Barker Bass? What's the point and who would play one?

Discussion in 'Barker Bass Forum' started by IotaNet, Nov 1, 2005.

  1. IotaNet

    IotaNet Supporting Member

    I've received quite a few notes from folks asking about the Barker Bass and some people ask, "Who is the target audience for this bass?" Others have been more blunt and simply asked, "What's the point?" :rolleyes: These are both fair questions so I'll attempt to answer them here.

    The Barker Bass has two distinct advantages. Tone and Comfort.

    * Tone:
    Due to the design of the bass (that beautiful body is chambered, not solid), it has a tone unmatched by most basses available today. As Bruce Jacobs said in his Bass Guitar Magazine review …

    "The Barker came across broad and juicy in a blues four-piece, and everything I played at a crosssoverjazz/R&B quintet gig - from standards to Tower of Power funk - was a joy. [it] was variously punchier, crisper, sweeter, or rounder than my standard 4- and 5-strings. It reminded me somewhat of a good, vintage Fender Precision: It sounds good by itself, but it sounds sooo right on the bandstand."

    * Comfort:
    A by product of the chambered body is that it is larger than the average Electric Bass. At this size, it is obviously impractical to wear around ones neck, so we put it on a stand! As Dave Zaworski said in his Downbeat Magazine review …

    "Barker developed the idea for a fretted upright after experiencing wrist problems while playing bass guitar, and subsequently has designed the Barker bass for playing comfort. The bass has a free-standing design, so players don't have to hold it up-that's taken care of by a heavy duty stand with an attachment that locks in to a socket on the back of the bass.

    This helps to keep a player's physical contact with the bass to a minimum; arms, hands and wrists are held in natural positions and are only focused on playing the bass, not holding it. The minimal physical contact also keeps the bass's resonance from being dampened; the sound rings clear."

    Now, those are the objective measures. A lot of folks also think it looks great and it definitely garners a great deal of attention -- people always say, "Hey - what is THAT!" (Don't be fooled however, the looks catch your eye but the sound grabs your ear!)

    So - who plays this thing?

    Our target player is several-fold:
    • The bass player who wants a phenomenal-sounding bass (with awesome tone and sustain) in a comfortable package.
    • The bass player who wants the appearance/vibe of an upright without having to learn the longer scale of a traditional upright.
    • The bass player who wants a beautiful, hand-crafted piece of workmanship that is pleasing to the eye, ear, and touch.
    The Barker bass is not a replacement for/competitor to the traditional electric bass OR the traditional upright bass -- it's a whole new breed of cat. And she purrs quite nicely! :cool:

  2. Larry Kaye

    Larry Kaye Retailer: Schroeder Cabinets

    Mar 23, 2000
    Cleveland, OH
    Let's say a 5 string in a pretty basic finish, like a natural ash? with a nice quality gig bag.

    How much would something like this weigh.

    Larry Kaye


    Aug 13, 2003
    Sulphur LA
    Here's what I do with mine. I will use it in solo shows to do duets with myself. I use the Barker for fretted bass sounds and I have a fretless strapped on so I can loop the two and get some neat things going. Also, I can have it onstage with a band and have the mike running across and use that bass to sing and play. It makes for an interesting visual on both fronts and makes sense from an execution standpoint as well. Very handy thing.
  4. Lee Barker

    Lee Barker Labor of evident value satisfies the soul. Supporting Member

    Oct 25, 2005
    Redmond, Oregon
    owner, Barker Musical Instruments, maker of the Barker Bass, No Longer In Production.
    Hi Larry--I'll answer your questions in order. (Geez, sounds like a press conference.)

    Hanging on the wall of my shop are about 17 bass bodies which, the casual observer usually assumes, are "ready to be assembled." Actually they are all basses that were substandard and got disassembled and I keep them around as my friends. Each one taught me something.

    One is ash. It was just too heavy. So while I would certainly build you a custom bass in ash if you wanted one, your question about weight suggests you're sensitive to that part of the equation.

    What I ended up with, after all that trial and error, was the cherry front, alder core piece and alder back. It was the sweetest sound to my ear, material I can count on getting, and far from the heaviest combination. (Lightest was alder all the way, and I still have one of those which was my own player for a year or so. Nice enough and plenty sweet, but it lacks the crispness that the cherry brings.)

    Gig is bag included, as well as the stand and a bag for it as well. Lovely maroon nylon fabric.

    Prices: You're hearing this from the factory now, and these will all be Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price:

    4 string fretted--$3700
    fretless 3820
    lined fretless 3880

    5 string fretted--$4005
    fretless 4065
    lined fretless 4125

    Weightwise, the instrument is about 17 lbs.

    Thanks for the questions and for posting on the forum. And for giving me a break from the Tyranny of Sandpaper!


  5. modeshapes


    Oct 17, 2005
    NYC Area
    The Barker being thin and free-standing is huge. Along the lines of what Trip was saying, I do lots of gigs which require stylistic shifts on a dime with no notice. For instance, I can have my fretted 5-string on to play something by 50 Cent, and then hit my A-B switch when the bandleader abruptly calls "The Best is Yet to Come" and get a nice, dark woody tone from my fretless Barker while still wearing the other bass.


    Aug 13, 2003
    Sulphur LA
    'Tis a groovy thing, ain't it? :)
  7. Larry Kaye

    Larry Kaye Retailer: Schroeder Cabinets

    Mar 23, 2000
    Cleveland, OH
    I have fairly successful been able to transition to a variety of fretless basses, both 34 and 35 inch scale. I prefer 35 now as my fretted bass is a 35 incher. I know the NS is a 41 incher and would in my mnd be quite a challenge just from the increased scale length. I know most of the other EUB's are 41+ inch scale lengths also except for Kydd, some others, and your's.

    Can you give me some sort of comparative information about your bass's tone or playability, or any any objective AND subjective information that could help us decide, sight unseen, no playing advance that spending $4000 on your bass is a well spent investment vs purhaps less expensive alternatives offered in both 35 and 41 in scale lengths?

    If you want to anwer me directly and not publicly, I would welcome a PM. It's strictly up to you folks.


  8. westland


    Oct 8, 2004
    Hong Kong
    These basses are very attractive, and the idea seems good. Is the move from 'around the neck' to 'floor standing' straightforward, or is there still a learning curve. It looks like the transition should be pretty straightforward, but I'd like input from those who've tried.
  9. Lee Barker

    Lee Barker Labor of evident value satisfies the soul. Supporting Member

    Oct 25, 2005
    Redmond, Oregon
    owner, Barker Musical Instruments, maker of the Barker Bass, No Longer In Production.
    Thanks for the question, Larry. Happy to give that a go from a guy who (a) made the transition, and (b) thinks a lot about the kinds of things you're asking.

    First, my own experience: After 20 minutes of playing my first Barker bass, I felt at home. This may not be typical, because I had been thinking about it a long time--like the athletic equivalent of imagining the home run or the perfect Olympic dive--but from that moment it was going back and playing a bass guitar that felt strange.

    Here's the second part: The Barker Bass is, in electronics and physics, a bass guitar. Happens to be on end, so that the sonic advantages of the body can be fully realized. So there is much less new real estate for your fingers to learn, compared to an EUB.

    The notion that people often have about an upright is that the strings, bridge and fingerboard have to be configured that way in order for it to be an upright bass.

    Let's look at that notion. The orchestral bass grew out of the violin, which is made to be bowed. Pizzicato playing on the violin is neither very easy nor very (subjective) pretty.
    The bowed notes, however, can be achingly beautiful.

    So the bass was made on the same mold, so to speak, only larger. The bridge configuration is designed so the individual strings can be bowed. Pizzicato playing was a secondary thought.

    Now we've reached a place where the bowing of an upright in, say, jazz settings is what, 1% of the time?

    So if that 1% is important to the player, the NS and Kydd and Azola and many other fine instruments are just the ticket.

    If, however, the easy transfer of both left and right hand movements is a higher priority, then the Barker rises to the top.

    There are other advantages here, and I don't want to launch into a sales pitch (I don't have a gold belt and white shoes and those really annoying sunglasses) but I will mention that, the older I get, the more I appreciate not carrying an instrument on a strap. Ok, end of sales pitch there.

    You mentioned tone. Such a wonderful subject, and so wonderfully subjective. I'll offer one story, then let others who are familiar with the quality of the instrument's sound check in with their opinions if they are so inclined.

    Recently at church my bass was heard by a local guy who has been a choir director, doubtless has some musical training, is an excellent singer, and whose wife plays the cello in a local string quartet. What did he have to say about this electrified bass that looks like nothing else? "What a great sound you get out of that," he said, "Overtones on overtones."

    I hope I've not been to windy, too exclusive or too biased. And thanks again for the questions!

    Lee Barker
  10. IotaNet

    IotaNet Supporting Member

    Yes - there is a learning curve ... about 5 minutes!

    That may read as facetious but I am serious. I have personally seen it time after time -- your brain and your body need about 5 minutes to recalibrate and after that, it's very natural.

    Lee was interviewed on this topic last year and this is what he had to say about it ...

    "Our experience at trade shows and clinics has told this story uncountable times. A bass player walks up and looks, never having seen anything quite like this.

    His head tips one way, then the next. When it returns to vertical, it means he has processed the information his eyes picked up ...

    Frets ... Upright ... Electric :eyebrow:

    It takes some time for the brain to send down the conclusion, as well as a little editorial comment: 'These things could go together, but we have no examples in the files. And the man standing there beside the bass looks harmless enough.'

    "Would you like to try?" I inquire.

    "I don't play upright," is the answer. The other lobe of the brain rattles the report, and hisses, "TRY IT!"

    So he steps up, tries it, and looks up grinning about 9 notes later saying, "WOW! This is COOL!" :hyper:

    Seriously - that's about the way it works. I've seen it happen countless times and it's always fun to watch!
  11. modeshapes


    Oct 17, 2005
    NYC Area
    I got my fretless Barker 4 in February '05, but with a very full work schedule and a new baby at home there was not a lot of time to try it out on my own. I got a call for a jazz gig and took it mainly as an excuse to take this bass out and learn it.
    On the job it immediately sounded and felt great to me. With the proper right-hand touch, I was able to emulate a sound and concept I could only ever DREAM about playing on my doghouse.
    Provided I wasn't reading and could look at the neck, intonation was no problem right from the start, between the familiar scale and the fret lines. Now that I have been jobbing on it for close to a year, I am able to get similar good intonation without staring at the neck. But that's the same issue you would encounter playing any kind of bass.

    You may have heard this expressed by others in this forum but it bears repeating: The Barker, specifically a fretless one, provides a high-quality alternative both in aesthetics and sound for those of us who don't have the time, energy or inclination to invest in the maintenance of traditional upright chops.

    So for me, that's the point.
  12. Doug Mancini

    Doug Mancini

    Oct 25, 2005
    I've responded to the question, "Why should I play a Barker?" countless times over the last year. My incredible association with Lee Barker and "Barker Musical Instruments" began in October ' 04. I think I'm the guy in the "Barker Family" who will always be associated with the word "TONE". I can't help using the word excessively, but there is no other bass out there that has it like this baby. The amazing tone, with everything "flat" on the amp, no EQ tweaking at all, was the first thing that knocked me right out when I played my first bass line on a Barker.
    So understandably that's my first reply, next comes ease in playability. I'm not an up-right player and this baby felt right at home from the first note. When I took my Barker to a rehearsal for the first time, the band saw me bring it in and asked, "Oh, is that your new Barker? Cool we can't wait to hear this amazing bass you've been raving about." The band went on about their business setting up for the rehearsal, a few minutes later I was plugged in and started warming up running through some lines by myself. Suddenly the room went silent, except for me and my Barker, the whole band and a few spectators immediately turned around, eyes wide and jaws dropped in amazment, all they could say was, "That's one INCREDIBLE sounding bass, now we get it". Blown away? Ya think?
    You think this is a beautiful instrument to look at? Wait 'til you hear her sing. If you think you've got tone now with your current bass, you better check this honey out.

    Doug Mancini
  13. I think the five minute standard is pretty accurate.

    I've seen people fight the urge to stand vertically in a horizontal position (if you can picture that) and that just flat doesn't work. Relaxation is the key. Folks that can't get it (I've only met one...) can't get there because they're still trying to stand at a 45 degree angle from the instrument, which is almost as painful to watch as it is to do.

    But yeah, it takes about five minutes (I'd actually say less than that) for the player to stop and relax. That's when they get it. From then on it's just fun. That's the extent of the learning curve, really.

    Regarding "tone," I wish I could say something that hasn't already been said. The comments that I get, particularly when I'm playing my fretless, are almost always sheer amazement at the quality and depth of tone that come out of these instruments. "Deep," "Thick" and "Woody" are common themes. I think it sounds like butter. Velvet butter.

    And I don't even know what that is...
  14. yodedude2

    yodedude2 Supporting Member

    My own experience: there was no transition. The Barker was instantly easier and more comfortable for me to play.

    I have since adapted an old Hohner headless to be played vertically on a stand.

    Frankly, if anyone knows where I could get a stand that would hold all my other electric bass guitars in a vertical playing position, I'd really like to know about it. I've studied Gracie stands online and I don't think they will work.
    thanks, ron
  15. Tom7

    Tom7 I'm so bright, my mom called me son! ;-)

    Jan 31, 2000
    Eagle River, Alaska
    As to who would play one, I might be the kind of person who would.

    I am starting to realize I am attracted to new and good ideas.

    I used a PalmPilot back when US Robotics owned them, before they sold them to 3Com, then to Palm, etc. I switched to an HP Jornada before HP bought Compaq (now I have an HP iPaq handheld). I am writing this message on an IBM/Lenovo TABLET PC, my pickup is a Honda Ridgeline, my car is a Toyota Prius, and I was listening to music on flash and hard drive players years before the ipod craze.

    Speaking of music, my preferred amp system for small gigs is Bose's Cylindrical Radiator system, my larger gig rig is a Demeter head driving an Accugroove el Whappo ... I guess I tend to like to break away from the crowd when I see a good idea and I think the Barker upright bass might be another one.

    I think it looks GREAT; in fact looks would probably be the main reason I'd get one. It has a style that fits great for some gigs without compromising playability or tone to get that style. I can see me playing this with horns in a swing band, with acoustic strings in small folk and blue grass gigs, with drums and piano in smoky jazz and blues clubs, etc.

    The Barker basses just seem really fun to me, and since fun is still the main reason I play, I'm intrigued.


    Aug 13, 2003
    Sulphur LA
    The fun factor is exremely high. I can tell you that.
  17. IotaNet

    IotaNet Supporting Member

    Trip -

    I'm glad you made that point -- I've often thought it but I wasn't sure if it was appropriate to say.

    I have demo'ed the Barker, I have worked trade show booths with it, and I have had people over to my home to play mine. No matter what the location or situation, whenever people play the Barker Bass, they break out into a HUGE SMILE!!! :D

    I'm not sure if it's due to ...

    * "Hey -- I can play this after all!" or;
    * "Lookit me, I'm actually playing an Upright!"
    * "Wow -- this is really comfortable!"

    Whatever it is, I think there is an element of FUN that comes with the Barker Bass that touches everyone.

    It really is a cool instrument! :hyper:
  18. hertzdem


    Aug 18, 2006
    maybe i'm missing something here,but for what a barker bass costs,you could get a good upright(REAL) and be able to get another electric and a fancy coffee table to stand it on end and play it on. the upright would go in your practice room and the other two items in your living room.we are talking about eye candy and art deco here, are we not?really?
  19. Lee Barker

    Lee Barker Labor of evident value satisfies the soul. Supporting Member

    Oct 25, 2005
    Redmond, Oregon
    owner, Barker Musical Instruments, maker of the Barker Bass, No Longer In Production.
    Thanks, Hertzdem, for the thoughtful and well posed question. Dwayne developed this thread just for this kind of dialogue, and I welcome it.

    Let me tackle a side issue first. You describe a "good upright" as "REAL." We all understand and are visualizing the instrument you are describing, but is it REAL?

    The double bass evolved as a member of the violin family of acoustic instruments, designed to be bowed. In an orchestral setting, that bass is bowed 99% of the time. The occasional pizzicato note is a novelty.

    In a jazz or non-orchestral/chamber music setting, it is played pizzicato 99% of the time and bowed 1%. Does that make it the best suited instrument for music other than that for which it was intended?

    So I would submit that, in an orchestra, it would be the Real bass to use. Beyond that, in any other setting one might look at the ideal instrument requirements from a player standpoint, an audience standpoint, and a house/mix/recording standpoint.

    You suggest that standing a bass guitar on a coffee table would be the equivalent of playing a Barker Bass. The most significant downside of your suggestion is you would lose the coatrack/hatrack feature of the Barker, which makes it a most desirable dual-purpose addition to one's living room furniture ensemble.

    The second thing you'd miss is tone. I'm noodling on Barker Basses a little every day so I get lulled into thinking that what I am hearing is just "a bass sound." Then I do something like go hear Brian Ritchie play his Barker in concert and I am floored by the characteristics in that tone that just aren't there in a bass guitar.

    The difference, of course, is the chambered body and what it contributes to the aural result. To argue that a good bass guitar could sound as good might be a good place to be provided that bass guitar is not held against the human body, which does such a thorough job of damping vibration. Grab a tuning fork and see what I mean.

    There are other posts on this forum from owners who speak very eloquently about the tonal possibilities from a Barker. I yield to them.

    Finally, he said, apologizing for the length of this post, look at what Leo Fender said when the REAL bass was not able to support the already-invented Les Paul electric guitar: "I will solve this problem by doing four things: I'll shorten the scale to 34 inches, I'll use metal strings with magnetic pickups, I'll add frets and I'll put it in a guitar shape."

    And he did, and the Fender Precision Bass remains a beacon shining its light on the memory of a truly brilliant innovator in the music world.

    Now if Leo had done just the first three things, what do you suppose he might have come up with?

    I don't consider myself a great innovator at all--in effect, I just subtracted something from an already great idea. And I think it sounds pretty good. And I'll hang my hat on that statement any day!
  20. hertzdem


    Aug 18, 2006
    a real upright is a real upright(as we envision it in our clever little minds)-meaning made of wood and played pizzacato &/or arco(having nothing to do with price,designer appeal,or even sound quality,at this point.) from there it gets personal.always personal.but it always remains an upright bass. i submit that there are endless electric basses &/or eub's that can fulfill the need for this type of musical application better than an overpriced fancy coffee table, and too many affluent "pioneers" out there who will invest in these atrocities,thinking they're playing something revolutionary! skip the bit about orchestral use & upright bass nomenclature,and try peddling this act to Ron Carter or Charlie Haden! CALL IT WHAT IT IS .