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Upright Guitarrón (UG) project completed

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Jack Clark, Apr 18, 2010.

  1. It took most of two years of experimentation, but my UG project is finished. A few TBers have kindly asked to see and hear the result.

    It's a Lone Star Mariachi guitarrón strung with mostly short-scale base guitar GHS Precision Flatwounds tuned in fourths: E1-A1-D2-G2-C3-F3. The strings are all "tuned up" tension-wise a fourth above what the manufacturer intended. For example, my A1 string is a short-scale that was manufactured to be an E1 string on a solid-body bass guitar. The other strings are all tuned-up the same way. I did this because at the time I was having trouble with buzzing, so I tensioned everything up to avoid it. But since then, I've raised the bridge height, and that eliminated all my buzzing problems. So, it's possible that I could get away with less string tension now. Haven't experimented yet.

    It now has a new, full-octave, fretless fingerboard, a brass bridge, and a long endpin to allow it to be played sitting down, cello-style, with DB Simandl-type finger positions, but pizz only, except that the E1 and F3 strings can be bowed for a final ballad note. The tail of the instrument has been reinforced with about a quarter-inch of hardwood laminations so as to withstand the stress of the endpin, and, of course, there is a new nut. The endpin rest is a stainless steel cappuccino cup tethered to the rear horizontal bar of my chair. The very protective and handy instrument stand was a Rubbermaid Roughneck Model 2979 trash bin, which just happens to fit my guitarrón like a glove.

    The serious modifications (fingerboard, nut, tail reinforcement) were done by luthier Alex Watson of watsonguitars.com. I did the easier stuff.

    I recently amplified it with a K&K Pure Bass for 5-String Acoustic Bass pickup and a K&K Pure XLR preamp. Since I'm a Mac person, I use Audiolobe for a slow-downer and pitch-changer, with an Acoustic AB50 practice combo and Mogami audio cables for practice with play-along recordings.

    Five photos and some very short sound clips follow:

    Attached Files:

  2. Two more photos:

    The new fingerboard is made of an African hardwood with mother of pearl dots.

    The new bridge consists of solid-brass Stanley mending plates. The wooden piece that was the bridge in its Mariachi days is now really the tail piece.

    Attached Files:

  3. debris


    Oct 4, 2008
    Raleigh, NC
    Wow that's awesome!

    I especially like the stand. Improvisation must just come naturally to bass players. :D
  4. Last photo: This is more or less the player's point of view. As you can see, the inline strings prevent almost all arco--sometimes just a final ballad note.

    A couple of very short sound clips are below at post no. 14.

    Attached Files:

  5. I'd like to have your feedback here:

    If you can ignore the poor quality of the playing for a moment, which of these two clips sounds most like a DB to you? Or perhaps least unlike a DB? (I should warn you, it's a bit of a trick question.)

    [Edit: I've now downloaded the sound clips and they're at post no. 14, below.]

    [DEL]Well, sorry, but the only sound clips I know how to make are QuickTime .mov files and iTunes .m4a files, and apparently neither one will upload to TB--at least, I don't know how to do it. Any ideas about how I might do this?[/DEL]
  6. JtheJazzMan


    Apr 10, 2006
    Cant iTunes also save to an mp3?

    Otherwise I sometimes put sound clips up on www.soundclick.com
  7. Thanks for the ideas! [DEL]But, unfortunately, I only know how to make .m4a files out of Quicktime .mov files in iTunes[/DEL], and I just went to soundclick.com, but for some reason it won't let me get all the way through the registration process. I'll try again tomorrow.

    [Edit: TBer marcox taught me how to make .mp3 files in iTunes, so I've now done that. They're at post no. 14, below.]
  8. marcox


    Dec 10, 2007
    If you're on a Mac, go to iTunes > Preferences > General and click on Import Settings. Change the Import Using setting to MP3.

    Then, select your song in the iTunes Library. Go to the Advanced menu and select Create MP3 Version. This will save an MP3 version of the song in the same folder where the original resides.

    (This may work on PC, too, but I don't have one handy.)
  9. JtheJazzMan


    Apr 10, 2006
    It sounds like maybe youre having an issue converting a movie file to an audio file.

    In that case http://www.videolan.org/vlc/ is probably the best and simplest player out there. It can play a ton of formats and convert them also. It can strip the audio track from a movie file which sounds like what you want to do.
  10. Hi, marcox-

    I am on Mac and I will try your preference recommendations as soon as I get home tonight. Thanks much!

    [Edit: It worked, marcox! See post no. 14, below. Thanks!]
  11. Hi, JtheJazzMan-

    I use QuickTime for making both video and audio files, and it gives them a .mov suffix either way. I can import an .mov audio file into iTunes and then convert it into an .m4a file, which iTunes uses now--[DEL]and that's all I know how to do.[/DEL]

    But marcox has suggested some preferences changes to make .mp3 files, which will upload to TB. I'll try that out tonight. [Edit: They worked! See post no. 14, below.]

    That VLC media player looks terrific! I remember using it years ago when it did not seem nearly as versatile. I'm going to look into VLC again, now, whatever happens with the iTunes approach. Thanks!
  12. doberman


    Sep 16, 2009
    Not that I have that much experience with them, but I don't think I've seen anyone play a guitarron with electric bass strings before, only those multi-colored nylon ones. Just out of curiosity, is that just for tuning purposes? How drastic is the change in sound using the strings you have now compared to traditional guitarron strings?

    I'm curious to hear this thing when you get the clips up!
  13. Yeah, guitarróns are traditionally strung with round wounds: three metal and three nylon, all around nylon cores. The string height is generally painfully high. They pull upward (i.e., away from the top) on two strings at a time, an octave apart, which gives it a lot of volume. But, except for some short runs during intros, turnarounds and endings, I've never heard a Mariachi guitarrónist do much beyond pretty basic oom-pah-type comping. There are and were recognized virtuosi on the guitarrón (like Nati Santiago), but I'm not familiar with what all they can/could do.

    When I switched to E1-A1-D2-G2-C3-F3 tuning, I originally used guadaloupecustomstrings.com for the added E1 and F3 guitarrón strings, but they still gave it an acoustic guitar-like sound. Also, I didn't like the drag on my fingers when I tried to shift positions with the round wounds. They gave unreliable shift accuracy, and I didn't like the whistle. Then I saw a pic online of an old guitarrón with what were said to be flatwound strings. So, I went to juststrings.com and found that GHS made flatwound BG strings that seemed like they'd work--and that's what I'm using now. My six strings range in thickness from 0.034" (~0.86mm) to 0.126" (~3.2mm) in gauge. This required major bridge and nut modifications.

    The sound is tremendously different. It went from a twangy, acoustic guitar-like sound to a much darker, thumpier sound with less sustain. I think I'll be getting the clips up tonight--they're just short clips of a iii-vi-ii-V-I ending--and I'd appreciate hearing feedback as to what they sound like to you guys. (They may not sound much "like" any other instrument, I dunno.)
  14. . . . thanks to marcox, who knows his way around iTunes.

    So, these are just two short clips of the same iii-vi-ii-V-I ending. I'm very interested in all of your comments re the sound. Specifically, which sounds most like a DB? Or perhaps least unlike a DB, if that works better for you? Or maybe you think they both sound like mud. Or whatever! (But, remember, I've confessed that this is a bit of a trick question.)

    In evaluating this, please try to ignore my lack of chops. I'm planning to get a lot better, but this is about the best I can do right now.

    Lastly, anybody have any suggestions for me regarding this whole project? And how much trouble do you think I'll have getting a DB teacher to ignore my weird instrument and sell me lessons anyway, even if I do all the adapting myself?

    The best thing about this whole UG project is that I actually get to try to play DB parts on this odd bass. Playing with play-along CDs is probably as close as I'll ever get to playing with real musicians, but it's great fun. My UG has been a fine device for learning about jazz, too, particularly in conjuction with TB. You guys have all been great for not throwing me out on my ear when I first showed up with this thing! :)

    Attached Files:

  15. Brent Nussey

    Brent Nussey

    Jun 27, 2001
    Tokyo, Japan
    Hey Jack,

    Congratulations on getting everything worked out. I almost bought a guitarron myself last year, just my timing was a little off on hooking up with the seller. Since I already have a couple of uprights around, I would have played it closer to the original way, but I like what you've done with it.

    Neither of the 2 recordings sounds like an upright bass much to me, but there's nothing wrong with that. You have a good solid attack, which is the way I like to hear bass in jazz. The first take sounds like a direct recording of a pickup, and the 2nd like it's been miced. I personally prefer the 2nd one, but I don't know if you could make it loud enough to play in a group without the pickup support. The guys I've seen play all sounded really loud acoustically, but as you say, the strings are high and they use a technique that really limits what you can play.

    Thanks for putting up the pictures and sound clips, really interesting.
  16. Yep, you're right. The 1st clip was made with the K&K pickup, and the second with just the two pin-hole-sized mics that are built into my MacBook. I don't think my UG sounds like a DB, either--although it sure sounds more toward one now that it has flatwounds on it.

    I've never seen a Mariachi guitarrón amped, but I've seen them miced--particularly in large groups with trumpets.

    Thanks for your interest, Brent. I very much appreciate your comments! :)
  17. Gearhead43


    Nov 25, 2007
    Cool and interesting take on the instrument.

    I've been wanting to get a guitarron for a while now, but I plan on learning to play it in the traditional fashion. I've always been amazed at the carrying power a single guitarron can have in an acoustic setting up against other louder instruments in Mariachi bands - and it's cool how the developers of this instrument figured out how to make that happen by playing octaves and such.
  18. Originally, when I first got the guitarrón and was trying to play it traditionally, I was frustrated by the fact that the imaginary frets were clearly not in the same position for each string, i.e., the imaginary fifth fret seemed to zig-zag across the fingerboard. I tried talking with a pro guitarrónist one night about how he dealt with that problem, but my Spanish was too poor to make myself understood. It wasn't until I was driving home that I realized that . . . of course! . . . He doesn't have a problem with it at all. He doesn't care whether C on the A string is directly across from Bb on the G string . . . All he cares about is knowing where on each individual string to get the particular note he wants. Who cares if they line up?

    Overthinking on my part. When I stopped thinking in frets like a guitarist and started thinking in positions like a double bassist and listening to each note I produced, all of that went away. I just wish I could listen better.
  19. Just a follow up:

    I thought my guitarrón project was completed, but since the above I've built up the underside of the neck to give it a more rounded thickness and I've also changed the strings to black nylon-wrapped flatwounds: Rotosound True Bass 88s, 0.050" to 0.135", each tuned up a fourth from how they are intended to be tuned on a bass guitar. Now, I think it's done.
  20. You think you're done with a project like this, but I guess you never are. Since the last post, I've replaced the PVC endpin with one made of maple. The Rotosound 88s still sound the best, and I'm now playing it through a Fishman Bass pre-amp, which has given it a warmer and more even sound.

    Also, since a UG is just as difficult to fly with as a DB, I made a travel version for practicing during vacations. You can see it at http://www.talkbass.com/forum/f1/travel-practice-upright-guitarr%F3n-tpug-879128/ if you want. It's currently at my luthier's being fitted with a pickup so I can practice with it through a headphone amp.

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