Introduction I started playing Kala UBasses back in 2010. The first two years I only used the original Road Toad MusicPahoehoe strings, there wasn’t really any other option.
In 2012 the Italian string company Aquila released a string made for super short scale ukulele basses called Thundergut. This string was “white” and had a different “rubber” blend. It was “stiffer” and had a different sound and feel compared to the Pahoehoe.
Since then I have tried the different offerings Aquila has put out, including the Thunder Reds and Thunderblack. See this playlist for related videos if you want to check out my thoughts about those strings. I have also written dedicated blog posts about these strings over at playubass.com. See links below!
In 2021 a new string has been released called Thunderbrown and there are new formulas for the Thunderblack and Thunder Reds strings as well.
On November 10th (2021) I put a set of the Thunderbrown strings on my 2017 acoustic/electric Kala California Ubass. I sat in at a friend’s concert that same night and played my UBass. This was of course pretty risky since it takes a little while for all ”rubber” strings to settle in and hold the tuning… A smartphone video from that show will give you a first ”look”! (It’s included in the video below!)
The Thunderbrown strings are probably the best ”rubber” strings I’ve played! They seem to have the best of all, playability, low end, and tone. On a fretless ukulele bass, I’m even able to get a convincing ”mwah” sound! I have made a series of videos to highlight the tone, loudness, and playability of the Aquila Thunderbrown strings. (For full versions of these different videos check out this Aquila playlist!)
Conclusion I believe these strings are something you should try if you like the feel of ”rubbery” strings and want to try something new. This is actually the first time I restring this UBass. I really love the Pahoehoe strings and they served me well on the UBass for almost 4 years. Trying out the Thunderbrown strings on this UBass is a whole different thing. Especially the E-string is so, so very good. It’s tight and feels quite a bit like the E-string on the Thunder Reds set but it seems to have even more focus and maybe a bit more tension as well. I encourage you all to try them out! Next up is trying the New formula Thunderblack strings on my ”vintage” fretted Ubass!
Until next time! (Please subscribe to this blog, follow me on Facebook and Instagram so you don’t miss any UBass news from me!
The new song from Silk Sonic was just released. I decided to transcribe it and record it with my Kala SUB. I use a magnetic mic and this is part of my testing for an upcoming blog post / YouTube-video on using magnetic mics on a solid body UBass. I think the sound is really great and can mimic the sound of a P-bass or short scale (~30″) bass!
My “quest” for a great UBass sound started pretty much the moment I played a UBass for the first time. You can read about how it all started here https://playubass.com/2010/12/26/the-first-pictures-of-my-kala-ubass/ I can’t say exactly when I first started thinking about tone and sound. I think it was early on when my musical journey began. It wasn’t a conscious thing at first but now when music has been a big part of my life for so long I have come to understand that it’s very important to me. I’m not alone, this is something many musicians think about daily. The search for the optimal and “perfect” sound is one of the things that drives us to become better musicians.
How to pick-up the sound of the ubass strings
Although a lot has happened since I started to play ubass back in 2010 one thing has been constant, the way ukulele basses are constructed and designed regarding how to pick up the sound of the vibrating string.
It spells: under-saddle piezo pickups
What we can use to pick up those vibrating strings all comes down to what stings we use. If a string has some kind of metal that is magnetic, like steel or nickel, the options are quite a few regarding picking up those string vibrations. You can use a magnetic mic, a piezo, or a contact mic.
When the ubass was first introduced only one type of string was available and it was made of synthetic rubber, polyurethane (Insert link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyurethane ), and there is no metal whatsoever so a magnetic mic wasn’t an option.
Manufacturers decided to use piezo pickups since they can pick up the vibration regardless of the material. They are also good at picking up sound ”locally” i.e. mostly in the bridge where they are installed under the big saddle.
The piezo can reproduce low end in a good way but high frequencies can sound pretty harsh. This is however not a big deal with the Pahoehoe (or other “rubbery/plastic” strings since they lack pretty much all frequencies above 1000 Hz…
A piezo can work very well for ukelele basses and I’ve happily played all my UBasses since day one getting a great sound. The biggest issue is getting an even volume across all strings. Still, I haven’t seen this as a big problem. If, for example, my e-sting has been lower in volume I have tried to rock it a bit at the bridge to find the sweet spot and then compensated with a playing technique where I play the e-string a bit louder than the other strings to get a good balance.
Having a great amp is also important. The amp has to be able to reproduce those low frequencies picked up by the piezo. Some pre-amps have the option to engage a low cut so the lowest frequencies are cut out and that can help to get a better sound. I have never used these live but when I record UBass (or any bass really) I always put on a low cut filter to tame the lowest frequencies. If you’re interested in getting to know more about how to record UBass please leave a comment below and I’ll try to write a blog post (or more) about this topic! As new strings have been developed more options for picking up and amplifying the UBass are now available. Some strings now have enough metal in them so they can be used with a magnetic mic. I have been experimenting a lot with this but there isn’t any commercial UBass with this option on the market yet. But this will hopefully change in the future.
One goal with the UBass is to get a sound and feel similar to an upright bass.
This has been available since day one with the Pahoehoe strings. These strings have a very big and round sound but sometimes it is hard to get a clear and precise tone (i.e. pitch) because of the lack of high mids and treble.
There are now options and some strings are manufactured with a mix of materials.
There are round wound strings and flat wound strings that have a nylon silk core with some kind of metal wrapped around the core.
Here’s a song recorded with the round wounds strings:
Here’s a UBass duet jam where both UBasses uses a flat wound string
In the Summer of 2018, I decided to record a version of the Gershwin classic Summertime.
I wanted to include a technique I’ve developed where I play percussive rhythms with my right hand on the body of the ubass while I play notes using hammer-ons with my left hand on the fretboard. Hard to understand what I mean?
Here’s a link to the video. I guess it’s easier to see and hear this instead of me trying to explain in words!
To be able to pick up those rhythms played with my right hand I had to find something to compliment the built-in piezo…
Eureka – I found it!
I remembered a visit to the Fuzz Guitar Show in Gothenburg back in 2013. One of the companies having a booth at the show was Ehrlund Microphones, a Swedish company making high-end microphones. They also make a contact mic that is very popular among musicians playing acoustic instruments.
I briefly tried it on the UBass I brought but wasn’t blown away since they didn’t have a bass amplifier available that was able to deliver those lovely low-end frequencies. Though with an amp that’s able to deliver and amplify the low-end it’s a whole other story…
Fast forward to 2018. One of my colleagues plays violin and had one of the Ehrlund contact mics he uses when he wants to amplify his instrument in a live setting. I remembered that time I tried one back in 2013 and decided to see what I thought about it now.
My goal was to pick up the percussive elements using it in conjunction with the built-in piezo. The contact mic, from now on referred to as the Ehrlund EAP (Ehrlund Acoustic Pickup), worked like a charm and I was able to get a great sound of my bass-drum-instrument!
My first video from 2018 using the piezo+EAP combo:
For a while, I have thought about the possibility of using only the EAP to pick up all the sounds of the ubass. Here’s part of the press text for the Ehrlund EAP: ”The Ehrlund Acoustic Pickup (EAP) is a linear contact microphone for instruments with an acoustic sound box such as the guitar, violin, double bass, and ethno instruments.” Well, the UBass fits the above description pretty well!
PLACEMENT – WHERE TO PUT THE EAP
Since a contact mic is made to pick up the sound of the surface, where it’s applied with adhesive putty, it’s important to find the spot where they can pick up the best sound. The UBass has a pretty small body so the search has to be based on a combination of finding a sweet spot with the practicality of a place in the body that’s not in the way of the desired playing technique. You also have to be super conscious about your playing technique since the Ehrlund EAP will pick up just about everything you do!
Placement One. I have two EAPs so experimenting with different positions and A B these is super convenient. In the first example we will listen to the sound we get with the EAP close to the bridge. Treble Side EAP Bass Side EAP
Placement Two Under the top near the sound hole and under the top (upper bout) In combination with the built in under saddle piezo
I hereby proudly present some new music composed with and for solid body UBasses!
“Reflections” (Magnus Sjoquist) started out as a chord progression. The descending chords are played with a simple triplet rhythm throughout. Over this sequence of chords I started to improvise and captured a take. My initial goal was to pick and choose parts of this improvised recording into a crafted melody. When I revisited the recording later my goal changed. I decided not to mess with it at all and keep it as is. Instead of picking out parts what you hear is that first improvised recorded play-through.
When coming back to this demo later I wanted to flesh out the arrangement and started by adding a shaker and Udo percussion parts.
It wasn’t enough so a string arrangement was made and my old 1950’s Czech upright has a little cameo twice.
The melody and chord parts are played on my custom Kala solid body UBass tuned EADGC and as a final addition my Kala solid body fretless 5, also tuned EADGC, is used for the intro and outro melody.
I hope you will enjoy listening to (and watching, If you read this on YouTube) my new composition: “Reflections”!
This is an announcement for two upcoming releases of original music composed by me. The first release has been available on bandcamp.com awhile but will now be released on more major digital outlets.
First up is ”Tranquility”. This was composed, arranged and recorded back in 2018. The song features my good friend, principal solo bassoonist for the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Mikael Lindström. The arrangement is based around a chord progression played on a solid body ubass tuned EADGC. Besides the chord part both melody and solo parts are played on that same EADGC tuned ubass.
You can already hear the song on bandcamp.com, Spotify, Apple Music and other digital outlets. The Full video will be released this weekend, Saturday March 6! See Teaser video below!
Next up ”Reflections”. This song started out as a chord progression. The descending chords are played with a simple triplet rhythm throughout. Over this sequence of chords I started to improvise and captured a take. My initial goal was to pick and choose parts of this improvised recording into a crafted melody. When I revisited the recording later my goal changed. I decided not to mess with it at all and keep it as is. Instead of picking out parts what you hear is that first improvised recorded play-through. Read more on a dedicated blog post when the song is released!
The arrangement is based on the melody and a simple bass part that has mostly a root motion meaning I go from root to root in the chord progression. I choose the key of A major simply because the possibility to use a lot of open strings for the bass line part of the arrangement. This way I can focus on the melody and also get a bass part with a long legato feel. I want to make a contrast between the melody and bass rhythm is possible.
It would not have been so nice if I used the same rhythm in the melody and bass part throughout the arrangement. Although we as bass players really love bass this technique will let us focusing on the most important part of a song, its melody!
Tricky Bit 1: The highest note of the melody is a D. Since most Ubasses only has 16 frets and the D we want is located at the 19th fret we need to play the D as a natural harmonic. This note can be found where the 19th fret would have been if the fretboard was extended that far. You play a harmonic but lightly touching the string and then play with your plucking hand. You might need to play a little bit harder with the plucking hand than you usually play to get the harmonic to “ring”.
Extra info: If you play a 12th fret harmonic you get the same note as if you press down on the 12th fret. When you play the 24th fret harmonic you get a pitch that is one octave higher. If you can find the spot in between the 24th fret and the bridge you will get a note that is yet another octave higher. And now the crazy bit. If you do the same dividing the string from the 12th fret to the nut you will get the same results as in the 12th fret to the bridge area! More on this in a later blog post.
Tricky Bit 2: To get the C# you need to use a technique called false harmonics. The false harmonic technique is based on the same technique you use when playing a natural harmonic. You want to get the pitch that would have been find on the 18th fret. To get this note you fret the C# at fret 6 on the G-string. Then you find the spot exactly in the middle between the fretted C# and the bridge. You need to play that harmonic with you plucking hand. There are different ways of doing that. Here I’m using the first finger of my plucking hand on that “half-way-point”. (See Extra info!) I then pluck with the ring finger of my plucking hand. This will take some practice to find the right spot and get the note to ring and sound as close to the regularly fretted notes! Play slow and gradually add speed!
Tricky Bit 3: Getting from to the part with “Tricky Bit 1 & 2” can also be a little challenge since you need to quickly go from the lowest to the highest part of the fretboard. Practice slow and make sure you aim for that B. Best way to do that is to “look ahead” and aim with your eyes. That way you’re helping your brain to gules your hand!
In the performance video I play only one verse of the song. My goal is to work more on this arrangement, maybe add an intro, develop a second verse with the use of other rhythms and maybe some re-harmonization and so on. I decided to record this very short version to give you something to work on during the Holiday’s!
Maybe this will be your first go at playing a solo ubass arrangement? I hope this will inspire you to make your own solo arrangements. The melody and bass approach is a great staring point! Please let me know if you decide to make your own arrangements. I’d love to feature your arrangement on playubass.com if you want to share something!
I wish you all a Merry Christmas And a Happy New 2021! /Magnus
2. Make sure to tape down the bridge saddle so it doesn’t move
3. Remove string back plate (if you have one)
4. Start with unpacking the E (lowest) string (and next time around the A and so on…)
5. Check and see if any metal washers are still in the string barrel. If so remove the one on the new string you’re about to install
6. Put the sting through the lowest string slot/barrel
7. Stretch the string past the string post. I use a cable cutter to measure how long the string needs to be before I cut it. I don’t want to have to much excess string around the post. 2-4 turns around the post is the goal.
8. Put the end of the string into the hole in the middle of the string post. Push it down as far as it goes
9. Bend it to the right for the lowest two strings (tuners pointing upwards) and left for the top three strings (tuners pointing downwards
10. Keep turning the tuning peg to get rid of the slack
11. Use a tuner and tune the string up to approx. one whole tone beneath the goal pitch (ex. D for the E-string)
12. Repeat step 4-11 for all the remaining stings
13. Put the string back plate back
14. Tune the strings up to pitch. Come back and retune until they stay in tune. This can take a day of two depending how much you play and stretch the strings
Time to make some new music with a fresh set of strings. Yummy!
Hope this is helpful for your next string changing session!
It’s time for a new interview in my Ubassists of the world – series! I started doing these back in 2014 (!) and did a few of them for a couple of years. Now I have a new one for you and you can choose to read it or see it…or both!
The written interview isn’t a transcript of the video interview so there will be some stuff thats different so I recommend that you both read and watch!
Background of ubassist Håvard Mathisen Tanner
I am a Norwegian bass player based in London. I started out playing classical music when i was a kid, and only played classical for a long time, however during high school I started with bands, and soon I was touring all around Norway. I moved to London to study music and did a bachelor’s degree in bass performance and production at LCCM (London Centre of Contemporary Music), and a masters degree in jazz performance at Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
My Main band is Swing’it Dixieband, they are based mainly in Norway but also London. Swing’it play 20s jazz with a bit more energy and humor. we play all over Europe and are going to USA in February next year. In 2018 we came all the way to the semi finals in Norway Got Talent.
In London I play with the band Robohands, but do mainly freelance work, gypsy jazz, symphony orchestras, studio sessions, etc…
I’ve done recordings for Sony Music Norway/Columbia Records with my previous band MHOO.
Recently I represented Norway In The Earth Orchestra by George Fenton recording at Abbey Road Studios for Universal Music UK.
Q and A
Why Ubass? I was mainly a double bass player, and when I started to travel a lot with my band Swing’it dixieband it became a lot of hazzle to borrow and rent double basses (since my double bass is in London). The Ubass wasn’t only small enough to fit as hand luggage it also sounded amazing!
Where did you first hear about Ubass? I heard about Ubass online (talkbass, YouTube videos from the NAMM show), this was fairly soon after it came out, but it took quite a few years before I managed to buy one myself.
How long have you played the Ubass? I started using the Ubass about 3 years ago. The first year I borrowed a mahogany fretless from a friend, then a year after I bought my own spruce top fretless.
How do you use your Ubass? (different settings and styles/genres..) I use the spruce top fretless Ubass, and the strings I currently use is Galli black nylon. I’ve been playing around 50-60 gigs with these strings over the summer and I really enjoy the sound and the feel of the strings. I run it through a Fishman platinum pro EQ, since the Ubass has such dense frequencies the low cut and EQ makes it very easy to shape the tone you want. And lastly I usually run through different Markbass amps, I really like the clarity the amp gives me. But recently I’ve bought a small acoustic amplifier (Guitar Sound Systems 06b400) just to use with my double bass and Ubass. I’ve started using the new amp and the Ubass sounds very double bass like, the amp is very clear sounding. And this gives a very honest acoustic sound.
One aspect I should mention is that it took me quite a while to get a comfortable swing feel similar to the double bass. On double bass you would use your whole arm, shoulder, and body to get the tone and feel, your swing feel is in your body! However on the Ubass you have to play very light because of the light tension in the strings, I recently switched to Galli Black nylon strings, these strings have more tension so you can play a bit harder, but also they are not sticky, much smoother to play on, and if you play outside they are less affected by changes in humidity, like the older Thunderguts and Pahoehoe strings. Another aspect is your wrist. It’s easy to get an angle over the body of the Ubass, so I always try to bring the bottom of the Ubass back and my arm forward, this makes it easier to have a straight wrist and to prevent any potential tendonitis.
I’ve been using the Ubass mainly as a replacement for my double bass in a 20s jazz band (Swing’it), we play a lot of festivals, events, weddings and jazz clubs, I’ve even used it when we played live TV on Norway got talent! Swing’it are releasing an album next year, and the majority of the songs are recorded with the ubass!
I’m very pleased with how the Ubass sits in the mix and the live sound on stage, it has the woody open tone of the double bass and the punch of the electric bass.
I’ve also used the Ubass live with another band called Robohands, which is a smooth jazz/funk band with influences of hip hop.
Can you recommend others to start playing Ubass? Who can benefit from adding a Ubass as a new musical tool? I would definitely recommend others to try out the Ubass, especially if you are struggling with back pain from carrying gear or the physical aspects of playing. The Ubass has a much lighter touch, and weigh next to nothing! If you are a double bass player and need a small easy to travel instrument, then I would definitely recommend the Ubass as an option.