After many years of experience, an admitted equal amount of mistakes, countless experiments, and ongoing conclusions, I think I have something to say regarding this matter. There is no better learning device than experience itself, because when you experience something, the odds are you’ll never forget it. In that sense, beware of this article, and don’t believe after reading it that you will be completely prepared for everything that might show up. Experience is your truest guide.
There are tons of tips for me to give you, so this series of articles will be divided into 3 or 4 parts. I choose not to give you all the quote unquote tips at once, because I feel all of them are worthy of some time on your part to process and understand them…hope these make a difference for you.
1) A Stiff bassist is a dead bassist.
Relaxation is the first ingredient to be considered. Don’t even consider picking up your bass if you don’t have the correct mental state. Relax yourself a little bit, both mentally and physically, and then proceed to play.
2) Tuning on stage is a must.
Always tune up your instrument “on stage”; even if you if you just tuned it up backstage…you never know what can happen. Check it out again on stage right before you hit the first note.
3) If you get on stage and you plug in and don’t hear any sound, get right in touch with the problem.
Don’t assume that because you did a great sound check and because you “mentally” checked all the connections and settings of your system right before the drummer counts off the first song, that it means you’re ready to go. At least “hear it” with a very slight volume right after plugging it in on stage—this is the only fool proof check.
4) Your bass can actually kill you.
Never attempt touching a metal speaker connector (connected, with live signal) and your strings or any ground at the same time…it’s highly dangerous, especially if the amplifier is powerful. It’s best to try and use Speakon connectors for all speaker connections. They are completely isolated, and there’s no possibility of touching any metal surface containing that signal. I have real-life experience of this. I came close to death not paying attention to that, and had to cancel a concert. There’s a lot of literature explaining how this can happen, so I’d recommend learning the easy way, rather than the way I did.
5) Don’t over clean your strings.
There are two main reasons for this. In the first place, if you rinse them too often, you will always have a rough string, and the difference can radically affect your performance. The second reason is that many times a cloth that you might use is often dirtier than you may expect, and without you knowing it, you’re possibly adding dust and “undesired grease” to your strings.
6) Two turns is enough.
When it comes to string installation, you want to be careful. When the string reaches the tuner string post, you don’t need more than two turns around it. The reason for this is that you want to keep your bass as much in tune as possible, so the more turns you apply to the strings around the tuner string posts, the more opportunity you give to the string to rotate around the string post and lower its tuning. This can happen because of the playing itself, and also because of temperature and humidity changes. Try this with an “uncut” old E string. Install it without cutting it, and then turn it around the string post as much as possible. You will get around 5 turns on the average if you don’t cut it. Tune it up and then pull it harder and you’ll see how the tuning will lower a lot, sometimes more than a perfect fifth. Then cut it leaving about 4 inches past the center of the tuner string post, install it, and you’ll won’t get more than two turns around it—pull it hard and listen to the difference.
7) Longitudinal turns are undesired.
Continuing with string installation, never allow the string to rotate on its longitudinal axis. When you turn it around the string post, the string will rotate as if you were wringing out a towel. Right before attaching it to the bridge, check that your string is not rotated around this longitudinal axis, because it will affect its sound, and will have a bigger tendency to brake down by the non harmonic tension you are applying to it. It’s the same principle for high current electric cable installations on street poles, where the technicians have to leave the correct catenaries and don’t allow the cables to be rotated on their longitudinal axes.
8) The Strap, what an important article.
I recommend that you use a wide strap, as wide as you can. The reason is simple. With a higher contact surface, the weight distributes itself much better and doesn’t rest on a specific point which can cause pain in your shoulder, and also in your back.
9) More about Straps.
Many of you might have those types of adjustable straps that are really in my opinion the worst thing you can buy for your bass. The problem with those straps is as you are using them, they start to extend their length. With these straps, in general terms, two inches of difference is something that you can normally expect after playing live and moving and jumping around. Measure the exact strap length you need, and cut a piece of leather 4 inches longer than this measurement. Dig the holes, and install your strap locks 2 inches away of each extreme, and you are all set. I’d highly recommend this.
Finally, don’t even think about buying those cushioned elastic straps that can make the bass bounce like a basketball. There’s nothing worse for your performance and for your shoulders and back than those straps.
10) Watch your cord onstage…
Always pass your cable through the space between the strap and the bottom of the bass body and then plug it in. When I started playing, I always said “it’s not necessary, it won’t happen to me”. But of course one day in a big concert where I was playing in front of 20.000 people, I stepped on the cable and violently unplugged my bass, and the audience heard the biggest noise they’ve heard in all their lives. That was really embarrassing, and I should have known better. Don’t let this happen to you.
That’s all for now—see you on the next: “Tips for the Modern Bass Player—Part Two”.