Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation


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You need a “guy”

Next week I have to take my bass into the luthier (my “bass guy” 1: lives in reasonable walking distance, and 2: makes guitars, violas, and violins).  While doing some noodling I noticed things weren’t sounding quite right as I got down the neck.

By the time I’d work my way down to 12 (an octave above the open string) it was a bit off.  By the time I got to the bottom (2 octaves up) the E and A were an entire tone sharp, which is a problem.

Because we live in the future I could use my tuning app (which I got to, among other things, suss out the key when playing in a seisún; if I see a C# I know I’m in D, not G, if I see a G# I know it’s A), to see what was going on.

Open strings, dead on.  1st fret, just a couple of cents above dead on.  By 12 frets I’m 2/3rds of they way to being straight up sharp, and by 24 it’s a full tone above.  The E is worst, then the A, D is ok (it never gets past “sharp”) and G is pretty much good all the way down. So I stopped in to ask my “guy” what was going on. I was thinking it might, in a counterintuitive way, be old strings (I’d guess old strings to be slack, and prone to getting flat, the same way that cello strings lose their brilliance as they age).

Nope, even easier, in it’s way.  An electric bass is somewhat odd, in the string family guitar, cello, violin, ukelele, banjo, bouzouki, all have a bridge; a ridge that lifts the strings off the body of the instrument.  The electric bass has one bridge for each string (called a saddle). My saddles are a little out of place; so the ratio from fret to saddle is a bit off.  The open string is in tune, but the stopped string isn’t.

It’s a simple, but non-trivial fix (which is to say I don’t have the tools to do it myself).  So when he gets back from vacation, I’ll haul it to his shop, and he’ll set me up.

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Going Deep

I broke down recently and bought an electric bass.  The guitar and the banjo were plum evading me.  I play (or did) the cello, and the pennywhistle.  Both of those are pretty straightforward.  One note at a time, read the note, put the fingers where the note lives et voila, music.
So I’ve been poking at the basses in the local music store.  Not quite the thing.  Last week we were in, looking to get a guitar for a friend, after we’d been doing some basic work because he expressed interest, and we only had two guitars in the house, so the three of us couldn’t work together.
Across the street we went.  He looked at guitars, and I poked at the basses some more.  A no name job actually felt good.  The action was nice, the tone seemed ok.  So we hooked to an amp, and took it for a spin.  Sounded good.  Felt good.  Was the least expensive bass in the place.
Home it came, with an amp (Vox Pathfinder Bass 10) a strap, a book, a carry case, and a stand.  The stand means I can just pick it up, jack in, turn on and rock out.  Ok, the rocking out is gonna take a while, but bass is my sort of instrument (to my surprise, what with the orchestral musicians quasi-disdain for Bass [there are jokes about every instrument, but Bass and Percussion get a lot more grief than most]).
Oddly, part of what gives me frustration with the guitar is how one (or at least I) need to understand the theory to make it behave, and there is a lot of theory in those six strings. Everytime I thought about tuning methods, capos, alternate fingerings… I was somewhere between lost and overwhelmed.
The bass is no less dependent on theory, in some ways it seems as if might be more so; at least from the reading I’m doing.  The nature of the beast is to provide support and fill for what the rest of the music is doing.  If the guitars are running blues, you need to avoid building a major tone to the sound.
Lord knows the book I’ve got wasn’t helping, mostly (I think, because it assumes one has zero knowledge of music theory.  Telling me that Dorian mode C Maj, from the second, was confusing, infuriating, and mystifying all at once.  When I figured out that he was teaching the static pattern (because the base is [unlike a guitar] possessed of a completely regular progression from one string to the next) it made perfect sense.
So, for all that I want some of the theory (specifically in re chords), I probably have enough musical skill to make being able to play the bass a matter of practice.  Getting better than “not horrible” will take application, and expertise/mastery/getting really good, will take dedication (in this all things are much of a muchness), but it’s not opaque to me, as so much of the guitar still seems to be.
I can do this.