The new song from Silk Sonic was just released. I decided to transcribe it and record it with my Kala SUB. I use a magnetic mic and this is part of my testing for an upcoming blog post / YouTube-video on using magnetic mics on a solid body UBass. I think the sound is really great and can mimic the sound of a P-bass or short scale (~30″) bass!
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.
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:
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
The arrangement is based on the melody and a simple bass part that has mostly a root motion meaning I go from root to root in the chord progression. I choose the key of A major simply because the possibility to use a lot of open strings for the bass line part of the arrangement. This way I can focus on the melody and also get a bass part with a long legato feel. I want to make a contrast between the melody and bass rhythm is possible.
It would not have been so nice if I used the same rhythm in the melody and bass part throughout the arrangement. Although we as bass players really love bass this technique will let us focusing on the most important part of a song, its melody!
Tricky Bit 1: The highest note of the melody is a D. Since most Ubasses only has 16 frets and the D we want is located at the 19th fret we need to play the D as a natural harmonic. This note can be found where the 19th fret would have been if the fretboard was extended that far. You play a harmonic but lightly touching the string and then play with your plucking hand. You might need to play a little bit harder with the plucking hand than you usually play to get the harmonic to “ring”.
Extra info: If you play a 12th fret harmonic you get the same note as if you press down on the 12th fret. When you play the 24th fret harmonic you get a pitch that is one octave higher. If you can find the spot in between the 24th fret and the bridge you will get a note that is yet another octave higher. And now the crazy bit. If you do the same dividing the string from the 12th fret to the nut you will get the same results as in the 12th fret to the bridge area! More on this in a later blog post.
Tricky Bit 2: To get the C# you need to use a technique called false harmonics. The false harmonic technique is based on the same technique you use when playing a natural harmonic. You want to get the pitch that would have been find on the 18th fret. To get this note you fret the C# at fret 6 on the G-string. Then you find the spot exactly in the middle between the fretted C# and the bridge. You need to play that harmonic with you plucking hand. There are different ways of doing that. Here I’m using the first finger of my plucking hand on that “half-way-point”. (See Extra info!) I then pluck with the ring finger of my plucking hand. This will take some practice to find the right spot and get the note to ring and sound as close to the regularly fretted notes! Play slow and gradually add speed!
Tricky Bit 3: Getting from to the part with “Tricky Bit 1 & 2” can also be a little challenge since you need to quickly go from the lowest to the highest part of the fretboard. Practice slow and make sure you aim for that B. Best way to do that is to “look ahead” and aim with your eyes. That way you’re helping your brain to gules your hand!
In the performance video I play only one verse of the song. My goal is to work more on this arrangement, maybe add an intro, develop a second verse with the use of other rhythms and maybe some re-harmonization and so on. I decided to record this very short version to give you something to work on during the Holiday’s!
Maybe this will be your first go at playing a solo ubass arrangement? I hope this will inspire you to make your own solo arrangements. The melody and bass approach is a great staring point! Please let me know if you decide to make your own arrangements. I’d love to feature your arrangement on playubass.com if you want to share something!
I wish you all a Merry Christmas And a Happy New 2021! /Magnus
2. Make sure to tape down the bridge saddle so it doesn’t move
3. Remove string back plate (if you have one)
4. Start with unpacking the E (lowest) string (and next time around the A and so on…)
5. Check and see if any metal washers are still in the string barrel. If so remove the one on the new string you’re about to install
6. Put the sting through the lowest string slot/barrel
7. Stretch the string past the string post. I use a cable cutter to measure how long the string needs to be before I cut it. I don’t want to have to much excess string around the post. 2-4 turns around the post is the goal.
8. Put the end of the string into the hole in the middle of the string post. Push it down as far as it goes
9. Bend it to the right for the lowest two strings (tuners pointing upwards) and left for the top three strings (tuners pointing downwards
10. Keep turning the tuning peg to get rid of the slack
11. Use a tuner and tune the string up to approx. one whole tone beneath the goal pitch (ex. D for the E-string)
12. Repeat step 4-11 for all the remaining stings
13. Put the string back plate back
14. Tune the strings up to pitch. Come back and retune until they stay in tune. This can take a day of two depending how much you play and stretch the strings
Time to make some new music with a fresh set of strings. Yummy!
Hope this is helpful for your next string changing session!
– ”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!
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.
Out of the blue my dear old friend from my music study days in Jönköping, Sweden called me up and asked me if I wanted to SUB for the SOUSAPHONE player in the Dixieland/trad jazz band ”Hejåhå med Peter”. He called last Thursday and the gig was that weekend!
The regular tuba/sousaphone player wasn’t able to make the show. My friend thought about me because I live quite close to the racing track and he thought it would be cool to try using a ubass instead of the tuba/sousaphone. When I was between 13-19 I played a lot of trumpet but tuba is another ball game and I have only tried it a couple of times.
They did bring a sousaphone and I got to try it. I will try to borrow a tuba or sousaphone because it’s such a fun instrument to play. Since I have my trumpet technique somewhere in the back of my head, and already know the function of the bass and how to play basslines, it would be a great addition to my bass tool palette! If I can at least borrow one and put in some practice it would be so great to once again play with the band – with me on sousaphone!
But this time it was ubass I added to the mix. The first obstacle was to find a suitable mobile amp setup that would be easy to move around and had a powerful enough sound to blend nicely with the rest of the band. The band has a classic dixieland setup with clarinet, trumpet and trombone as lead instrument, banjo and washboard (cow bells, woodblock and cymbal).
My first thought was to only use my Phil Jones Double Four. That amp can be played powered by an external battery. I don’t have a battery yet so I still needed to connect to a power outlet in order to make it work. The gig was outdoor and although the Double Four has a great sound with a fantastic low end response the volume I can get out of it is a bit to low when used outside. I decided to use a combination of the Double Four and my old ”vintage” Gallien Krueger combo amp, that I bought new back in 1987. That way I could use the preamp and main sound of the Double Four and use the GK as a slave amp to get some more power and volume. As you can see in the video below I had some trouble finding power everywhere. But most time it worked out nicely!
I put the amps on a cart and together with my friend we came up with a great way to incorporate a long extension power cord that was easy to use at the different locations where we played throughout the weekend.
Mr Michelin loves ubass!
Minis + ubass = true love
A classic Swedish Volvo had to be included
There were a lot of great cars at the show
I played through a Bose L1 at one time during the weekend
So what do you need to focus on to sound somewhat close to a brass instrument while playing the ubass? First of all you need to play quite short and staccato-like notes. Almost the opposite as when you play ”newer” jazz (1940-) where a long legato sound is preferred.
Because of the interactive weaving lines from the melody instruments (clarinet, trumpet and trombone) it’s also best to keep the bass lines super simple. That way you won’t get in the way of the interactive in the moment harmony they produce. The chordal instrument (banjo) should also play simple triads with the appropriate dominant seven chords where applicable.
For me this means playing a staccato root fifth motions with the occasional chord or approach notes here and there to build up for a new section or chorus.
Besides using my ”cart rig” I used a Bose L1 PA that was available at one location. In video below you can hear and see what it all sounded and looked like.
It was pure joy playing with these guys. It’s always very rewarding when you get to play music with musicians that have taken time to get inside a certain genre. Besides playing in ”Hejåhå med Peter” the three lead melody instruments plays together in Gentlemen and gangsters a trad jazz group that regularly performed in Sweden, Europe and Asia.
We played a variation of classic jazz tunes with original or new lyrics and some ”Dixieland-ised” Swedish children songs too. Great fun!
Welcome to a fantastic race weekend for the whole family with lovely race cars and nostalgic feeling of the old days! Historic racing for pre historic, formula, standard, GT and sports cars. Club & car exhibitions, TT motor cycle show, retro and vintage feeling on the track.
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.