What is that on the sky…It’s a bird…it’s a plane…no it’s SUPERBASS.
An ERB or Extended Range Bass is an important member of the Electric Bass Family. There are numerous ways to define an ERB, and in my opinion an ERB is a bass that has a certain number of strings that goes beyond a standard 4 string. The electric bass is most certainly evolving. In 1976, Alembic came out with that amazing 5 string Bass for Jimmy Johnson…that was an ERB for that particular era. Then in the mid ’70s, luthier Carl Thompson built that 6 string Bass for Anthony Jackson, which was obviously an ERB as well.
As we approach 2010, 5 and 6 string basses are closing in on becoming standards as well, and on this sunny day in July 2009, as I find myself writing this article, I wonder what might happen in the next ten years as far as extended range is concerned.
One of the first really interesting ERB appearances was on a 1990 Jonas Hellborg album called the “Jonas Hellborg Group”. On that album there was a specially built 10 string bass with a super wide neck played by Anders Nord. For me, that was possibly the first official ERB in the world that received serious attention.
Is an ERB still a bass?
To answer this, we have to be able to define what is an Electric Bass is in the first place. Obviously, it has to be “electric”, and be able to reach the lower frequencies needed to be able to participate in the musical context intended. This register has to be at least the 41.2 HZ that we all love. The ERB is able to reach that register, and much lower in fact, so I think the ERB passes the test. We’ll have to see what the future of the 4 string is as time goes on.
What about the higher notes and the number of strings? Don’t those higher notes kind of disqualify the ERB as a bass?
I love use the example of a cell phone when people ask me about that issue in my Master Classes. A cell phone, these days is multi-functional. It’s a calendar, a clock, a video camera, a photo camera, a video game station, an mp3, an mp4, etc…oh yea; it’s a cell phone too. Essentially, it evolved from being just a cell phone by adding more and more capabilities to it….but it’s still a cell phone. I see the extended range bass in this same light.
Is there any question about an ERB player still being the “bass player”?
It depends on how you approach playing the instrument. This is very important, because in my opinion what defines a bass player is his concept, not the amount of strings on his instrument. I’ve seen many 4 string bass players that sound like guitar players when you compare them to some ERB players, so the concept of execution and not the instrument itself is the element that defines our role as an “Electric bass player”.
A good way to make this point is to pass your bass to the guitar player of your band and ask him to play a song. In almost every case you’ll notice the difference, because his approach to the instrument will be that of a guitar player, not a bass player, and you will easily hear that. If I pick up a guitar, you’ll hear the reverse of that.
Why should I consider getting an ERB?
This is a very important question to address. Times are changing, and there’s much less prejudice as far as this issue is concerned. I remember back in 1990 when I brought the first 6 string bass to my country (it was in fact one of the first ERB’S in Latin America) everybody laughed about this and all my colleagues said that I was no longer a bass player. There were many 6 string bass players in the USA back in 1990, and Latin America was trying to catch up to those standards. The same happened to me on 1999 when I got my 8 string bass and I was one of the few bassists in the world playing an 8 string. This is the instrument that works for me, and I’ve remained playing this bass for the last ten years. When you take on a decision like this, you must have a “musical” reason. It would be a huge mistake to get into this adventure for the wrong reasons, like impressing people with your “Monster Bass”, or thinking that if you play a multi-string you will automatically become a higher level player.
What are the advantages and the disadvantages of an ERB?
This is exactly what you have to consider in order to decide getting an ERB or not, because the advantages of an ERB are numerous and the disadvantages are even more.
Regarding the advantages:
– ERB’S are great for strong lower sounding bass lines.
– ERB’s provide a great soloing platform due to its extended tessitura. (More low and high notes)
– ERB’S allow the bassist to regroup in a closer vertical disposition as far as chords, scales, and arpeggios are concerned, which facilitates a tremendous amount of new possibilities.
Regarding the disadvantages:
– An ERB is usually a much heavier bass.
– It’s much more expensive than an equivalent standard bass.
– It’s a little more complicated as far as learning all of the available notes.
– It’s easier to get lost, and will demand a little more attention as far as right and left hand coordination is concerned.
– String muting is really one of the biggest problems to address and handle.
– Slapping is also a problem because the strings are usually less separated (around 17mm to 16mm approximately), so it gets harder to slap or pull the strings. (Bleeding cuticles are very common in the beginning).
– Respect from some of your colleagues being on a multi-string might be an issue as well.
As you can see, the disadvantages are much more numerous than the advantages, so the decision needs to be well thought out. There is no doubt that it was the right decision for me due to my right hand technique which I developed in 1990 called Symmetric Bass Finger Sweeping or SBFS. (I will release a book at the end of 2009 that will be completely dedicated to this). To be able to surf the strings with my right hand and have more vertical room was exactly what I needed. Regarding my left hand, due to the fact that I have really small hands, having the strings closer to each other and being able to play a 3 octave scale in the same position just going down and up and playing chords without hyper extending the fingers of my small hand has worked very well for me.
As you can see, it’s a very personal decision, and each of you has to decide if an ERB is what works for you “musically”.
That’s all for this issue my friends. In my next article I will talk about “The path for a proper bass sound”.