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Sound Ideas: Seasoning Your Sauce

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Let’s see, a healthy dash of salt — well maybe a little more. Next some fresh ground pepper and a couple of cloves of garlic, then a sprig of basil and a little rosemary. That should just about do it; now for a taste.

Wow, what the heck just happened? That was horrible and those were my favorite ingredients. What happened?

Chances are if you start adding extra herbs and spices to the spaghetti sauce you just poured from the jar without tasting it first, you’re headed for trouble. Why? You could be adding unnecessary seasoning to something that is already perfectly balanced or at least has enough already.

It seems so obvious to taste first, yet we are all prone to do it. For some of us it’s as often as every time we plug in to play bass. How? By going into autopilot mode and adjusting the EQ on our bass, preamp, amp, active DI or integrated head without listening to it first to see if it actually needs any.

We are all creatures of habit to be sure. For some that may mean we dial in the familiar smiley face EQ of boosted highs and lows. For others, it’s cranking the heck out of the midrange to cut through the mix in a loud setting.

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of this, after all that’s what the EQ controls are for. The problem isn’t that we use these seasonings, as it were, to flavor our sound. The problem is that we do it on autopilot without listening first to see if they are really needed.

A very famous world class bass player called me for help stating that he did not like his tone. I asked him about how he has his EQ set up. He told me that no matter where he plays or what he’s using, he always drastically boosts his mids before he plugs in. I suggested that he set everything flat, play for a couple of minutes and then EQ as needed to taste. (Like spaghetti sauce)

He would not even consider exploring my suggestion. “I have always run my EQ this way; it’s my thing.” He said.

This past week I saw another famous player in a club walk up to an amp and a cabinet he had never used or heard. Before plugging in, I watched as he boosted the lows, low mids and mids, without ever even listening.

Why? “I have always run my EQ this way; it’s my thing.” He said.

Just like spaghetti sauce, what we end up with could be inedible. To find out why, let’s take a closer look at our signal chain.

A large percentage of basses today have active preamps that run on either 9 or 18-volt batteries. The built in preamps boost the bass guitar’s signal so that it’s louder at your amp/preamp/DI. Along with increasing the signal, most active preamps will also have added EQ boosting as well. The most common are two-band EQ, where you can adjust the highs and lows and the 3-band EQ, which adds a midrange control. There are even more elaborate preamps that can enhance many other areas and fine tune things you never knew existed.

Is the added flexibility in volume and tone a good thing? Personally, I love active preamps on my basses because it gives me the opportunity to adapt better to any room or style of playing if needed. However, like most things in life; its best served in moderation. Just because a little is good, more is not necessarily better. As a matter of fact, too much tweaking can quickly ruin a gig.

Next in line is the preamp section in your integrated amp (head) or the preamp in your rack (where you have a separate power amp). In simple terms, it’s a larger, more advanced active preamp like the one in your active bass. They amplify the signal from your instrument as well as allowing you to increase and adjust your EQ. Most give you a greater capacity to adjust your tone than the preamps in your instrument.

Again, is this a good thing? Absolutely! If used carefully.

Here’s where things get really interesting, although many players are oblivious to it. You have an active bass with boosted and modified EQ. That in turn is plugged into a more powerful preamp that boosts your signal and EQ yet again. Do you see what’s coming? You haven’t even tasted the sauce that may already be great and yet you start adding salt (the preamp on the bass) and then even more salt (the preamp with your amplifier).

You have just multiplied what you have already multiplied!

Last night, I watched a Three Stooges episode where they were making beer at home. Each one individually added a cake of yeast to the mix, not knowing that the other two had done the same. What happened next was comedy through disaster with beer bubbling all over the kitchen and them scrambling for more jars. Unless you’re trying to create comedy through disaster on the gig, you need to pay better attention to your multiple active EQs.

There are more potential consequences than just bad tone at stake.

Bob Lee at QSC is not only a good friend and amplifier expert; he’s also a wonderful bass player. In picking his brain on amps and EQ, he said that one of the non-warranty problems they see all too often is where people have added so much bass to their signal that it causes the speakers to have over excursion issues. The driver is driven so hard that its movement is greater than it’s designed. This can result in damage from the voice coil popping out of the core and not going back in the tube. In addition, you can burn up the voice coil from overheating or you can put a crease in the cone. Any of these is the end of your driver’s life.

Many experts advocate that if you want more of a certain frequency; let’s say more bass, that instead of boosting the bass you turn down the highs and mids. You get the same results, but in a safer manner that’s less likely to cause speaker damage.

Another area to be aware of is effects pedals. In watching a player recently, the gain on his amp/preamp was close to its limits and sounded great. However, when he kicked in his wah-wah pedal, you could see the clip light on his amp going off like crazy. Why? His effects pedals boosted the already boosted signal yet again.

Every venue, every room, every environment will have a different impact on your tone as well. We’ve all played in a club or theater with an old wooden stage that made everything boomy. Then there’s playing outdoors where you wonder what just happened to my entire low end.

That’s why I believe the best thing you can do for good tone and peace of mind is to always set your EQ flat on your amp in the beginning.
Plug in and play for a minute listening carefully and then EQ to your taste and as important, to the room. EQ is not a sin, but it can be if you don’t listen first and get out of autopilot mode.

Being aware of how your signal chain works is the beginning of making wiser choices. Wiser choices can lead to fewer component failures and much better tone. Who knows? It might even lead to more gigs.

Let’s recap:

1. Listen carefully before adding any EQ.
2. It’s fine to EQ if needed, but not just out of habit.
3. If in doubt, it may be safer to cut the areas you want less of, than it is to boost areas you want more of.
4. Be aware of multiplying EQ that had already been multiplied.
5. Modifying EQ does not automatically lead to great tone, so don’t go into autopilot mode.
6. Start with your EQ set flat and after listening, EQ to your taste and to the room.

Do you think there’s too much seasoning in your sauce? If so, it’s an
easy fix.

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This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram

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TOP 10 Basses of the week

Check out our top 10 favorite basses on Instagram this week…

Click to follow Bass Musician on Instagram @bassmusicianmag

FEATURED @foderaguitars @overwaterbasses @mgbassguitars @bqwbassguitar @marleaux_bassguitars @sugi_guitars @mikelullcustomguitars @ramabass.ok @chris_seldon_guitars @gullone.bajos

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New Album: Jake Leckie, Planter of Seeds

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Planter of Seeds is bassist/composer Jake Leckie’s third release as a bandleader and explores what beauty can come tomorrow from the seeds we plant today. 

Bassist Jake Leckie and The Guide Trio Unveil New Album Planter of Seeds,
to be released on June 7, 2024

Planter of Seeds is bassist/composer Jake Leckie’s third release as a bandleader and explores what beauty can come tomorrow from the seeds we plant today. 

What are we putting in the ground? What are we building? What is the village we want to bring our children up in? At the core of the ensemble is The Guide Trio, his working band with guitarist Nadav Peled and drummer Beth Goodfellow, who played on Leckie’s second album, The Guide, a rootsy funky acoustic analog folk-jazz recording released on Ropeadope records in 2022. For Planter of Seeds, the ensemble is augmented by Cathlene Pineda (piano), Randal Fisher (tenor saxophone), and Darius Christian (trombone), who infuse freedom and soul into the already tightly established ensemble.

Eight original compositions were pristinely recorded live off the floor of Studio 3 at East West Studios in Hollywood CA, and mastered by A.T. Michael MacDonald. The cover art is by internationally acclaimed visual artist Wayne White. Whereas his previous work has been compared to Charles Mingus, and Keith Jarrett’s American Quartet with Charlie Haden, Leckie’s new collection sits comfortably between the funky odd time signatures of the Dave Holland Quintet and the modern folk-jazz of the Brian Blade Fellowship Band with a respectful nod towards the late 1950s classic recordings of Ahmad Jamal and Miles Davis.

The title track, “Planter of Seeds,” is dedicated to a close family friend, who was originally from Trinidad, and whenever she visited family or friends at their homes, without anyone knowing, she would plant seeds she kept in her pocket in their gardens, so the next season beautiful flowers would pop up. It was a small altruistic anonymous act of kindness that brought just a little more beauty into the world. The rhythm is a tribute to Ahmad Jamal, who we also lost around the same time, and whose theme song Poinciana is about a tree from the Caribbean.

“Big Sur Jade” was written on a trip Leckie took with his wife to Big Sur, CA, and is a celebration of his family and community. This swinging 5/4 blues opens with an unaccompanied bass solo, and gives an opportunity for each of the musicians to share their improvisational voices. “Clear Skies” is a cathartic up-tempo release of collective creative energies in fiery improvisational freedom. “The Aquatic Uncle” features Randal Fisher’s saxophone and is named after an Italo Calvino short story which contemplates if one can embrace the new ways while being in tune with tradition. In ancient times, before a rudder, the Starboard side of the ship was where it was steered from with a steering oar. In this meditative quartet performance, the bass is like the steering oar of the ensemble: it can control the direction of the music, and when things begin to unravel or become unhinged, a simple pedal note keeps everything grounded.

The two trio tunes on the album are proof that the establishment of his consistent working band The Guide Trio has been a fruitful collaboration. “Santa Teresa”, a bouncy samba-blues in ? time, embodies the winding streets and stairways of the bohemian neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro it is named for. The swampy drum feel on “String Song” pays homage to Levon Helm of The Band, a group where you can’t always tell who wrote the song or who the bandleader is, proving that the sum is greater than the individual parts. Early jazz reflected egalitarianism in collective improvisation, and this group dynamic is an expression of that kind of inclusivity and democracy.

“The Daughters of the Moon” rounds out the album, putting book ends on the naturalist themes. This composition is named after magical surrealist Italo Calvino’s short story about consumerism, in which a mythical modern society that values only buying shiny new things throws away the moon like it is a piece of garbage and the daughters of the moon save it and resurrect it. It’s an eco-feminist take on how women are going to save the world. Pineda’s piano outro is a hauntingly beautiful lunar voyage, blinding us with love. Leckie dedicates this song to his daughter: “My hope is that my daughter becomes a daughter of the moon, helping to make the world a more beautiful and verdant place to live.”

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Debut Album: Nate Sabat, Bass Fiddler

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Debut Album: Nate Sabat, Bass Fiddler

In a thrilling solo debut, bassist Nate Sabat combines instrumental virtuosity with a songwriter’s heart on Bass Fiddler

The upright bass and the human voice. Two essential musical instruments, one with roots in 15th century Europe, the other as old as humanity itself. 

On Bass Fiddler (Adhyâropa Records ÂR00057), the debut album from Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter and bass virtuoso Nate Sabat, the scope is narrowed down a bit. Drawing from the rich and thriving tradition of American folk music, Sabat delivers expertly crafted original songs and choice covers with the upright bass as his lone tool for accompaniment. 

The concept was born a decade ago when Sabat began studying with the legendary old-time fiddler Bruce Molsky at Berklee College of Music. “One of Bruce’s specialties is singing and playing fiddle at the same time. The second I heard it I was hooked,” recalls Sabat. “I thought, how can I do this on the bass?” From there, he was off to the races, arranging original and traditional material with Molsky as his guide. “Fast forward to 2020, and I — like so many other musicians — was thinking of how to best spend my time. I sat down with the goal of writing some new songs and arranging some new covers, and an entire record came out.” When the time came to make the album, it was evident that Molsky would be the ideal producer. Sabat asked him if he’d be interested, and luckily he was. “What an inspiration to work with an artist like Nate,” says Molsky. “Right at the beginning, he came to this project with a strong, personal and unique vision. Plus he had the guts to try for a complete and compelling cycle of music with nothing but a bass and a voice. You’ll hear right away that it’s engaging, sometimes serious, sometimes fun, and beautifully thought out from top to bottom.” 

While this record is, at its core, a folk music album, Sabat uses the term broadly. Some tracks lean more rock (‘In the Shade’), some more pop (‘White Marble’, ‘Rabid Thoughts’), some more jazz (‘Fade Away’), but the setting ties them all together. “There’s something inherently folksy about a musician singing songs with their instrument, no matter the influences behind the compositions themselves,” Sabat notes. To be sure, there are plenty of folk songs (‘Louise’ ‘Sometimes’, ‘Eli’) and fiddling (‘Year of the Ox’) to be had here — the folk music fan won’t go hungry. There’s a healthy dose of bluegrass too (‘Orphan Annie’, ‘Lonesome Night’), clean and simple, the way Mr. Bill Monroe intended. 

All in all, this album shines a light on an instrument that often goes overlooked in the folk music world, enveloping the listener in its myriad sounds, textures, and colors. “There’s nothing I love more than playing the upright bass,” exclaims Sabat. “My hope is that listeners take the time to sit with this album front to back — I want them to take in the full scope of the work. I have a feeling they’ll hear something they haven’t heard before.”

Available online at natesabat.bandcamp.com/album/walking-away

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Gear News

New Gear: Esopus Guitars Launches New Acoustic/Electric Bass

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New Gear: Esopus Guitars Launches New Acoustic/Electric Bass

Esopus Guitars Launches New Acoustic/Electric Bass…

Esopus Guitars is proud to announce the new “Tailwater” bass guitar, from legendary bass luthier Stuart Spector. This 32” scale bass is handcrafted by Stuart using the only finest woods and components at the Esopus Guitar workshop located near Woodstock NY in the Catskill Mountains. 

From its fully carved spruce top (the top is carved on both its exterior and interior surfaces) with a thumb rest that is elegantly carved into the top, to its custom-made Fishman piezo pickup and super hard Carnauba wax finish, every detail of the Tailwater is part of creating the ultimate playing experience.

The Tailwater bass features a fully chambered spruce over alder body (15.5″ lower body bout width, 2.25″ body thickness measuring from the peak of the carved top) that delivers a super comfortable tonal tool for all your low-end needs.

Each Tailwater bass is hand-signed and numbered on the back of the peghead by Stuart Spector. A very limited number of Tailwater basses are handcrafted each year at the Esopus workshop. 

“I am proud to present the Tailwater bass, a bass that I have spent the last three years perfecting. The Tailwater is a culmination of all of my 45 years of experience, knowledge, and passion for bass guitar crafting. I am so eager to hear what fellow musicians create with this exciting new instrument.” -Stuart Spector

Direct Pricing : $4995.00 plus options. 

For more information about Esopus Guitars and Stuart Spector’s handcrafted instruments, visit www.EsopusGuitars.com.  

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Bass Videos

Tour Touch Base (Bass) with Ian Allison

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Tour Touch Base (Bass) with Ian Allison

Ian Allison Bassist extreme

Most recently Ian has spent the last seven years touring nationally as part of Eric Hutchinson and The Believers, sharing stages with acts like Kelly Clarkson, Pentatonix, Rachel Platten, Matt Nathanson, Phillip Phillips, and Cory Wong playing venues such as Radio City Music Hall, The Staples Center and The Xcel Center in St. Paul, MN.

I had a chance to meet up with him at the Sellersville Theater in Eastern Pennsylvania to catch up on everything bass. Visit online at ianmartinallison.com/

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