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Why 11 Strings? Why MIDI? by Al Caldwell

Meet Al Caldwell –

Why 11 strings? Why MIDI? Because it’s here!

When I ventured into the world of extended bass in 1981, I knew that I wanted a tool that went beyond what the market had to bear. Music starts in our mind, not our local music stores. When I first had my bass built, my goal was to play higher notes. I wanted to emulate one of my hero’s, Stanley Clarke. I still needed to play bass on this thing so I stayed with a low E string. Low B strings were not available at the time.

In1983, I moved to New York and it changed my life. I had the lucky chance to meet and hang out with Anthony Jackson. I saw him in session and we’d go to lunch and talk about music. His words changed my life as a musician. He talked about quarter notes and he talked about music. He’s the father of the extended bass movement. He had the first 6 string built. After taking in what he shared, I was convinced that the bass was a tool — It wasn’t a weapon, a collector’s item or a status symbol. My instrument would be an extension of my musical mind.

I wanted an instrument that would let me sing as high as Ella and sing as low and sexy as Barry White. I wanted a musical gender bender and the 11 string bass made the most sense to me. I’ve never been able to play lead guitar because the strings were always to close to me. I love the melody and phrasing that comes from a guitar in a master’s hands. My hands are large and sometimes clumsy and I knew that the spacing of the bass would be paramount in my decision to stay with this instrument. I drew what I wanted on a piece of paper and had Chris Benavente build it for me. He did a great job but I have recently revised my original ideal. My dear friend Garry Goodman, ERB pioneer and String Inventor has helped me solve some of the main problems with what I’ve been searching for.

11 strings make sense to me. My lowest string is a C#. It sounds super deep in the first position but it comes to life in the third position. I wanted an instrument that could play BASS!! Bass is DEEP!! Bass is LOW. Bass is FAT!! I also wanted an instrument that could play chords and melody. I love to listen to Pat Methany and George Benson. I have no desire to play higher than a guitar. My highest string is Eb. I also wanted to have a variety of soundscapes to play with. I wanted a vast array of tones to play with. I’ve played a stringed instrument for over 30 years, so I’m accustomed to the touch. I wanted a tool that would be sensitive to my every nuance. The Roland GK3B pick up has been the best MIDI pick up for the task. The tracking of my high strings are great and I have MIDI on my High 6 strings. The higher the string, the better the tracking. I can barely feel the delay when I play. With my bass, I am the bassist/guitarist or the second keyboard player. I want 3 union checks!

My instrument is a stringed version of a modern synth and it’s up to me to learn how to play it. There is a growing number of 9-13 string bassist out here in the world. Every one of them paints differently. That’s the best thing about music, we can copy or we can create. Jaco said, You can teach a monkey to play my music but you can’t get one to create what I play.”

Here’s a song called “Hop, Skip and Jump” (just click on the ‘Downlaod’) link below. All of the instruments that you hear are from the 11 string bass. I played each part in layers. I built the groove from the drums. I try to phrase drums like a drummer and I approach every sound with that concept. I hope that you enjoy.

Your Pal Al

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