than just a pretty new case. The new Platinum Pro EQ replaces both the original Pro EQ Platinum Bass and the Pro EQ Platinum. It combines the handy features they already had (DI, Optical Compressor, Phase Control, more) and ADDS some great new tools as well - like an Onboard Digital Tuner, Notch Filter, Low Cut Filter, Effects Loop, and a Footswitchable Boost (with level), among others. It has a switch on the top to adjust the EQ mode for either Bass or non-bass instruments (like acoustic guitar, uke, mandolin, etc.) so you have one preamp that can serve multiple situations.
For those with more modest needs, the original B-II and Pro EQ II have been similarly combined to create the new Platinum Stage Preamplifier, which is smaller and lighter (and belt-clippable). But it is still packed with lots of useful "stuff" - including the same EQ mode switch, and a (new at this level) DI with pre-post, phase switch, low cut filter, and semi-parametric midrange. It also has a boost control with a fingertip switch and adjustable level.
Both preamps are so brand-spanking-new, no one has even gotten their first shipment yet! But we're expecting a bunch of them to arrive any day now. You can visit our site to check out the full specs, and pre-order one today. As always, we do not charge your card until we have a unit in stock to ship to you.
Frequent readers of our newsletters will know that I'm a huge fan of spending as much time behind my bass practicing as possible. After all, it is the best way to master the instrument, right? From the moment we begin playing, our teachers ingrain in us the concepts of repetition and muscle memory, which are certainly very important to learning our instrument. Yet sometimes, we hit a roadblock, a problem that no matter how many times we try to tackle it, we can not overcome it... and our practice becomes more akin to slamming our head repeatedly against a wall, as opposed to making solid progress.
For years I just kept banging away. I'm stubborn, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. But all it really got me was a headache - literally and figuratively. A few years ago it was suggested to me to put down my bass and walk away, not from playing, but from actively addressing these brick walls... errr, head on. This is when I found the joy of "passive practicing." There is only a limited amount of time that we can be productive behind our instruments; and while it will vary for every person, we all have our limits. When you hit a brick wall, take a break, put down your bass, and go take a walk.
Getting away from the instrument -- to become better at the instrument -- may seem counterintuitive. But as we practice, our brains are working a mile a minute: is our bow angle correct? Is that Ab in tune? How about our posture? The music sitting in front of us is one of but a thousand obstacles that we are trying to conquer while playing bass, and sometimes taking the bass out of the equation can help us to discover the remedy for these hurdles.
When all is said and done, our brain is always our biggest obstacle. That's what is telling our fingers where to go, the speed of our vibrato, dictating the dynamics of the piece we are playing. While the bass is certainly a very physical instrument, all of those tiny movements that make a beautiful tone emanate from our bass are controlled by our thoughts. By putting down the bass and taking the physical aspect of the instrument off the table, we can focus on the thoughts that prelude our movements -- and attempt to tackle the root of the problem, telling our hands what to do, as opposed to trying the same movement over and over again. Fix the problem at the source, so to speak.
This can also work very well for those of us who don't have the time to spend positioned behind our bass for 4 hours a day; be it due to family obligations, or work. There are many musical problems that can be solved away from the bass, from forming that perfect line over a ii V I, to vocalizing heads to tunes, to figuring out the best fingering for that passage in the Botessini piece you've been shedding. The musical game starts in your head, and sometimes in order to see the forest through the trees, you need to step back from the instrument and address the roots.
Do you have a "beater" bass and a sense of humor?
Check out our new "parody" tailpiece logo, "in the style of" the old Kay logo! If you play in bluegrass or rockabilly circles -- where Kay basses dominate -- but your budget bass makes you feel like an outsider, maybe adding a little "Kay" vibe, with your tongue planted firmly in your cheek, might just be the thing.
This isn't a Kay logo, as you can see -- it's only "Okay", dawg. The logo is custom-cut as a gold vinyl sticker, and is simply installed on any tailpiece. It is also easily removed, and won't leave any damaging residue behind, so if you change your mind? No harm, no foul.
Installation is a snap - locate where you want the decal to be, peel back the application tape so that the decal is on the tape (in reverse) and press it down on the tailpiece. Remove the application tape and it leaves behind the sticker. Easy-peasy! You don't have to remove the tailpiece or even the strings.
So if you're feeling a little saucy, this logo is fun, cheap, and even ships for free. And it should be good for a laugh at your next bluegrass festival!
Reading to the End Can Be Rewarding
Does Gollihur Music Match Prices?
We get asked this question all the time: "Do you match prices?"
Here's the deal: If you've found the same item that we sell, selling for less money at another (non-eBay) retailer, and that retailer:
...we'll usually match* the price if at all possible.
- Is an authorized retailer of the merchandise
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* Note that SHIPPING COSTS are a part of the price of an item; if a competitor's price is $10 less than ours, and they charge $15 to ship it to you (and Gollihur Music ships that item for FREE) than we're really the better deal, aren't we? So when we consider your request to match prices, expect us to take shipping costs into account.
So give us a call. Or, click over to our "contact us" page, where you can send a request to match prices. We will respond.
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