Thoughts on what it really takes to get the job done
By Jon Liebman
January 31, 2019
As I write this, I’m on a plane, headed for the annual winter NAMM show in Anaheim, CA. When I get there, I’ll be one of 110,000 or so people checking out all sorts of instruments, gear, software, tools, gadgets, accessories – you name it. We’ll see countless manufacturers and vendors proudly displaying their latest offerings, many of which will be loaded with practically every kind of feature you can imagine.
Being confronted with so many options kind of begs the question: What do you really need to get the job done?
When you signed up to be a bass player, you (hopefully) went in knowing that your function is primarily to serve the band in a supporting role. You’re there to lay down the groove, outline the harmony, and make the music feel good. Oftentimes when it comes to bass features and effects, I find having a lot of excessive bells and whistles tends to be overkill, rarely providing anything we need to help us do our jobs as bass players.
I’ve never really been much of a gear-head, mostly because, well, I just don’t get it. Back in the’80s, when the whole tech craze was out of control, I subscribed to all the technical magazines for musicians, I hung out and toured with guys who talked non-stop about music gear (often in very rapid Spanish!), and I tried to learn everything I could about MIDI, which had suddenly become all the rage. Those days, one of my biggest frustrations was feeling like the computer people and the music people just didn’t understand each other, causing me untold grief as I sat there, dumbfounded, in front of my Macintosh Plus and Jambox interface.
I got to thinking about all this during my interview with Shaun Munday, published this week. One of the things Shaun mentioned in the interview was how he didn’t like getting bogged down with an overabundance of knobs and a thousand ways of tweaking the sounds coming out of his instrument; he just wanted a bass that felt good and sounded good, and didn’t require a lot of technical prowess to operate.
While I have a lot of respect for gear-heavy bass players, like Ryan Martinie, Freekbass, Matt Garrison and many others, there’s also something to be said for players in the “less is more” school, who don’t incorporate a lot processing and gadgetry into their sound. Like most everything else, choosing a bass rig is often a matter of taste and preference – and need.
Personally, I like to keep things simple. I use my modified 4-string for almost everything. I play it through a 100-watt amp with basic, “traditional” EQ options, and a cabinet with two 10” speakers. If I need a bigger sound, I might also use second cabinet with a 15” woofer and a horn. I seldom use any effects, though I might pull out the old chorus pedal once in a great while. The upright, with a pickup, goes straight into the amp.
This setup has served me quite well for over 30 years, as I’ve played everything from jazz gigs and Broadway shows to club dates, rock shows and tons of other stuff. For the really big venues, I’ll go through the house system, either by taking the line out from my amp or playing through whatever is provided on the backline. I have a couple 5-strings and some fretlesses, but they’re only used a fraction of the time for gigs and sessions.
It all comes down to being able to give the music what it needs, and finding the means to get it there. I never felt like I needed much in order to make that happen. Give me a bass that’s well made, feels good to play and sounds good and I’m happy.
What about you?
Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below. I’d love to know what you think.
In the meantime, check out my interview with Shaun here.