Test Report: Under Saddle Piezo vs. Linear Contact Microphone on a Acoustic/Electric UBass

The Ehrlund Acoustic Pickup

Background 

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.

Phil Jones Double Four BG-75 RD
The Phil Jones Bass Double Four Combo might be small but it is
very competent in reproducing the sweet low end of a UBass


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:

Next level!

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

Musical examples

Melody and bass part on ”How insensitive”

I decided to make a comparison with a mic shootout I did back in 2012. Please start by (re-)visiting those tests:
https://playubass.com/2012/05/26/studio-report-miking-the-ubass/
https://playubass.com/2012/06/04/studio-report-record-the-ubass-using-mics-part-2/

That way you will have a great reference when listening to the Ehrlund EAP-recordings below.

Links to other reviews about the Ehrlund EAP

https://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/guitar-technology-13
https://tapeop.com/reviews/gear/103/ehrlund-eap-acoustic-pickup-system/
https://www.acousticguitarforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=154746
https://www.acousticguitarforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=195658
http://www.fuzz.se/artikel/ehrlund-acoustic-pickup-och-preamp (svenska)

EAP & MORE IN YouTube Video

Playubass String Test July 2019

The new Kala Flatwound by Gallistrings is one of the featured strings in this test

Hi fellow ubassists,

The main string types available for ubass players is featured and tested in this blog post

But first some background info…

When I started to play ubass the original Road Toad Pahoehoe (Black polyurethane) was used exclusively (2010-2012). One reason was of course because it was the only string available. (The Pyramid Round Wound String and strings by Aquila Corde debuted during this period but since I only had one ubass and used it so much I didn’t get around to try these at the time).

The next string I used was the Aquila Corde Thundergut string (2012). It had more tension and settled in quicker. One downside was that it had a more sticky feeling than the Pahoehoe strings. But I used them for quite some time and thought they were nice to play.

Next up was the Aquila Thunder Red strings (2014). These strings were really nice to play and had a lovely tone where it was pretty easy to go from a warm full jazzy sound (playing close to the end of the fingerboard) and more of a “pop” sound when playing closer to the bridge.

Since then even more option has come to us ubassists!

This Summer was the debut of the Kala Flatwound string by Gallistrings.
I have used prototype sets of these strings since December 2018.
Although they are primarily made for the acoustic/electric ubasses I have tried them on solid body ubasses too.
(I will share some videos from these tests soon!)

The focus with the following video(s) is a comparison between the Road Toad Pahoehoe, Kala Round Wound and Kala Flatwound by Gallistrings.

These sets truly represent three different tone flavors. (The difference in sound and feel between the other “rubber-like” strings and the Pahoehoe is of course noticeable but the Aquila strings are not included in this test. Please check other posts about strings under Reviews and tests).

Some info and personal thoughts about the following test

I made three different short compositions; Slow Funk, Pop Song and Jazz Intro. I wrote bass parts and recorded three (and in one example four) tracks with three different ubasses featuring the Pahoehoe, Flat Wound and Round Wound strings.
I cut between the different recorded ubass tracks in the main video so it’s easy to compare the different tones and timbres. (In a seperate video (see below) the examples are included in full if you want to hear more from each string set and not just around eight bars of each ubass/string set).
More info about the ubass tracks and how I worked with them in the Tech Talk section below.

So what do I think about these different strings?

Well, I do enjoy playing all of these sets since they give me different tones and timbres. I think my playing changes depending on the strings I play at the moment. I do believe all these sets can work for a big variety of styles and that it’s mainly up to the player to choose what feels best for him/her regarding to the sound they hear in their head.

I guess I’ll choose string (and ubass) based on these basic guidelines

A warm, round sound with lots of low end > Road Toad Pahoehoe

Warm, round with a more focused sound > Kala Flat Wound by Gallistrings

A defined yet warm sound with longer sustain > Kala Round Wound

Most important for happy music creation is a using tools that makes it easy to express yourself.
I really love having different options to choose from while others might have found their ”holy-grail-string” and stick to those strings for a long time!

A little disclaimer and some extra info about the recordings in this test

The round wound strings in this test are played on a fretted Kala Journeyman while the other string types are used on two different Spruce top fretless ubasses. My original Ubass (see Tech Talk) and a newer one. The best thing would have been to use the same ubass for all string types. This was not possible but I hope that you still can get something out of the test.

I have treated all the ubass recordings in approximataly the same way regarding volume, EQ and compression. A commercial release would NOT have been done this way! In the case of a commercial release the sound would have been tweaked even further to make it sit in the track best possible way. The volume of the ubass tracks would also have been considerable lower so it would blend better and not compete to much with melody and vocals. These recordings can be seen as basic tracks with room for instrumental or vocal melodies.

 

Good luck with your ubass playing,

Magnus

 

Tech Talk

Instruments used
Road Toad Pahoehoe strings: Kala Spruce acoustic/electric ubass, fretless (2010) Recorded through the RMI Basswitch IQ/DI with the 10MOhm input setting

Kala Flat wound by Gallistrings: Kala Spruce acoustic/electric ubass, fretless (2018)

Kala Metal Round Wound: Kala Journeyman (2018)

Signal chain
Jule Monique – all tube premium tube preamp XLR out > Universal Audio Apollo > Logic Pro X

Channel strip
Minimal EQ, compression on the ubass tracks

Slow Funk
EQ: HiPass at 30 Hz x dB boost at 2,5 kHz.
Compression: ~ 1 dB compression with LA2A UAD compressor

Song 2
EQ: HiPass at 30 Hz x dB cut at 200 Hz x dB boost at 2,5 kHz
Compression: ~ 1 dB compression with LA2A UAD compressor

 

 

Full length versions of Slow Funk and Pop Song

String Review of the Aquila Thunderblack

Aquila Thunderblack

There are now quite a few options for Ubassists when it comes to choose the right string for your preferred sound and playing style. Owen Holt invented the Road Toad Pahoehoe strings (made from polyurethane) to make the super short scale length of the ubass work. These are of course still the original ukulele bass string reference that many use and love.

The Italian string company Aquila Corde now offers three different ukulele bass strings.
Besides the Thundergut string that has been around since 2012 and the Thunder Reds since 2014 they also offer the Thunderblack.

The Thunderblack string has, in my opinion, more similarities to the original Thundergut than the Thunder Reds. I think they feel a bit less sticky then the original Thunderguts but the sound is pretty similar.

If you prefer the look of black strings but want a sound and feel similar to the Thundergut there’s now an alternative available.

In the video below I decided to record some of the same musical exemples used in the Thunder Reds review. This makes it easier to compare the different strings.

Past Reviews
Pahoehoe vs. Aquila Thundergut Part 1 | Part 2
Aquila Thunder Reds Review

Tech specs
Aquila Thunderblack strings
Kala spruce top fretless (2010)
RMI Basswitch IQ/DI in the 10 mOhm setting
Aguilar Tone hammer 500
Aguilar SL-112 cab
AKG C-414 mic
Universal Audio Apollo (upgraded with Thunderbolt card)
iMac with Logic X

 

Review: Phil Jones Bass Double Four – small but powerful combo amp for ubass and more

The PJB Double Four at a recent gig. A perfect small combo amp and monitor for ubass, electric and upright. The Ampeg combo in the pic is only used to elevate the Double Four. Behind the D4 is my Slickbag Double Gigbag. It is used to get some more bass response since there was about 50 cm to the rear glass wall.

Let’s take a look at the Phil Jones Double Four combo amp

Background
In 1987 I bought a new amp, a Gallien Krueger 200MB. I used this amp for a lot of different gigs sometimes with a extension cab but for most part as a standalone amp. The MB250 was a small combo amp that was a real breakthrough product back in 1987. Small but powerful and well built. I still have this amp! I have changed the speaker once since the surround of the original speaker dried and fell apart. However once you open the enclosure once it’s really hard to get it air-tight again. The construction is built upon a closed box to get the sound. I have used this amp mainly as a backup only for the last 8+ years. When I planned a trip to Brazil in 2015 the need for a new really small and travel friendly amp grew. I started to look around, getting different recommendations from friends and online searches, found the Phil Jones Double Four and decided to try it out.

Description
The Double Four is a 70 watt (all digital, pre- and power amp) with two four inch speakers (hence the name). It features a specially developed innovation called RALFR®, a special reflex port that greatly enhances the bass response. Besides basic amp controls there is an AUX-input (for your smartphone or more…) with a level control, headphone and Line out. You can use it in either a vertical or horizontal mode. Read more about the amp here.

Although the amp is all digital it sounds very warm and organic and brings out the core tone of everything I put through it, and it weighs in at only 4 kg! It is loud enough for rehearsals and smaller venues. More info below!

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Gig-stories
This little amp has been working hard for me. As I mentioned in the background the initial goal of the amp was to bring it with me to Brazil in 2015 when I visited the capital city Brasília to check out different music schools. I met a lot of wonderful and lovely people on the trip.

The amp was really a great companion to me and my Kala acoustic/electric ubass. I used the ubass with the amp on outdoor restaurant gigs, at a small pub and at the different schools me and my colleague visited, played concerts and held workshops at.

Please read more about the trip here!

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Back in Sweden I have used the small and powerful combo for a lot of rehearsals and small gigs. It has been a great way to always have a great sound wherever I go. The people I have played with have always been overwhelmed and surprised about the small amp with a big sound. It has worked well with ubasses, electric basses and upright bass. Although it’s small and “only” 70 watts i has even worked as the only amplification in acoustically big sounding rooms like stone churches together with guitar and vocals.

Studio recording

Sound examples

Let’s listen to some examples of how the Double Four sounds with ubass in different genres and situations.

Tango (See info above on how this was recorded!)

Acoustic Hiphop (Recorded with a single mic Zoom recorder)

Bossa Nova in Brazil

Recorded through the PJB Double Four

 

Recorded a a rehearsal with a Zoom H6

 

Iso-amp-box

This Summer I also made a ”iso-amp-box” for ”silent recording” with the Double Four.

I made this box for recording dates where I need to get a miked amp sound in the same room with other musicians. Very little sound is heard outside the box and not much sound will get into the box. It can be used for the actual recording or to get a great and organic headphone sound when tracking.

I will do a dedicated blog post about how that works (and sounds) later!

 

Amp-in-a-box-recording

 

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a small and ultra portable amp with a warm and natural sound you should definitely add the Phil Jones Double Four to you check-out-list. Playing my Kala Ubass with the PJB DoubleFour is a match made in heaven – a wonderful and small footprint with a big warm sound – a great combination for sure!

Review: Gruvgear Gigblade for Baritone Ukulele/Ubass

Hi,

I have been using products from Gruvgear since 2013 with a focus on their FretWraps. The FretWraps makes it possible to dampen open strings when playing a higher register or simply want to get rid of unwanted string/fret noise. Here’s a video showing some ways I have used the FretWraps with Ubass.

The company has a lot of different products that focuses on transporting your gear to and from gigs and/or rehearsals.

In this review, I will focus on their quite new Gigblade model for Ukulele. The model that fits a acoustic/electric Ubass is called the Ukulele Gigblade, available in two sizes, small (soprano, concert) and big (tenor, baritone and ubass).

The design is made to be carried on the side. Why you might ask? I think the main reason is that you can use it together with a regular backpack.

Most traditional gigbags are designed to be worn like a backpack, the Ukulele Gigblade is not. The design is made to be carried on the side. Why you might ask? I think the main reason is that you can use it together with a regular backpack. I have a Gruvgear Club Bag. They compliment each other perfectly and make it possible to get both hands free so I can carry even more in one go! (See pictures in the gallery below). (I will do a review of the ClubBag in a later blog post!) You can also quite easily have a regular gigbag (ubass or full size electric bass) on your back and then the Gigblade on the side!

Back to the Gigblade. The design is well thought out, zippers and padding have a very nice quality and the overall feel is very robust. Besides the big compartment for the actual Ubass there is a pocket in the ”lid”, for straps, a cord of maybe a tablet.

What about the top pocket? It is a design thing and really makes the gigbag stand out from the rest of the crowd! It works best if you don’t pack this pocket too heavy since the weight distribution will be a bit strange if you do. (The acoustic/electric Ubass is quite light as you know!)

It is also possible to fit a solid body ubass (or TWO!) in the Gigblade

It is also possible to fit a solid body ubass (or TWO!) in the Gigblade. I managed to fit two 5-string solid body ubasses in the case. By removing the foam bar and using a towel (or something similar) as a wall in-between the ubasses it workes out really nice!

Please check these gigbags out. They are great options to consider for protecting and lugging your precious ubass around!

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Link to Gruvgear / Gigblade

Different options for ubass cases and gigbags can be found here!

RMI Basswitch and acoustic/electric UBass – impedance settings!

RMI Basswitch including the impedance switch.
RMI Basswitch including the impedance switch.

Hi!

Time for a new video. This time I’m exporing the difference between the 1MΩ and 10MΩ settings on my RMI Basswitch. Read more about the Basswitch here and here.

One of many great things with the Basswitch is the option to choose between two impedance settings on the first channel (INST A). My acoustic/electric UBass hasn’t got any onboard preamp so in order to get a great sound I need to use an outboard pre before plugging into a bass amp, PA, sound card or mixing console. I have tried a few and you can read about my thoughts here and here.

You will of course benefit from using the Basswitch even if you have an onboard pre but in that case you will probably get tge best sound using the 1MΩ setting. The quality of the components are super good and the built in DI is very good. Played a show this past weekend and the sound guy was very impressed with the sound from the DI and that’s not the first time.

More about how I use the RMI Basswitch in future posts.

Read more at the Ruppert Musical Instruments homepage.

String Review of the Aquila Thunder Reds

Thunder Reds on UBass
Thunder Reds about to get stringed on my fretless spruce Kala UBass

Hi,

It’s time for another string review. This time we will check out the quite new string, the Thunder Reds.

Aquila Corde Armoniche Srl is an Italian string manufacturer that has made strings since 1983. They make gut strings and strings to mimic the sound and feel of gut strings for ukulele, guitar and early music instruments like the lute. Mimmo Peruffo is the founder of the company and the inventor of the nylongut strings. Read more about him here.
Around 2012 they started making strings for the Ubass called Thundergut. I have used them on my acoustic/electric UBass from about that time. I did a previous test/review of these strings compared to the stock, black, pahoehoe strings.
Besides the Thundergut they also make the Silver Rumblers that comes stock on the Rumbler Ubass.
The newest string from the company is the Thunder Reds. These strings do have a new feel to them compared to previous Ubass strings on the market. In the Kala UBass ”String Store” you can find most of the different string choices on the market.

The string gauges are a bit different compared to the Thunderguts. See gallery.

I feel it’s the E-string that really stands out the most. It is significally thinner and sounds and feels really focused, with a nice tone. The added copper powder in the blend really makes a difference and this is extra pronounced in the E-string. I believe the copper also takes away a lot of the sticky feeling compared to other strings on the market.

How playable different strings are is mostly in the mind of the player. I remember the first time I played a UBass, I thought it would take a long time getting used to the new feeling but it didn’t and all the strings I have played so far has only taken me a minimal time getting used to.

Please check out this stringing guide for one way of putting a set of Thunder Reds (or other ubass strings) on your UBass.

Check out the YouTube video below to hear them compared to the Thunderguts. I really think the Thunder Reds are a serious string to consider trying out on your UBass!

Ubass Cases: Different options for the acoustic/electric Ubass

Hi!

If you want to get a new case for your acoustic/electric UBass there are a few options.
You can read about some of the options here at kalaukulele.com

Rectangular Diamond Black Hard Case for U-BASS (HCUB)

Tweed Rectangular Hard Case for U-BASS (HCT-UB)

 

Besides these very nice hard cases you can also use the case designed for the Baritone Ukulele!
You can find it here.

Ukulele Case Baritone (UC-B)

I’ve used one of these Baritone Cases for a while now and it works really well.
It’s super light and still quite sturdy. It’s not as sturdy as the hard cases above but still a good lightweight alternative. You can also use it as a back pack or side carry with the supplied straps.

Some more photos below!

Happy Ubass Summer to everyone!
/Magnus

Inside Case
Inside Case

Tuning pegs gets quite close to the side of the case so be careful when you put the ubass in the case!
Tuning pegs gets quite close to the side of the case so be careful when you put the ubass in the case!