If the bass is out of tune, the whole band’s out of tune!
By Jon Liebman
Week of February 4, 2019
This week’s interview with Hansford Rowe includes a rather in-depth discussion of ways to tune a bass and how to make sure your instrument is not just in tune, but impeccably in tune. Throughout his explanation of “Just Intonation,” Hansford gets pretty animated as he describes harmonics, overtones, and what it means to have an ideally tuned instrument.
Having pondered the art of tuning in ways that most of us have probably never thought about, it’s obvious from the get-go that Hansford is really into it. The conversation also includes thoughts about strobe tuners and various electronic apparatuses, all designed to make sure your instrument is scrupulously in tune, before you play even a single note of music.
What about you? How meticulous are you when it comes to tuning your bass before performing, or even practicing? Do you employ the old method of playing the note on the fifth fret of the string and then matching the pitch with that of the adjacent open string? Or do you play the harmonics on the fifth and seventh frets, seeking that “one note” effect, without any wavering of pitch? Maybe you use an electronic tuner, a feature on a computer software program, an app, or a small clip-on device on the headstock of your instrument.
Whatever your means of tuning up, make sure you don’t slack over it or negate its importance. If you play a fretless or extended range bass, or if you use a chorus, delay or other processing gear, the challenges of playing perfectly in tune are compounded dramatically. Whatever the scenario, always be sure you’re listening intently, not just to yourself, but to everyone else in the band as well.
As bass players, our job is to groove with a great time feel and make the music feel good. In so doing, don’t neglect your other vitally important job of playing in tune – incredibly in tune. Remember, if the bass is out of tune, the whole band’s out of tune.
Have a thought about the subject? Feel free to leave a comment below. I’d love to know what you think.
In the meantime, for an excellent discussion on the art of tuning, check out my interview with Hansford here.