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Is it me or the bass?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by BassCyclist, Mar 12, 2018.


  1. BassCyclist

    BassCyclist

    Mar 12, 2018
    Oregon
    Hi all,
    I've just started on double bass — literally, about two weeks ago! I played horn professionally for about 30 years but had to stop due to embouchure dystonia. After some years of mourning, I realized I'd really like to learn my other favorite instrument, so I'm borrowing a bass from the university.

    I'm having a heck of a time with the A and E strings, however. Can't get a steady C or G on them, respectively — it sounds absolutely horrible and I'm just about killing both hands trying (yeah, I know that's bad). I've had one lesson with a bassist from the local orchestra, basically just getting me started, and he said it's due to wolf tones. He can get it to work, although it seems to take some effort.

    It's making it almost impossible for me to play the Bb and F Major scales and exercises in the Simandl (this week's assignment), and I'm getting really frustrated. I can't find the center of the C in particular amidst all the weird undulations, and the intonation is giving me hives. On the G and D strings, I sound like a "normal" beginner.

    I don't expect it to be easy, but right now, it's discouragingly hard. I keep thinking it can't just be me — kids learn to play this instrument, right?? I've heard on these forums and elsewhere that it's important to have the bass set up well when you're a beginner to make it easier to play, so maybe this is also part of the problem. I'm just worried there's something weird I'm doing that's causing it. Any help would be appreciated.
     
  2. Steven Ayres

    Steven Ayres Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2007
    Northern Arizona
    It's a question most of us grapple with sometimes. Its not likely that anyone here can usefully diagnose what you're doing without watching you do it, though. I'd suggest going back to your bassist friend and putting the question there. You might also ask whether he can recommend a teacher.

    Wolf tones, if that's what's going on, are definitely not something that we just put up with, it's a setup problem that the school's luthier should correct.
     
    Josh Kneisel and Youngspanion like this.
  3. BassCyclist

    BassCyclist

    Mar 12, 2018
    Oregon
    Ah, sorry, I wasn't clear in my post: I'm taking lessons with the guy who told me it's wolf tones. My next one's Friday, definitely will be asking him about it (it will be abundantly obvious anyway, ha!). I'm finding more weight with my bow arm helps some, but it's like wrestling a gorilla. The school doesn't have much budget for instrument repairs, unfortunately, and there hasn't been a bass student in a while, so they haven't bothered with its care and feeding.

    Thanks for your comment! I think a new bass of my own may very well be in my future.
     
  4. Chris204T

    Chris204T

    Feb 4, 2014
    Dallas area
    I've had similar problems getting C on the A string to play. A couple suggestions: How old are the strings on this bass? If it is an old, school bass, then they may be really old and that could be part of the problem. Also, could be that your bow needs to be rehaired. That stuff doesn't last long at all from what everyone says. Then finally, I find in certain rooms some notes are really dead, but in a room with a little reverb they sound pretty good. Try playing facing into a corner of the room, just a few feet away from the corner. You really can hear it better that way.

    I'm a relative beginner too, coming from another instrument late in life, so I've gone through all this trying to learn the bow. It is a beast. Play some pizz for a while and see what that sounds like. Good luck.
     
  5. neroantico

    neroantico

    Jan 23, 2004
    italy, milan
    Hi all

    i actually have a wolf tone on A.
    The best suggestion i can give you is:
    Going to luthier, check your instrument up, maybe a soundpost adjustment is the cure.
    changing strings for a lighter mute helps
    check -changing tailpiece might help
    check -changing tailwire might help

    when i bow a wolf tone i can feel a struggle in the begining, sometimes it is better not to overpower with weight as energy might "wake up the beast". I just win with a slight tigther grip.

    I experimented with some wolf eliminators but these are killing my sound . i prefer live with it.

    Ciao
    Giovanni
     
  6. BassCyclist

    BassCyclist

    Mar 12, 2018
    Oregon
    We switched out all the strings, but it's still all wolfy on that beastly C (they were indeed pretty worn), and I have a new bow, so at least that takes out a couple of variables. I think you're right that I'll have to bring it to our luthier — the university couldn't possibly mind if I'm making their bass better! :D

    Thanks all!
     
  7. Seanto

    Seanto

    Dec 29, 2005
    RVA
    Also keep in mind you are very new. I highly doubt any player is going to be getting clean tones with the bow on low strings in the first couple of weeks! The E and A strings are notoriously harder to bow in comparison to the D and G. I STILL struggle with this after 5 years on the instrument, although admittedly i don't give the bow as much attention as i should. Are you using a german or french bow?
     
  8. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    Chicago
    This one leaves your sound "as is" and works very well.  WOLF TERMINATOR
     
  9. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    Chicago
    OP, think how long it took you to master the horn. The double bass is no different. Patience, practice and a well set up bass will take you a long way!
     
    BassCyclist likes this.
  10. BassCyclist

    BassCyclist

    Mar 12, 2018
    Oregon
    Very, VERY new indeed! And yes, those bottom strings are definitely harder in comparison. I'm using a German bow.

    Since my teacher thinks that note is problematic as well, I think it's a combination of me learning how to get it to work — S L O W improvement — and looking into minimizing it somehow.
     
    Seanto likes this.
  11. BassCyclist

    BassCyclist

    Mar 12, 2018
    Oregon
    Does anyone ever actually master the horn, hahaha?! :D I have to admit, I'm loving practicing again. So much fun!
     
    Winoman, the_Ryan and RobTheRiot like this.
  12. Seanto

    Seanto

    Dec 29, 2005
    RVA
    German is good, easier to get the work done for those new to it. I recently switched back to german and loving it. The french stint is over.
     
    BassCyclist likes this.
  13. wathaet

    wathaet

    May 27, 2007
    I would suggest a good set of strings that are easy on the hands and with easy response. Get a set of Bel Canto, they will work on most basses. Get a used set, for your purposes a set that has been in use for a year or two will be fine.
     
  14. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    What about the old wife's solution of putting some fishing line sinkers on the offending string(s) between the bridge and tailpiece? Does that really work? Cheaper than $125 anyway ;)
     
  15. wathaet

    wathaet

    May 27, 2007
    Sure, if it is only on one pitch and the wolf is unmanageable.
     
  16. BassCyclist

    BassCyclist

    Mar 12, 2018
    Oregon
    Had lesson number two today, and my teacher has pronounced the bass crappy. He says he doesn't normally advise people to buy them too quickly, but in this case it's just in very bad shape and playing it is more like fighting it. We already replaced the strings, but that didn't help, and I don't much want to pay for a luthier to do a bunch of work on a bass that isn't mine. I have a couple of good options that I'm looking at, so it should work out soon. I suppose the upside is that as long as I get something decent, it will be much more fun to play that the current beast! (And that has been fun, despite its extra challenges.)
     
    dhergert likes this.
  17. wathaet

    wathaet

    May 27, 2007
    Good call.
    Get a bass that is set up well from the start
     
    geoffbassist likes this.
  18. Seanto

    Seanto

    Dec 29, 2005
    RVA
    Also consider a rental if you have any price aversion to buying a good bass. I did that for my first year and don't regret it one bit.
     
  19. lurk

    lurk

    Dec 2, 2009
    Yeah, students of mine often have instruments that are very hard to play and eventually become discouraged. A bass with a gorgeous sound might be out of reach, but a bass that is playable can be had for 1400 or so. Check out Gollihur and String Emporium.
     
  20. BassCyclist

    BassCyclist

    Mar 12, 2018
    Oregon
    I looked into that, but where I am there just aren't any available. The closest place is one state away and they had a wait list!

    Thanks, everyone, for your help!