Last night I had the great honor again to be part of the DC Buddy Holly Tribute Show. It was a great night with so many great musicians. The event was at the Rockcreek Mansion. They had a main stage upstairs and a little stage in the bar downstairs. All the brands did sets at both locations so there was a lot of gear swapping and in my case, instrument swapping.

Know your instruments sound

As a gigging musician, we all try to figure out how to build our sound with our instrument, our pedals and our amps. and the way everything combines creates the sound that is us. But these gigs where there is a set back-line (amps/PA) means you need to be able to perform in less than optimal circumstances. Guitar players have figured this out by building their pedal board and it can make all the tonal and effect changes that they need and only slight differences in tone from the amp. But for us has players, there difference between a 10″ and a 15″ can be a world of difference and if, like me, you play upright it can mean a night of feedback problems. So, for me. I keep 2 pick-ups on my upright, a Fishman Full Circle (for jazz gigs and as a back-up) and a K&K rockabilly set up with a pre-amp mounted under the tailpiece. I’ve learned to spend the time to get “my sound” on the instrument and try to make it consistent on all amps. I “should be” able to plug straight into a PA systems and still have “my sound.” We’ll that’s the goal.

This particular gig was easy. the guy runny the main stage is a great rockabilly upright bassist, so he was sharing his GK 800RB and 2×10 cab. I plugged in and set the EQ flat and it sounded great. But I decided earlier that I didn’t want to drag my upright thru a crowded club after my first set, then down the stairs and through another crowded club and set up with another amp. So I brought an upright.

Switching from Upright to Electric.

I brought along my ’61, dolphin nose, Silvertone U1. I haven’t played this bass in about 6-8 years. I had been watching some ancient YouTube video of me playing this bass and thought it would be fun. So I got it out of it’s case, tuned it up, re-set the action and tried to make sure it was ready to gig. But the thing I did not do… I did not rehearse any of the songs that I was to play on the electric bass. Yes, it’s the same notes, but the muscle memory  from upright to electric is totally different. When you play upright, you learn where your hand should be and where on the fingerboard your fingers should be based on this feel. The electric bass neck feels pretty much the same, so now I have to actually think about things. Additionally one of my fav bass sounds is this bass with a pick, so it’s a whole different thing.

What I said earlier, know your sound on your instrument. My Silvertone has about 1000 sounds, with pick, with fingers, at the bridge, at the fingerboard and then my tone knob is super powerful. It was a blast playing it and playing with all the different tones that I could pull out of it. But at the gig, it was still like switching from upright bass to clarinet because, although they have the same tuning and you play the same notes, it’s really more like a guitar than a bass… at least to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I still had a blast. But I should have reversed at least a little on the electric before the gig.

Hearing it.

The most important thing I tell all musicians is the one thing that i always forget. “learn to hear your instrument!” Bass is omni-directional and the large soundwaves open up about 6 feet past where you are standing on stage. Trust your sandman when he tells you that you are too loud. Specific to the upright, it can sound so big without you being able to pick out the actual instrument. So learn to hear yourself. If you do you can play even quieter and still hear yourself.

It’s all just bass

Lastly, accept that out from, in the mix, it’s all just bass. All those nuanced tones that you spend time shaping, once it goes in the mix only other bass players will even notice that there is any difference between your sound and the next guy. Last night, I could hear that Lew had a very “woody” sound, Moe had a very full sound with a kinda hollow upper-mid sound, and I now that I have more “click” to my sound than most. But when I walked around the corner, it all sounded like bass, and really, that’s what we are supposed to do.