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Playing bass outside in cold weather

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Adrian Cho, Jun 6, 2007.

  1. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    I have to play an outdoor gig tonight and it is forecast to be 5 degrees Celsius (41 Fahrenheit). I will be using my Shen 7/8 Willow flatback. I’ve never played in weather that cold before and normally would not think of taking my bass out. I’m a bit worried. It should be plenty humid as it has been raining here a lot and it is generally humid in summer. Of course this is supposed to be summer but we’ve had freaky weather here lately.

    Should I be concerned?
  2. M Ramsey

    M Ramsey

    Mar 12, 2005
    North Carolina
    Well, I hope your hands are warm! I would arrive early, maybe 1.5-2 hours early, leave the bass in a good bag, exposing it to the colder temps (in the bag) and allowing it to adjust and aclimate very slowly.

    I'd also be careful to tune down those guts prior to taking it outside and then bringing them up to pitch closer to performance time.

    Other opinions expected and respected,
  3. not to mention your hands! hand cramp city. in the stupid question dept, can't they move the gig inside? surely it will be equally uncomfortable for the audience. i don't know what kind of gig it is, but it's times like this that i'd just grab a bass guitar and a pair of gloves. doesn't sound particularly reasonable from a presenter pov.
  4. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    Unfortunately they can't move this gig inside. Firstly they don't have the space and secondly it is being promoted as a candlelight concert outside. As for electric bass, we're playing music of the 1920s like Dixieland, early Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, that kind of thing. Playing electric bass on that would be sacrilegious. If only I played tuba. If anyone thinks playing this gig would pose a hazard to my bass, I guess I could rent a crappy plywood or hire a tuba player.
  5. CrashClint

    CrashClint I Play Bass therefore I Am

    Nov 15, 2005
    Wake Forest, NC
    DR Strings Dealer (local only)
    I play electric bass, but I do like to have my bass at the gig early so it can adjust to temp as well. If it is real cold I will tune down about a step while it is adjusting to temp then bring it up to tune before I play. I have a couple pair of wool gloves, one pair has the finger cut out at the first knuckle. I like the wool because it does not produce and drag on the back of the neck like a leather glove will.

    Question, aren't double bass strings sensative to heavy moisture in the air?
  6. i imagine the bass would survive the experience, but i'll leave that to the many experts on that here. a suggestion though: ask the presenter to rent some of those propane heaters you see outside at restaurants for the benefit of the band. nobody is going to be playing well at 40 degrees.

    sounds like a fun gig, if not for the cold.
  7. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    Yes and especially unwound gut that I use on the G and D strings...
  8. Uncletoad


    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    Welcome to my world.

    You'll be fine. A few tuning issues through the show and some coldish hands in the beginning of each set but I wouldn't get to worried. Wind can make it really suck but absent that 40 deg isn't a gig stopper.

    Rain is far more of a PITA than chilly.

    I would think your bass would be fine if you let it get used to where it is. I think it's more of a problem when rapid changes from heat to cold occur.

    I tend to not play as well in the cold and loose the groove on the slow side of time. I think things sound different in the cold and it can be disorienting.

    My hands would warm up from playing but during song breaks and set breaks the cooling of the air made me cramp me up a bit. Just keep moving, use your pockets if you can.

    Report on the Guts in the Cold. I'm curious how they respond.

    Oh and I've played trumpet out in the freezing cold when I was in OSU's marching band. It sucks far more than playing the bass. Tuba would be hellish.
  9. This just sounds ludicrous. Have them put up a tent with heaters or something. I think sometimes in our willingness to "make the gig happen" we make too many compromises and this seems like one of those times. Your bass won't resonate, your hands will freeze, and your strings will have to be tuned constantly. For the audience - being outside and moving around is one thing, but sitting there for a length of time would be rather uncomfortable.

    It's different if you're playing outside in adverse conditions when it's for someone else's party, wedding, or whatever. You're there to provide a service, you do the job, collect your money and go home. If this is a concert, where you and your band are the whole reason for the event, it's in everyone's best interest to make conditions as favorable as possible. You deserve that, the guests deserve that, and the presenter should realize that.
  10. CamMcIntyre


    Jun 6, 2000
    Adrian-you have my condolences. I forget if it was my senior year of high school or junior. The high school jazz band played a neighborhood party for this new subdivision in town. It started to snow & we kept playing. Coldest gig i've ever done-if it would have been my decision, we wouldn't have even setup that day or else we would have been inside of a model home-at least in the garage area.

    My best words of wisdom are to keep your hands warm and be careful. I ended up pulling waaaaaaaay to hard that gig and ended up with a massive blister [seemed more like a crater to me] on my index finger.

    I played bass [electric & upright] in my high school marching band. Some of those night competitions would get chilly, but thankfully the uniforms are warm.

    With your basses-like everyone has said, give them time to adjust. I had more issues w/my slabs in cold weather than i did my DB. I'd try to detune a bit while the bass is adjusting, but once you feel that the temperature has stabilized [bass feels cold, etc], tune it & let it sit with the pitch where it needs to be to finish acclimating.

    good luck.
  11. I'm thinking you'll be just fine if you get some of those fingerless gloves. I've had my carved bass outside in similar temperatures or lower for extended autumn sidewalk busking. It's one of those Bulgarian carved basses that is pretty heavy with a good thick top, but I think the fragility of most carved basses is overplayed. You have to ask yourself what they did in northern Germany during the winter a couple of hundred years ago. Certainly they didn't cancel the concerts during the winter. And all they had then was gut strings. IMO, low humidity is worse than low temperatures. At the other end of the spectrum, I have a July 4th gig here where it is already in the 90's. This year will be the third year for my carved bass doing that gig. We set up in the shade and as long as there is no direct sun on the instruments (my guitarist get's concerned about his vintage Guild also) we don't see any problems. The tuning gets settled pretty fast but it will change a good bit in the first hour as things warm up. Sudden changes are the real problem. Maybe let it stay in the case and cool down slowly before the playing time. Condensation on the strings can also be a problem if you have to do any arco stuff. Otherwise 40 degrees is no big deal.

    We are having pretty strange weather here also. Usually we have a lot of rain, but Atlanta is as dry as southern California right now. And we had a very long cool spring. Usually it goes into the 80's and 90's in May if not earlier. This year, in fact last week, we were still in the mid 60's.
  12. bassist14


    Oct 17, 2005
    adrian, don´t worry. you will survive it.
    location: northern germany
  13. M Ramsey

    M Ramsey

    Mar 12, 2005
    North Carolina
    How did the deep freeze gig go?
  14. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    No problems at all. I spoke to my luthier beforehand and he said I shouldn't be worried especially as my bass is in fine shape. He said if it was old and had a lot of cracks and other problems that only then I might need to be concerned. Of course playing in weather that cold was interesting. Fortunately although we were playing a lot of stuff fast (240 bpm or faster), I could do a two-beat thing on most of it.
  15. Uncletoad


    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    Ah. Welcome to the brotherhood of PITA gigs.

    How were the strings?
  16. dvmweb


    Apr 20, 2002
    Atlanta MI 49709

    Get you one of those little propane heaters, works on a one pound cannister (carry extra fuel). Coleman makes them, they are not very expensive. You need to carry a butane lighter.

    It may be hard to find one this time of year. I got mine at WalMart. You could try a good sporting goods store.

    I use one for hunting and ice fishing. I've used it for my daughter's Softball games, and once at an outdoor gig. You could place it on the ground/floor behind you. They make a little hiss as they heat, but there should be negligible noise. You'll be the envy of everyone, but, you are a smarter than average bass man.

    Walt MI/USA
  17. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    Fine although when it got cold I was thinking to myself that they felt like steel cables but I don't think it was the strings themselves - just my fingers.
  18. Adrian, be careful where you lay the bass down between sets etc. I unthinkingly but my bass down on its side on bare grass and marred the varnish (spirit) :bawl:
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