What I do

This Blog discusses my journey as a local bassist. I talk about all things bass, gigs, writing and recording, gear, and the perpetual search for that "tone."


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Friday, November 29, 2019

Live Shows and Drinking

It seems that live music and drinking go hand in hand.  I enjoy a good beer as much as the next person and I love trying out new beers wherever I go.  Generally I try to arrive at the venue an hour or so before the first band takes the stage to make introductions, network, and muse over the beer selections.

I used to drink all the time at a show, before, during, and after until the wee hours of the morning.  Then I began scaling that back so that I was not drinking during our set.  I would have a beer or two before stage depending on how long we had before taking the stage.  A rule of thumb that I followed was one beer per hour and no beer inside the hour preceding our set.  Now I have gotten to the point of where I do not consume any beer prior to stage and only have a few after we have all of our gear off stage and safely stowed.

We record our shows and I compare performances afterwards to see where I can make improvements in my playing and performance.  Sometimes it is really difficult to watch myself as I am my own worst critique.  One common thread I have found when it comes to poor personal performance is consumption of alcohol prior to playing.  This is not a judgement of others - merely a personal observation.  I am just not one of those musicians that can pull off drinking before playing and do well.  I made a personal choice to refrain from drinking before playing for the sake of presenting my best at each show.

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Difference Between Practice and Rehearsal

There is little else that is as unproductive as showing up for a rehearsal unprepared.  Depending on the size of your group there are anywhere from three to five or more other members counting on you to show up prepared to run through the songs.  It is one thing to have a momentary lapse in memory or concentration and entirely another to show up to rehearsal with the intention of learning your parts on everyone else's time.  This is completely apart from writing or composing.




For me, practice is what I do at home in my studio to prepare for a rehearsal, show, or audition.  In fact I view each rehearsal as a personal audition - it keeps me on my toes and up on my material.  So what does practice entail for me?  Almost exclusively I practice using my laptop, Focusrite interface, and headphones.  I warm up with a few scales and fiddling around for around five to ten minutes depending on how much time I have on that particular day, then I get right down to it.

I start off by going through any new material we are working on and any problem areas I may have on any of the songs.  There is a set list for each of the bands I play in.  Typically we vary the set-list from show to show.  I play through each set list in the order that it will be played for the upcoming show. By keeping up on the material I find it is easier to incorporate new material to the set-list.  I make a special effort to exercise critical listening and critique my playing.  I find that using headphones really helps me to isolate certain aspects of my playing in order to fine tune what I am working on.  This enables me to be prepared for rehearsal and not waste anyone's time.

Bottom line is that it is hard enough to get everyone in the same room together so time is a precious commodity.  Anyone who chooses to use rehearsal as practice is stealing both time and progress.  

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Straps

Straps to a bass player are like shoes to a woman.  <yep here it comes - I am going to catch hell for that opener>  There are as many straps as there are basses.  Long straps, short straps, leather straps, nylon straps, padded straps, and that doesn't even begin to touch the tip of the iceberg on colors.  Which one is right is purely a subjective exercise - what works for one may not work for another.


I have found that I prefer a wide strap and it just so happens a wide nylon strap is one of the cheapest straps on the rack at my local national guitar chain. <bonus for the founder of the CBC>  I know a few bass players who prefer wide straps because it helps distribute the weight of the bass across their back.  I don't have back issues but I do find that a thin strap ends up digging into my shoulder so a wider strap really is much more comfortable in that respect.

Back in the eighties I made a fixed length custom leather guitar strap with a thick wide piece of leather from the local leather shop.  In the spirit of Iron Maiden I installed chrome pyramids on the strap after first dyeing it black. It was a conversation starter and was actually quite comfortable.  The raw unfinished underside of the strap helped keep my bass from shifting around and stopped neck dive.  Ultimately I gave it to our guitarist and never saw it again once the band went our separate ways.

Now I am considering making another wide strap for my bass - something around four inches wide.  This time around I would not make it out of leather.  I think I would probably go with nylon or some similar, durable material.  I have not seen anything online that strikes my fancy but maybe you have some suggestions.  Shoot me an email at dasjugghead@gmail.com with any ideas or suggestions.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Thumb Rest Update

A few months ago I made a set of thumb rests for my bass and wrote about it here.  I have had some time to try them out both at rehearsals and individual practice as well as at s few gigs. There are aspects of them that I like and a few things that I would like to change or modify about them.

For starters I like having a consistent anchor point all along the area between the bridge and the end of the fret board.  I believe this has helped both with consistency of attack on the B string as well as reduced fatigue and stress  particularly when navigating an intense passage.

On the other hand, and this is not so bad as to make me remove the thumb rests, I do find that my fingers sometimes strike through the string and hit the thumb rest.  I have also noticed that I am more comfortable with my thumb just a little further away from the B string than the current thumb rests allow.

I made a new thumb rest and tried it out for a few minutes but realized right away that it placed my thumb to far away from the B string.



So here is the new thumb rest.  I will try it out for awhile and report back.  I know it looks crude but if it works then I will make a new one that is better designed. 


Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Strap Locks

Back in the eighties when strap locks first hit the scene I scored a set from the local music shop and installed them on my bass with great excitement.  That excitement turned to dismay the first time they failed me at a rehearsal.  From that moment on I employed a different method to secure my strap to my bass.

I discovered that a nice sized set of fender washers would secure the strap to my bass without the risk of the strap slipping off the strap buttons.  It is a semi permanent solution that does not allow you to remove the strap from the bass but it also ensures the strap will not come off the strap buttons as well.  Since doing this simple modification I have never had a strap come off a bass under any conditions.  The trade-off of not being able to remove the strap from the bass is a small price to pay for the piece of mind I have gained.

Having my strap semi-permanently affixed to my bass does require one small additional step when putting my bass in its case.  To protect the body of my bass when stowing it in the case I lay a hand towel on it to protect it from the buckles on the strap. Other than that the fender washers do not interfere with playing, storing, or transporting the bass.  As far as low-cost/high value modifications this one has to be my favorite.  While the galvanized look is just fine for me I might try to put a patina on a trial set of washers with a blow torch outside to see how they turn out.  As a note to the reader galvanized steel off-gasses toxic fumes when heated so if you elect to try this out yourself make sure to do so outside in a well ventilated area and avoid breathing the fumes.

For now the galvanized fender washers somewhat match the color of the hardware on my bass.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Speaker Cabinets


I currently play through a set of Mesa/Boogie Subway 112 cabinets and I have traveled a long road to arrive at my current speakers.  I have never been more pleased on more levels with any other cabinet I have played through than these; they are lightweight, not cumbersome, and sound amazing.

I ran up to Sweetwater to test a number of cabinets. I brought my bass and my Bugera Veyron head to test all the cabinets below:

First in line was the Bugera 115 My initial impression was that I was surprised at how small it was - for some reason I was expecting something bigger. Not sure why. It had fabulous mids and highs but the low B string was mud. It lacked the articulation that I was looking for.

Second was the Hartke HyDrive HD115. This was moderately better but I expected it to be much better. A lot more clarity and articulation in the mids and highs but again the lows lacked the clarity I sought. The low-end clarity was better than the Bugera but still not what I was seeking.

Third was the Harke HyDrive HD112. This cabinet was excellent and I very nearly bought it. I played a pair of them and they were very articulate and clean even on the low B. I really really liked them.

Then for S&G's I played three Mesa/Boogie cabinets. I figured since I was there I may as well play them even though I had not budgeted for them. So continuing on:

Fourth I played the Mesa/Boogie Subway 115. Wow. WOW. GREAT sound. Very articulate. Better than the Harke HyDrive HD112 although they were very very close. I spent about half an hour going back and fourth between them.

Next I played the Mesa/Boogie Subway 210. It was good but not as good as the Mesa/Boogie Subway 115 and not as good as the Hartke HyDrive HD112. I played it maybe five minutes but that was enough to move on.

Lastly I played the Mesa/Boogie Subway 112. It was almost immediate. I was blown away with how good it sounded. I ended up A/Bing this against the Hartke HyDrive HD112 for a good 20 minutes. My sales engineer switched cabinets for me while I faced the opposite direction so that I used only my ears without knowing which cabinet I was playing through. Each time, each test, I ended up choosing the Mesa/Boogie Subway 112. I took a ten minute break to grab a cup of coffee, reset my ears, and then came back and did it again. It was very very close but the Mesa/Boogie Subway was the clear winner for me.

Miracle of miracles my sales engineer found a demo and was able to cut me a deal that I couldn't pass up. So now these are in my basement. I realize everyone has different tastes and different needs. What necessarily works for one may not necessarily work for another. I can tell you that I believe the Hartke HyDrive HD112's were excellent and would have done quite well for me and I probably would have been happy with them as well. But given the right circumstances I was lucky enough to be able to get a good deal on what I found to be the very best.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Finding Time to Practice

Practice makes perfect was a phrase I grew up hearing a lot of.  I started off my musical journey in front of a piano for hours a day which was later scaled back to accommodate practicing trombone. When I started playing bass during my senior year of high school I had to find a way to practice bass that did not bother my parents.  While they were very supportive of the piano and trombone they were adamantly opposed to my playing bass.  If they could hear it they insisted I stop playing.  They even went as far as to prohibit me from storing my equipment at home and it had to stay at a friend's house.

The bass fit under my bed so I was able to hide it there out of sight and out of mind.  At the time, and through my first couple of semesters of college I worked at Pizza Hut and, worked a lot of irregular hours.  As a result I was not always able to practice during the day when my parents were away at work.  I would come home from work at 2 or 3 am and sit on the floor in my bedroom with my back against the bed and my bass resting in my lap.  I would play by laying my left ear against the horn of the bass so as to be able to hear myself without disturbing anyone else in the house.


Fast forward many years and I have a wife, a son, and a mortgage.  I have a basement where I can practice pretty much whenever I want and my wife is extraordinarily tolerant of my musical pursuits.  She even allows the band to rehearse here.  Still, to this day, I am conscious of the fact that not everyone appreciates what I play and I use headphones to practice so as not to to disturb anyone.  One of my favorite silent practice methods is to plug into my Focusrite Scarlett Solo USB Audio Interface which allows me to practice along with tracks from my laptop.  



When I am just jamming or fiddling around I find that I really like using my Zoom B3n Bass Multi-effects Processor especially if I am trying to write in a new style.  I find that all the various effects inspire me to try new things or new approaches to writing.  The Zoom B3n has a 1/4" stereo output headphone jack that works perfectly for private practice. It even has an 1/8" input jack that I can connect to the headphone output of my laptop if I do not have my interface with me when traveling.