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What To Do?

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by stephanie, Sep 21, 2002.

  1. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Hi Steve and Michael,

    I was going to send this as a personal message but I figured there might be others in the same boat as I who are looking for advice so here goes:

    I feel I've hit a wall. I don't believe this has anything to do with a rut or creative dry spell, but I'm afraid if I keep like this much longer it will turn into such. I haven't been doing as much writing as I should be lately. It's like a lot of personal things have been getting in my way and sucking the life out of me (LOL). (Money issues, health issues and such.) I am growing out of the bass I've had since I began playing and don't have the money to buy a new one. I can't advance the way I want to advance with it. I also want a looper and something good to record with. So all this personal business seems to be affecting my work. I only seem to be writing not even a few notes a day lately.

    Have you guys ever been in a situation like this? I've been trying to take my advice which would be to just "Shut up and play/write" :D but it isn't working. I love the bass more than anything so when I am unable to do what I want to do it really depresses me. :(

    Hope this makes sense...

  2. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK

    I can certainly sympathise - all the way through my playing career, my music ideas have been one step ahead of the technology that I can afford... :)

    When I was at college I had a Jazz bass and a carlsbro amp - no pedals/effects/etc. I used to borrow a guitar unit from a guy on my course when he went home for the weekends so I could experiment, but it was as year or two before I could get anything of my own... When I got my first Modulus, I had worked 12 hours a day, 6 days a week in a factory for a couple of months to save up enough money to keep me going til I was getting enough gigs to pay the bills... I then blew nearly all that Money on my Q4 (the one I still have!) - and luckily managed to sort out enough food to stay alive, and get the government to pay my rent for me for a few months while I got this sorted... :)

    The lessons on learned through all that was that gradual growth tends to be 'stronger' - it's like nature - slow growing trees grow taller and stronger than fast growing grass. The things that slow you down, and make you work on other aspects of your playing are often blessings in disguise, as they stop you from jumping head-first into technology without the 'music' to feed into it.

    So frustrating though it is, it's time to sit back and look at the things you can do now, rather than stress over what you can't do (and have a read of the Tao Of Pooh for more on this... :D ) - you can work on the tone in your hands - what Rick Turner calls 'Digital tone controls - 5 on each hand!'

    you can work on simplicity - nearly all modern instrumental music suffers from a lack of space, that's why we only listen to a tiny proportion of what gets made. Without a looper, unless you're going to spend all day tapping bass line and melody at the same time, you'll have to learn about space, time to think and breathe in the music. On thing it might be good to borrow from someone is a reverb unit - it changes the way you 'hear' space.

    One thing that it would probably be really good to read up on and do some research into now is bass set-up - a cheap bass can be made to sound a thousand times better by a good set up. Have a look at some of the articles on the net, and find out what the various things like action, neck relief, bridge adjustment, pickup height etc will do for your playing and sound - experiment, if you remember exactly what movements you make (work in quarter turns of whatever srew or nut you're adjusting), and don't do anything drastic and you're learn a lot, and save yourself a fortune when you're a super star and have to maintain a whole stable of gorgeous instruments... :D

    And lastly, it's probably a good time to find someone else to play with - their attitude is more important than their chosen instrument, so work with a singer/guitarist/sax/keys/percussion/bass/cello/whatever - find someone who wants to experiment, try new things, take time to write some good tunes and see what happens!

    Don't stress over it - I'm sure Michael will fill us in on the story behind the hyperbass, which is one of technology growing to fit his musical needs in the way that you seem to be thinking, rather than 'hey, this is a cool toy, I'll have to write some stuff for it'...

    take care,

    Steve (from an internet cafe in Perth, Scotland!)
  3. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Wow Steve! Thanks! :)

    About looking at things I can do now, I know, I can always practice, right? That's one thing I can always do, no matter what. If my bass sounds crappy I just practice thru it. If I'm having a bad day I just practice and try to forget about my bad day. Sometimes it's hard depending on the emotional level I'm at. I know that if I at least practice I will feel at least a little satisfied at the end of the day and know I accomplished something, even if it wasn't anything creative.

    I own a Squier P-Bass. I'm feeling, with the type of stuff I write, I might need a fretless somewhere down the road.

    Anyway, thanks again Steve. I'm feeling a bit better. :)

  4. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    I too, can sympathize, Stephanie. There are always times when you just need more time, money, inspiration, etc. I've had the incredible good fortune to have a few of my gear wishes come true and these have been very inspiring, but I do keep finding more to do with just a decent, regular old 4-string. We all get frustrated with our instruments from time to time, but I think inspiration comes in cycles and you may get a re-kindled interest in that old bass of yours in time. It can actually be a blessing not to have the money for the gear you want because it forces you to be more creative with what you have. When I find myself wishing I could afford some fancy gadget or other to inspire me (and believe me, this happens a lot!) I'll often try a new tuning or technique as a substitute. It can also be nice to try playing less and listening to more music instead.

    I agree that it's a good idea to just practice and not worry too much about creativity when you hit a wall. Sometimes though, I think it's wise to put music in general aside and focus on other things in life. I think sometimes creative dry spells are sort of the subconscious mind's way of telling you that some other aspect of life needs your attention. In my opinion, your music should be a reflection of your whole being and once in awhile it's more important to just get out there and live life than it is to practice. As always, finding the balance is the tricky part, but it sounds like you have a good, positive attitude and I think that will serve you well in the long run. Hang in there!
  5. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Weeelll, I've never really had any lack of gear problems. I had the same bass from age 16 to 24, but it was a fair instrument (Hohner B Bass) and the same amp as Steve (Carlsboro 100W Viper)... and I got my Stingray 3 years ago by doing some freelance writing for a crappy internet mag. I had to write a literal mountain of total rubbish inside a week and it took many many hours, but I was lucky to get the work.

    I can sympathise with the 'almost writers block' though! - I find I get so bogged down with bands and wanting to do more than I can, that I worry about not working on my lessons/homework enough, or, like you, not working towards my personal goals, my music.

    It takes me a while to sort myself out each time I get like that, but I have to convince myself that I'm being too hard and that there's no hurry! I mean I've got the rest of my life... at least! :eek:

    If you are not in a band or playing with other musicians, I'd say that is a good thing to aim for, because it's very socialable and you get to be bass player, rather than a struggling musician - it can be a lot easier!
    ...and when whatever you're playing with the band works it's an incredible feeling. Well worth the sheer torment of getting there - sorry, only kidding... well, sort of ;)

    Balance between every differnt aspect of life is SO difficult. Work, play, music, bands, friends, partner, family... only once in a blue moon do I manage to get them all synchonised in perfect harmony! :)
  6. CS


    Dec 11, 1999
    Getting away from music temporarily is a good thing but there is a silver lining in the 'brick wall' scenario. If we perceive ourselves to be less than we want to be, we can put some effort into improving (or give up). Personally music gives me so much that I want to improve.

    There can be a tendency to look at others who are 'more gifted' and be disheartened. You dont even have to look very far. Changing 'more' to 'differently' IMHO works for me.

    Having access to Steve and Michael's opinions and responses (as well as the other pro's-official and unofficial) has been a great help to me and may it continue to do so.
  7. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Thank you all for the great advice. I appreciate it. :)

    So true! ...not that I have a social life though. :eek: :D And I've been jobless for a year. But I am constantly seeking to find balance in my life. Inward and out.
    Indeed! Talkbass is a great addition to my weekly lessons and I'm glad that I can come on here and get advice from ppl like Steve and Michael who I look up to in guiding me through my solo bass career. And to the many others who provide more advice and help in all aspects of the bass. :)
  8. You could defret it. You'd have a fretless like you said you wanted, and it could put a whole new vibe on your Squier and feel like a new instrument altogether. My bass did when i defretted it.

    BTW, you could upgrade the bass a bit at a time if you're too short on money to buy a new one.
  9. chris griffiths

    chris griffiths

    Aug 20, 2002
    nashville tn
    Endorsing artist: Gallien Krueger
    Stephanie we all as musicians get here. I find doing something very diverse and different. Maybe playing a type of music you don't listen to or listening to a type of music you've never heard of. For me what freed me up was just playing with one finger. Changed my perspective. Hey maybe a good episode of slide bass :)

    have a good one,
  10. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Instead of defretting, would putting flatwounds on the Squier be just as good? What would be cheaper/better in the long run? I did a search in Strings on putting flatwounds on fretted basses and found opinions vary. I am looking for a smooth, cello-like feel, that's what most of the songs I'm writing seem (to want :D) to have.
  11. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK

    flats would certainly change the feel of your bass - definitely smoother to touch. The tone will change as well, and the bass will almost certainly require a set-up of some kind. Flats are often described as sounding 'dull' or 'bassy', but that I think it mainly because people put them on, don't account for the higher tension and end up with a much higher action, which results in you getting less 'zing' off the frets, and pulls the strings further away from the pickup(s)... my Modulus 6 (OK, we're not talking about a Squire here, not fair... :D ) has flats on it, and I can get just about any tone I want EXCEPT the classic roundwound slap tone - that's the one that's completely missing. It does have a cool slap tone, but it's very different...

    I really like the sound and feel of flats on a fretted bass, and when I eventually get a 6 string fretted, it will have flats on...

    however, they are not cheap, so plan ahead - try and find someone in your area who has a bass with flats on to try out...

    have fun!!

  12. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    The first bass I ever played (about 2 years or so before I bought my first bass) was actually this old short-scale Fender my friend had, strung with flatwounds. LOL Knowing squat then, I thought that's how all bass strings were and that's what I fell in love with -- that certain sound and the smooth feel of the strings beneath my finger. :D

    So, both ideas about what to do w/ my bass are going to cost me some money it seems anyway LOL...

    I better find a job soon! :eek: :D
  13. Si-bob


    Jun 30, 2001
    Hemel Hempstead, UK
    Focusrite / Novation
    i'v got flats on my 5'er fretted. I was using rounds but i hated the brightness and the string noise (theres nothing wrong with my muting, i'm just picky :D ) . Like steve said your not going to get a typical slap/pop tone, but in my case i don't do that very much anyway.
    i got my Rotosound Flats for 385 pounds from the bass centre, thats a lot u say, but i did get a free Eden CXM-112 with them!!! :eek:
    i wouldn't go back to rounds at the mo, love the smooth feeling of flats, and the 'duller' sound. the roto's are quite growly through my setup to.
    with regards to a setup, my basses neck didn't need one single adjustment, i'm beginning to think that its reiforced in some way :)

  14. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    i loved the sound of flats on my fender p, but i couldnt hear them at all beneath two distorted guitars. 2ps worth.
  15. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    I'm curious - in what manner exactly do you feel that you're growing out of the bass you have?

    If it's what I think it is - that you aren't happy with the sound you are getting out of it - there are ways around that. As Steve said, altering the setup of your bass and/or changing the strings can produce an amazingly different feel. Or perhaps fiddling with your tone controls and trying to play with a type of tone you've never tried before.

    Sometimes I do this - try to play with a "new" sound - and two hours will pass by before I know it.

    For instance, I was rat fed up with my Ibanez 6'er a few months back. It was too heavy, the tone was weak and it was unplayable. Well, I got a wider and more comfortable strap, raised the pickups and lowered the action and et voila - problems all solved, and the love affair has been renewed!

    The same thing is happening with my 4 now - I tried Elixir strings on it and discovered I don't like them at all. As soon as I replace 'em, I'm sure I'll love the bass again!

    Hmmm, I guess what this is leading up to is that if you could specify in what way you're unhappy with the sound of your bass and how you'd like to change it, we might be able to suggest more... :)
  16. using effects can breathe a new lease of life into your playing- when I bought my Zoom 506 having all the chorus, wah and delay effects at easy disposal was brilliant. trying fingerstyle, slapping, tapping, harmonics and pickstyle on each effect in turn added a lot of extra dimensions.

    Gail Ann Dorsey said in BP that she uses chorus to approximate a fretless sound using a fretted bass- so I got into using the "crystal chorus" setting on my Zoom to do this- it's not the same really, but it's a sound worth exploring.
    on new Zoom 506's there's a fretless simulator too.

    also adding a bridge J pickup to your Squier can vastly add to the range of tones available.
  17. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    yeah those zoom multi effects are pretty cheap all in all.

    the 708, my girlfriend bought me for xmas a few years back (understanding or what!), was £100, so 2nd hadn will be much less. it has about 50 effects, and the same no of drum patterns. you tweak everything and save about 20 banks.
    Tis ideal for messing about at home, but the sound quality does lack a bit for live performances i think, it's not quite wholesome enough i guess?
  18. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    I've got a 708 as well - not used it for a while, as I've been doing the kind of playing where I can take my rack along, but it's cool for some things, and is certainly a good intro to the world of effects.

    Value For Money, about the best unit around at the moment is the Boss VF-1 that Michael's using - small, powerful and some amazing sounds. The only down side is that you'd have to buy some sort of foot controller for it to use it to it's fullest...


    (new solo album out mid-october - see site for details)
  19. BassAxe


    Jul 22, 2002
    Culpeper, VA
    Take a bass line and rewrite it note for note backwards.

    Another cool thing is to imagine your strings are reversed like for a lefty bass and try to play bass lines you know that way. I'll try to give an example.


    Would become...


    These two tricks help me find something new out of things which I had already learned.

    Hope this helps.
  20. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I think this got a bit lost in all the great advice.

    But to me this is the most important thing I ever learned.

    So, I used to write a lot of stuff on my own - home recording with bass,guitar, keyboards,drum machines. But it was always more inspiring when I was working with other people - usually just a singer, but with others as well. When this singer got married and moved to Wales I lost all inpsiration and hit a wall for years.

    It was only discovering a Jazz community that got me back into playing and now I find that I really only want to play with other people as this gives me so much motivation to improve and try different things that I wouldn't have otherwise.

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