Friday, 18 December 2009

my fretless bass

I bought my first fretless bass on Wednesday. I'd wanted a fretless bass ever since I was 19, in an on-and-off kind of way. And during one of my Christmas shopping expeditions, I walked into Music City Sydney in Petersham on my way to and fro from one shop to the next. I immediately noticed how downscaled the shop had become since I'd last strolled in, some 12 or so months ago. I just glazed around not paying much attention to anything in particular. Until I spied a bunch of basses on one wall with orange stickers stuck onto each instrument with sale prices. A fretless bass immediately caught my eye. It had a sticker of $314, down from the tag's rrp of $449.

I had a go of it. The action was quite high. I asked the man behind the counter to lower it for me. He lowered it a little but that was as far as it could go. It's still playable but at some point I'll have to find a way of lowering it further, if that's all possible. It sounded good and played in tune (enough). I liked the markers on this instrument; basically, there were dot markers placed at the edge of the fretboard on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, & 12 frets. That's how I like markers to be on a fretless bass, and I'd be happy if there were no markers placed at all. I don't like markers on every fret, or worse still, fret-liners on every fret. I think it defeats the purpose, enjoyment and satisfaction of playing a fretless bass if you need your hand held to find every fret. Yet it stands to reason that the more markers there are on a fretless, the less chance you have of playing out of tune - unless you've had proper training on the fretless or double bass.

After playing the bass for a fairly long while in the shop I decided to take it. I talked the guy down to 299 including a bag (he gave me a used cello bag!) and walked out the door with the new, though finger-smudged & shop-weary, bass (I'm certain I've seen this exact bass during the past few years when visiting the shop). It's a 'Stagg' branded bass that has a very useful P/J passive pickup configuration. The basic tone sounds quite good actually, very good for the price paid.

I decided to play the fretless at Wednesday night's gig. I'd never performed with a fretless in my life. I just wanted to give myself a challenge and throw myself in the deep end. I'd played some double bass in a bush band at Uni, but I'd never taken lessons on that instrument. In short, I'm totally untrained. Where I come up ok on playing fretless is that, aside from having a reasonably good ear, I tend to think of all bass playing in classical-music terms. I love Bach, and I always play on the fret as if I were playing a fretless or double bass anyway. A 4-string bass guitar is an electric equivalent to the magnificent double bass after all. I approach bass playing as if it's an orchestral instrument, even when rocking out, so that puts me in good stead to approach and apply fretless bass playing as a step up from the fretted variety.

The gig turned out very well. Zara told us it was the best we'd ever played. The guys seemed more than happy with it. For myself I felt that I played very well under the circumstances. Sometimes I really had to concentrate on what I was playing. I heard some of the passing notes were sometimes landing off-pitch, but the main notes always seemed to be spot on. I was reminded of playing trombone in high school; the trombone being an instrument that, like fretless bass, relies on ear and intuition alongside technique to find the right note.

I could take lessons in fretless playing but part of me is happy to go on with it as I am. If it becomes an obsession and I find myself wanting to improve my technique to make sure all notes are perfectly in pitch, at that point I'll buy a book on fretless technique. I walked into another music store later that afternoon that sells music tuition books and asked the sales guy if there were any books in store on fretless bass. He recommended I take lessons and asked me if I go out and see players. I told him I read from JSBach transcriptions for electric bass, thinking to myself that I really don't need anything else to learn from or be stimulated by. I have a few bass heroes who influence me enough.

Later I got on the piano to have a sing. I also accompanied Zara on guitar, and then on piano to do a cover - that song in C minor, moved up from the original A minor.

At the end of it all we took a quick stroll around the area and counted all the rabbits hopping under the bridge!


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