A bass for Rockabilly?

Discussion in 'Rockabilly [DB]' started by pdeon99, Aug 4, 2011.

  1. pdeon99


    Oct 8, 2005
    I’m an electric bass player that has avoided uprights after a couple of lessons early in my 'career' discouraged me. But last night I saw Imelda May, and Al Gare’s sound has inspired me to make the leap to the doghouse. (His live sound last night blows away this YouTube, btw.)

    ‪Imelda May - Johnny Got A Boom Boom (ITV1 Loose Women)‬‏ - YouTube

    I know his technique is 90% responsible, but let's start with equipment choices for rockabilly.

    What should I be looking for in a bass and pickups?
  2. I know for Imelda May's recent Australian tour he used hire basses and an Ampeg amp

    Here, Gare and Everywhere

    Not much but it's a start :)

    Edit : here's my preferred version of the song:

    Music starts at about 0:58
  3. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    I disclose nothing
  4. TheCush


    Jul 15, 2008
    Portland, OR
    If you're looking for a survey of what other 'billy players are using, I'll throw in. It comes down to trying some different instruments and setups, and then working on technique like you said.

    Attached are a couple of pics that show my bass. It's an Engelhardt Swingmaster with K&K Sound Bass Master Rockabilly pickup/preamp combination. I've been using Eurosonic synthetic gut strings.

    I like this set up really well. I started playing in this band with my carved bass and steel strings, but couldn't get the sound I wanted. This current rig combined with the Ampeg SVT, I get all the tone I was looking for. Actually (IMHO) pretty close to the sound Gare is getting.

    I guess for recommendations, just don't go too cheap on the bass. I'm not saying spend a lot of money, but there are some really cheap (i.e. $500) basses out on ebay that I wouldn't trust. Check around on craigslist, and keep your eyes open for basses by Engelhardt, King, or some of the better Asian made basses like Eastman or even Sunrise (Korean, I think). The best would be to find an old Kay that's in need of some love. They're going for more and more money but sometimes you can find a beat up one that just needs a couple of hundred bucks worth of bass tech work and you've got an upright with some feel. Engelhardt purchased the Kay factory in the 1970's(?) so the forms used for the old Kay's went on to make Engelhardt basses (as I understand it).

    BTW - bear in mind that the old Sun recordings of Elvis, etc. were done on the house bass, which was an aluminum Epiphone (I think). You can find the sound with a lot of set ups, but takes some time to get it dialed.

    I guess another recommendation would be to put your money first into the bass, then into strings, then electronics. Others may suggest different.

    Attached Files:

  5. pdeon99


    Oct 8, 2005
    Thanks for that great info on your equipment and sound, TheCush. I was just browsing the ES-9 and EG-9 Swingmasters on the Gollihur site when your post arrived, so yours was an exceptionally helpful post. Taking your advice, I will focus initially on the bass itself, and will steer away from carved top.
  6. pdeon99


    Oct 8, 2005
    I live in fear that I won't be able to get my rockabilly slap working, 'cause I'm completely slap-******** on my electric bass (partly because I seldom play music that needs slap, but man, do I suck at it). I'm hoping that once I have an upright bass in my house, I can work on slap technique.

    Please tell me upright slap is a skill that can be acquired! How long did it take you rockabilly players to get your slap chops to the point that they're workable (at least not embarrassing) in a gig?
  7. TheCush


    Jul 15, 2008
    Portland, OR
    I'm STILL trying to get to a point that it's not embarrassing ;-) Actually, I had a leg up since I have been playing upright for quite awhile. To get going with it, I picked up a couple of DVDs - Pete Turland's and Lee Rocker's instructional DVDs were really great and I still refer back to them. Then listening to old stuff, modern stuff, jazz/swing, western swing, and blues players. I think you can get it together pretty quick if you commit to practicing it 30-60 minutes a day. Or until you hands hurt.

    BTW - I can't slap/pop on electric to save my life. My upright slap on the other hand is (IMHO) pretty good now. I've been actively doing it for about three years (weekly rehearsals, practice at home some and 2-4 gigs/month (generally 3-4 hour shows) that I play all upright, about 2/3 of the songs are slapped.
  8. pdeon99


    Oct 8, 2005
    Oh boy, was THAT the message I was hoping for! :) I'm an eternal optimist, but I have to tell you my lack of electric slap skills was a serious downer. You give me hope.

    FYI - I have a line on a refurbished German plywood bass from the 60s. I'm heading out now to see how it sounds.
  9. pdeon99


    Oct 8, 2005
    I bought that 60's German plywood bass for $1100. Really solid, and nicely refurbished so I'm sure I'll come out even if I later decide to trade up. I think it's a 4/4 size, according to the chart on the Gollihur website.

    Can you tell me what your scale length is? This one is 43.5". If I'm going to learn this doghouse, I want to learn on the right scale length.

    Attached Files:

  10. TheCush


    Jul 15, 2008
    Portland, OR
    I'd say you got a pretty sweet deal. If it's all set up, the main question is whether you like the strings. I wouldn't worry about the scale length - if it's been set up then it should be good to go. The main thing that will affect is where you put your fingers on the board (how far apart notes will be).

    Just for point of reference, my 7/8 "big bass" is only 42" and my Swingmaster is only 40.5 for a 3/4. Yours sounds like a 4/4 to me, too. I think with the right set up (strings and pickups) that monster will boom!

    Bottom line is that I wouldn't change the string length.

    Now go out and get a good vid that demos it. The Lee Rocker one on Homespun Tapes was where I started. He focuses initially on a couple of key rythmns so it will definitely will get you slapping quickly.

    There are some good vids up on youtube if you search. Some of them are folks showing their chops, but there are some others that are pretty straight ahead.

    Here's a Lee Rocker sample: ‪Rockabilly Slap Bass Lesson With Lee Rocker‬‏ - YouTube

    And here's a sample from Pete Turland's DVD: ‪Pete Turland - Rockabilly Slap Bass‬‏ - YouTube

    I hope you stick with it. It's really great fun and there's a lot of great old music out there to listen to and learn.
  11. pdeon99


    Oct 8, 2005
    Thanks, TheCush. I'm on my way!
  12. Boompow


    Feb 15, 2013
    You don't have to be Willie Dixon, or have a 15,000 setup to play rockabilly. That's the whole point of the genre. Get you a di box a piezo pup and a gas can with a neck and one or two strings. For example: split lip reyfeild
  13. dukeorock

    dukeorock Owner BNA Audio Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2011
    Nashville, TN
    Authorized greenboy designs builder/Owner of BNA Audio
    Maybe an Alcoa? Epiphone never made an aluminum bass...I have a 1948 Epiphone B4...awesome, wonderful basses!

    In the early days, bassists used whichever bass was the loudest...but most billy players use Kays, Kings, Engles, Epi's which are a good place to start. Honestly, if the bass sounds and plays good, throw some guts on there and you're off to the races :)
  14. Something I've just realized is that a rockabilly bass needs to be as strong as possible, which probably means plywood. Now that I'm playing upright again, the players I've been admiring most throw around their instruments like crazy and even stand on their basses. I just bought an expensive, delicate, carved bass and now I want to beat it up, LOL.

    Amazing. I suddenly miss that piece of crap 4/4 Chinese made upright I played in high school that I traded for a soundcraft PA system.
  15. salcott

    salcott Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2007
    NYC, Inwood.

    Please don't beat up a carved bass. Find someone to trade you a solid plywood bass suitable for your purposes and have fun with it.
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