I have to admit something. There is a lot of stuff I don’t understand about the bass. This is especially true when it comes to how set up my bass.
I don’t even change my own strings. Seriously.
I’ve always been lucky to find great people to take care of my bass and keep it nice. I take it in for annual “check ups” and get new strings. My awareness of the importance of the set up came to light for me this summer. At ISB 2015 in Fort Collins, Colorado, I tried over 30 basses to find one I wanted to play for my recital. There was an amazing variety of beautiful instruments to play. I didn’t have nearly enough time to get to them all.
(If you’re a bassist looking for a new instrument, just plan on attending ISB 2017 in Ithaca, NY. If you can’t find your bass there, it might not exist.)
Anyway, in my wide-eyed pursuit for a bass to play, I ran into a luthier who was bringing a bass back to his booth. He stopped me and insisted that I tried it. The original luthier (someone not at the convention) makes gorgeous instruments, but I’ve found them to be hard for me to play. The basses sound amazing, but I get too worn out in the process. I tried this one and my jaw dropped to the floor. It played the way I had always hoped it would. How was it possible?
It’s all in the set up.
Whoa. I feel like such a knucklehead for not “getting” it before. The only reason I’m writing about it is because I think that I might not be the only one with this level of understanding.
My bass at home plays like a dream.
When I met “Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome” in 1993, he just happened to be set up for my hand size. Over years of check ups (thank you Lisa Gass), there have been small tweaks and repairs to open up the sound and improve its performance. I just considered it regular maintenance.
My travel bass has not been nearly as cool.
Now, fast forward to 2012. I purchased a travel bass with a removable neck. It played ok, but I just figured that it didn’t play as well as Mr. TDH because it was a less expensive instrument. After 3 years of owning it, I was getting to the point of looking for a new instrument for travel that would be easier to play and make a bigger sound. I also wanted to modify the bass so I could use my bent end pin. Then I played that bass at the convention. Could my travel bass be modified to play easier and make a bigger sound? Absolutely!
I handed my travel bass over to Jason Brown at Lemur Music about 3 weeks ago and asked him to work his magic. Now, I have a new bass. He thinned the neck, added a carbon fibre rod to support the neck, moved and re-marked the positioning of my bridge and sound post, and drilled the hole in the bottom of the bass so I can use my bent end pin. (I know he did some other things too, but I forget all the details.) I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am with the results. I’m putting it together so I can even play it here at home. It is that good.
Most basses aren’t meant to be played off the rack, especially if they are new. We can luck out from time to time and get close, but we can’t assume that a bass is at its maximum potential from the start. We are shaped as differently as our instruments. (It is easier to modify the bass than our own figures. :-)) If you aren’t happy with your bass, have it fixed up before you start looking for something new. If you are trying basses, buy something that sounds great. If you’re ok with the size of the shoulders and the body of the bass, you can have modifications made to the neck to make it your dream instrument.
What makes a bass work best for you?