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Slap Bass and Indian Slap Bass, the Evolution by Guest Writer Jayen Varma

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by Guest Writer Jayen Varma

Slap Bass and Indian Slap Bass, the Evolution… Many changes occurred in making and playing the Bass Guitar during the last century. ‘Slapping the bass’ is considered to have begun in the 1920’s on the Double Bass. On double bass it refers to the technique which is a more vigorous version of pizzicato, where the strings are plucked so hard that when released it bounces off the fingerboard, making a distinctive sound. Smacking the strings with all four fingers of the right hand also makes a percussive sound.

On Electric Bass Guitar

“Slap bass” is referred to percussive playing technique in electric bass as well, that the style sounds and looks percussive rather than the usual fingering of notes. Slap bass is more technically called “slaps” and “pops”. In the slaps, the bassist uses the bone of the thumb joint to strike the lower strings near the base of the guitar’s neck. In the pops, the bassist uses the index and middle fingers of the plucking hand to snap the higher-pitched strings away from the body of the bass, causing them to bounce off the fret board; this produces a prominent buzzing tone with a sharp attack and more high-frequency vibrations than in plucked bass.

Innovations

Double Bass player Bill Johnson, is considered by many as the father of slap bass. The methods developed by Larry Graham followed by Louis Johnson are nowadays practiced by a majority of electric bass players around the globe. Some bassists use fingers instead of the thumb to do slapping. Abraham Laboriel, Sr. developed a technique of using the thumb to pop the strings while his other four fingers slap the strings. Bassist Victor Wooten uses a double thumb technique, where he slaps the string when the thumb goes downward and pops when it goes upward. This gives him extra speed to play so that it sounds like a drum-roll on the bass guitar. Tony Levin created a similar drumming sound by using a hard surface on the fingers to strike the strings, which was named ‘Funk Fingers’. Funk Fingers are kind of small drumsticks strapped to fingers. To get a metal slap tone, bassists usually use their nails to hit the strings. Doug Wimbish also plays slaps with his fingers other than thumb.

Some of the double and electric bass players who are notable in slapping the bass are Bill Johnson, Pops Foster, Wellman Braud, Chester Zardis. Milt Hinton, Kim Nekroman, Scott Owen, Alcide Pavageau, Lee Rocker, Amy LaVere, Bootsy Collins, Stanley Clarke, Jonas Hellborg, Marcus Miller, Stuart Hamn, Les Claypool, Mark King, Kai Eckhardt, Mike Gordon, Flea, Fieldy, Brian Bromberg, Gustavo Dal Farra and the list goes on and on. A close watch of these bass players reveals that each and everyone has very distinctive styles. Similarly, every musician whether he is professional or amateur has his distinctive methods and techniques hidden inside. What matters is to develop it with proper training and self-motivation.

Applications

Since the acceptance of electric bass guitar in Jazz Music and subsequent revised applications of the technique since 1940’s, slap bass has been increasingly attracting music lovers all over the World. When funk music became more popular, slap bass has been subjected to various experimental playing techniques. Slapping is applied in most of the music genres since the 1960’s especially in funk, disco, jazz, pop and world music fusion.

During the changes in the music of the West, fusion music was silently having its own innovations. One of the inevitable instruments of India for fusion music has been Tabla. Bass players succeeded in blending the slap bass with Indian percussion instruments due to the similarity in the slap tones and sound of tabla. Jonas Hellborg and Kai Eckhardt adapted a different approach to the slap to blend it with Indian Classical music.

Tabla Style Technique and Myself

Even from the beginning of my bass playing career in 1986 the tabla/mridangam style technique was more convenient for me than the usual slap method. This may be because I had some training in the Indian percussion instrument mridangam, application of this technique on the strings was easy for me. In the early 1990s, when I could not get a slap tone due to inefficient pick-ups and guitars available at that time, I was forced to use hard plastic pipe pieces on the forefinger and middle finger to get the tone while playing like a tabla. That was a success as far as tones were concerned, but the playability was comparatively poor. In those days the music genres I used to play in bands did not require slap bass, so I had to keep that idea aside after experimenting for few years. In the early days I did not have enough access to the world outside India, but in one of the videos of the great Abraham Laboriel I heard him say, and I am paraphrasing, that, “What is important is the sound that is produced and not necessarily how the bass is played.”  Those words really lit the fire inside me; therefore I decided to move ahead with this unconventional style. Later on I was also encouraged by the words of some of the greatest names in the bass world… Jeff Berlin, Bootsy Collins, etc.

The Technique

Indian Slap Bass is playing the Bass Guitar just like the Indian classical percussion instruments Tabla or Mridangam or Kanjira. It is played by hitting the string with the index finger and hitting with middle and ring fingers held close together. This is not complicated because strings are hit like two drum sticks: One stick is the index finger and the other stick is the middle and ring fingers held close together. The exercise to begin is hitting the last string with forefinger (F) first and then with the other two fingers, middle and ring (MR). To be precise, the fingering is F-MR-F-MR | F-MR-F-MR for 1-2-3-4 | 1-2-3-4.  Later the playing is reversed to MR-F-MR-F | MR-F-MR-F. It is done with the left hand finger on the 5th fret of the last string.  After making it comfortable by doing it for few days, the same is to be played on the other string, holding the left hand finger on the 3rd fret. The sound created when the string is hit with MR fingers is slightly different from the sound created by F finger. Many different methods/exercises can be worked out to get playability and to avoid the problems caused by crossing the strings, fingers and notes.

I have been experimenting and promoting this method single handedly for years. I am so happy that it has many fans across the World now. Many young bassists are willing to learn it. I am sure that if someone practices this technique for one year, he will be able to do it well.

It works perfectly not only with funk, jazz, blues or rock, but with heavy metal also. Since the two fingers can distinctly produce clear 16th notes on the same string, it fits with metal music. It can also be blended beautifully with Indian classical music. I am sure that the next generation of musicians will find the potential in its application in future music to come.

My Intention

My intention is to popularize ‘Indian Slap Bass’ across the World. There are so many good bass players in India. But the majority of people still have to become familiar with the instrument Bass Guitar, which makes my task challenging. So my task also includes popularization of bass guitar in India among the masses.

Jayen Varma
India

Jaya Kumar Kerala Varma –aka- Jayen Varma, known for developing Indian Slap Bass lives in India, the land of many amazing Musicians and Music genres. It took three decades for him to prove the World that Tabla/Mridangam finger technique can be applied on Bass Guitar. In 2008 The Registry of Official World Records (Record Holders Republic) USA&UK declared him the Fastest Bassist. Visit online at www.jayenvarma.net.

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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 @zonguitars @shukerbassguitars @bite.guitars @adamovicbasses @mayonesguitars @bassbros.uk @capursoguitars @overwaterbasses @saitiasguitars @ramabass.ok

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New Gear: Elrick Bass Guitars Headless Series

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New Gear: Elrick Bass Guitars Headless Series

New from Elrick Bass Guitars, Headless Series added to Custom Lineup…

Elrick Bass Guitars is excited to announce the addition of a headless option on hand-carved series bass guitars. Initially previewed on the 2023 Gold Series SLC MkII bass of prolific solo bass practitioner and educator Steve Lawson, a headless bass option is now available to all. According the Elrick, “The excitement surrounding Steve’s MkII SLC bass at 2024 NAMM confirmed that the time is right to add a headless option to our extensive range of custom options.” To date, Elrick instruments have only been offered with traditional headstock construction but, in response to market demand, custom features will now include a headless option in 4-, 5- and 6-string models.

Headless bass guitars share these features with the traditional headstock series:

24 frets + zero fret
exotic wood top
hand-rubbed oil finish
2-way adjustable truss rod
custom Bartolini pickups
custom Bartolini 3-band preamp
fully shielded control cavity
Hipshot bridge
Dunlop Straploks
Elrick Fundamental strings

The headless option can now be selected when submitting custom order requests via the form on elrick.com, contacting the Elrick Sales Office directly, or working with your favorite Elrick dealer.

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Bruegel Masterpiece (1565) Inspires BITE Masterpiece (2023)

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Bruegel Masterpiece (1565) Inspires BITE Masterpiece (2023)

Bruegel Masterpiece (1565) Inspires BITE Masterpiece (2023)…

Flemish Master Pieter Bruegel the Elder probably had many things in mind when painting his Hunters in the Snow in oil on oak wood in 1565. This masterpiece tells plenty of little stories about winterly pastimes and precarious livelihoods in the Early Modern Age. What Bruegel presumably did not have in mind was that this painting would, several centuries later, become one of the most popular ones in fine arts globally, displayed in a permanent exhibition at Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Arts) Vienna. The painting’s popularity was lately taken to a different level as it was replicated by hand to design an exclusive BITE bass.

An international art collector and bass player who regularly visits Vienna to immerse himself in the wonderworld of Kunsthistorisches’ Bruegel Hall asked BITE to replicate the painting on a bass body. BITE Guitars, an Austrian premium manufacturer exporting most of their basses to the US, has become renowned for colorful artwork basses, offering a range of manual and digital techniques. The firm’s art director Peter, a trained scenic painter of Oscar and Palme d’Or rank, specializes in photo-realistic reproductions. He also painted the bass for Robbie Williams’ 2023 world tour by faithfully replicating Robbie’s own stage design onto the tour bass.

Peter copied the Bruegel motif onto the bass body in minute detail, little twigs even by one-hair-brush. Positioning the rectangular image section on the body shape proved to be a special challege that he met by repositioning little elements, a bird here, a horse and cart there.

It all came together in a memorable video shooting in front of the original painting in the Museum’s Bruegel Hall: venerable fine arts, premium handicraft and groovy jazz tunes.

View video at the museum: www.youtube.com/shorts/2evdqfR6gUE

What’s the conclusion of BITE’s client, our Vienna, art and bass lover? “It’s a magical bass! When I touch the strings, I feel warm inside.”

Specs highlights:
Bass model: BITE Evening Star, the proprietary BITE premium model with inward curved horns
Pickups: 2 x BITE 1000 millivolt passive split-coils (PP)
Neck: roasted maple neck and roasted flamed maple fretboard

Price tag incl. insured door-to-door express shipping:
New York: 4726 USD
London: 3645 GBP
Berlin: 4965 EUR

Full specs available at bite.guitars/old-master-bass/

Bruegel Hall at Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna: 
khm.at/en/visit/collections/picture-gallery/the-best-of-bruegel-only-in-vienna/

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Interview With Bassist Ciara Moser

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Interview With Bassist Ciara Moser

Bassist Ciara Moser…

Ciara and I sat down for this interview a few months after the launch of her debut album, “Blind. So what?”

Blind since birth, she is a powerhouse of talent; she is not only a professional bassist, but also composes music, and is a producer and educator. I am just blown away by her talent and perseverance.

Join me as we hear about Ciara’s musical journey, the details of her album, how she gets her sound, and her plans for the future.

Visit online:

www.ciara-moser.com 
IG @ moserciara
FB @ ciara.moser

Photos by Manuela Haeussler

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Gear News

New Gear: Black Ice Boost and Distort, Battery-Free Modules for Bass and Guitar

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New Gear: Black Ice Boost and Distort, Battery-Free Modules for Bass and Guitar

Black Ice Boost and Distort, Battery-Free Modules for Bass and Guitar…

Black Ice Enterprises introduces Black Ice Boost and Black Ice Distort, small, battery-free devices that can be easily installed in a bass or guitar.

Black Ice Boost offers two selectable stages of up to 7 dB of boost, broadly concentrated in the midrange frequencies to add humbucker-like qualities to Strat®, Tele® and other types of single-coil pickups. Black Ice Distort is an overdrive module that can be configured to offer anything from slight overdrive to distortion. Both models are compatible with all passive guitar pickups and electronics (they’re not compatible with battery-powered active pickups).

Black Ice Boost (SRP: $119.95; MAP, $79.95) can be installed using several wiring options, including a simple “stealth” install that utilizes a single push-pull pot, and a dual-switch option that allows users to select between two different levels of boost. For those using the boost along with Black Ice Distort, a second push-pull pot or switch can be used to select a clean or distorted boost.

The Black Ice Boost module is approximately 2/3 the size of a 9-volt battery, and can be easily installed in most instruments with no routing or permanent modifications required. The tone of the instrument remains completely unaffected when the boost is bypassed.

In addition to use with popular single-coil pickups, Black Ice Boost can also be used with other pickup types. Use it to fatten up a P-90 style pickup, or add girth to a low-wind humbucker. Jazz Bass® players can use the additional midrange content provided by Black Ice Boost to produce a sound that’s reminiscent of a P-Bass® or soapbar-type pickup. Black Ice Boost is not recommended for use with high-output humbuckers and other dark-sounding pickups.

Black Ice Distort (SRP: $27.95; MAP, $21.95) is an overdrive module that can be configured for just a touch of grit, or a more aggressive grind, all the way to a 1960’s-flavored fuzz. While its battery-free circuit will never replace the more refined sound of a well-designed pedal, it provides handy, there-when-you-need-it access to a variety of fun old-school flavors, and is a great way to add additional textures to an already overdriven amp or pedal. Bass players will especially dig its raw dirty grind.

Like Black Ice Boost, the sugar-cube-sized Black Ice Distort provides a lifetime of tone with no maintenance or power source required. A variety of wiring options are included that let you activate the Distort via a switch or push-pull pot, or by easily converting your guitar’s tone control into a control for the Black Ice Distort circuit. It can be used in conjunction with the Black Ice Boost for a wide variety of useful tones.

Black Ice Boost and Black Ice Distort are now shipping.

Visit online at www.blackiceoverdrive.com

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