In a series of four short blog posts I will write about the different lessons in my first Lesson Pack: ”Learn to play the Ubass – basic techniques” (One lesson at the time every Sunday for four weeks!)
Lesson 1 – How to hold the Ubass
The first lesson gives you suggestions about different ways to hold the Ubass.
Since the body and over all length is so much shorter than a regular electric or acoustic bass guitar you really need to find a way to accommodate this.
In the lesson I go through different ways I hold the ubass. I have found out a couple of alternatives that can be nice to switch between or at least use as a starting point when you develop your own ”holding style”. I will let you know what has worked best for me and why.
Even though you have been playing regular bass for a long time I think this lesson will help you to get a good ”grip” on your ubass playing regarding how you can hold it to get the most out of your ubass music making!
Stay tuned: Next Sunday [September 3rd] it’s time for ”Lesson 2 – basic plucking/picking hand technique”
– – –
My parents bought my first ubass at a music store in Honolulu, Hawaii while visiting the islands back in 2010. I had not been able to try one beforehand. It only took me a few moments to get acquainted with the short scale length and rubbery strings. After that I got more and more in love with the feel and sound of the ubass. Hope you have or will get the same feeling for these amazing instruments! Read more about my first encounter here!
I came home from this years Musikmesse (music trade show) in Frankfurt. Germany with strings from the German string manufacturer Pyramid. I had previously heard about their Silver-plated copper-wound strings (on a nylon silk core) but the Black Tape Nylon strings was news to me.
I decided to take the black tape nylons for a spin first!
I have also asked the president of Pyramid strings, Max Junger, some questions and you can find his answers below!
Putting the strings on
Stringing the Ubass with these string was a bit like a usual electric bass stringing session. Since they feature a steel core they are not as stretchy as the original Road Toad Music Pahoehoe or Aquila Thundergut strings. In other words they settle in faster than the before mentioned strings. I used my usual approach, for steel strings, sticking the end of the string into the hole in the string post.
I also used a plastic washer (from a Aquila set) and put the string through the washer so the ball end got a bit bigger, preventing the metal ball end to eat its way into the wood in the back of the bridge.
Time to change the G-string
Plastic washer between the metal ball end and wooden bridge
The feel and sound
I’m quite used to the feel of tape nylon strings having played these types of strings for more then 10 years on regular electric basses. Here’s a recent example with my Rob Allen Guitars MB-2: http://youtu.be/AXIGwa-UUtk
The strings has a texture that feels a bit like ”cloth”. If I compare the feel of my La Bella Tape Nylon strings, the Pyramids feels more like a regular roundwound string.
The higher tension makes playing faster passages easier. So if fast is your thing these strings might be just right for you 🙂
I really like the added tension of these strings, they obviously feel more like a regular bass string. The sound is also very nice ranging from fat, thubby low end (perfect for thumb mute style playing) to a nice top end (making harmonics sing more than other Ubass strings).
They are a bit louder when played acoustically. The top end is a bit more pronounced. You can hear this in the video below. Harmonics do pop out more then on Pahoehoe or Thundergut strings but this is quite obvious because of the different materials and construction of the black tape nylon strings.
I have only tried these strings on my fretless Ubass and I find it a bit hard to play in tune compared to with the pahoehoe and thundergut strings I’m used to.
The further up the fingerboard I play, the harder it is to play in tune. I have to compensate quite a bit. When comparing an open string to the 12th fret on that same string I have to shift towards the 11th fret so my octave don’t go sharp.
For a trained ear, playing a fretless Ubass with these strings will/can work but on a fretted Ubass it will be hard playing in tune over, I guess, the 9th fret. (I haven’t tried the strings on a fretted Ubass yet).
If these intonation issues can be fixed these strings are a serious alternative to the Ubass strings already on the market.
Here is some info I have received from Max Junger, the President of Pyramid strings.
– The strings are available directly from Pyramid and retails for about €42. (Art.-No. is # 508/BT)
– For now they are only available for the acoustic/electric UBass. (Up to 53 cm/21 inch scale length).
– They have sold quite a few sets already and the customer feedback have been great.
– Although not yet available for solid body Ubasses there might be plans for some testing in the pipeline 🙂
The company will work on a way to solve the intonation problems I mentioned above. Great!
If you have tried these strings please let me know what you think!
That’s all for this time. I hope to try these strings some more on both fretted and fretless acoustic/electric and solid body Ubasses soon!
Now please check out the video below!
What kind of strings is on your Ubass today?
Black Pahoehoe (the original strings), Rumblers (grey), Aquila Thundergut (white), Pyramid’s…or something else? You can find all these strings on the Kala homepage. Here!
You can also see all the current Ubass models here!
I get a lot questions about what model to choose when thinking of buying that first Ubass!
I have blogged about these questions before. See these earlier posts from 2011 | Post 1 | Post 2
Some time have passed since I wrote those posts and I have been playing more fretted Ubass (Kala SUB) now. This makes it’s easier for me to compare fretless and fretted models and hopefully give you some new thoughts and perspectives about this matter.
Ok, so you’re thinking about whether you should get a fretless of a fretted Ubass?
If you want to buy any of the fretless models there will be an advantage if you have been playing a instrument without frets before, like a fretless bass, cello, violin or upright bass.
It is a matter of getting used to adjust your playing to what you hear. Most (or I guess all) fretless players don’t play exactly in tune the whole time. (It’s actually nice to be able to hear that it IS a fretless instrument. It would be hard if all notes were spot on all the time!)
On the other hand listening to someone that constantly plays out of tune is not really enjoyable. Not for the audience and not for the player…
If you buy a new instrument you probably want to use it in public as soon as possible. So if you are not used to the fretless fretboard of any instrument it WILL take time to get a consistent in-tune tone on your fretless UBass.
More things to consider: What styles of music do you want to play on the Ubass?
Playing the fretless model makes it a bit easier to get a more upright and jazzy sound. (But it is also possible to get a more rock sound from the acoustic Ubasses too, both fretless and fretted. It all depends on the technique used). This is something you can learn more about in my upcoming lesson packs for Ubass! Stay tuned for more info soon!
Because of the short scale (21 inch) the spacing of the frets on are a lot less than on a regular bass (most common on an electric: 34 inch). This will take some time to adjust to. Without frets you will be a bit forgiven if you fret the notes on the ‘fret’ (since it lacks fret wire!). Because of the rather short decay the notes you play will quite quickly ‘die’ and you can focus on the next note if the one you just played was a bit out of tune.
On the other hand if you play a fretted Ubass you have to play between the frets to get rid of fret noise (sometimes referred as ‘farting’ on some forums 😉 BUT to get the best possible tone you should play as close to the fret wire as you can. More about this in future lessons!
Ask yourself these questions:
1. What styles of music will I likely play on my Ubass?
2. Have I’ve got some experience playing fretless instruments (fretless bass, cello, violin, upright bass)?
If the answer to these questions are:
1. I want to emulate a upright jazzy sound.
2. I’m used to play fretless bass or another fretless fingerboard and because of that am used to really listen to the pitch my playing produce and can quickly alter my fingers to accommodate in-tune playing.
YOU should most definitely buy one of the fretless models (I have been playing the spruce fretless since 2010 and I really love the sound and the way it blends so great in the different situations I have tried it in. (This UBass has been used in most of my pics and videos on this blog)
Kala UBass Solid Spruce Fretless [SSMHG-FL]
(It’s now updated with a built in preamp, EQ and built-in tuner)
Read more here
Kala UBass Solid Mahogany Fretless [SMHG-FL]
(It’s now updated with a built in preamp, EQ and built-in tuner)
Read more here
If your answer to those questions are:
1. I want to play rock or blues based music or…
2. I have not played fretless instruments before and want to be able to use by Ubass RIGHT AWAY!
Well maybe you should go for the a fretted model OR maybe look into the solid body options.
Kala has quite a few models available now so there are a lot to choose from. Please check out the new instrument page at Ubass.com for more info.
Don’t hesitate to leave comments below this post or to send me questions about these matters to: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m also starting up a playubass.com newsletter. You will soon be able to subscribe to it!
Stay tuned! (Hope you all had a great Valentine’s Day!)
I got a couple of questions from one of my readers and thought I share my answers with you!
The questions are about right and left hand techniques. Here’s basically my take on that. Feel free to comment (below the post) or send an email about this or other topics to email@example.com
Right hand technique
What technique I choose to use depends on (at least) a couple of things.
1. Music style/sound
– Do you need a ‘fat’ tone?
Thumb style mute might work for this. See this video (I will probably make more videos about this too!). Depending on where you pluck the string will also make your tone more or less ‘fat/full’. Plucking close to the bridge will get you a thinner sound but it will be easier to play faster since the string is ‘harder’ here and will bounce back easier. The amp you use and the EQ settings (on the amp, preamp of on the UBass if you play a SUB of California Solidbody can of cause also help you ‘fatten’ your sound. But changing the sound only with your hands is a quicker way and can make subtle changes in the blink of an eye!
Sidebar: When I play on a regular fretless bass with more sustain than the UBass I tend to vary my right hand placement to get the sound I want. Sometimes I pluck the strings where the fretboard ends and even around the last frets to get the best and most ‘fat/full’ sound! Why not try this on the Ubass too! Sound vs. speed can be tricky since the string really bounces back more closer to the middle of the string.
– Do you need speed?
Alternating two fingers (or more) can of cause give you more speed. And please also consider what I wrote above regarding placement on the string.
2. The construction of the bass.
– On the acoustic UBass there are no place to anchor your thumb so this makes it necessary to find a technique that works. I showed examples of this in my first playing technique video.
On a regular electric bass there is almost always a pickup where you can put your thumb. BUT the placement of the pickups differ and sometimes you can’t use this approach. There is however another great way of going around this. Sidebar: On old Fenders there was a fixed rest where you put your index and middle fingers so you easily could play with your thumb..! And later on they put a thumb rest instead…) you can use the E-string to anchor your thumb and the move it when you have to play that E-string. I use this technique a lot since I play different basses and can’t rely on pickups being in the right place.
Left hand technique
Deciding if I play a bass part on the same string or more strings depends different things. I’ll try to talk about a few.
1. If the bass figure is easier to play on one string then please do that!
2. I often tell my students that they should avoid open stings to get more of a consistent tone! (I also say that playing walking bass is an exception. Here I want to emulate the feel of an upright bass where it’s ‘crucial’ to use open strings to get the right sound and of cause a reference to in-tune strings).
3 Playing ‘linear’ on one sting vs. using more strings. Please try to play the same thing in more than one way! This might help you find that one or the other is best suited for that particular bass part or a specific couple of bars in the bass line.
Here comes two examples of different ways of playing the same bass part.
Also check out my lesson on the song ‘Satellit’ (Ted Gardestad) in Lesson 7.
In that song I use the extended fingering technique you will see in the two songs below.
”Another One Bites The Dust’ (Queen) (Why not check out the Weird Al Yankovich cover ‘Another One Rides The Bus’ for a crazy cover).
Play the riff on two strings
Play the riff on one string using extended fingering. On the short scale Ubass this is quite easy but not always the best way. It’s of cause up to you to decide what will work best for you in different situations.
Another example is the quite simple riff in Help Me (Sonny Boy Williamson) and also in Green Onions (Booker T. And the MG’s) It can also be played on two strings or one string using the same techniques as I mentioned above!
More technique stuff will come in the future. As I wrote in the beginning of this post please let me know if you have any questions regarding playing technique of other UBass questions and I will try to answer them!