[Dixielandjazz] Re: unplugged
amazingbass at cox.net
Sat Jun 11 13:10:25 PDT 2005
To plug or not to plug........
First, let me say that I do not want to tell anyone what, or how, to
play. Outside of asking a drummer to soften up during the bass solo, I have
never had the audacity or the arrogance to tell any one what or how I think
he should play. I believe everyone should be free to try for any sound he
wishes, and use anything to help him achieve it.
I will back a horn player's solo any way he wants, but there are some
who want to tell me how to play thru the whole tune.
After going thru a few years on trumpet, and a couple of years of
trombone, I got my first bass when I was 15 in 1942 (you do the math). That
was way before the electric bass was invented, and no one had yet heard of
rock & roll. Big bands were still in demand, and a bass had to cut through
a drummer and 5 to 7 brass without any amplification. At the time, gut
strings were the only strings available for basses.
As Don says, the strings had to be high off the fingerboard so the
player could could really pick hard. My fingers were like clubs with huge
callouses. About all one could execute on a solo was usually just a walking
line, the same as one played as rhythm, making the solo rather pointless.
I didn't get into the electric bass until a few years after they were
in wide use. The change was not easy for me. I took me a while to get used
to playing horizontally instead of vertically. To get the most out of the
electric, one plays further up the neck, and makes more use of the E string
than on an acoustic. The fingerboard on an acoustic bass is curved to
facilitate bowing, but it forces the picking player to shift his right hand
to play a note on the E string, which is one reason a lot of players avoid
playing on it.
When amps and pickups became readily available, I decided it was
time. I tried first the Ampeg pickup, and didn't like it. It sounded awful
and it was a feedback generator. I tried pickup after pickup. I must have
given away, or thrown away 6 or 7 hundred dollars worth of pickups. Like
Don, I never found one I really liked. I'm not thrilled with the one I have
now, but it's the best one I've found so far.
While going thru all of this, I was getting to feel at home on the
electric, and still not satisfied with the sound of the upright. I have no
intention of going back to playing 'unplugged', and I doubt I will ever play
the big bass again. I can do things I never could do unplugged. (And if
any non-bass player tells me what the bass is supposed to play, or not
supposed to play, I will tell him to eat s**t and die!)
Also I have come to appreciate not having to schlep around the big bass.
I feel I am quite accomplished on the electric, and have come to really like
the sound. It's the sound I now expect to come out when I pluck a
string....and you can't beat the intonation. The sound one likes is usually
the sound they are used to hearing...most likely the sound they remember
from their formative years, usually in mid to late teens. If you had grown
up hearing a gut bucket, you would probably be striving to get that sound.
What sounds "better" is purely subjective. I actually prefer the sound of
my electric....maybe it's because my acoustic sounds so bad. No, all
acoustics do not sound alike, nor do all electrics. To say 'all' of one
genus of bass sounds better than 'all' of the other genus, means you have
heard every one in existence, and have come to a subjective opinion....to
which you're entitled. But its only gospel for...you. Pursue your own
goals, and I sincerely hope you achieve them....I will pursue mine.
----- Original Message -----
From: <dixielandjazz-request at ml.islandnet.com>
To: <dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com>
Sent: Friday, June 10, 2005 2:00 PM
Subject: Dixielandjazz Digest, Vol 30, Issue 30
> SWINGIN' UNPLUGGED
> By Don Mopsick
> Electric instruments-especially the electric guitar-have become so
> universal and ubiquitous in the post-WWII rock-dominated world of pop
> music that a word had to be invented to denote the old-school way:
> Decades ago, an ad agency for 7-Up came up with the ingenious and
> successful "un-cola" campaign, and proved that defining things
> negatively in terms of what they are not can appeal to the impulse to
> stand out from the crowd, go your own way, and march to the beat of a
> different drummer.
> As a mid-Boomer, I saw my first electric instruments at age 12 when my
> big brother Mike came home with a Fender Stratocaster guitar and a
> Precision Bass. Both of these instruments are solid-bodied, meaning that
> they have no acoustic sound of their own-they must be plugged into an
> amplifier to be heard. Mike let me fool around with the P-bass. In the
> quiet of our living room, without using the amp I could hear the tiny,
> plinky sounds the P-bass made well enough to learn how to get around on
> I also played the trumpet in the junior high school Band, two hours per
> week during the school day, but after school I played bass guitar in a
> rock and roll "garage band" with its heady promise of raw sexual power.
> In theory at least, plugging in an electric guitar converted one's
> testosterone into electrons, which were then broadcast directly into the
> brains of nearby females via an irresistible magnetic beam.
> It turned out that we were the first generation of musicians steeped in
> the dual worlds of loud, electrified rock 'n roll and softer, subtler
> unplugged jazz, folk, and classical music.
> Jazz had discovered the electric guitar in the late 1930s with Charlie
> Christian, and Miles Davis embraced rock rhythms and all-electric
> combinations with his seminal 1971 albums Bitches Brew and In a Silent
> Way. Since then, electrified rock elements have been important
> contributors to whatever commercial success jazz has had in recent
> years. These days, the average listener is likely to encounter a live
> "jazz" performance not quite up to the volume of a heavy metal band, but
> very loud nonetheless.
> As a young adult professional musician, I went through what I thought of
> then as reinventing myself as a "jazz bassist." In my work I used both
> the solid-body electric bass guitar and the bass fiddle. According to
> the fashion of the time, I explored every known method of amplifying the
> fiddle. My aim was to produce a sound at least loud enough to compete
> with the other players who would show up to the job with *their* amps
> and gear. I didn't know it at the time, but I was contributing to an
> endless "arms race" of upwardly spiraling volume levels.
> The results were rarely satisfying. In all of my experimenting, I never
> found a pickup or amp that sounded as good to me as the unplugged bass
> fiddle did in my practice room at home. The more gear I bought, the more
> frustrated and disappointed I became. In 1990 Jim Cullum called to offer
> me an audition with his band in San Antonio with the stipulation that
> the bass position involved playing strictly unplugged. That immediately
> got my attention. Then, a phone conversation with bass legend Bob
> Haggart convinced me that this was the way to go.
> Our friend Marty Grosz, acoustic guitarist, singer, raconteur and guest
> on Riverwalk Jazz, has a lot to say about how electrifying stringed
> instruments changes the way they function in a jazz setting. "With an
> amplifier, your sound is not coming out of you, it's coming from behind
> you out of a box." Furthermore, he says, the string height of electric
> instruments is usually so low that the player feels very little
> resistance under his fingers. Marty says, you've got to have that
> "fight" or a certain amount of stiffness, to create a pulse that swings.
> During 14 happy unplugged, amp-less years with the Cullum band, I've
> come to learn that creating swinging rhythm involves some physical as
> well as mental effort. I realized why jazz performances captured on old
> 78-rpm disks often swing more and sound more alive than on more modern
> ones: The pre-electric player had to learn how to draw a living sound
> and swinging pulse out of a hollow wooden instrument by moving and
> controlling a resonating air column with sheer muscle power and
> Now we're getting somewhere!
> Today my music room closet is full of pickups, cables, amps, pre-amps,
> equalizers, etc., gathering dust. I should probably get rid of all of it
> on eBay, but it's nice to know it's all there in case I have to "go
> electric" again. But by then it will all probably be way obsolete, and
> I'll have to start over from scratch.
> Copyright 2005 by Pacific Vista Productions
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