Surf Bass

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by -executor-, Jan 30, 2007.

  1. Does anyone know how to make good surf basslines?
    Are there any special characteristics to surf basslines that make them sound the way they do?
    Are there any guidelines in theory and technique?


    (note: when I say "surf" I am talking about 50s and 60s music with reverb and stuff like that. Like Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet.)
  2. Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet are not '50's-'60's style surf. They are influenced by surf music, sure. Their bass sound is probably one of the things that is different than the traditional surf bass sound.

    From what I can recall in my head about the surf bass sound, using muted flatwound strings is important. But different bands had different styles as far as rhythm and note patterns. A Dick Dale bass line doesn't sound ike a Chantays bass line.
  3. Ukiah Bass

    Ukiah Bass

    May 10, 2006
    I'm in a new project where the leader wants to transform some old standards into a surf feel. He's a terrific guitar soloist but can get "out there" at times. I need to really hold down the basic groove and changes so he can touch back on earth. Just looking for basic guidelines, and will adapt those to his style, which is sort of SRV/Hendrix.
  4. Basshappi


    Feb 12, 2007
    I have a deep and abiding love of surf/spy music. I have a large and ever-expanding collection and as Lunarpollen alluded to, there is a surprising degree of stylistic diversity within the genre. It should be noted that there is no such thing as "50's surf music", the original ("first wave" if you will) surf era was actually quite short lived, being popular from 1961 and affective ending with the arrival of the Beatles in 1964 though a few bands, most notably The Beach Boys, remained successful a few more years.

    There have been a couple of mainstream revivals of surf music, usually due to it's use in popular movies and there is a steadfast non-mainstream fanbase.

    Surf was one of the first styles of music that whole-heartedly adopted the electric bass. Due to the fact that surf music had its birthplace in southern California (particularly Orange County) Fender guitars and amplifiers were mainstays. Therefore consider the Fender bass your tonal center in traditional surf music. Flats and fingerstyle is a good choice but there is plenty of variation allowed. The only thing that really dosn't work is hi-fi and bright, piano-like tonality. Also keep in mind that reverb was the domain of the guitars not the bass in traditional surf.

    Surf is fun to play and usually goes over well with most general rock audiences. Keep in mind that traditionally surf was dance music and most often played at medium to fast tempo.

    Surf's up!
    ERIC31 and northbynorth like this.
  5. Basshappi


    Feb 12, 2007
    Well the first thing that comes to mind is the SRV/Dick Dale teamup on "Pipeline" so there is a connection there. :D

    Stylistically, much early surf basslines were abreviated walking/swing lines in 4/4. Considering your bands style you might also want to incorporate the spy/spegetti-western elements of surf.
    AGCurry and northbynorth like this.
  6. Ukiah Bass

    Ukiah Bass

    May 10, 2006
    This is all good news. I'm playing a Fender PJ with the J pup turned off. It's strung with groundwounds and I play fingerstyle. I figured walking a 4/4 with swing would be fundamental. Not familiar with spy/spegetti-western elements of surf. Can you provide more insight? Always nice to get advice from an expert!
  7. Pearly Gator

    Pearly Gator

    Dec 10, 2005
    Study music by The Ventures. Add some Telstar and Outer Limits and you should be good to go: :D

    Anyone besides me remember Jan & Dean?
    gebass6 likes this.
  8. Basshappi


    Feb 12, 2007
    Ah shucks, I'm hardly an expert. :D

    The connection to spy/spagetti-western comes from the use of twangy, reverb laden guitar riffs (especially baritone guitar) in movies, most famously James Bond and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly as well as other western film scores by Ennio Morricone. It's not very surprising as the music was popular at the time these movies were made and surf music is mostly instrumental.

    The later "waves" of surf music led to the incorporation of many other stylistic elements so that now there are many sub-genres that include elements of punk, psycadelia, techno, name it. But the most unifying elements are reverb drenched guitars and short, up-tempo songs that are usually instrumentals (there is much debate amongst fans as to whether vocal music is "true" surf, even though such a claim would evict The Beach Boys from the pantheon! :eek::D
  9. Basshappi


    Feb 12, 2007
    Of course. It is interesting to note that Brian Wilson worked very closely with Jan & Dean, co-writing "Surf City" the first surf song to hit #1 on the Billboard chart.
  10. Ukiah Bass

    Ukiah Bass

    May 10, 2006
    And since Brian Wilson worked closely with Carol Kaye, I guess she is the original Surf Mother? :)
  11. Ukiah Bass

    Ukiah Bass

    May 10, 2006
  12. deckard


    Apr 4, 2003
    You mean as in "The Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review & Timing Association"?

  13. Basshappi


    Feb 12, 2007
  14. Captain Bob

    Captain Bob

    Jan 4, 2009
    Be sure to check out Jan and Dean's 'The Complete Liberty Singles' cd by Collectors Chioce Music. Wonderful remastered mono.
  15. Although they were Brits, and didn't actually play surf music, I think you may find listening to the early 1960s output of The Shadows to be useful.
  16. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    hardly ;) she recorded some pet sounds bass parts, but that was long past their original surf music.
    SurferJoe46 likes this.
  17. the general

    the general

    Jul 8, 2008
    the ventures are the way to go. or a family guy reference, learn surfin bird by the trashmen. playing a show to a younger crowd, say 20-35, and they'll will laugh and enjoy it.
  18. Jack Nitsche destroyed the surf music genre with his "The Lonely Surfer" which included French Horns, violins, cellos, and trombones and choral voices. It was a very sad day and Surf music hasn't been the same since.

    I went to high school (Class of '64) in Huntington Beach during that era and the "Surf Sound" that Dick Dale got with the Dell-Tones was lots of reverb, thudding bass with dead strings and lots of power.

    If I'm not mistaken, I believe the 'double-kick' bass drum was also brought into a lot of use too about that time for more thump and drive.

    I was either out surfing the Wedge, The Trestles, going to classes later on at OCC or playing bass at The Rendezvous (on Balboa Peninsula) or The Pavalon (@ the Huntington Beach pier)

    There were other groups (The Surfaris, Eddie & The Showmen, The Chantays, The Pyramids, The Crossfires, The Trashmen, The Mojos (where I played bass), The Bel Airs and many more) - but when I was gigging those days we had to keep the bass-line heavy for the dancing and the 'heat on the floor' as we called it. The floors literally bounced from the music.

    Blonde surfer chicks - yeah! I digress.

    If the bass could not be heard to 18th Street on the Peninsula or down to The Wedge from The Rendezvous down at the Fun Zone - then it wasn't loud enough. Balboa Island always had a free show that they could hear all over the place though. We shook Bal's windows and then the cops would come -- ah! good ol' days!

    The old folks on "The Island" on Mom-n-Pop sightseeing tours didn't like that free 'noise' and they stopped going to The Island. Good! More Island for us!

    A few times we used dual basses in the lineup just to shake the place more.

    I think one of the most innovative groups was The Ventures. Dick Dale had his Lebanese/Polish musical background and his quad-staccato picking to get him his unique sound, but The Ventures did it with whammy bars, reverb and their Mosrite Guitars.
    AGCurry likes this.
  19. RJC1811


    Nov 19, 2008
    Canandaigua, NY
    I play in a surf band, fun music. As has been said already, it varies greatly between groups and songs. It can go from the almost static bassline but driving rhythm of Misirlou to something like Link Wray's The Swag where the bassline changes each chorus. I suggest listening to some of the originals and then some of the new wave of surf and decide what you like or what fits the music. We play a more agressive surf style, sometimes for the faster songs I'll play with a pick.

    Surfer Joe - I wish I had been around in those days. It must have been a blast. I lived on Balboa peninsula '79-'81. Great time in SoCal for punk and rockabilly.
  20. Thankful birds

    Thankful birds Supporting Member

    Jun 17, 2008
    Pittsburgh, PA
    I play bass in a surf/spy/garage band called The Rebel Set- . (The tracks aren't me on bass). Generally, surf divides into two camps- the poppy vocal-harmony based beach boys/jan and dean style camp, and the more guitar-oriented ventures/dick dale camp. I think you want to know about the latter.

    The guitar-oriented stuff is generally based upon guitar lines that use scales popular in eastern music played over bass lines that generally either play a root note or a 1, 5, country style line. (The Ventures were really into that 1,5 thing). Most fills and transitions in surf style bass are done with a chromatic pattern (think the bass line in wipeout). Overall, the idea is to create a strong lock with the drums to showcase the guitar; generally less is more in the genre.

    I also want to double the p-bass with flats sentiment, although some bands also played mosrites, harmonys/silvertones, and danos. Modern bands like Los Straitjackets use DiPintos, and I have seen modern surf bands adopt the jaguar bass.

    Hope that helps!