Assessing what you want, versus what you need in an instrument
By Jon Liebman
Week of October 7, 2019
It’s always fun catching up with former Pantera bassist Rex Brown to talk about whatever music projects he’s working on. In this week’s FBPO interview, Rex provided all kinds of details about the new solo album he’s got in the works, the follow-up to his 2017 release, Smoke on This. The conversation included a rundown of the recording process, choice of gear, music selection, and Rex’s resolve to “never make the same record twice.”
When we talked about all the different theories about how to approach the bass, I asked Rex what advice he could impart to anyone who wants to learn to play bass. The first thing he advised was to think back to your first memory of noticing – and appreciating – the bass line in your favorite song, then learning to play that line. In other words, play something that’s enjoyable to you. He also covered some nuts and bolts elements, like scales, articulation, and proper plucking technique.
One thing he said that got my attention was his suggestion that adult learners should start out with an inexpensive bass, comparable to what a 13- or 14-year-old student would use, even though they could probably afford a higher quality instrument.
Does that really matter?
I’ve played some very expensive basses, and I’ve played some pretty cheap ones. Yes, for the most part, there is a difference (I imagine a $1,000 bottle of wine must be pretty special too, but so far I can’t tell you first-hand). With a bass, it comes down to things like quality craftsmanship, ease of playing, and overall sound. It also comes down to necessity, weighing what you want against what you need.
In most cases, even an inexpensive bass can get the job done, as long as everything works. At the end of the day, it comes down to the player. A great bassist will still sound pretty good on a low-budget instrument, whereas a mediocre player won’t be helped much at all, even with a top of the line bass, boasting precisely calibrated features, a gorgeous paint job, and over-the-top electronics.
If you’re a member of the FBPO bass school, you can start out with an inexpensive instrument, or you can go all out with the latest and greatest bass you can find. Members are encouraged to reach out to me anytime with questions or concerns regarding bass-playing issues, including choosing an instrument. I’m always happy to help.
Whatever you decide, don’t lose sight of what’s most important in playing the bass, which is to groove with a great time feel. If you can’t learn do that on your chosen instrument, even the “greatest” bass in the world won’t help.
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 Rex here.