Hyperbass Genesis

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by Tonkenna, Mar 31, 2004.

  1. Tonkenna


    Dec 15, 2003
    Loughborough, UK

    I was chatting with Steve in a lesson recently about your work, and especially the Hyperbass, and the psychological process you went through to arrive at the bass and the pieces you play on it.

    The main question I had was this (and I should really have asked you when I had a chance last week before the Joiners gig in Southampton, but hey, I think I was still in shock from the Troubador gig).

    When you were conceiving the idea of the Hyperbass with Joe Zon, was it driven by music you had in mind, but couldn't play with your retuning techniques on previous basses? Or did you conceive of the hyperbass and then move onto what kind of music you could play on it? Which came first?

    And presumably when the hyperbass was coming together, there must have been some idea in your mind of what you could acheive with it - how different is what you have done with it to what you thought you could do with it? Do you feel your playing is still developing with the Hyperbass? How much further do you think you can go with it?

    Sorry, that's about five questions. But I was on a roll.

    And thanks for the Troubador gig, it was one of, if not the, musical experience of my life so far.


    (John's driver)

    P.S. I'd just like to add my voice to those asking for a live DVD of your playing - just a gig, watching you and your hands. It'd be good to see as well as hear Enormous Room, and La Sagrada Familia. The visual impact of the Hyperbass and the playing technique is very powerful.
  2. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Thanks so much for the very kind comments, Phil! There were a few different impetuses for the various aspects of the Hyperbass design; some had a clear sense of purpose and some came more from an attitude of, “let‘s try it and see what happens.” The extended fingerboard just seemed like something we should try, since on a fretless the area between the end of the fingerboard and the pick-up is basically just wasted space. The multi-output electronics system was something I had a definite vision for, especially for recording solo pieces.

    The re-tuning mechanisms are definitely another of those things that came out of a sense of creative necessity. I had been working with altered tunings throughout the 80’s and was really captivated by all the expressive possibilities they offered. One of the things that really struck me was how much of an individual character every tuning has. I find quite often that the sound and feel of a tuning will suggest a very clear compositional direction. I thought it would be fun to be able to work with a wider variety of sonorities in composing solo music and in about 1988 I got interested in the idea of being able to use more than one tuning in a solo piece. One way of doing this was to play two basses at the same time, and I wrote a piece called “Watson & Crick” to explore that idea. Another method was to change tunings while I was playing so I wrote a piece called “Music for Armchair Funambulists” during which I turned the tuning keys of my old Musicman Stingray to get into different tunings as part of the composition. I loved having access to different tunings, but turning the keys while playing was slow, cumbersome and unreliable. I could pull it off in a controlled sonic environment, but I often found that the sound in a lot of the venues I was performing in was so bad I just couldn’t tell when I had a string in tune! I didn’t want to give up on the concept because I was having so much fun with it, so I began approaching different luthiers about the idea of building a bass designed for live re-tuning. Most of them told me I was completely mental and that even if it worked, no one would want to buy it! Fortunately, Joe Zon thought it was a great idea and we set about designing what was to become the Hyperbass. When I finally had it in my hands in about 1990 I had an enormous sense of freedom at being able to move between tunings so easily. “Music for Armchair Funambulists” became a real joy to play instead of a chore, and I was even able to add some more re-tuning sections to it (you can hear the end result on a free download from www.manthing.com). I also wrote a piece called “Selene” shortly after I got the Hyperbass and it came together very quickly because I had already envisioned what I wanted to do. However, as you mentioned, there were also aspects of the Hyperbass that I hadn’t envisioned beforehand and even now I’m learning more about it all the time. The re-tuning system is much more flexible and variable than I had even hoped for when we were designing the bass and the next big re-tuning piece I wrote, “The Enormous Room,” took much longer to compose because I really wanted to incorporate of as many of the re-tuning aspects as I could into the fabric of the composition. There is still much more to explore and I doubt I’ll ever be able to exhaust all the possibilities. In fact, I feel bad sometimes at how little of the Hyperbass’ potential I’ve utilized, but I’m having a great time with it and I‘m hoping to be able to keep experimenting for many years to come.
  3. TaySte_2000


    Jun 23, 2001
    Manchester, UK
    Endorsing Artist: Mojohand, Subdecay, Overwater, Matamp
    One futher question by how much can you alter the tuning. For example on the E string whats the most you can drop it by or raise it by.

  4. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    The range of Extender Keys depends on a number of things, such as the thickness of the string, the diameter of the Extender Key post and how tight the string is. With ideal conditions I've been able to get as much as a fifth, however in some cases a whole step is about the best you can do.