– ”Is there always a “sweet spot” on the fretboard where you should play a bass figure or part”? – ”The answer is yes” (in my opinion!)
I have played ubasses since 2010 (and electric basses since the early 80s) but during my years as a ubassist it has been ~90% focus on fretless ubass models.
Well, one reason is that my first ubass was fretless and I played it almost exclusively for the first three years. I guess I choose the fretless model because I wanted to emulate the upright bass and as you probably know it doesn’t have frets.
In 2013 I started to play fretted solid body ubasses too but I have been playing fretless acoustic/electric ubasses a lot more.
So why did I tell you this?
In July (2019) I bought my first fretted acoustic/electric ubass. I have been looking for an early model without the built in preamp to compliment my 2010 spruce fretless that also i ”pre-amp-less”.
I have of course been playing fretted acoustic/electric UBasses but never owned one until now.
It came with the original black synthetic polyurethane Pahoehoe strings. These strings has such a nice tone and it’s not hard to understand why they are loved by many ubassists.
…BUT…those Pahoehoe strings are actually harder to play on a fretted then a fretless ubass, at least in my opinion! I have written about this before in my 2019 Buyers Guide post […and also here: Post 1, Post 2]
If you mis-fret, playing on the fret-wire, using the Pahoehoe strings on a fretted ubass you will probably get a strange not-so-pleasant sound. If you “mis-fret” on a fretless ubass you will play out of tune.
So why is ”out of tune” not as bad as the fret noise on a fretted ubass?
It all comes down to the nature of the polyurethane strings. These strings have a warm tone and because they are made from “solid” synthetic rubber they tend to have a quite short decay; you play a note and it fades away quite fast. If you play a little out of tune the “mistake” will quickly disappear!
You need, of course, to be “in-the-ballpark” of the desired note but you will quickly be “forgiven” if you don’t hit the note spot on! On a fretted ubass everyone will hear if you “mis-fret”…
This is why it is very important to have a clean playing technique and also know where a bass part or riff will sound the best on your particular ubass.
These suggestions are good for all ubass players, both fretted and fretless!
First up – map the fretboard
The goal here is to map out where the different notes are located on the fretboard so you can move around easy and navigate through chord progressions and riffs. This also makes it easy to move a bass riff or shape to different locations/boxes on the fretboard.
Count your options – How many notes of the same pitch (and octave) are they on the fretboard?
1. Start with an open G-string
2. The next available G is on the fifth fret of the D-string
3. The third G is on the 10th fret of the A string
4. The forth G is on the 15th fret of the E string
Can you see the pattern here?
Rule of thumb
If you take any note on the G-string, move to the D-string and five frets higher you will find the same pitch and octave. Continue to the A-string and five frets higher…
How many notes you’ll find will differ a bit depending of what note (what octave of the chosen pitch) you choose to map out. It also depends on how many frets you have. Typically the acoustic/electric ubasses have 16 frets (and most solid body ubasses 24).
We will focus on 16 fret models here.
[Cue drum roll…] The right answers for G pitch is:
G (1), g (4), g1 (1), g2* (1) (For info on the different octaves please check out the movie below!)*) Harmonic ”over the sound hole”
This gives you quite a few options, especially with g!
Knowing the above will help move bass parts and riffs around the fretboard.
But how can you tell where a bass part or riff will sound/work best on the fretboard?
This is where your work and ears come in!
I can explain how I think and work out where to play different parts but it’s really up to you to map your fretboard and find a workable plan for your ubass playing!
Example Bass Part
Here’s a simple bass part that I have mapped out on different places on the fretboard. Where you choose to play it should come down to two main things:
Where on the fretboard the bass part/riff sounds the best (in my opinion the most important thing to keep in mind!) In the included example there are, in my opinion, definitely notes that don’t sound perfect in some of the positions. I would probably discard that position ”in real life” for the sake of getting the most consistent tone as possible. All three positions are however included so you can hear, compare and find out what you think is best for you!
Where on the fretboard the bass part/riff is most convenient to play regarding what you played before and what you will play after the bass part/riff
This will of course require some work but here’s some suggestions how what to do:
Listen to a song that you thing has a great bass part and sound
Try to figure out where the bass part or riff was played on the fretboard
If possible see if you can find a YouTube video of a live performance of the song. This can be hard especially since bass player probably isn’t going to be featured as much as the singer or lead instrumentalist… Try to choose a singing bass player since this will probably give you more ”bass-playing-in-view” time!
Try to play the bass part the way you believe (or saw) it was played
Does it sound good there or can you find a place where it better?
I will explore this further in upcoming lessons and ebooks!
In January I was fortunate to once again work with Kala at the Winter NAMM Show in Anaheim, CA. This time I managed to get a nice video from my little jam with Bakithi Kumalo on the classic Wayne Shorter tune ”Footprints”!
In 2017 I had my first NAMM experience and met a lot of great musicians including Bakithi Kumalo. He was really wonderful and we had a great time talking and jammin’. It’s a very special feeling meeting bass innovators like Bakithi. It’s even more special to get that chance to make music together!
I have always been amazed by the story of Paul Simon traveling to South Africa to record his super classic Graceland album with local musicians. Among these musicians were Bakithi! He has played with Paul Simon ever since, both on albums and on countless tours around the world.
Back in 2014 I became a Kala Artist and got a Bakithi Kumalo Signature Ubass. I made a little birthday video for Bakithi since the ubass arrived around that time! Check it out here!
I went to the Paul Simon concert in Stockholm 2018 together with my wife. It was the first Paul Simon show for us and we very truly amazed. The music was fantastic, ranging from Chamber Music to musical styles and genres from across the globe. Everything performed with such a wonderful feel. Even the sound was the best I have ever heard in that venue, and I have been to a lot of concerts there. Anchoring it all with super solid bass playing was of course Bakithi!
After the concert we got to hang a bit with the musicians in the bar at Grand Hotel. A fantastic ending to this incredible musical experience!
Bakithi and me at the Grand Hotel ”afterparty”
My wife Semitha, Bakithi and me at the ”afterparty”
In January Bakithi and I met again at Winter NAMM. The NAMM experience is hard to describe but the people you meet there is what makes it a great experience although it’s super ‘crazy” with lots of music. (At times the experience is a ”bit” overwhelming with all the simultaneous playing all around you…)
One of the highlights of the 2019 show was hanging and playing with Bakithi at the Kala Brand Music booth. We are both Kala Artists and being in the company of Bakithi, Abe Laboriel, Hutch Hutchinson and Nathan East, among many other fantastic bass players, is mind blowing to say the least!
Bakithi and I managed to do a little jam of the classic Wayne Shorter tune ”Footprints”. The great video team from Kala helped capture the performance. Thank you guys! I got the files and edited the video you’re about to see. Besides the violin sound, from a nearby booth, and lots of people talking in the background, the sound is pretty good. It was recorded with the built in mic on one of the DSLR cameras used.
I hope you will enjoy watching this as much as I loved jammin’ with my dear friend and living bass legend Bakithi Kumalo!
Time for a new Summer Ubass Video! Making a outdoor Summer video is now almost like a little tradition! 🙂
For the second time it is filmed in Jämtland, Sweden. I really love this region and have spent quite a lot of time there. Last year I did a version of the super classic song Summertime. Check out the blogpost and video here.
This year I decided to really pay homage by doing a version of Jämtlandssången, the official song of the region. It is also the first song I played on my new/old mahogany ubass. I found it in a music shop in Östersund the biggest town of Jämtland. This ubass is an early model without the built in preamp. I have looked for an early fretted mahogany model to compliment my first ubass, the spruce fretless I got in 2010.
I did a quick arrangement playing mostly melody together with a quite simple bass part. I added some more chord tones in some places to make the harmony come through a bit more. When I got back home to my studio I decided to add a string arrangement to spice it up a little. The strings are recorded with the Strings-instrument-plugin inside of Logic Pro X. Besides the video of me playing the mahogany ubass I added some video footage from 2013 (!) Yes, that’s right I got the original idea of doing a tribute video to Jämtland back in 2013 but I never finished it… That’s why the other footage in the video features my first spruce ubass.
I hope you will enjoy this little video. If your interested in knowing how I arranged this please make a comment below. If there is interest I can make the arrangement available with a little lesson on how it all works! If you want to do this to another songs and melodies please include the titles in the comments too. That way I can include more melodies in future solo ubass arrangement lessons!
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).
Comparing the different string types playing a Jazz-intro
Even my old czech upright was used for comparison purposes
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.
Back in 2011 i attended a workshop with master jazz guitarist Frank Vignola.
A couple of days after the workshop he was going to play a show not to far from where I live. At the workshop he invited the participants to come to the concert and offered the possibility to jam with him, Vinny Raniolo and Eric Bogart.
In the intermission I approached Frank and told him that I’d like to take him up on the offer to jam. We decided on Fly me to the moon and a blues…
Set two starten and I was called up on stage after the second song…
I brought my ubass plugged into the PA and of we went. We had not played a single note prior to this and there was somewhere around 150-200 in the audience probably wondering who that guy was taking the stage.
Fly me to the moon flew bye and Frank started to play the head for C-jam blues and after a somewhat shaky start (on my part) we found a nice groove.
I still love the part where I manage to steer us into half-time mode and the audience starts to clap along. Frank plays a smoking solo, I play a solo and we go into trade mode and finally manage to sync the ending pretty nicely!
This was a great experience and has also been great for my “ubass exposure” on YouTube with around 135.000 views to this day.
Last Saturday Frank played at a nearby jazz club and I went there with a friend. It was a fantastic concert. Frank played with top notch Swedish jazz musicians, Eric Söderlind, guitar, Hans Backenroth, upright bass and Joakim Ekberg, drums.
No jam for me this time but I managed to talk to Mr Vignola for a bit, telling him how fun it was when we jammed and that the video of that firat jam back in 2011 has been great for me. It’s nice to be able to give thanks for these things in person.
The sax and trumpet players from the support band was invited to jam. It’s so nice that Frank still pays-it-forward at his concerts!
So you’re thinking of buying a ubass, thats great! What ubass should you choose? I have put together a couple of questions (with some answers from me) you can ask yourself as a little ”pre-buy-check-up”!
1. What is your primary goal with the purchase? Travel instrument? First stringed bass instrument? A compliment to your electric bass? A compliment to your upright bass? A second instrument if you already play for example guitar? 2. What sound(s) are you after? 3. What styles do you want to play? 4. Have you played fretless bass or other fretless instruments like upright bass, cello of violin? 5. Have you got small or big hands?
I think that these five questions is a great starting point. Ask yourself these before your purchase. Below are some of my answers to the questions…
There aren’t that many music stores left in the world, there are at least fewer here in Sweden now compared to 10-15 years ago, so it’s not so easy to get the chance to tryout different ubasses before you buy. I know the feeling. My first ubass was bought by my parents visiting Hawaii back in 2010 and I had not seen or played one before.
There are a lot to choose from and different company’s have hoped on the ubass train. I play Kala ubasses, and have been doing that from the start, but there are of course other options out there now. I still recommend the original Kala Ubass in most cases, however if you find the 21 inch scale (most Kala ubasses have) to be to small for your hands you might find that it’s easier to play a slightly larger scale ukulele bass.
Here’s a couple of answers to the questions above that I hope will guide your search for the best ukulele bass for you!
1. What is your primary goal with the purchase? Travel instrument? First stringed bass instrument? A compliment to your electric bass? A compliment to your upright bass?
Travel instrument I want to be able to bring a bass on my travels. Could be everything from your everyday comute to a vacation or holiday trip abroad or as a tour instrument that you bring on the bus or to your hotel room before and after your gig. The ubass can be the solution to al the above! Since all the acoustic/electric ubasses are acoustic that do give you a nice unamplified sound. It’s not super loud but will work practicing on your own. If you need more unamplified volume you can go for the Kala round wound strings. These will give a little bit more volume. Heads up: Most of the current models will work with either the Pahoehoe (original black polyurethane string) or the Kala round wound. It’s not recommended for the Wanderer model.
It you do want to amplify your ubass while traveling and don’t mind bringing an amp my recommendation is the Phil Jones Bass Double Four (or the new Micro 7). The (quite new) Roland micro Bass Cubes will work too. The core sound of the ubass is below 200 Hz so the better bass response an amp can give you the better your ubass will sound!
There are also headphone amps you can use. The Phil Jones Big Head (HA-1 or HA-2) seems like a good one although I haven’t been able to test one yet. I have used my Zoom H6 recorder with great results too. The H6 has 4 tele-inputs and although the are line level inputs they have worked nice with my UBasses that has a built in preamp.
First stringed bass instrument If you new to playing bass and want to take it up the Ubass is really a great place to start. Because of the shorter scale length you will have easy access to the first frets. You will not have to reach so far to play those low notes on the E string. The sound of the pahoehoe string through an amp is also very pleasing and full. Those strings are soft on the fingers too so you can start playing for quite a while without getting tired in your fretting hand. I have been bringing UBasses to the high school where I teach many times (now we finally have two at the school) and all the students that have played them, even those with no or almost no prior experience, has been able to play and get instant gratification within a few minutes. Recently one of my students used a Ubass when one ensemble was to play Money (Pink Floyd) this made it possible to play the tune since the student was able to focus on the bass part and not spending a lot of time getting a good sound of a regular 34 inch scale electric bass that is so much harder to get. Great sound out of when you don’t have that mush experience and also quite small hands. A great first stringed bass instrument for sure!
A compliment to your electric bass(es) I bought my first Ubass back in 2010. I started playing bass around 1983. The new feel of those rubber strings felt strange at first but that feeling quickly went away when I heard it plugged in. The smaller scale length made it ease to play and the portability was of course also an exceptionally good attribute too. Since 2010 I have used at least one Ubass at almost every gig. Sometimes as the primary instrument and sometimes for a particular song in a set. I got hooked really quickly and can’t really see myself not using a Ubass since I feel that it is such a great musical expression tool for me!
A compliment to your upright bass If you play upright and want to be able to get a sound similar to your upright without always bringing one a Ubass is the solution. Although I don’t see me primarily as an upright player I have played enough upright to be able to say that I know the basics of it. I actually try to think like an upright player when I play, for example, jazz on the Ubass. I use the same fingering, although it’s not necessary. I play with a lot of open strings because I would have done that if I played the same tune on the upright. This makes it easier for me to emulate the upright sound too. This is one reason I feel bass players that primary play upright player quickly can feel at home on the Ubass!
A second instrument if you already play, for example guitar? The Ubass is the perfect bass instrument for a musician that have guitar as their main instrument. The scale length is pretty close to a guitars and if you want to get a warm upright and earthy tone on your demos (or other recordings) the Ubass will fit the bill! Link to the Ubassists of the world – Gunnar Hjorth post
2. What sound(s) are you after? There are roughy two main types of ubass sounds you can get from a Ubass – the synthetic rubber sound and the round wound sound. (More options are on the way, though…)
Synthetic rubber (Polyuruthene or similar materials) The original black rubber string (Pahoehoe by Road Toad Music) is the original string and sound of the ubass. Nothing really compares to this sound. It has a lot of warmth and low end. The only real downside is that they stretch a lot and it can take a while before they have settled in and won’t stretch of go flat. But the sound is soooo nice and will fit and compliment many styles of music hand in glove! For more on the synthetic stings available please check out for a upcoming blog post about ukulele bass strings. You can find previous string tests here!
Round wound The first round wound string for the Ubass that came out on the market was made by the German string company Pyramid. These were a really nice compliment to the Pahoehoe synthetic rubber string. It gave the player a more recognizable feel and a sound that was a bit more distinct and closer in feel to a regular electric bass string. There is also another similar string on the market made by Kala. I have used these strings on most of my Solid body’s for quite some time now. They are also great on a acoustic/electric Ubass especially if you can’t get used to the feel of the rubber strings. The sound can be very warm on the round wounds too since they have a nylon or silk core. More on strings in a upcoming blog post about Ubass strings and sounds. Kala has a nice selection of the now available ubass strings on the market.
3. What styles do you want to play? Although I feel that every ubass model can be used to just about all styles of music there might be some things to consider when you make your choice.
Besides the different string choices available (see above) it might be good to think about the design of the different ubasses. Will you play mainly bass parts of will you also play chords solos in the upper register?
The acoustic/electric models have 16 frets and although you can play chords on these they can be a bit limiting if you want to explore this a lot. Maybe you already play chords on a regular electric bass and want to have a travel instrument or just another sound. In that case a solid body ubass would be an option to check out.
Since the round wound strings came out these have been my go to strings for my solid body ubasses, at least my 5-stings. If you have followed my blog you might have noticed that I have been using a prototype set of the round wounds. This set have a high C instead of a low B. This makes it possible for me to play nice chord voicings not possible on a regular B-G set. This set will be available soon! I will write a dedicated blog post once I know the release date!) Below is an example of how the E-C set can sound. The video features my composition ”Tranquility”. This is composed especially for the
The Journeyman model (it came out in 2018) has a nice design that makes it possible to get easy access the upper frets. So please consider this model if you don’t want an solid body ubass but still want upper register access. See below!
4. Have you played fretless bass (or other fretless instruments like upright bass, cello of violin?
If you have prior experience playing a fretless instrument please consider a fretless model. I really like the added expressiveness the fretless fingerboard gives me, especially when I play styles where a upright bass would fit in nicely. See previous blog post about this below!
5. Have you got small or big hands? The Kala ubasses has a scale length from ~20 to 23,5 inches. I have quite small hands so I have never had any issues with the super short scale length. If you have bigger hands you might need to look at other brands that make slightly longer scale ukulele basses.
Examples GoldTone has 23 and 25 inch acoustic/electric ukulele basses Aquila ShortBassOne 12 and ShortBassOne 60 are both 23,6 inch scale ukulele basses
CurRent Kala Ubass models (2019)
All Solid Mahogany (The model that started it all!)
I just compiled my videos so they’re easy to find. You can watch my Youtube playlist (at the moment 72 videos) and access videos where I play Kala Solid Body Ubasses with EADGC tuning on the new VIDEOS page.
Besides this there is also a VIDEO LESSONS page for easy access to my free lessons.
My friend Marlowe is a Kala Ukulele Artist that I met in California earlier this year. We decided to do a collab and I recorded overdubs to one of the songs of her brand new album ”Moments”. The song is called Battle Royale and it sure was fun adding ubasses to the track. I decided to play my Kala California custom fretless solid body tuned EADGC.
A short background to my version
The classic song is, as you probably know, from the opera Porgy and Bess, by George Gershwin. It was first performed in Boston in 1935 before it moved to Broadway, New York.
Twenty-six years later… I guess it’s about time to do another song from the classic opera ”Summertime”, by far, the most classic and recognizable song from Porgy and Bess. It has been performed by countless of musicians across the globe since 1935 and onwards.
My version is quite short. I present the melody twice, first instrumental with the melody played on my Kala California acoustic-electric fretless Ubass. Then sung and harmonized the second time around. All vocals by yours truly. 🙂
Recently I started to use a acoustic pickup by Ehrlund microphones to enhance these percussive sounds. Before playing with this technique only really worked in the studio, where I could use a separate mic to pick up the percussive sounds, or in a small intimate live setting where the audience is near the performance.
The pickup is blended with the built in piezo and this makes it possible to play bigger venues and the percussive parts can be heard alongside the tapped bass part. More about this in a later blog post!
Besides the core parts of bass line/percussion played and recorded live on a small dock by the lake Storsjön in Jämtland, Sweden I added vocals and, for the first time in any of my videos, ukulele parts!
I hope you will enjoy my version of the Gershwin classic!