Spain on 6-string Fretless Bass and Nylon String Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 4th February 2020
Chick Corea’s composition Spain is one of the most iconic jazz tunes written in the 20th Century. Last week I was using some of the chord changes for the solo section of Spain to demonstrate how to use major triad pairs to solo on jazz chord changes. After shooting that video I was practicing playing the tune as a duet with myself. I was using my Godin ACS nylon string guitar and my fretless Warwick Thumb SC.
Bass and Nylon String Guitar
Some combinations of instruments just work really well, even though you rarely hear them used. I think that the combination of bass guitar and nylon string or classical guitar is a great combination. I keep meaning to write more musical arrangements using this combination and I hope I will in the future. Another great combination is bass and flute, think about Jaco Pastorius’ tune (Used to be a) Cha Cha.
This is my first video of an arrangement using just bass and nylon string guitar. To be honest, I haven’t done much arranging, I pretty much just played the tune and improvised a solo on bass.
Bright Size Life on Fretless Bass and Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 14th January 2020
One of my favourite albums is Bright Size Life by Pat Metheny. It was not only Metheny’s debut album as a band leader but it was also one of the earliest recordings of Jaco Pastorius. Pastorius went on to become arguably the most influential electric bass player of the 20th century, and Bright Size Life features some of his best jazz work. Metheny and Pastorius together on this album are two young jazz genius’ working together in the very stripped down context of a trio with drummer Bob Moses.
The album features some of the best guitar and bass arrangements ever heard in the history of jazz and the title track is one of my personal favourites. This week I was reading through transcriptions of both Metheny’s and Jaco’s parts and I’ve tried to put them together. Admittedly, my playing in this video doesn’t live up to the genius of these two legends, but I was having fun so I put the camera on anyway. I hope you enjoy it.
Sire Marcus Miller V7 Vintage Fretless
The bass I’m using is a fretless Sire Marcus Miller V7 Vintage. I’ve done a video about the Sire V7’s before, and I think they’re brilliant. But I haven’t yet done a video about this fretless Vintage version. The thing with this Vintage version is that it’s clearly based on a 70’s fretless Fender Jazz Bass. So, even though it has Marcus Miller’s name on it, it makes me think of Jaco Pastorius.
Happy New Year – New Year’s Eve Bass Practice Diary – 31st December 2019
Happy New Year! It’s New Year’s Eve and I want to thank everyone who has followed Johnny Cox Music in 2019. I have big plans moving forward into 2020, including a lot more free original bass content, so stay tuned! My second book is almost ready for publication and I’m planning to launch a dedicated teaching website for bass players in 2020.
Here’s a video that I shot last year to help you usher in the new year with a bit of solo 6-string bass. I would have shot a new video this year, but unfortunately I don’t know any other New Year’s Eve song apart from Auld Lang Syne. So this is one of the very rare occasions where I’m recycling an old video. I hope you enjoy it!
Auld Lang Syne
There are a number of ways you can approach harmonising this tune, and I didn’t spend very long coming up with this arrangement. I didn’t write the arrangement down, I just worked out a few things by ear before I hit record.
The loose structure of the arrangement is as follows. I played the first half of the song solo, using simple I, IV, V harmony. I intentionally set it in a key where I could utilise the open strings as bass notes. Then I added some jazz chords and alterations in the second half and immediately overdubbed the melody for the second half of the tune.
This was actually one of the quickest videos I’ve done. The shooting of it didn’t take more than five minutes. But I’m happy with the results. Sometimes playing something “off the cuff” is the best way rather than overthinking it.
I hope you enjoy this bit of bassy mellowness, whether your New Year’s Eve is mellow like mine or a bit more exciting. And I hope that the coming year gives you many opportunities to play the bass!
Carol of the Bells – Christmas Bass Practice Diary – 24th December 2019
Happy Christmas and thanks to everyone that’s been following my Bass Practice Diary videos this year. Here is my new Christmas bass video for 2019. I wanted to find something that I could arrange with a loop pedal and my 6-string bass. I immediately thought of Carol of the Bells. The arrangement of the song immediately lends itself to looping.
The way that I’ve arranged it makes it possible to perform live with two loop pedals, one going into the other. However, I shot this video in two parts with one loop pedal. It’s much easier doing it that way rather than as one continuous take.
TC Electronic Vibraclone Rotary with 6-String Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 10th December 2019
This week I discovered the Vibraclone Rotary pedal from TC Electronic. They call it a Rotary Speaker Emulator, which to me means it sounds like playing through a Leslie speaker. I’ve never been particularly interested in effects pedals. I very rarely take any with me on gigs. But I do use them occasionally. And if I come across a pedal that sounds good for an affordable price, then I’ll definitely snap it up. The Vibraclone ticks all the boxes of being cheap, interesting and sounding good.
How I use the Vibraclone
The Vibraclone definitely has a retro sound. The Leslie speaker was invented in the 1940’s as an addition to the hammond organ. But it was used as an effect by guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s. The terms Chorale and Tremolo are used on a switch on the Vibraclone to differentiate the slow and fast speed settings. These terms came from the Leslie speaker, which used the same terms for it’s slow and fast settings.
I prefer playing with the slower mode for most situations. I find it a bit more subtle. Although I feel like maybe the faster setting sounds more authentically like a Leslie.
Using effects pedals with bass
Generally I don’t use effects when I’m playing the bass and I’m certainly not an expert on pedals. But the times when I find them useful are when I’m playing a lot of solos. If I’m doing a duo gig for example, I know I’ll be called on to play lots of solos. Having something that can change and add variety to my tonal palette can really add something. If you’re playing your third or fourth solo of the night then you usually need something to help you change it a bit.
When I’m using effects pedals, I prefer to put them through an effects loop rather than directly into the front of an amplifier. I want my pure bass tone to be as undiluted as possible, so I don’t want anything in my signal chain between my bass and the amp.
How the effects loop works does depend on the individual amplifier. On my Ampeg GVT guitar amp I can activate and deactivate the effects loop with a foot switch. That is by far my favourite method of using an effects loop, because it means that when the effects loop is disabled I’m getting no potential discolouring of my sound from playing through a long chain of inactive pedals and patch cables. It’s a great system and I wish that I had a bass amp that worked like that.
The effects loop on the back of the Markbass Little Mark III works slightly differently. It mixes the sound of the effects loop with the clean sound of your bass going into the front of the amp. So the impact of the effects is slightly more subtle as it isn’t impacting on all of the sound coming out the amp. I used a volume pedal on the effects loop to gradually bring in and fade out the effect.
You could use the foot switch on the pedal to turn the effect on and off, but that would still leave the sound of your bass going through the pedal chain in the mix. Anything in your chain will colour your bass tone. Even a true bypass pedal must have some effect on your tone and all the extra cables will as well. Which is why I think it’s very important to use an effects loop, so you can only play through the pedals when you want to. One other major advantage of using the volume pedal is if you’re using multiple pedals that you want to turn on simultaneously.
Sire Marcus Miller V7 4-String or 5-String? – Bass Practice Diary – 3rd December 2019
I’d like to do a review of the Sire Marcus Miller V7, because it’s a really good bass. I’ve already reviewed the Sire Marcus Miller M7 fretless 5-string. The only problem is that so many people have already reviewed the V7. I don’t want to just repeat what other people have already said, I try to make a point with my videos of always coming up with something a bit different from what’s already out there. Otherwise what’s the point in doing them.
So the question that I’m going to try to answer is, 4-string or 5-string? If you buy just one Sire Marcus Miller bass, I would recommend that you buy a V7. But, should you get the 4-string version or the 5-string version? Logically they should be identical apart from the number of strings, so does it make much difference if you go for the 4 or the 5? I think it does and I’m going to explain why.
What has everyone been saying about the V7?
The reviews that I’ve seen of the V7 seem to all pretty much say the same things. Sire have used high quality materials, meaning woods, hardware and even a bone nut. They have an excellent onboard preamp, they sound great, they have a low action which makes them extremely easy to play. And all for a price that is amazingly low given the quality of the instrument.
I’m not going to disagree with any of that. I would even add to it the fact that the bass sounds great without the preamp. When I first played one of these out the box, and it wasn’t yet hooked up to an amplifier, I could hear that it was a great sounding bass even without plugging it in.
It has an active/passive switch that turns the preamp on and off. It sounds great in passive mode with the preamp switched off. So I’m not sure how much it even needs the preamp. But having the preamp on the bass is definitely an added bonus.
The few minor negative comments that I’ve heard about the V7 include the fact that it’s a bit heavy. That hasn’t been a problem for me at all. I play Warwick basses which tend to be very heavy and the V7 feels relatively light in comparison. Maybe for someone who is used to playing Fender basses, the V7 might feel heavy.
Sire Basses Setup and Quality Control
I feel I should address the issue of quality control, because not all of the Sire basses are set up perfectly when you get them out the box. I’ve played four Sire basses brand new straight out of the box. Only one of them was set up exactly as it should be. Two of them, the two V7s featured in this video had very minor setup issues that were very quickly fixed. And I experienced big setup problems with the M7 bass.
I honestly don’t see that as a problem. Basses at this price are not meant to be perfect. For every bass to come out of the factory set up perfectly, Sire would need to pay luthiers to meticulously check every detail on every instrument. If they did that, the basses would be much more expensive. Personally, I would much rather they kept the price as low as possible, and I’ll sort out any issues with the setup myself.
I should start by saying that both basses in the video are identical models. They both have alder bodies. So the only difference between them, apart from the colour, is the addition of a low B-string on the five string version. So, my first question is, is the B-string on the 5-string as good as the other four strings?
It’s an important question, because it’s really hard to get a low B-string to sound good. On almost any 5 or 6-string bass, the tension on the B-string is less than the tension on the other four strings. That can often cause the B-string to sound weak in comparison to the other strings. I’ve played plenty of 5-string basses where the low B-string sounded so bad that I just didn’t want to use it.
So, how is the low B-string on the 5-string V7? It’s pretty good, which is actually a problem because the other 4-strings sound great, and the B-string only sounds good.
It’s definitely a better low B-string than many of the 5-string basses I’ve played. When you play it on it’s own, it sounds fine, but it just doesn’t sound as good as the rest of the instrument.
It’s probably the one area where the M7 beats the V7. The 5-string M7 has an extra inch in the scale length of the 5-string version, and that helps to even out the tone with the other strings.
One other issue I have with the 5-string V7 is the string spacing. The strings have a narrower spacing than on the 4-string. I know that this is something that a lot of bass manufacturers do, including Fender. But I wish they wouldn’t. 20mm is a standard string spacing for a 4-string bass. The V7 is a Fender Jazz style bass, and the only J style 5-string basses that I’ve ever played and loved, had a 20mm string spacing. When I try to play Marcus Miller thumb and pluck style bass lines with the slightly narrower string spacing, I find it harder to do.
I think the Sire Marcus Miller V7 is a brilliant bass. I really love playing the 4-string version. The 5-string version is good too, but every time I pick it up, I find myself wanting to put it down and pick up the 4-string version instead. So, if you’re planning to buy just one Sire Marcus Miller bass, and you want my advice about which one to get, then I’m going for the 4-string V7.
The 4-string version makes perfect sense. Because it’s clearly based upon Marcus Miller’s own modified Fender Jazz Bass. Marcus Miller doesn’t play 5-string basses, and I can see why, because his style doesn’t suit a 5-string bass. He does sometimes play his bass with the E-string tuned down to a D, as I demonstrated in the video. And that also works well with the V7 4-string bass.
However, I feel like I should conclude by acknowledging that I’m in the fortunate position of having basses with really good low B strings. So I don’t actually need a 5-string V7. If you’re in the position where you need a 5-string bass, and you’re thinking of the V7 as an option. You probably won’t find many better 5-string basses at this price.
An Introduction to I VI II V – Chords on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 26th November 2019
I VI II V is possibly the most commonly used chord sequence in jazz. So, I think it’s time I started to look at how you can approach playing this simple but versatile chord progression on a 6-string bass. It’s been a few weeks since my last video about playing chords on 6-string bass. So, I’m bringing the series back this week with an important one.
Why is I VI II V so common in jazz?
That’s a question I used to ask myself a lot when I was younger. When you listen to the progression played in it’s simplest form, it’s not particularly interesting. It’s quite practical, because it has a nice cycle of fifths movement, with the VI leading to the II to the V and back to the one. So it can just go around and around, with the V always leading back to the I. It’s a nice cyclical chord movement that takes you back to chord I. And as such it’s very often played on the turnaround of a jazz progression.
In the standard chord progression, chord I is a major 7th chord, chord VI is usually played as a dominant 7th chord. Although if you harmonise the chords using the diatonic major scale it would be a minor 7th chord. The reason it’s usually played as a dominant 7th chord is because it acts as a chord V leading to the minor 7th chord II. And the real chord V is also a dominant 7th chord.
Here is my version of a standard I VI II V chord progression in the key of E.
But to really understand why I VI II V is so popular, I think you need to understand a bit about how and when jazz musicians like to use it.
The first thing that you need to know about how most jazz musicians will use the I VI II V progression, is that they will try to find as many ways as they can to avoid playing the obvious chord progression. They do this by finding chord substitutions and adding extensions and alterations to the standard chords.
I often get people asking me to explain the concept of chord substitutions. But it’s a very difficult thing to do. Because the truth is, that you can substitute any chord with any other chord. The only restriction is what your ear will accept is a valid substitution. And that is a matter of taste and opinion. How much dissonance are you willing to accept?
However, if I was going to sum up the concept of chord substitutions in one short paragraph. I would say that you are looking for chords that have important notes in common with each other. Which brings me neatly on to the most common chord substitution in jazz, the tritone substitution.
Substituting dominant chords
Tritone substitutions can be performed on any dominant 7th chord. The principle is, that any dominant 7th chord shares two notes in common with another dominant 7th chord. Those notes are the 3rd and the 7th. In order to find the substitute dominant chord you need to find a root note that is an interval of three tones away from the root note of the original chord. If you’re not sure what I mean, check out my guide to playing intervals on the bass.
Take the example of the G7 chord. The root is G, there 3rd is B and the 7th is F. You can play it like this.
The tritone substitution would be Db7. The root is Db, the 7th is B (Cb) and the 3rd is F.
Here is the I VI II V chord progression played in C major using tritone substitutions on the two dominant 7th chords. I’ve also substituted chord III for chord one in the first bar.
Six String Fretless Bass Arrangement – I Know You – Bass Practice Diary – 19th November 2019
Multi-tracking fretless bass is a big challenge. It’s hard enough to get any fretless instrument to sound in tune on even a single bass line. But to try and get multiple tracks of the same instrument to sound in tune with itself is really hard. Because if any one note is slightly out of tune, then the whole thing sounds bad. So, I set myself a challenge this week to see if I could arrange a tune using only my Warwick Thumb SC 6-string fretless bass.
I Know You by Mike Stern
The tune that I chose was I Know You which comes from a collaboration between Richard Bona and Mike Stern on the album These Times. It’s a beautiful tune and I highly recommend checking out the original version. Richard Bona’s vocals and bass playing are just sublime.
My version probably doesn’t do justice to the original, but it kind of works in it’s own way. The intonation certainly isn’t perfect, but I include it in my Bass Practice Diary as a demonstration of the kind of ideas that I like to use to help me improve my intonation on fretless bass. If you have a loop pedal and a fretless bass, try multi-tracking some of your own fretless lines. It’s hard to get it to sound good!
Truss Rod Adjustment & Setup on fretless Sire Marcus Miller M7 – Bass Practice Diary – 12th November 2019
One of the most useful skills that you can learn as a bass player is to set up your own bass. It’s easy. Two weeks ago I released my review of the Sire Marcus Miller M7 fretless 5-string bass. It’s a good bass, but the setup was a mess when it arrived. So, on the same day that I shot the review, I also made a video about how I set the bass up, and here it is.
Why you should set up your own bass
When I was younger, I always paid a professional luthier to set my instruments up. I thought that a really good instrument needs a professional set up, and if I tried to do it myself I might ruin it. But there was one incident that completely changed my perspective, and I’m very glad that it did.
I was in my mid twenties and I’d been playing professional gigs for a few years. And I always took my basses to the same bass shop to have them set up. A very good shop where they make their own high end custom basses. So they know what they’re doing. I had just spent a lot of money on buying what was, at that time, the most expensive bass I’d ever owned.
The setup was almost perfect on my new bass, but there was a small issue on the first string, with the action being a bit too low. And so, on a few frets, the first string wasn’t ringing clearly. Naturally I took it straight to my usual bass shop where I knew and trusted them. And I paid them to give it a full setup. I didn’t mention the issue on the first string, I thought I didn’t need to. I assumed that as professional luthiers, they would make the setup perfect.
You’ve probably guessed by now, that when I came to pick up the bass two or three days later. The bass was in exactly the same condition that I had left it. Same issue on the first string. And while I was trying the bass out, I over heard the luthier say to his colleague in another room, that he hadn’t known what to do with my bass because the setup had been perfect from the start.
Only you know how you want your bass to be set up
Naturally I was dismayed to have wasted my time and money on a setup that had made no difference to my bass. I asked the luthier to make some extra adjustments, which he did, and they also made no difference. Then I left with my bass, not knowing what I should do. I didn’t complain, because I didn’t want to humiliate the guy, he had done his best.
When I got home, all I could do was try and sort out the issue myself, which I did in less than 10 minutes and I got the bass playing perfectly. And this was a revelation to me. I had always assumed that I couldn’t possibly set an instrument up as well as a professional. But I had fixed a problem in a few minutes that a professional had failed to even identify in three days.
Now, I assure you that I’m not trying to say that luthiers are incompetent or a sham. There is a reason why the luthier couldn’t get my bass setup right and I could. And that reason is because I’m a musician and he isn’t. I’ve heard all of the luthiers in that shop playing basses before, and their bass playing is very rudimentary and basic. Their skills are in making instruments, not playing them. So, when they set up an instrument, their approach is to make very detailed accurate measurements.
The problem with that approach is that it doesn’t take in to account the idiosyncrasies of each individual instrument. The luthier had performed all of the measurements on my bass, and found that everything was as it should be. That’s not really surprising, because it was an expensive bass, and I’m sure that the manufacturer had also made all the same measurements when it left the factory and decided it was perfect.
However, neither the factory nor the luthier in the shop had picked up on the issue that I was having, because they don’t play the bass like I do. And that is the key point. Only I know how I want my bass to be set up. Paying somebody else to do it doesn’t make any sense at all. They can only give me a generic set up based on what they think I want. But if I do it myself, I can make the bass play exactly how I want it to play.
How to set up a bass
There are only really five things that you need to learn how to do. And most of them are extremely easy. The most important, and possibly most difficult, is to set the relief in the neck by adjusting the truss rod. I’ve demonstrated in the video how a luthier adjusts the relief in the neck. But I tend to do everything by feel. I make small adjustments and then I try it out to see how it feels.
I think that is another really key point. Everything you do, just make tiny adjustments and keep trying it out. It might take ages to get it right, the first time that you do it. But it’s the best way, and it minimises the chances of you doing any damage to your bass.
Apart from the truss rod, the other four things that you can adjust are the saddles on the bridge for string height, the intonation on each string, the pickup height and the nut height.
As I mentioned in the video, most basses don’t come with adjustable nuts. I wish they did, check out Warwick’s Just-a-Nut III here. I don’t know why other companies can’t come up with a similar idea. If you don’t have an adjustable nut, you can lower a nut by filing it down. If you want to raise it, you need to replace it with a new nut. This is something that you probably should get a luthier to do, but most bass setup’s can be done without needing a new nut. I’ve only ever had to have a nut replaced twice in over 25 years of playing bass.
A Marcus Miller tune with Sire Marcus Miller Basses – V7 & M7 – Bass Practice Diary – 5th November 2019
Recently I’ve been trying out some Sire basses. You may have already seen my review of the M7 fretless 5-string bass that I released last week. And I’ll be following up with a review of the V7 4-string and 5-string versions in the coming weeks. But, it struck me this week, that what a lot of people will want to know is, can you make them sound like Marcus Miller? In an attempt to answer, I’ve recorded one of his tunes, Amandla from the album of the same name.
Do the M7 and V7 sound like Marcus Miller basses?
Yes and no… Yes for the V7 and no for the M7. Not that the M7 is a bad bass. It’s a nice sounding fretless bass, as I covered in my review last week, but it’s a very different style of bass to anything I’ve ever seen Marcus Miller play. The V7, on the other hand, is very much a Marcus Miller style of bass. It’s essentially a Fender Jazz style bass with an active preamp.
I should point out that my style of playing the bass is very different to his, and the basses that I usually play are very different to those that he plays. I love Marcus Miller as both a composer and a musician, but I’ve never tried to imitate his sound before.
So, when you listen to the V7 bass in the video, you should bare in mind that it’s being played by someone who is trying to imitate a playing style that he almost never plays on a style of bass that he very rarely uses. And with that in mind, I’m quite surprised how much the bass tone does remind me of Marcus Miller. I don’t think I’ve ever played a bass before that was so easy to get that kind of tone out of.
Tutu and Amandla
So, the tune in the video is called Amandla, and it’s one of my favourite Marcus Miller compositions. It’s also a great tune for demonstrating these basses, because the original version includes both fretted and fretless basses and both finger style and slap techniques. So it covers a wide range of Marcus’ tones and techniques.
Marcus Miller wrote and produced two albums in the 1980s for the jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, called Tutu and Amandla. He played bass on other Miles Davis albums, but those two were really his albums. Tutu is more well known. It’s probably Miles Davis’ most well known album from the last period of his career. I certainly remember listening to it a lot when I was in my teens. But as the years have gone by, I’ve grown to love the album Amandla more and more. It contains a few of my favourite Marcus Miller compositions including the title track.
If you don’t know them already, I would highly recommend checking out both albums. Many people see Tutu as a Marcus Miller album with Miles Davis on trumpet, even though it’s Miles Davis’ name and face on the cover. But Amandla feels more like a collaboration because there’s more input from Miles’ band. Which at that time included the brilliant improvisers Kenny Garret and Joseph “Foley” McCreary.