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Bass Quartet and Alternate Tuning

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by vonshavingcream, Aug 18, 2012.

  1. Hi guys,

    I am working with a few other bass players on a string quartet type of project but with only bass guitars.

    Some of the arrangements I am working on require higher parts. For those parts, I am thinking about using some alternate tuning for the higher parts to save the guys from having to constantly play in the upper 12 frets.

    I know I could just simply tune the bass higher or re-string the bass with a thinner gauge. But I was hoping to go a bit deeper into it.

    I was just wondering if you could give your thoughts / comments on alternate tuning.

    Are there some you like more than others?
    How do you personally experiment with alternate tuning?
    Are there some that sound better than others on the bass, in your opinion of course?

    Any of your input would be great.
  2. Much like a tuba quartet usually uses two bass tubas and two euphoniums. Maybe you could build some sonic variety into a bass quartet with a six-string, a four string, a baritone guitar and a piccolo bass?
  3. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    My primary interest in altered tunings is a bit difficult to describe, but has to do with the resonances they provide. I've developed a kind of theory about it over the years, but that's a long story and probably more than you're asking for here.

    Of course, altered tunings provide several practical advantages as well, such as the kind of expansion of fingering options it sounds like you're interested in. In this case, I'd guess that using transpositions of standard tuning (substituting string gauges as needed) is probably your best bet. These days, with computer notation it's a piece of cake to create transposed parts so you can have folks reading in comfortable ranges but the music sounding where you want it.

    In reply to your other questions, I can't say that I prefer some tunings over others. It's more a matter of finding the tuning that best supports the particular music I'm working on. I have a few methods I use to work with altered tunings (and again this is a bit of a long story) but one of my favorites is no method at all -- just goofing around and having fun. Again, it depends on the context. And I'd have to say that context is the answer to your last question as well. I prefer not to think of particular tunings as being good or bad, but rather assume that each of the thousands of possible bass guitar tunings has a set of effective music in it.

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