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My Story -- Everybody has one

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Klelewon, Nov 24, 2004.

  1. Klelewon


    Mar 15, 2002
    Los Angeles
    My Upright Bass Experience

    I’m a beginning upright bass player. I thought I’d share my experience going from electric bass to Electric Upright (EUB) to a ½ size laminated and finally to a ¾ size fully carved.

    I started out on electric bass, which I played for about a year. I got hooked on the upright sound after hearing some of the recent Cuban music exports. (Cachaito CD is great! I love Cuban music.) It was that percussive thump and juicy woody sound. My electric didn’t give that sound. So, what to do? I wanted a double bass that was portable (fit my car), had position markers, within my budget $2000.00, and was of good quality. After some research I decided on the NS Design EUB. I thought that this would help bridge the gap between electric and upright. (It didn’t. But I didn’t know that then.) And, I thought that since I couldn’t judge quality from one bass to the next, the quality of one NS Design to the next was pretty even.

    My thought process was “Get a bass then find a teacher”. There are a lot of teachers in LA, so this should be no problem. I started looking and (problem #1)…my first choice teachers said “Great! Welcome to the family…but you really need an acoustic upright. Once you get that we’ll have a place to start.” :meh: But, I kept looking and I found a teacher who would take me. :)

    My First Year on Electric Upright Bass

    I had about three months of instruction in my first year. My teacher generally tours and teaches at bass camps during the summer. So we didn’t work together during then. But, during our time together I learned some basics of bowing and playing bass. (Problem #2 – Balance/Stance) My EUB has no body or shoulders, so we had to work out a modified stance. The EUB was on a stand so far do I stand from it? I had to constantly readjust my distance. This is frustrating and no fun when playing. I eventually purchased a hip brace. It helped some, but balance and distance was still a problem. But, I kept going and learning more. (Problem #3 – Upper and Thumb position) Hmmm. There’s no heel, and no reference point for the D on my G string. When I’m reading music those position markers didn’t help much. (Problem #4 – Sound) At first my EUB sounded ok to my ears. But, in my first lesson I heard the BIG difference between my teacher’s carved bass and my EUB. My sound was OK, but definitely not an acoustic sound. (My ears were opening up. This was good.) But, I continued my lessons, like I said about three months worth. I mainly worked on bowing and the beginning Vance book. My practice intensity wasn’t as high as I would have liked. I still mostly played my electric bass.

    At the end of the year I got a gig opportunity and the owners only wanted acoustic double basses. So, I started researching and shopping for a bass in the $1,500.00 range. I looked at inexpensive Chinese basses – Cremonas, Palintinos, Carlo Robelli, etc. The talkbass archives and newbie links steered me clear of that mess! So, after more research, I purchased my first Upright Bass from a reputable Luthier. I ended up with a $2,000.00 ½ size laminated German bass – a Meisel. It was a very nice bass. It gave a big sound for being a ½ size bass. Of all the basses that were available this was the healthiest in my price range and time frame. And it fit my car (Problem #5) – Car size should NOT be criteria for purchasing a bass! (I was told this a year earlier but it didn’t really register.)

    My Second Year on Acoustic ½ Size Upright Bass

    During the next year my practice intensity was much higher. I really consider this my first year of playing an Upright Bass. I still had balance and stance problems, the bass was rather small and would constantly roll backward or forward (Problem # 6a). The endpin was like a cello’s. This was a handicap when shifting from the lower to higher positions, and shifting in general. I was conscious of using my left thumb for balance (Problem # 6b). Because the bass was rather short I had to really extend the endpin (I’m about 6’1”.) Now my bow fell closer to midway between the fingerboard end and the bridge. But, I still had to hunch a bit (Problem # 6c).

    But, overall things were much better. I was excited and my intensity was much higher. I started back with my teacher again. She was very pleased with my purchase. She was genuinely please that I had my first real bass, and that I realized that I needed an acoustic bass. I suppose she could now use standard teaching techniques. I’m sure that coming up with creative techniques for the EUB was tedious. Not that this was an issue for her. Now I could go to work! We worked with the Vance and Rabbath books as well as the Real Book jazz tunes. I could feel what I played through the bass’ body and the air around the bass. When I bowed, it sounded like a bass. The sound was not as deep as a ¾ size bass, but it sounded better than the EUB. Or, rather it sounded different. It was woody, more deep and resonant. My pizzicato work was much easer (I could hook my thumb under the fingerboard now!!). I could easily find the G-string D. And negotiate my way up to the thumb position. And, after several months of bowing the sound began to open up! This is a wonderful experience! (I guess part of it was that my technique was improving.)

    This bass had a nice rosewood fingerboard. It had grain patterns that I used for position indicators. Also, there were with finger stains at the approximate note positions! “Oh boy!” I thought “Great! No position markers but this should help!” :rolleyes: Hey, I was new at this and didn’t know much, not that I know much now! But, an interesting thing happened. As I continued my upright practice, the frets on my electric bass began to annoy me. It was like they got in the way of my playing. Now, basses with position markers are extremely annoying and distracting. No thank you!

    As I continued to practice, I became unhappy with my arco sound. Changing the strings helped enormously. I had my bow re-haired to a black/white mixture. This was a minor improvement. Actually, it was not my arco sound, but rather it was producing the sound that I made me unhappy. It was very difficult to get each string to speak. I eventually got better at it, and once the sound got going it gave a very nice sound. But, I really had to work at it. My arco sound improved immensely once I had the sound post adjusted slightly. Wow, that really did the trick. Now it spoke more readily and with more volume and resonance. I’m sure Orchestral strings would have helped even more (I was using Spirocores – red bottoms and yellow tops.)

    At the end of my second year of playing upright, I’d saved up enough money to buy a fully carved bass. And I really felt that my current setup was holding me back. Just executing the beginning Vance exercises was difficult. So, I decided on my budget and went shopping again. (I rather like bass shopping). I found a wonderful new Chinese Eastman. I also found three un-named Chinese basses, two used and one new. I also found a brand new un-named Hungarian bass. I spent several weeks and many hours playing them and having the Luthiers play them. It wasn’t easy, but I eventually decided on the Hungarian bass. It was a bit more expensive but we worked out a trade-in that worked for me.

    During this process, I discovered how the bow greatly affects the sound. I played different bows on all the candidate basses and I had the Luthiers do the same while I stood back and listened. I tried three types of German bows: Brazilwood (my bow), Pernambuco, and Carbon Fiber. They all bowed easier than my bow and bass combination. As I went back and forth between bows and basses, I notice that each bow made each bass sound completely different. The carbon fiber sounded great across the board, but made the new basses sound less warm and…more new. It had great projection and gave an amazingly warm sound. I loved the sound it gave on the pre-owned basses. It was a dream to bow and made them sing! The Pernambuco gave a very warm and full sound. It made the new basses sound warm and fuller. I guess it took the edge of that new sound. My Brazilwood bow gave a more bright sound with not as much depth. Overall, it sounded and played brasher. As I played them, I liked the Pernambuco the best. I liked how it sounded. The carbon fiber sounded harsher. But, As the Luthier played and I listened, I liked the carbon fiber bow much more. It sounded more full and clean while projecting and being warm. This is just IMHO. I’m sure as my bass and I mature my ears will change and so will my tastes. God! This sounds like a wine commercial! Ferjimminiecricketssake! I guess I’m saying I was surprised by the difference the bow can make.

    Beginning my Third Year on 3/4 Acoustic Upright Bass

    Now I have a brand new fully carved ¾ size Hungarian bass! I’ve had it for about two weeks and most of my previous problems are solved.

    Problem #1 solved – Teachers. Now, I have more teachers to choose from. (I have no intention of changing teachers. I like and still have much to learn from my current teacher.) But, now I have more options.

    Problem #2 solved – Balance/Stance. Now, there’s no question about how far to stand from the bass. This bass balances easily with out my thumb. (OK mostly, now I have a bad habit to break!).

    Problem #3 solved – Upper and Thumb position. This problem was eliminated by my ½ size Meisel. But, now I can reach the thumb and upper positions more comfortably. The shoulders and width make it much easier for me.

    Problem #4 solved – Sound. With pizzicato I get a great warm juicy sound. It’s still new but it has great resonance and sustain. I prefer the un-amplified sound. My arco playing is much better. I’m using orchestral strings (red/red) and a carbon fiber bow. So, it speaks readily and with good tone at both slow and fast speeds. I whipped though the beginning Vance in one sitting! The difficulty I had with the Rabbath studies cleared up. I purchased the Vance #2 and #3 along with the Zimmerman Orchestral Excerpts and several other beginning classical books.

    Problem #5 solved – Car size. This is not an issue and never was! My ¾ fits easier than the ½ size Meisel??? I don’t know what that’s about. Maybe my case is less bulky.

    Problem # 6a-c solved – Comfort. The problems from using a ½ size bass are gone. I don’t have to hunch, or overly extend the endpin. I have a normal endpin that has a flat bottom. Now there’s less rolling and less pressure on my thumb.

    Problem 7 solved – Ease of use and intonation. My intonation is much better with the ¾ size. It’s obvious where the C# is on the A String. I always had a problem judging this on my ½ size Meisel. Locating notes is much easier. Overall it’s easier to use the ½ size or the EUB. The ¾ carved solved problems I didn’t even know I had.

    Now, any problems I have are me…not the bass. But, that’s why I have a teacher.

    My Future Directions

    So, now that I’ve finished my journey to a regular upright -- EUB then a ½ size and then a ¾ size upright – I am excited to move forward. What would I have done differently? I would have start out with a ¾ size. My initial work with the EUB didn’t ease my learning on a regular upright. It was just the opposite! My acoustic upright work makes playing my EUB easier. I didn’t use my EUB much the first year and even less the second year. Now, I use it as a backup or when the weather is bad. I expect I’ll sell it and buy an Eminence. And I just might buy an Ergo for late night and hotel practice. I don’t think that any of my experience was wasted. After all, I’m sitting here beside my new bass and a pile of good method books. Life can’t be too bad. I think I’ll get in a little more practice :D

    Well, that’s it for now. I'm sorry about the length. I welcome all comments and criticisms. Thanks.

    Cleveland Donnelly
    Aka Klelewon
  2. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Dude that's awesome! So where are you aiming to go with the bass? Salsa? Jazz? Classical? All of the above?

    Congrats on finding your destination. Now all you gotta do get yourself an amp when you figure out you're not loud enough and start shopping for a pickup too. :D
  3. Klelewon


    Mar 15, 2002
    Los Angeles
    Thanks! I love all three. Right now my main interest is Jazz. Walking and improvisation are my goals now. But, once I feel I good about that, I'll start doing more salsa. Eventually, I might start looking at community orchestras. But, that'll be a several more years.

    I got an Underwood pickup in the deal and I already have two good amps -- and EA i350 and a Polytone Sonic.
  4. hey man, great story, some good advice there too.
    my story is more or less the same, except ive always played a 3/4 size bass, but never the less my intonation is much to be desired of.

    keep up the good work, dont be afriad to update us on your musical adventures!

    p.s community orchestras are great fun!

    Neil :smug:
  5. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I've been using an NS CR5 for about two and a half years and I don't see why this is an issue?

    I stand where I like - it's really easy - nothing to get in the way ? :confused:
    Again why - I have great fun playing mine - I see no problem?

    Why not - I find they help a lot - especially to find the octave - I can't see how they woudn't help, unless you aren't in tune?
    OK - it's never going to be a true acoustic sound - but later on , you mention how you tried different strings bows etc. to get a better sound from your DB. Why not try this with your EUB - I bought and fitted Pirastro strings, raised the action and mine sounds a whole lot more like an amplified DB - why give up so easily?

    Just to clarify - I appreciate the attention to detail in your story and it is well-written and interesting - just these points stood out to me, as not ringing true with my own experience and that's why I have picked them out. :)
  6. ...setting aside the fact that everyone I know is trying to find a way to get an amplified DB to sound like an unamplified DB.
  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    True - apart from Eberhard Weber, who I saw at close range on Tuesday night!! ;)
  8. Tom Hutton

    Tom Hutton

    Nov 22, 2004
    The only time I've seen Weber, it seemed like he was trying to sound like 3 or 4 amplified basses... and he did! :)
  9. If he ever gets a gig with Bill Charlap, I'll listen. Until then, no, thanks.
  10. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    I see you mention Cachaito as your inspitation to playing the upright. He got his nickname from his Uncle, the Great Cachao (Israel 'Cachao' Lopez).
    Did you know that Cachao is a Classically trained Bassist? I got to play along side him in a Community Orchestra around 1970-71 in NYC (The West End Symphony). Quite a few NY Pros would come and play with the Orchestra just to keep thier 'chops' up. Even Hubert Laws and Mauricio Smith played in the Flute section. Luthier/Bassist Paul Biase also played there and also worked with the Brooklyn Philarmonic and did 15 years with the New Jersey Symphony.

    Playing Jazz, Latin, R&B etc is great but playing Classical with an Orchestra will 'tune you up' from head to toe...... or actually Nut to Bridge.....lol

    If you can get into a Community Orchestra, do it. Don't wait until 'You' think you are ready. Get the experience as soon as you can. It will help you learn better and more thorough.
  11. Nadav


    Nov 13, 2004
    Atlanta, GA
    Interesting story. The temptation to make the switch (from bass guitar) is growing. :eyebrow:
  12. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

  13. Mike Carr

    Mike Carr

    Feb 5, 2002
    Hong Kong

    I have to an big amen to KSB's suggestion about playing in community orchestras. I played in the one at El Camino Community College in Torrance CA. I had not been playing double bass very long at the time, I also came from playing electric bass and then EUB like you, in fact I would play one of the schools beater Kays for the rehearsals and concerts before I got my first real double bass.
    When I started I didn't know much, my reading was poor and I didn't know much about proper bowings. But I forged ahead anyway. My first times I must admit I did a lot of laying out, and just tried to keep my place in the music! As far as bowings, it was monkey see, monkey do. I'd just try to keep an eye on what the rest of the section was doing. They were all more experianced double bass players than I was at the time, even the college kids. I was well into my 30's when I started double bass, and just about any of them could smoke me at first! A great lesson in humility, that I cherish now. But I did get better in time, and no one that mattered ever tried to make me feel the lesser for trying to get better. That wasn't too many years ago, I'm 47 years old now and have managed to reinvent myself from a decent all around electric bass player, who worked when he could, which was never often enough, into a busy working jazz double bass player, I get all the work I need now (praise God) and often with great players and often get the opportunity to travel internationally, making a decent living playing the bass.
    So since you are in LA, try El Camino, or try Santa Monica Community College, or both. It dosn't really matter what age you are, or how well you play, because this will do much to make you better. You will also get a chance to play some of the finest music ever! My 2 cents worth.
  14. Samie


    Dec 13, 2000
    Madrid, Spain
    Do you feel its necesary to go through all the mid stages of your journey?

    I feel that since its a different instrument you might as well jump from electricbass to DB, if that is your ultimate goal.
  15. Klelewon


    Mar 15, 2002
    Los Angeles
    Bruce, first thanks taking the time to read my story. I appreciate your comments. The question this brings to mind is: “Does stance and balance matter for a stand mounted EUB?”

    Part of the reason I decided on the NS Design was to help my transition from fretted to non-fretted instruments. I was very happy with it during my first year. But, one of the things it didn’t help very well with was stance and balance. Because…there’s nothing to balance and I definitely can stand anywhere and anyway I like (well mostly). I think balanced and stance are very important in my playing both EUB and acoustic upright. Especially in the beginning when I was learning play the EUB. One of the first things I learned from my acoustic lessons was how my stance and posture affected stress and tension in my body…and ultimately my playing, technique, and stamina. This is what I noticed in beginning EUB experience aches and pains as I played. I never put this together until I actually started playing an acoustic upright. I guess this did diminish my enthusiasm a bit. I’m not one to complain :rolleyes: , so I never brought this up to my teacher. Even now, I just pulled out my EUB, I still have some body tension and stress when I play. I admit it’s much less than when I was a beginner. I think this is due to my acoustic practice.

    Yes, you’re right they did help and are very useful on my NS Design. In fact I think they’re very useful because there are fewer visual and physical reference points. But, they really don’t me much now on an acoustic.

    There’s really nothing wrong with my EUB sound. It was just different from that of a carved acoustic. (The same is true with my laminated bass.) Well, I really wasn’t sure who or what to ask, regarding the sound differences. I’m truly not being sarcastic or flippant. I could say a Luthier…”my EUB doesn’t sound like an acoustic. What do you think I should to improve the sound?” I’m not sure this question would be taken very seriously. My guess is that I would get responses like :eyebrow: “…well yeah. And it probably never will.” Or :rolleyes: “I have no idea how to make it sound like an acoustic. Maybe you should buy an acoustic if you want an acoustic sound.”

    As far as giving up so easily. Well, I think of it as making a reasonable judgment. (This doesn’t apply to you, because you’re not trying to sell me something. You’re being helpful.) For example, if a salesperson said to me“…try changing the strings.” (at $140.00 USD per set) I probably wouldn’t take that advice very seriously. Maybe it would help. But, I’m thinking “…how much money and time do I have to spend to get my EUB to sound like an acoustic?” And when I’m done “…how close is my new sound to what I have in my head or an acoustic sound?” “Will I be satisfied with the sound?” I don’t think this effort would get me what I wanted.

    So, I guess I kind of realized that a EUB is-what-it-is. Why try to make it sound like another instrument? It has its own unique sound, sonic characteristics and qualities. So, when I play my EUB I try to be true to its innate sound. I can never make it something that it isn’t, regardless of how much money I put into it. It’s just that the EUB sound isn’t what I have in my head. For that matter neither was my ½ size laminated. If it’s the acoustic sound that I have in my head, so why not just buy an acoustic when I can afford it? Actually, it’s a $19,000.00 5-string Wilfer that I have in my head; it’s just not in my wallet! :)

    Maybe the some of these EUB issues you brought up can be addressed in another thread. Maybe this is not the right forum. It sure would have been helpful when I was starting out.
  16. Klelewon


    Mar 15, 2002
    Los Angeles
    Wow, that sounds like a great experience! And I will look into a Community Orchestra. I'm going to take you advice!

  17. Klelewon


    Mar 15, 2002
    Los Angeles
    Thanks for the leads. I'll check them both out. :D
  18. Klelewon


    Mar 15, 2002
    Los Angeles
    No. I think the mid stages were unnecessary. Perhaps they were instructive and educational, but not necessary. I think it would have been best jump right in to DB.
  19. A very good synopsis of your experiences thus far. If one makes it to the point (and you have) when the sound most desired sound is a fine arco DB sound there is no turning back.... Persevere.

    I like that you organized and highlighted what you consider the major lessons that you learned along the way. What I take from it mostly is the importance of realizing that one type of bass is not really a substitute for another, nor a stepping stone to DB. Also I think that you illuminated several pitfalls associated with a poor size fit to the instrument. I think that is important particularly when first learning the instrument. Thanks for a good story. :)
  20. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    All good points - thanks for replying, again, in such detail ! :)