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Applied Techniques With Igor Saavedra: Tips for the Modern Bass Player – Part Three

Meet Igor Saavedra –

After many years of experience, after many mistakes, after many experiments, and finally after many conclusions, I think I have something to say regarding this matter. There’s no better master than experience itself, because when you experience something is more likely that you’ll never forget it. So beware of this article, and don’t think because you read it you will be completely prepared for everything that might come because experience itself will be the only one that will really teach you.

There are tons of tips for me to give you, so this series of articles will be divided in 3 or 4 parts at least. I don’t want to give you all the tips at once because I think it’ll be much better for you if I give you enough time to think and to process each of them. Well, let’s go then with this third part.

Traveling by Plane with Your Bass:

Tip #1 – First of all when you purchase your tickets, always try to choose the very last row of seat so to get into the plane on the first call. That way you’ll have more space availability to keep your bass. Always bring your bass on a gig bag and always bring it with you inside the cabin, NEVER send it with the baggage. To make this possible, don’t do the check-in of your baggage with your instrument where the airline personnel can see it. Try to go to the airport with some friends that will wait out of the line with your bass. After you do the check-in, the airline personnel will ask you if that’s all, and the only thing you have to say is YES. Airline check-in personnel are much more attached to the rules and they won’t consider at all the fact that you love your instrument and that you care a lot for it, what they will say is that you must send it with the rest of the baggage without even caring if it’s in a gig bag. That will mean it will not even survive the first flight.

Tip #2 – Once you pass the check in, the rest of the way to the airplane gets easier. Remember NOT TO BRING ANY OTHER BAGGAGE WITH YOU ON THE PLANE, and once you are on the line to get into the plane don’t grab your bass with your hands, just hang it in your shoulder instead so your body will cover it. This will help it look like a carryon; it’s just a psychological thing, the personnel is going to see your bass all the time, but they are not going to process it as such as they are too busy for that. After 20 years I have never had a problem traveling with my bass as carryon luggage, but many of my colleagues have. The advice I am giving you is exactly what I tell them. Finally remember, if you are carrying a hard shell case there is no way for you and your bass to travel together on the cabin.

More about connectors:

This tip is really simple and effective. When it comes to your own setup, always try to have connectors made by the same manufacturer. Believe it or not, there are slight differences of diameter between brands, so sometimes for example a male connector from brand ‘A’ plugged into a female connector from brand ‘B’ can feel loose and eventually FALL!! This happened to me once. You can have the opposite problem too, and sometimes the connectors get stuck. The perfect match is trying always to use the same brand of connectors.

If you don’t know the brand of the female connector of your bass, which is the hardest to identify, I suggest bringing your own bass to the store and plug in the cable before paying. You can have a big surprise with that. Eventually, despite the brand you prefer, you’ll choose the one that fits better.

There’s no Specific Gauge that correlates a string with a note:

There’s a strong myth about this, so many people when they see a .100 string they think immediately that this is the “E string Gauge”. I will repeat the title of this tip “There’s no Specific Gauge that correlates a string with a note”. What you have instead are desirable tensions for any of the strings. That’s the reason why you can choose within a wide range of gauges for any specific note of an open string. For example, you can place a .120 string gauge on the E string position and subsequently tune it as an E. You’ll have a perfect E tuning, but you’ll also have a “Super Stiff String” with a lot of attack and transient. This string will also help the bass neck to concave a lot. If you place a .080 string (Usually an A string) on the E string position you’ll have the opposite situation, that’s to say, a very loose string with less attack and a lower transient. Also, this string will help the bass neck to go convex.

String diameter myth:

Continuing with some myths on strings, there’s a tendency to think that a very wide and “Fat” looking string might imply a “super fat sound”. I think that one of the reasons for this way of thinking is that people fall into a “Pseudo Synesthesia” and makes an unconscious relation between the fatness of the string appearance and the sound that might come from it. This is absolutely wrong!!

I will sum up this tip as follows:

– A wide gauge string is a stiff string, a stiff string oscillates less. The less the oscillation the less bass frequencies associated. What a wide gauge string really has is a lot of definition and attack (transient) on the low notes that produces. Also, with this type of string there will be less “metal highs” due to the fact that a stiff string will have a tendency to hit the frets in a lesser degree due to its shorter and smaller oscillation.

– A thin gauge string is a loose string, a loose string oscillates more. The more the oscillation the more bass frequencies associated. A thin gauge string will have less definition and less attack (transient). Also, there will be more “metal highs” due to the fact that a loose string will have a tendency to hit the frets more because of its larger oscillation.

Personally I use light gauges for the higher strings on my 8-string bass without getting into a “Guitar Like” sound (F .020 – C .025 – G .035). For the lower strings I use ultra light string gauges (E .080 – B .100 – F# .125). I love the bottom end of the thin lower strings and I compensate the lack of attack with my finger touch. Eventually, it will depend on the taste.

The string gauge is not the only way to vary the tension of a string:

The scale length also affects the tension. The standard scale set by Leo Fender is as you know 34 inches. A 34 inches scale bass loaded with a .045 G string is the most standard situation you can get. Keeping the same string gauge and using a bass with a longer scale will anyway result in a stiffer string. Obviously, decreasing the scale will result in a looser string.

I always tell my students that if they like to play their bass with the strings tuned one full step lower but they don’t want that buzzy Korn style sound to appear, to just use wider gauge strings or get a 35+ scale instrument. I tell them that, so this way the notes will not move from the spaces where they usually are and all the access to information will keep simple and easy.

String height:

There’s a lot of information about this circulating on the web. My recommendation comes from my own experience. And it’s simple and objective.

– Not less than 1/32nd of an inch between the string and the 1st fret.
– Not less than 1/16th of an inch between the string and the 12th fret.

These minimums are taking the G string as a basis. Depending on the string, there will be small differences that will make you slightly increase the clearance when we go into the lower strings, and that can eventually make you slightly decrease that clearance for a C string on a 6 string bass or an F string on a 7 string bass. If you have string buzzing at this minimum clearances, check the action of the neck, if after checking that the buzzing remains you will have to check the frets and file the uneven ones. A good way to measure this clearance (this is what I do) is to buy a Wire Feeler Gauge… that’s really a perfect way to check!!

Bass action:

I don’t recommend setting the bass neck with a slight concavity as 99% of the people do. The people who usually do this say that this is to compensate for the “Natural bending of the string produced by its own weight”. In Engineering this form assumed by the “cable” is called The Catenary Curve.

My argument for this is really simple, and states that when we make all the adjustments in our instrument and we check for any string buzzing, we usually do this on a workstation or a regular table with the instrument and the strings facing up. On that position it seems obvious that all the weight of the strings will be transferred towards the neck, and the buzzing will start at a higher action of the bass. We don’t play like that… we play with our bass with the strings facing front, so the Catenary curve will be facing the floor. That’s why I set my bass with the neck absolutely straight, so it feels just great because the strings are really close to the neck in every place, they don’t buzz more than what I need them to buzz (a little buzzing is cool), and it has worked just perfect to me for more than 20 years.

Regarding string gauges, the Nut is more important than what you think:

We the musicians are always testing different string gauges, but when we do that, we usually don’t really care too much about what happens to the Nut with those tests as we should.

If we install wider strings, we have to verify if those strings are actually fitting completely on the notches. If they don’t fit properly they can even “jump” out of the Nut when we are playing because they are not reaching the very bottom of the Nut notches and that will mean that more than half of the string diameter will not be “inside” the notch. Sometimes this problem can’t be seen easily, and the Nut can be pressing the string on the sides although you can see that the string is fitting completely and reaching the bottom of the notch, this can affect the sound. On the other hand, when you place a string that is thinner than the Nut notch, it will have the tendency to move inside the notch affecting the sound and the tuning.

Never forget to bring spare strings with your gear when you go to a gig:

This might look as something obvious, but it’s not. Make a search and you will get a surprise from that, because many people really don’t care and trust their luck. This issue is not that simple anyway. First of all just having old string spares is not the idea. This will depend on the use of the strings you have already installed in your instrument.

So if you are playing with strings that are kind of old and you cut one, and you place a new string instead, it will be something very annoying in terms of sound and feel. If you are using new strings and for some strange reason, like your “super heavy touch” or an excess of adrenalin, you cut a string and you place your old spare instead, you’ll save the situation, but the sound will be annoying either way. I suggest having new strings, half used strings and old strings as spares so to be able to choose the proper one to change. Get more high strings spares like C’s and G’s because those are the ones that get cut more often, and less of the lower strings like B’s and E’s.

Another tip is to have your strings handy and “pre cutted” to the proper length so to save time if this happens to you in a live situation.

I rarely cut a string because I prefer to play with a soft touch, but sometimes strings come with some defects and you can have a big surprise even with an E string.

This is for now my friends. I see you on the next: “Tips for the Modern Bass Player Part Four”, which will be the last one of this saga.

Igor Saavedra.

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