– ”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 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 have thought about making some UBass lessons for a while.
So let’s kick it off with a pop song divided in a two part lesson.
The song that I will cover here is ”Moon Over Bourbon Street” by Sting.
First up is the sheet music/TAB and some links to get you started!
In part two I will do a short video explaining how I play it on my fretless UBass.
If you don’t have the fretless model or not a UBass at all…buy one NOW 🙂
…please do they are serious business and really fun to play…but before you get one why not practice the pass part on a standard bass or your upright…that way it’ll be easier to play it once you pick up your UBass :-)))
Suggested working order!
1. Download the PDF (to open/print you need a password – send an email to:
firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you one!)
Or use the form below!
2. Check out the original Sting version on YouTube
As you probably hear I wander away from the chart from time to time.
My intention was to play it ”as is” (This info is actually written out in some charts to make sure you play exactly as written) but in the spirit of the moment I improvised a bit around the chart to make it a bit more ”my own” AND I think it is a lot easier to make the music swing/groove if you put a little bit of YOU in the parts!