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!
Great ubass playing in the blues zydeco genres of music can be heard on the 2017 live recording by Sonny Landereth called “Recorded live in Lafayette”
David Ranson has a beautiful tone and feel and this proves, yet again, that a ubass can fill so many “bass shoes” with fantastic results. This live recording is a great example thereof!
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 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.
This song is a traditional folk tune from Gotland, Sweden. Eva and I started playing it as a duo on our trip to Brazil back in 2015. We wanted to bring some examples of traditional Swedish folk music on our trip. To make it work in a ubass and vocals setting I played the bass part through a delay pedal. I thought the extra rhythmic motion we got using this technique really helped us capture and deliver the haunting melody in a great way. I use a combination of arpeggios, chords and regular bass lines in my bass part.
In the trio version Daniel Björnmo adds an extra layer of color with his world class guitar playing. The added grit with close cluster like harmony through distortion pedals makes the song even more ethereal and haunting, I think. The ubass have some added modulation and octave up effects blended together with the delay.
This is a live in studio recording but we also added some percussion parts. I played some suspended cymbal swells.
You can also hear what we call ”the submersed gong”. This is a gong gong that we recorded as it is put under water after it is played. This bends the sound in a very nice way. I first heard this on records and live with one of my musician heroes, Indian percussionist, Trilok Gurtu.
We really hope you will enjoy our version of this Swedish’s folk song!
For the best listening experience please listen to this song with good headphones or speakers that can reproduce a wide frequency spectrum!