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Jazz Bass Lessons: Basic Bass Setup

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Let's talk about bass set up.
The way we set up our instrument
has a big effect on our sound and
the volume of sound we're
able to produce and
tone color,
many things that will make our playing
more interesting and
more engaging to others.
First of all, we're dealing with different
types of strings that are available to us.
These are steel strings, so
they have a certain sound.
They're pretty powerful and the have
A clarity and
they also stay in tuned the best.
Steel strings stay in tuned the best.
In the past gut strings were
the the primary option.
Nowadays, there are many
different strings made.
Gut strings also sound great.
I don't have them on my bass mainly for
the fact that you have to tune constantly.
But on a lot of old jazz recordings,
they are playing with gut strings,
and it's a fantastic sound.
You can also get strings that
are a combination of both.
They have a gut core with
a steel wrap around it.
And those also sound great.
Nowadays there are many different makers.
I use Pirastro.
These are called Evah Pirazzi.
These are thick and they have sort of
the characteristics of the gut, but
that's only in the core.
It's sort of a synthetic
core that mimics the gut.
And then there's a steel wrap on it,
so the steel wrap makes
the string stay in tune.
I don't have to tune all the time, I'm not
constantly fussing with the instrument.
So strings are the first
thing that we're gonna cover.
Now, the other thing that has
a big impact on your sound
is the height of the strings and
the setup of your bridge.
Because of the way the bass is made,
the bridge is the conduit to
transmit the energy from the string
when you pull the string [SOUND].
The next point of contact
is the bridge itself.
This is an adjustable bridge.
See this metal adjusters on each side.
You can raise the bridge up and down.
This changes the sound
of the bass quite a bit.
If we have the bridge too low so
the strings are sitting closer to
the finger board where it
might be easier to play and
not take as much energy
to draw the sound, the sound is smaller.
Each instrument has it's own sweet
spot where we can pull a decent
size sound without having to overplay and
where the instrument will ring.
Because the second part of
the transmission of the sound is when
the bridge feet touch the top of
the base and transmit the sound.
And make the top vibrate.
And there's also a post inside the bass,
there's a wooden post called a sound post.
And as all these things are vibrating,
the sound gets pushed out the F hole.
We need to be very conscious of
how this sound is produced because
if we, say for instance,
have our strings really high
off the finger board thinking okay if I
have my strings really high I'm going to
get a really big sound and
it's going to be great.
Actually because of the laws of
physics the top can only vibrate so
much and
if you have the strings too high and
it gets to the point where there's just
too much energy, it acts like a limiter or
a compressor, and the top actually
doesn't vibrate as well anymore and
we just get noise cuz we're
really hitting the bass hard.
That's not optimum.
And the other extreme is when people,
like I said before,
have their action really low.
So that you really can't
dig in on the bass at all.
You have to play really
light all the time, so
in that case, the converse is true.
The top is really not being driven.
It's not vibrating freely because we're
not putting enough energy into it
to vibrate.
So these things are very important,
and as we get more comfortable with
the particular instrument that we have and
learn, by adjusting the bridge we
can find the best spot on our bass.
A little bit about bridge adjustment.
If you're just starting to play the bass
I would say go see a repair man,
a good luthier, to help you with
this at first because it really
takes some getting used to to finding
out how to move the adjusters.
Never move the adjusters until you've
taken the tension out of a string, but
don't loosen the strings all the way
if you do it, just part of the way, so
that you can move these screws.
Often they move clockwise.
So these are the basics of adjusting
the bridge and dealing with string height.
I really would suggest that you go see
a repairman to talk about these things.
If you're in New York, David Gage Repair
Shop is an excellent place to go.
If you're in Los Angeles, Lisa Gass at the
Bay Shop in Los Angeles is also very good.
You need to find people that have
the experience who can teach you
how to take care of your instrument.
It's very important.
Now choosing an instrument,
there's some luthiers that are modern
makers that are fantastic.
One of them is Tom Martin.
He's in London.
He makes quality basses at
different price points.
And he's someone to consider.
Also Upton Basses on the east
coast in the Boston area.
And David Gage the luthier
I just mentioned also
is a repair person and a luthier.
So he's making some instruments as well.
One more important thing to discuss.
I want to talk about the things we should
be looking for in our initial instrument
that we buy, the bass that we're going to
be starting our bass playing life with.
I think it's important that for
now we focus on an instrument with a clear
sound, something where we
can hear the pitch well.
An instrument, at first you could,
in these times,
you can find an instrument
that is with a carve top.
That's not that expensive.
Or you can find hybrid instruments
where there's maybe a carve top and
the back and sides are made of plywood.
There are also traditionally some great
plywood instruments that sound very nice,
like old Kay basses.
Those are an option also.
As you grow on the instrument, and
you decide which musics you really want
to deal with, then you can tailor-make
the choice of your instrument
to the music you want to play.
For instance, people who play classical
music oftentimes in orchestras they choose
old Italian instruments and
in jazz music and
in the styles of the music
that I often wind up playing,
sometimes instruments that are maybe
from the early 1900s like this one
have a very clear and focused sound.
I recommend that you go for
that clarity at first to help you.
An instrument that has enough presence,
where if you pull some sound out of
the bass, it has a nice full sound.
But I would say clarity,
And a particular point on the sound,
what I like to call a point on the sound,
where the notes carry,
and there's clarity.
So that we can have rhythmic
clarity when we play too,
cuz when we're playing rhythmic music,
we wanna bass that's very clear.