The dilemma of the 6-string.

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by The_Owl, Dec 13, 2004.

  1. Hi Mike, and hi Steve!

    I'm just wondering after how many years of playing bass you guys tried 6-stringers, why you did it, and your experience with it?

    I'm currently playing 4-, 5- and 6-stringers, and I always get a lot of negative remarks about my sixer. People are either conservative Fender-ists (yay, I created a word), think they are better than me and give me the old "I can do everything you do on a 4-string" BS, or perhaps just jealous.

    This really pushes me back when trying to create music. It's starting to get on my nerves that everytime I even mention or relate to, say, John Myung, Michael Manring I get an answer like "#¤%&¤#%&= basswanker", or any other disrespectful comment regarding playing technique. I know I probably should just ignore them, but It's hard not to, when they constantly b**** about my favorite musicians and bands. I just have to argue for my sake, as a bassist and a music lover.

    So do you guys have any advice on how to approach these guys? If you had that same problem, what did you do about it?

    Keep up the good work Mike and Steve! It's guys like you that give me true inspiration to become a better bassist.
  2. jeff schmidt

    jeff schmidt no longer red carded, but my butt is still sore.

    Aug 27, 2004
    Novato, CA
    This is a good question which made me think of a follow up for Michael and Steve.

    In trying to find other players to hook up with - I notice a particular bias AGAINST an adventurous approach to bass. I'll admit - this is always in trying to hook up with musicians who have their own vision (guitarists, and keys) so they're looking for particular roles to be filled. How did you guys make the transition from filling a role in someone else's vision and finding people to come join YOUR vision?

    It's one thing when you hook up with a horn player or guitarist that have a "vision". You kinda know what you're in for - but a bassist? Even today - almost 20 years after Jaco passed - I still feel like non-traditional bass playing makes me an alien out there in the musical universe.

    Did you guys find it difficult, originally, to find people who had an open mind about what you were trying to do on the instrument? And today?

    Thanks & peace.
  3. _Unregistered_


    Nov 3, 2004
    Explain that 6 strings are only a problem for those who are easily confused.

    Explain that your bass has all of the strings of a four-string, and features two more for your playing, and their listening pleasure.

    Explain that the fact that you're "better endowed" should not really make them feel inferior in any way.

    I am, in fact kidding. Tell them to kiss your @ss.

    OK, I'm kidding again...sorta.

    Tell them it allows you to think vertically across the fretboard, in position, rather than laterally up-and-down, making your playing more efficient and more comfortable.

    Tell them that it's none of their concern.

    Tell them that the music you create is the only true measure, and that the number of strings you use to create your performance is no one's concern but your own.

    I can't believe that in this day and age ANYONE has to defend the number of strings on the instrument they play. I had this kind of nonsense in the mid 80's when I first started playing contrabass, but then the concept was very, very new. You would imagine that by now, nearly two decades later people would have finally broadened their minds a bit.

  4. _Unregistered_


    Nov 3, 2004
    Tell them that you always get great compliments from women about those lower notes that you can hit, and that they often wonder out loud why "other bassists" simply can't move them the way your playing does :D

    I bet they'll shut right the f@#$ up then.
  5. Thanks for the advice guys, sadly though, I've already used all those arguments you stated, Gilberto.

    And yeah, as you say, it's amazing that people still act like bass-nazis today.

    The most stupid thing I've heard, must probably be this:
    "A sixer can never sound like a 4, because the more strings, the more the body mass has to work with, therefor a 6 can never reproduce a sound or output of a 4" or something in that way.

    Now, why in the name of Barbara Streisand would I want my six to sound like my four? I treat them as individual instruments, more than different members of the same "family". The sixer has it's own voice, and so does the 4. Heck, Tony Levin's 3-string Stingray has it's own voice too, and so does Bill Dickens' custom 9-string Conklin.
  6. I've actually heard that from women...
  7. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    I find that gentleness is generally the best approach. It's OK to stand your ground on your own musical convictions, and if people in the group state things as fact that are conjecture or opinion, find the least condemning way to point that out. If there is no movement from their position even when faced with an explanation of yours, then it's time to do one of two things - if the gig is either your job, or somehow enjoyable or educational enough to be worth keeping, then put the 6 away, forget about the squabble and just play bass the way they want you to. If you can educate them, great. If you can't, it's OK to just let it go.

    If the gig isn't really worth keeping to you if you don't have the space to experiment, then leave. Explain why, try not to fall out with anyone, and if there are any potentially open minded musicians within the band, invite them to be involved in your new 'side project'.

    The side project concept is a vital one - if you do form a second band with the sole aim of stretching things and experimenting, you'll be amazed at how the need to throw all your best ideas into the main band just goes away...

    As far as making the transition... I'm still making it. I believe in what I do, and let the music speak for itself. There are times when you meet people who are anti-six-string, but if you ask politely for the chance to try it, they often let you and are sometimes surprised at the results. But I still take a four to sessions in case the sound isn't right.

    Be flexible, be sure of your own position, and do your best to maintain friendships even when there are musical differences. Beyond that, it's just a matter of meeting as many musicians as possible in the hope that the right ones will come along and you'll find the chemistry you're looking for to make amazing music!

    Jazzbrew likes this.
  8. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    I was very fortunate that having written for Bassist magazine, and already having been a relatively successful side man and teacher, the bass community was pretty positive about my solo stuff when I brought the first album out. I do occasionally get weird emails from people berating me for not being 'a real bass player' or whatever, and I also get the occasional email from people wanting me to do a funky album or whatever, but there really aren't enough hours in the day for me to argue stuff like that with them and find time to write and play the music I love.

    By and large, it seems to work out that if you do what you do as music first rather than bass-tricks, your audience are far more likely to engage with you on that level. To play a load of clever bass exercises and then try and market it as great art is probably going to result in some vitriol from people who hold you accountable for your music in the light of your own claims for it. Promotion is a hazardous game in that respect (best to stick to using things that other people have said about what you do... :D )

    It sounds like hippy-idealism, but be true to yourself, play the music that's inside you, and ignore those who can't be bothered to take the time to find out why you do what you do before passing judgement. Their lack of respect for your art negates their opinions on it.


  9. _Unregistered_


    Nov 3, 2004
    Oddly, I do find that basses with more strings tend to be more controlled in their overall string-to-string tone variances. 4-strings do also tend to have a more focused midrange. As Steve says, it may be best to pack a 4-string on the gig "just in case".

    Your point is 100% valid, and I would add that NONE of my basses sound alike - every single one has a different and unique character, independant of the number of strings on it...but Steve is right; if the gig calls for something, you do have to respect that, if keeping the gig is important. You can weigh that against compromising your musicality, but you may lose the gig.

    Anthony Jackson, who pioneered the contrabass at a time when union gigs specifically called for either "Fender Bass" or "Upright Bass", used to have to fight this battle often.

    Anthony tells a story of one engineer that would immediately hit the stop button on the tape transport the moment he would play anything below the D on his contrabass, arguing that it would be completely inaudible to the listener. Imagine the tension during that session!

    ...But again, this is early 80s I'm describing here. I can't believe that this is still a problem...but again Steve's right; you have to pick your battles. I just can't believe this one's still raging...
  10. Thanks again for the advice guys!
  11. wyliee


    Jul 6, 2003
    South Hill, WA
    Forgive me for intruding, but I'd like to add a comment here. (You asked for Steve and Micharl's comments, not mine.)

    I've never considered myself a bassist. I've always strived to be a *musician.* Bass is simply my tool of choice. How and when/why/where I use that tool is dependent upon the music.

    Further, six string bass is what has become the most natural musical "tool" for me. I've certainly received more than a few stares pulling it out of the gig bag, but I've also received more than a few nods and smiles by using its extended range to support the music/song in a tasteful manner.

    I would offer that rather than using words to respond, use your ears. Play smart, play tastfully. Whatever you do, do it musically. (And that includes not playing at the appropriate times.)

  12. If anybody ever brings up the subject with me, I just clue them in to the fact that 6-string bass instruments pre-date 4-string bass instruments. The Violone, the largest bass member of the Viol family which also includes the Bass Viola da Gamba had 6 strings. Many Bass Viola da Gambas (or is it Violas da Gamba?) had 7 strings. The Viol family pre-dates the Violin family. They are quite similar in most respects. The electric bass was based on the the Double Bass from the Violin family which superceded the Viol family for some reason. Viols are still used for Baroque and pre-Baroque music.

    Additionally, the "Bass" tonal range was originally based on the range of the human voice (which is why we classify vocalists as Bass, Tenor, Alto and Soprano). Why should we have to adhere to that when our instrument is completely different than a voice? For me, I'd love to play music where every musician had the full range of notes to play from. In a lot of piano music, the left hand crosses into the higher range and vice-versa. Nobody complains when someone's left hand goes to high or right hand goes to low. They could argue that, well, it's a piano so that doesn't count. Then, I could argue that, well, then shouldn't they have to play quietly then? (get it, piano = quiet)

    Here's a nice Violone from the 17th or 18th century.


    For me, there's no reason to have any fewer strings than are necessary for the music I want to play. Everyone I've played with has supported my extra strings completely. Even my 9-string! :D

    - Dave
  13. _Unregistered_


    Nov 3, 2004
    You know, because I happened upon the thread from the "new posts" list, I didn't realize what forum this was in until after I posted, and blathered on with "my take" on this. I should apologize myself for intruding...

    The best advice yet.
  14. G


    Apr 12, 2000
    What a great thread! Pardon my interjection, but I too have met some difficulty (especially in Detroit/Motown) and consequently always bring 2 basses to a gig or audition: My 6 and my Precision. If the people I am working with are not down with the 6 I get the P and then work the 6 in as we go.

    It is unfortunate that we still live in a time where "tradition" almost always equals "superior." However, I have found people to be more accepting after thay hear me play...

    To cop Steve form earlier in the thread: what I hear and feel currently can most easily be transmitted using my 6.

    That doesn't mean I can't play covers on my P.
  15. +1

    When receiving "dubious" comments I always respond "why should only guitarists have all the fun"?
  16. xyllion

    xyllion Commercial User

    Jan 14, 2003
    San Jose, CA, USA
    Owner, Looperlative Audio Products
    Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me.
  17. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    There’s been some really good advice here, so I’ll just throw in my two cents: I got my first six-string bass in about 1994 and I enjoy playing it very much. I got it because I wanted to see what kinds of ideas I could come up with that weren’t available on my 4’s. I have two 6’s now and I‘m hoping to have the opportunity to do a lot of work with both of them in the years to come.

    I sympathize with your frustration at the resistance you encounter, The Owl, and I hope you’ll hang in there. The most important skill for every musician is listening, and I think this is a good opportunity for you to work on extended listening skills. I actually encourage you to listen to your what your critics are saying, but listen very carefully to try to determine what the motivations are behind their remarks. A lot of it may be jive, but you may find that some of it has merit. I encourage you to use what you can learn from, and ignore the rest. More importantly though, listen to yourself, both figuratively and literally. Listen carefully to what you’re playing and think about how you could better communicate what it is you’re trying to say. Think about what really matters to you in music and dedicate yourself to that as much as possible. There will always be people ready to criticize what you do. If you find something that is truly beautiful and meaningful to you, what anyone else has to say about it will be at worst, a minor annoyance.

    I can also sympathize with the dilemma of trying to find like-minded musicians to work with. I think it’s actually very rare to find someone to play with who shares all your musical interests and in my opinion you’re better off trying to “see the glass as half-full.” Focus on the set of interests and abilities you do have in common with any musicians you have the opportunity to work with and build from there. It’s a great learning opportunity to get to play with someone whose musical taste differs from yours. It can be very enlightening to try to get inside their head to see how they hear. You probably won’t end up preferring their method of relating to music, but your own understanding will increase and you’ll develop tools that you can use to make yourself a better all-around musician.
  18. Thanks once again for the advice!