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What qualities make a bass "easy to play"?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Super Iridium, Feb 5, 2016.


  1. Super Iridium

    Super Iridium Supporting Member

    Jan 21, 2013
    I am a new DB player (although I have some background on BG), and my first bass is a beautiful Shen 200 (definitely more instrument than my skills would strictly justify, but so be it).

    Anyway, I was playing with a new group of people, and one of the semi-pro DB players came over to check out my bass. He asked if it was a Shen, and when I said yes, he said, "Oh, I love Shens. They're a really good value for the money, and they are really easy to play." I said thank you for the compliment and didn't think much about it.

    But since then, I've been trying to figure out for myself--what exactly does it mean when someone says that a particular bass is "easy to play"? I've only played the bass that I own, and it seems to be just as easy or difficult as all other basses. But then I thought that maybe it has something to do with the wood or the shape of the neck or the string length?

    Anyway, it seems like people here would know what this comment refers to, and whether it's true that particular brands of bass are known as either easy or difficult to play. Thanks.
     
  2. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg Supporting Member

    Jul 7, 2004
    Chicago
    It means a bass is set up well to play easily with strings at a good height for the player, the fingerboard has a correct amount of relief. Your Shen could also have been set up poorly which would make it harder to play. I have played poorly, IMO, setup Shens. Players often have set ups tweaked to their own preferences. Setups of Shens are often done by the retailers/luthiers in their shops, AFAIK. John Sprague of Shen can comment on that.
     
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  3. Super Iridium

    Super Iridium Supporting Member

    Jan 21, 2013
    Yes, from playing my DB and years of BG, I understand the effects of poor setup on the instrument. But I don't think that's what this guy was talking about. He didn't ask to play the bass or look at the string height or bridge setup. He seemed to be saying something like Shen basses in general were "easy" to play.

    Now in the BG world, I can tell you that some basses are known as being a bit more awkward to play, just because the body shape and neck weight make them difficult to balance, and some basses--like short scale basses--are known as being friendlier for beginners, just because the jumps from one fret to the next are a bit closer together.

    Is there an equivalent thing in the DB world?

    P.S. -- the set up of my instrument was done by Mike Shank, who I can recommend very, very highly to anyone in this area (Southeastern PA).
     
  4. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg Supporting Member

    Jul 7, 2004
    Chicago
    I get your point that there are other things besides setup that are important for ease of play. Yes, Shen basses are designed for the most part with string lengths under 42", and I think that that many of the models have good body and neck-set ergonomics, but the physical characteristics of the player comes into play here, too. A small person with short arms is going to have more trouble playing a Panormo model bass, with its wide shoulders, than a tall person with longer arms, etc.

    Most of the contemporary quality makers are taking the ergonomics of playing bass into account and building those qualities into their instruments.
     
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2016
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  5. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    As Eric points out, there are ergonomic factors and setup factors at play. A poorly set up Shen would be a bear to play. The point is that they are designed decently enough to be able to be set up well in that they have acceptable overstands, fingerboard projections, etc. I'm guessing that's what the semi-pro was referring to.

    I think the responsiveness of the carved top also plays a role in terms of how easily the instrument "speaks" and in terms of what feedback it gives to the player. The best DBs I've played have had that in spades. They just seemed to require less effort to produce a big sound and the "feel" in the hands (especially the right hand) is something to experience.
     
  6. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    For me it means that I don't have to strain to do anything...fretting notes, controlling my dynamics. The less physical effort required to play the better, I guess.
     
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  7. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    There are also factors like the width of the shoulders (Maggini models or Panormo models) or longer string lengths (42"+) or just the size of the instrument, like really large Prescotts or Hawkes basses that can also contribute - depending on the size etc of the player. For years I played a Gagnon Maggini model then gradually downsized to smaller, sloped shouldered bass for health reasons
     
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  8. Jim Dombrowski

    Jim Dombrowski Supporting Member

    Jan 16, 2002
    Colorado Springs, CO
    I currently have a Shen hybrid on loan from my luthier while he works on my Christopher hybrid. When I first picked it up, it didn't feel much different than my bass, but after a couple of weeks I've realized that I really like the feel of the Shen. It is "easy to play".
     
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  9. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I went from a chinese hybrid to a fully carved journeyman instrument. The diff is night and day to me. I feel the difference with basses better than my Cleveland as well.

    A good bass will not only finger and play with less physical effort but the feedback to the player is much more pronounced. Intonation is easier - the tone will be clearer and more discernable. The notes will ring out with a beautiful tone. A poor bass will sound tubby and choked. While playing a poor bass at home sound ok, you'll know right away in a situation with other players. The sound will get lost in the mix and you end up having to compensate for it by pulling harder or something like that.

    A poor bass will often times fight back and resist against the player. The response will be choked and intonating is more difficult with a bow. A good bass won't do that, it'll sound freely and won't push back. When your intonation is on it really rings out. I think this is true even if the setup is decent on a poor bass.

    With a good bass, you can do everything you want to do with less effort. A poor bass will become a distraction with it's shortcomings and make it harder to get to the goal of making music.
     
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  10. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    ...and if you can have a high-quality bass built for you with it's overall design and ergonomics tweaked to your preferences, then it's even better!
     
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  11. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    You know that's an interesting point. Personally, I would NOT have a custom built bass unless I knew what sound I was after! I'd play with a really good bass, enjoy the heck out of it, learn more, figure out what my tastes were, and only then would I have something built.

    I try not to be sentimental about instruments (my bass is 6 years old and I will never give it a name). Someday when finances allow and it makes sense, I'll upgrade with something that inspires me even more. In the meantime, I'm quite happy with what I have now.
     
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  12. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Lots of good comments above. I would add that the sound of the bass is inextricably linked with our perception of the "playability" of the bass. Since most players who have been playing for a while have a voice on the instrument, any new bass that a player plays will be subconsciously judged on how easy or difficult it is to find their own sound on that instrument. I have played many basses that people say "play easy", but if they are set up too differently from mine or have the wrong set of strings, etc., I usually don't find them "easy to play" because I can't sound like myself while playing them.
     
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  13. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I'll add that when I went for the upgrade, I felt stupid that I didn't do it sooner. It was such a huge difference from my budget bass and it was financially possible to do so for some time. My playing improved leaps and bounds.
     
  14. With all due respect to brianrost, and with tongue planted firmly in cheek, one would have a hard time fretting notes on DB even if the DB were very easy to play. Sorry couldn't resist.
     
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  15. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    Well, yes, it makes sense to know what sound you're after before you have a bass built. I think that the detail with which you need to know that increases with the price-point of the bass. I think the somewhat recent ability to have a custom-tweaked bass built in the lower/moderate price-points has changed the game somewhat.
     
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  16. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    I'll add: evenness and good tone across the different octaves.
     
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  17. lurk

    lurk

    Dec 2, 2009
    It's sad how many beginning students I see with really hard to play axes. Often they proudly show me an instrument that has pretty much tapped them or their parents out financially and it's hard to tell them they need to drop some more on a luthier to make it playable.
     
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  18. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    It's a sad irony that the most difficult instruments to play are in the hands of those least able to overcome the shortcomings of those instruments. I've observed that before with regard to the quality of the instruments. Your observation that students end up with otherwise decent, but poorly set up, instruments is something I didn't know was true. I guess that's another argument for paying for an expert's time (for example, a teacher) before the cash is plunked down.
     
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  19. Super Iridium

    Super Iridium Supporting Member

    Jan 21, 2013
    There's definitely a strong relationship between the set-up of the instrument and the amount of time that a beginner can put into practicing.

    Coming from the BG world, I have always been used to setting up (or at least tweaking) the set up of my instrument. I've adjusted the truss rod, saddle height and even filed the nut on most of the bass guitars that I've owned, and I feel like it's made me a somewhat better player. The interesting thing is that it seems like in the DB arena, all these adjustments are left to the luthier (well, there's no truss rod, but you get what I mean).

    Anyway, I appreciate all the responses above, and I hope your bass is as easy to play as you need it to be--anything else isn't much fun!
     
  20. MikeCanada

    MikeCanada

    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    I have worked with a few schools, and the instruments that kids are learning on are usually pretty horrible. The sad truth is that most schools/programs do not have the budget to keep everything in good repair, and if they do come into some money it is usually used for things like an instrument that needs a major repair, acquiring a new instrument or two that they have a shortage of compared to the number of students, or buying new sheet music, instead of repairs and maintenance. I admire the students that do stick with it because it's really difficult to develop good habits/technique in a classroom when the teacher has 25 other students to keep track of, and most of those instruments are actively fighting against you.

    For those that do stick with it, parents with the best of intentions will purchase them an instrument. Many of them, especially with basses experience a lot of sticker shock. If they hear other parents talking about how they got a violin "outfit" for $400, when they see people recommend they spend $2000 on a "beginner bass outfit" they start getting scared. They look online and find that they can get something on Ebay cheaper, or that the local guitar shop also sells string instruments for a whole lot cheaper than the violin/bass shop in the next city, so they go with something like that. They might even find multiple shops selling "the same" instruments at different prices, and they don't understand how important the setup and occasionally upgrades the bass shop adds compared to the guitar shop who assume it's good to go straight out of the crate.

    If they're lucky, they bought something workable from not the greatest source, and they can sink a few hundred more into setup and strings that will make it significantly more playable, but more often than not they end up in shops that have to tell them their ebay special isn't worth the amount of work that it needs. The cycle often continues as people look to upgrade, as the next step up from that hopefully decent ply/hybrid is often a carved instrument in the $6000-10000 range, and depending on what your needs are you might have to make another large jump from there.

    To bring it back to Shens, quite often you find them in dealers that handle basses and other string instruments, and they are a very safe bet. They tend to be well made, competitively priced, and if someone has to make a "brand" recommendation when you are looking in the entry-middle of the market, they are one of the few that are consistent. Those shops/dealers typically do a respectable setup instead of the guitar shops that just slap the strings on and call it good to go, which is a big part of why they get a reputation of being playable instruments compared to other things in the same part of the market.
     
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