Rockabilly bass?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Heavier Than Thou, Jun 26, 2001.

  1. Heavier Than Thou

    Heavier Than Thou

    Jan 25, 2001
    I'm a bass guitarist who's thinking of getting an upright acoustic bass for playing rockabilly music.

    I'm pretty much in the dark about upright basses. Is there a special model or type of bass the rockabilly cats are using? What is a 3/4 bass? And what about electric upright basses?

    Thanks in advance for your help.
  2. Rockinjc


    Dec 17, 1999
    That would be a Kay. This is the most popular bass in Rockabilly music. A 3/4 bass is the standard size and fits nearly anybody.

    Getting going with this you have one heck of a hill to climb though. Tone is everything and a subtle animal to tame. The problem stems from the high volume requirements of the genre. You could write a book on all the stuff you have to learn, but I will give a hit list that may get you started.

    Buy a plywood bass in reasonable condition… it costs a lot to get these babies fixed so don't think you can get a basket case and have it ship shape for a few dollars. I like if the bass has an ebony fingerboard, nut and tailpiece.

    Get Mark Ruben's video. From BTW you can ask Mark stuff too. He is really nice and now runs a store.

    Go to shows and jump up on stage after the gig and ask as many questions as the bass player will answer. After talking to a bunch of guys and trying things you will be able to develop your own opinions. Try as many basses as you can. Ask how they pluck and slap, what strings do you use and what pickups are being used.

    I use a Barcus Berry pickup system. And have used mics and other pickups. To this end a lot depends on your style, the bass, volume levels and taste. Don’t take anyone's word that one particular system is "best" no matter the circumstances. Decide for yourself. That’s why you try other rigs.

    I like gut string but can't afford them so I use Dr T's Spiral cores. They last but, have a bright slap that I don't like so much. One guy I look up to uses two guts on D and G and cheep nylons on the other strings getting by spending only about a hundred dollers to change them every six months.

    Like anything else. Don't hurt yourself. If it hurts, stop doing it, or find out how to solve the dilemma. Repetitive stress is a serious issue.

    Keep your bass out of the line of fire from your amp or other amps as feedback or picking up the other guys through your bass happens.

    Consider bridge rollers. They let you try different string heights (action). These can be added to a bridge or may come on the bass you purchase. It's about a 50-dollar upgrade.

    Learn to use a bow and a quiver. This is the apex when it comes to fineness and technique on the URB IMHO. Plucking an upright, you can get by with bad intonation because the notes can be muted quickly. They go by before most people notice. A bow tells all and forces you to be more exact with your ears and left hand. It also sounds good as a contrast to plucking and slapping.

    good luck,
  3. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    A little backup for what Rockinjc said.

    I know three of these guys - two of them use blonde plywood Kays from the 40's and one uses a `37 Kay.

    I imagine there are other uprights that could do the job, but I guess old Kays have the vibe, like Gretsch, Dwight, Harmony, and Supro, among others, do for the rockabilly guitarists.
  4. Rockinjc


    Dec 17, 1999
    I don't have a Kay BTW. I play a german student model that sounds great, but the questions was what brand is everybody using.

    I think the best bet is to go somewhere they have bunches of basses and play them to hear and feel the differnces.

  5. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Nobody mentioned that Kay is long out of business. Englehardt bought them and still offers some of the same models. Old Kays get top dollar, $1500-2500 is an average price range.

    Most Kays came with rosewood, not ebony fingerboards. Jazzers and classical guys will want ebony but rosewood is perfectly OK for rockabilly. Some cheap basses today have "ebonized" fingerboards which is either maple or rosewood painted black to look like ebony. You definitely want a plywood bass, carved basses are much more expensive and much too fragile for rockabilly gigs.

    Your main decision is whether to use steel strings or gut. Gut is easier to slap on and the classic sound. Steel lets you use magnetic pickups so you can play much louder without feedback but is tougher to slap on because of higher tension; steel strings are also much cheaper than gut (I ended up with two basses finally, one has steel strings and a mag pickup and the other has gut with a piezo pickup. I prefer to play the gut but use the steel on gigs where I need higher volume).

    3/4 is the standard size bass. 7/8 and 4/4 are usually only used in orchestras. 1/2 and 1/4 size are for young students who can't handle a 3/4 yet.

    As far as electric uprights, they cost as much or more than a plywood bass and don't have the " right look" which unfortunately many bands will want. The only real advantage is they are a bit more portable and a bit more feedback resistant.
  6. Rockinjc


    Dec 17, 1999

    Don’t you think that ebony holds up to the abuse of slapping better?