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Horn Band Bassists - How Do You Deal with Flatted Keys?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by jaywa, Dec 14, 2012.

  1. jaywa


    May 5, 2008
    Iowa City, IA
    I've got a sub gig coming with a horn band and it's fun material but because of the horns about half the set list is in keys like Ab, Eb and Bb.

    I only have 4-string basses. So do you think my best option would be:

    1) Buckle down and learn the whole show with one bass in standard tuning (and just live without the low Eb's), OR

    2) Tune my 2nd bass down a half step, learn those tunes as if they were standard tuning and just switch to the detuned bass for the flatted key songs?

    And not to complicate things further, but the leader of this particular band doesn't always follow the setlist exactly so I won't be exactly sure when or how often I'd need to switch bases till we're actually live.

    Thanks in advance.
  2. Those both sound like fine options. My inclination would be to just play the songs in standard tuning and do without a low Eb.
  3. lowfreqgeek


    Mar 15, 2010
    Albuquerque, NM
    Endorsing Artist: Regenerate Guitar Works, Honey Badger Pickups, Westone Audio
    Just get a D-tuner. Once you spend a little time with it, it's not that hard.
  4. The kinds of tunes I play with horn bands, don't sound lacking when I can't reach a note an octave below the other instruments.

    Perhaps EQ the bass differently, though--so you get a percussive attack on each note. Sometimes that attack plus a fully orchestrated chord, sound really rich. It's not all about just being "below" everything. Orchestration thickens a mix considerably. You want solid bass and solid low-mids.

    I used to have this problem considerably in "normal" non flatted keys because my 6-string E-cello only went down to F, and I played lots of blues bass. In my mind I hated not hitting the E an octave below the low string of the guitar. But in practice my tone was much thicker than moss bassists; the fundamental was EQed strong, compared to what most bassists look for. People always commented on how "low" my rig sounded, when in fact it couldn't go as low as a 4-string bass.

    In the end I did expand to a 7-string cello so I could go down to Bb. But I don't always use those notes to ride below the other instruments; I have those notes mixed such that they're not overpowering, and often play in the octave above that because of their increased "attack". The lower notes are used as occasional accents or drones or ending pitches.

    The first decade of James Brown funk is like this quite often. Songs in Eb or D, yet they don't lack for "low end".
  5. elgecko


    Apr 30, 2007
    Anasleim, CA
    Option 1. No sense in complicating matters with detuned bass shenanigans. People have been playing with horns in standard tuning forever.
  6. Rebop


    Jul 9, 2008
    La Honda, CA
    Until guitar oriented music became king in the 50's, just about everything was in a flat key and all the double bassists did just fine on 4 strings.

    Just play the tunes.
  7. Razzpukin

    Razzpukin Banned

    Dec 10, 2012
    Band leaders won't put up with having to wait for you to switch basses in between songs. Good way to guarantee you won't be called back for more gigs
  8. Commreman

    Commreman Faith, Family, Fitness, and Frets Supporting Member

    Feb 12, 2005
    New Jersey
    Ask Rocco Prestia how he does it!

    Seriously, I play in plenty of horn bands with a 4 string, as well as praise and worship teams with a 4 string. Just play the tunes. If your groove is there, no one misses the low Eb. You could always go the D-tuner route (I have), and that works fine as well. Also, I use chromes on a passive Jazz bass. That setup has a little more midrange punch and less top end zing, and to my ears, is a much fatter tone.
  9. +1 standard tuning
    you dont necessarily need those super low notes. especially when you play in a horn band. an electric bass will cut through no matter how high you play as long as the EQ is correct

    and just on a sidenote. to me learning to play tunes in e and then switching to a bass in eb leads to disaster as i pay more attention to the notes i play than to my left hand movement.
    id still play the tune in E if i learned it that way ha
  10. Passinwind

    Passinwind I Know Nothing Supporting Member Commercial User

    Dec 3, 2003
    Columbia River Gorge, WA.
    Owner/Designer &Toaster Tech Passinwind Electronics
    +1 to that.
  11. Minority here - second bass (or retune) for Eb.
  12. jaywa


    May 5, 2008
    Iowa City, IA
    Good insights, everyone. Probably gonna go with the 1-bass approach for simplicity's sake and to not break up the flow of the show.

    Thanks again.
  13. Passinwind

    Passinwind I Know Nothing Supporting Member Commercial User

    Dec 3, 2003
    Columbia River Gorge, WA.
    Owner/Designer &Toaster Tech Passinwind Electronics
    Just curious, will you be using charts for this gig?