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Maybe too old to change ??

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by chuck1155, Feb 27, 2003.

  1. chuck1155


    Feb 27, 2003

    I'm new here. I have a desire to be able to play with a jazz group at a local level (playing mainly standards).

    I have a story but I won't bore you with all the details, only a few. I am 47 yrs old and been playing the guitar (off and on) for many years. I have a reasonable grasp of music theory- understanding chords and scale construction, arpeggios, and can read music . I have experimented with numerous musical styles (classical, blues, fingerstye, jazz, bluegrass, country) . I am actually a fairly decent rhythm guitarist in most musical styles (not much demand for this except in Django gyspy jazz which I love but can't really find anyone locally to hookup with). I can play some lead, I have decent technique with lead work but the reality is I just don't have the creativity or the 'ear' to excel at this in jazz and be in the spotlight (I'm no Wes or Django). I have also played some violin (for about 4 years), some electric bass, and a couple of years of piano, and a little mandolin and drums.

    Lately I have been considering seriously studying the bass. I have become increasingly frustrasted with the guitar and don't believe I can pull off playing that in a jazz group (except for the rhythm part again).With the bass, I believe I could learn enough to be able to play jazz gigs within a few years. But that would only be with the electric bass (I think I could handle the fretless) and jazz primarily uses the upright bass.

    So, do I take on this challenge of learning the upright? And a challenge it would be since I have some degree of tendonitis in my left hand. I was thinking of renting an instrument and taking a few lessons to test the waters and see if I could really make the transition after all these years, plus I really wonder about that tendonitis.

    I am confident I could really learn to play jazz on the electric bass (with or without frets) and work around that hand pain but I really would love to be able to play the upright (I have always preferred acoustic instruments anyway).

    One sidenote: I am only 5ft 6 inches tall and wonder about physically playing that beast.

    Anyway that is the story. Any advice would be appreciated.

    Thanks in advance.
  2. Tim Ludlam

    Tim Ludlam

    Dec 19, 1999
    Carmel, IN
    I'd be a little concerned about the tendonitis, but renting an instrument and getting a teacher would certainly be the most sensible path.
  3. Welcome aboard.

    There's a guitar player I work with occasionally who decided to learn upright bass, and now he's a real BASS player, not a guitar player who also....

    I think a good teacher could probably show you how to handle the beast so that the tendonitis won't give you too much of a problem. I have pretty big hands, and I suffered with it for the first couple of years until a good teacher showed me what I was doing wrong.

    Don't worry about the height thing. I saw the tiny Kristin Korb play the sh*% out of 3/4 size bass, and she can't be too much more than 5'2".

    AMJBASS Supporting Member

    Jan 8, 2002
    Ontario, Canada
    I am 5'6", and I used to play a 7/8 size bass. I don't think height is really a problem.
  5. Thanks for the heads-up re. Kristin Korb - both CDs are now headed my way (thanks to amazon.com)


    - Wil
  6. If you're going to stand while playing, the nut should probably be somewhere between your eyebrow and your hairline (assuming that your hairline hasn't receded to the back of your head).

    A 3/4 bass with the endpin all the way in puts the nut about 63 inches up from the floor.

    That means that someone who is about 5'4" should be able to put the nut into what most people consider about right height.

    "right height", measured at the forehead, is a subjective thing, anyway, a rough guideline.

    Having the nut too high or too low can create extra fatigue in your left arm/shoulder. If your left side is cramping or getting too tired, even after you should have had time to adjust, improper height is a factor to consider adjusting.

    How high you have to reach to play an "F" on the "E" string is a factor, and if you use a bow, then how low you have to reach to get the bow perpendicular to the strings while at the proper distance above the bridge is a important factor in height-adjustment.

    Women often opt for half-size basses, but I think that has more to do with carrying it around than with playing. A half-size bass is generally not as loud as an equivalent larger one, and they sound pretty much the same, otherwise.

    I met a lady two months ago who was about 5'6", and about 65 yrs old to boot. She plays a 3/4, and took several turns on mine during the night, no problems. She made the comment that she doesn't play much outside of her house any more, because she's not as able to load/unload/carry a bass as she used to be.

    I know a woman, about your height, who plays a 1/2 carved bass, and two other women who use 3/4 plywoods.

    One of the plywood players is about your size, playing an old Kay in a Bluegrass group.

    The other teaches music at a local college, and uses an Engelhardt EM-1. She, is, however, a larger lady, probably closer to 5'10 and solidly-built.

    You have the best idea, if it's practical, with renting a bass. You might even decide you like your bass and be able to do a rent-to-own deal on it.

    Some places not only offer a rent-to-own contract, but will apply most of your rents to a DIFFERENT bass at the end of the rental period, if you want to upgrade in the process of purchasing. These are usually places that specialize in rentals to high-school & college students. If you can find a school that has an orchestra (rather than a marching band), they can probably tell you where they get their stringed instruments, get them repaired, and/or send their students.

    Start with a 3/4 and if seems too large, start working your way down.

    You'll probably find a 3/4 to be just fine. If you're not used to an upright, you WILL get fatigue in your left arm & shoulder some at first, so don't make a decision based on THAT.

    Basses are made all the way down to 1/8 size, though I think the sound DOES begin to change when you go to a 1/4 size. I've never heard anything smaller than a half-size.

    At www.urbbob.com, you can get a fully-carved bass from Bulgaria, all the way down to 1/8-size, if you should decide to later on, for around $2200.

    Strunal also makes plywoods down to 1/8.


    Other than that, the first impression that a bass guitarist gets when they first walk up and grab an upright is "This is like dancing with a cow". That will pass too.
  7. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    Man, ABSOLUTELY you should give DB a try if you think you want to. Don't let age stand in your way. Everything you know about music is applicable on any musical instrument, so you're already well along the path. If you've been playing rhythm guitar, you probably have a decent knowledge of chords, perhaps even doing substitution and re-harmonizing and stuff. All that is core bass knowledge.

    You need to develop some technique, though, and you know how that works. Get a decent bass and get a decent teacher and work at it.

    The Dark Side contains many who have learned to shun the light.

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