6-String Bass Jam in 6/8 – Johnny Cox & Lewis Davies – Bass Practice Diary – 15th June 2021
I’ve been thinking about 6/8 this week after I featured four 6/8 bass grooves in last week’s Bass Practice Diary video. My good friend Lewis Davies kindly recorded this 6/8 drum track for me and I’ve been jamming along with it with my Warwick “Steve Bailey” Artist Series bass. I’ve also been experimenting with my Line 6 Helix LT. You can hear some of the sounds I’ve been using in this video.
The Helix Patches
There are two Helix patches featured in this video. One is on the chords. It’s another Johnathan Cordy patch. Johnathan Cordy makes and sells Helix patches for guitar. I featured one of his patches a couple of weeks ago when I was trying to make my bass sound like a guitar. This patch is a little bit more subtle but I think it works really nicely with bass chords.
The other patch is one that I created myself. I haven’t made many of my own Helix patches. But I wanted something that could create a Kurt Rosenwinkel sound for my bass. I don’t think that anyone has created something like that yet, so I was forced to do it myself, and I’m quite happy with the result.
Kurt Rosenwinkel is a great guitarist and improviser with a very distinctive guitar sound. It’s a very compressed sound with the pick attack removed from the start of each note. The effect is created by some kind of volume swell going straight into a compressor. So the compressor evens out the sound of the swell, so you hear the note coming in almost instantly but without the initial transient when you hit the string. The sound also has added reverb and delay to enhance the effect.
Make a Bass Sound Like a Guitar and a Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 1st June 2021
For a long time I’ve been playing with the idea of making electric guitar sounds on bass. As technology has improved over the years it’s getting easier and easier and the idea is becoming more and more popular. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the popular duo called Royal Blood. Bassist Mike Kerr makes his bass sound like a guitar and he takes care of all the guitar and bass parts at once. It used to be the case that there were a lot of octave pedals on the market that created an octave or even two octaves down. But there weren’t many good affordable pedals that could create an octave above.
Using Line 6 Helix with Bass
The Line 6 Helix range of products, which includes the Helix LT that I’m using, have caused quite a sensation amongst guitar players. But they’re not as heavily used by bass players. However, the Helix products are designed to be used with both guitar and bass, and although I wouldn’t use them for everything bass related, there are a few situations where they are really useful. For example, if you want to create a vintage bass tone without investing in heavy and expensive vintage gear, the Helix has some good vintage bass amps modelled, like the Ampeg B-15.
Another situation where the Helix comes into its own is when you want to use lots of effects. You can set the Helix up to be like an all in one pedal board with all your effects controllable by foot switches. You can also import patches into your Helix from other artists. That’s exactly what I’ve done here with this lead guitar patch from the guitarist Johnathan Cordy. It’s worth knowing that he sells his entire patch collection for Helix for £5 including the patch I’m using in the video. However, be aware that he is a guitarist, not a bass player and the patches are all designed to be used with guitar.
My setup in the video is actually pretty simple. I’ve split my signal coming out of the bass using a Morley ABC pedal (although I’m only using A and B). From the Morley pedal, one signal goes straight to my Warwick Hellborg bass amp and the other goes to the Helix. I recorded the lead guitar sound straight from the Helix and I took a line from my Warwick Hellborg Preamp for my bass sound.
The patch from Johnathan Cordy is doing all the work. The patch contains an octave pitch shift, distortion, reverb and delay as well as guitar amp simulation. You could probably reproduce all of that with individual pedals and a guitar amp. But it might end up being more expensive than buying a Helix and maybe not sound as good. For live use I would use both a guitar amp and a bass amp and I would plug the Helix into the guitar amp.
7-String Bass Demo – Ibanez BTB7 Seven String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 25th May 2021
This week I played a 7-string bass for the first time in nearly seven years. I used to play 7-string bass a lot in my 20’s and I owned two, one fretted and one fretless. I decided to sell them because I had stopped using them. When I put them both on eBay, the fretless sold straight away but the fretted bass didn’t. So I made a video demo to try and sell the fretted bass as well. That video was uploaded in the summer of 2014 and that was the last time I played a 7-string bass before this week.
7-String Bass Pro’s and Con’s
I think the reason for putting more strings on a bass is simple, more range. It takes the instrument into the realm of an instrument that can do anything, melody, chords, bass lines etc. But there are down sides to adding more and more strings. Weight is an obvious one and balance is an even bigger one. More strings means a bigger neck and a bigger neck unbalances the instrument, especially when you carry it on a strap.
I remember playing my seven string basses in my early 20’s with weights stuck onto the strap with electrical tape. The weights were there to counter balance the neck and prevent it from diving towards the floor. It worked in preventing the neck dive. But as you can imagine, the combination of 7-string bass plus weights made an unbelievable amount of weight to carry on my shoulder. I can’t imagine doing that now.
Another issue that I found with 7-string basses was string spacing. As you cram more strings onto a bass neck, you need to make the spaces between the strings smaller. Otherwise the neck becomes too big to play. It’s certainly possible to adapt to a narrower string spacing, but at the time I sold my 7-string basses I was preferring a wider spacing and so that contributed to me not playing them as much.
Ibanez BTB 7 String Bass
So why did I decide to play a 7-string bass again now? Back in the days when I was playing 7-string basses (approx 2005-2011). 7-string basses weren’t made by mainstream guitar manufacturers. Both of my basses back then were made by builders that you would never have heard of. When I got my Warwick endorsement back in 2010, Warwick had just made their first 7-string bass. But it was an expensive custom shop bass costing thousands.
However, a few years after that, around the time I was thinking of selling my 7-string basses. Ibanez came out with this, the BTB7. Ibanez are one of the biggest guitar and bass manufacturers in the world. Not only was it unusual for a major manufacturer to make a line of 7-string basses, but the prices were incredibly cheap. I’ve always wanted to try one to see what they’re like, but I never wanted to buy one because they came out at a time when I was stopping playing 7-string basses.
I finally got my chance to play one this week and I think it’s very impressive for the money. It plays really well and balances far better than either of my old 7-string basses thanks to the long horn on the upper cutaway. It is still very heavy, but if you can cope with the weight then it’s hard to find any other fault with it.
I believe that the one I played was made in 2013. However, the most remarkable thing is that Ibanez are still making affordable 7-string basses today in 2013. Their current model is called the BTB747 and it looks very similar to the BTB7. I would like to congratulate Ibanez for showing that level of commitment to extended range basses. Extended range instruments are heavily stigmatised in the music world, and I’m sure that this video will generate plenty of negative comments. There is no reason for such stigmatisation. I can see no downside to wanting extra range on any instrument.
Autumn Leaves – Bass Duet – Double Bass & 6-String Electric Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 11 May 2021
I always thought it would be fun to make a jazz trio with double bass, electric bass and drums. In my head it would be something like this. However, my double bass skills are not the best. So ideally in this trio I would play the electric bass and the double bass would be played by someone who can solo, play with a bow and express themselves musically on the instrument.
I shot this video by recording the double bass part first. It was done in just one continuous take. At the point when I played the upright bass part, I hadn’t worked out any of the electric bass part. Having recorded the upright bass I then had a few goes at playing along with it with my Overwater Hollowbody 6-string bass. Once I was happy with what I was doing, I shot the bass guitar part. If you saw my video from two weeks ago featuring three jazz lines on 4-string bass, you might notice that I used one of the lines at the end of the first solo chorus.
I was basically just practicing improvising on a standard. It’s something I do quite regularly, although I rarely go as far as recording a bass line on the upright. Normally I’ll record the bass line on bass guitar and play over that. However, I feel like the double bass adds an extra layer of jazz authenticity, even with my limited double bass skills.
Learn a Jazz Tune on Bass – CTA by Jimmy Heath with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 13 April 2021
If you follow my Bass Practice Diary videos regularly you already know that I love to play jazz tunes on bass guitar. A few weeks ago I featured the tune for Freedom Jazz Dance. In that video I was playing a 6-string bass, but I want to show that you can do this on any bass, you don’t necessarily need 6-strings or 24 frets. This week I’m demonstrating the Jimmy Heath tune CTA on a Fender Precision with 20 frets.
CTA by Jimmy Heath
I first came across this tune on Chick Corea’s album Paint the World. It’s a jazz fusion album. The band on the album was called the Elektric Band II. The rhythm section was completely different to the original Elektric Band. It featured Gary Novak on drums, Mike Miller on guitar and Jimmy Earl on bass. However, it’s a really good album. I think it ranks up alongside anything that the more famous lineup of Dave Weckl, Frank Gambale and John Patitucci recorded. In fact I saw the classic lineup of the Elektric Band play two of the tunes from this album, CTA and Blue Miles when I saw them at the Barbican in London in 2004.
The Chick Corea version of CTA is very different from the original Jimmy Heath version. Jimmy Heath plays it in a bop style and he plays it with swung 1/8th notes. This is the opening melody from Jimmy Heath’s version.
Chick Corea gives the tune a straight funky fusion feel. And there is a long section at the end which is added. It’s like a tag on the end of the melody. The key has also been changed from Bb to C. Here is the tag tabbed for 6-string bass.
How do you learn jazz improvisation?
I honestly believe that learning jazz melodies is fundamental to learning how to improvise. It’s even more fundamental than transcribing solos. A good jazz improviser will use the melody in a solo. So, if you work out a solo without knowing the melody, then you’ve missed the most important piece of the puzzle.
I wanted to feature a melody played on a Fender Precision. Because when I started doing this, I was working jazz melodies out on a P style bass with 20 frets and 4-strings. I think a lot of bass players think that jazz melodies and improvisation is only for a certain type of bass player that plays extended range instruments, but that does not have to be the case.
The first jazz melody I ever learned on bass was Goodbye Pork Pie Hat by Charles Mingus. It was famously covered by Jeff Beck and Joni Mitchell. But I didn’t know that when I was 15 years old. I knew Mingus’ version from the album Ah Um and then I heard Marcus Miller play it on fretless bass. I remember playing the melody on my red Vester bass as a teenager.
After learning that melody, I then started learning plenty more jazz melodies on my 4-string bass. My first bop style tune was Tricotism by Oscar Pettiford/Ray Brown. And I remember learning the Charlie Parker tunes, Confirmation, Donna Lee & Anthropology on 4-string before I made the switch to 6-string at 19 years old. I still remember most of the fingerlings that I worked out for those tunes on 4-string.
If you’re interested in taking this idea further, there is a book called Charlie Parker for Bass. It features melodies and solos transcribed and tabbed for 4-string bass. It hadn’t been published when I was learning this stuff, but I know some of my students use it now. When I was learning these tunes I was learning them from a Real Book (treble clef version).
PRS Bass 4 – 1986 rare Paul Reed Smith bass guitar – the 29th ever made
I’m not a vintage guitar or bass collector. The oldest instrument I ever owned before this was my first ever bass. My parents bought that one for me in 1994. However, when I saw this 1986 PRS Bass 4 on sale in the UK at a price I could afford, I was intrigued. I’ve played a few PRS guitars in my life. I’ve always been impressed by them. I own an S2 Standard 24 which you can see in the video. It’s a really well made guitar. However, as a bass player I’ve always been curious to know if the legendary Paul Reed Smith had designed and built any basses that were as good as his guitars. It turns out he has!
Paul Reed Smith Bass Guitars
So, I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to try a PRS bass. But it’s not that easy to try one in the UK at the moment. PRS doesn’t make that many basses. The only bass model being manufactured in the US is the Grainger 4 and 5. They retail for over 3000 Euros in Europe. Getting one would also involve paying import duties in the UK as we are no longer part of the EU. That’s a bigger investment than I can afford.
Alternatively, there are a couple of PRS SE basses called the Kingfisher and the Kestrel. The SE basses retail for under £1000 in the UK. They are made for Paul Reed Smith under license by a company called Cor-Tek in Indonesia. I’ve played PRS SE guitars, and they’re great. But it’s not quite the same thing as playing one of the US made core instruments.
My Paul Reed Smith Bass IV
So, when this bass came up for sale, you can see why it seemed like an opportunity too good to pass up. I’m always slightly nervous about buying second hand. It’s hard to know if the seller has been less than forthcoming about the true condition of the instrument. So, I asked the seller to send me some extra photos. He was very obliging and sent me everything I requested. He told me he had owned the bass since 2002 and hardly played it at all. And that shows in the condition of the bass which is absolutely excellent for an instrument that is nearly 35 years old. It has some scratches and marks on the back, but the front is in excellent condition. It’s nearly the same age as me, but it’s definitely in better condition for it’s age.
Three Pickups on a Bass?
The design of the bass is what I think makes it so special. The pickups and the pickup configuration are excellent. Three single coil pickups, each with a very different tonal flavour. The way the pickups are spaced is very well thought out. The space has been maximised to ensure the maximum tonal variety between the three positions. I’ve played three pickup guitars where the pickups have been right next to each other. In those situations, the middle pickup doesn’t make enough tonal difference to be worth bothering with.
In the case of this bass, the spacing on the pickups ensures a significantly different character to the middle pickup. The neck pickup is a classic neck pickup with a woody jazz tone, the bridge pickup gives you classic mid range punch and the middle pickup give you a very usable classic single coil electric bass tone.
Then add to that two hum-cancelling positions made by combining the bridge pickup with either the middle or neck pickup. Suddenly you have a lot of different and very usable electric bass tones at your disposal, even before you engage the active circuitry. When you play the bass in passive mode, the active treble control seems to act as a very subtle passive tone control. When you engage the active controls, which completely changes the character of the sound, you suddenly realise that this bass is really capable of doing a lot of different things. The video I’ve made really only scratches the surface.
A Compact and Versatile Bass Design
This might be the most versatile bass design I’ve ever played. The compact body size and the two and two headstock make for a small bass with a long scale length which balances beautifully and plays as well as all PRS instruments seem to. I think it’s really a shame that this brilliant piece of design never caught on.
The only reason I can think of for why it didn’t is because after the 1980’s both guitarists and bass players seemed to stop looking for innovation in instrument design. It seems like everybody just wanted to go back to the classic bass designs. If it wasn’t a J or a P or a MusicMan Stingray (all Leo’s most famous designs) then no one seemed to be interested. I think it’s a shame. I have nothing against Leo Fender, but surely there is room for innovative designs in the bass world alongside his classics.
I’m very happy with my purchase. I didn’t buy this bass to hang it on the wall or put in a display case. I’m a player not a collector, I bought this bass to play it, and I will certainly do that. I suspect that this also might get more valuable as time goes by. But if it does, that’s just an added bonus.
Slow Train – A Bob Dylan song performed by Johnny Cox
It’s now been over a year since musicians in the UK were last able to play together with other musicians. So, I’ve recently decided to do something that I’ve never done before, record and mix an entire track on my own including vocals. It feels like a big step to put this out on my channel. I’m not a singer and I don’t ever practice singing. I’ve been using Bob Dylan’s back catalogue as a source of material. His lyrics are unbelievably good and I also have a fighting chance of being able to sing them. I’ve recorded four of his songs so far. You can find the other three on my other YouTube channel called Johnny Cox Guitar & Bass School.
I’ve featured many of my musical influences on this channel, but I’ve never played anything by Bob Dylan until now. I guess that’s mostly because I’m not a singer. And without anyone to sing the lyrics, there didn’t seem any possibility of featuring one of his songs. However, recently during lockdown I’ve decided to work on music production and editing vocals. Without any other musicians to work with I’ve been singing Bob Dylan songs myself.
I’ve been listening to Dylan for my entire life (literally, his albums were playing at home since I was too young to remember). So, by now I know a lot of the lyrics off by heart, and singing them is so much fun because he is a truly brilliant lyricist.
I can remember this song, Slow Train, and the album of the same name as being something of a soundtrack to my childhood. My mother was and still is a Bob Dylan fan. Slow Train was released four years before I was born and for some reason, as a small child, I took a particular shine to it. It seems odd to me that I still listen now to an album that I used to like when I was four years old, but I guess it shows consistency in my character if nothing else.
Slow Train Coming
The song and the album were both released in 1979. This was the first of his so-called “gospel” albums following his conversion to Christianity in the late 70’s. But this song is a classic Dylan protest song that could draw parallels with some of his early work from the 60’s. The song was partly written prior to his religious conversion and partly after. So, the lyrics are not overtly Christian but they do contain references. Like “fools trying to manipulate Satan”. But really it’s a song about the state of America at the time he was writing. And as with a lot of great art, much of the content still seems relevant over 40 years later.
The symbolism of the train is never explained or made clear in the lyrics. I think it’s intentionally left ambiguous for the listener to make their own interpretation. Is the train a religious metaphor, bring with it salvation and riding to some kind of promised land? Or is the train bringing something altogether more sinister. Such questions were probably lost on me as a child. At that point I think I just liked it because it had a funky bass line and some brilliant guitar playing from Mark Knopfler. But as the years have passed I’ve come to appreciate it as a brilliant example of Dylan’s lyric writing as well.
This Exercise Might Drive You Crazy! Octave Shifting on Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 30 March 2021
This is an exercise I came up with during a lesson with one of my students. The student in question asked me if we could work on some octave displacement ideas. The idea being that you can start a line in one octave and shift into another octave somewhere in the line. It’s actually a very musical way to liven up your lines and bass fills. Here’s a simple example.
It’s essentially just a descending A major scale. It starts on the root note on the 14th fret of the 1st string and it descends to the fifth, E, on the 14th fret of the 2nd string. Then, instead of playing the 4th, D, on the 12th fret of the same string, you can play the open string and continue the scale one octave below. If you’re asking why? try using this as a bass fill on a tune in A major, or any of the modes of A major. It’s a simple way to make a scale sound like it’s not just a scale.
This exercise could drive you crazy
But that’s not the exercise that I’m sharing with you today. In the the lesson we asked the question, how can you practice thinking in two different octaves? And that’s when I came up with this exercise. I warn you, this is an exercise that messes with your head. It also leads to some big left-hand stretches. So it presents a technical challenge as well as a mental one.
The concept is simple. Take any scale in two octaves. Then play the scale, but shift octaves after every single note. So, you play the first note in the lower octave and the second in the higher octave. Then the third in the lower octave and the fourth in the higher etc. Here is the exercise written out both ascending and descending in the key of A on 4-string bass.
Here is an extended version of the same exercise written for 6-string bass. This time the key is Bb major.
Practicing Jazz on My Overwater Hollowbody – Up Jumped Spring – Bass Practice Diary – 23 March 2021
In this video, I’m improvising over the chord changes of the jazz standard Up Jumped Spring after recoding the chords into a looper. If you were wondering why you haven’t seen this beautiful bass on my channel for a few months. It’s because she’s been back with Chris May and the team at Overwater having a new bridge installed. However, she was returned to me this week and I’m so happy to have her back.
She’s my custom made Overwater Hollowbody 6-string bass. The first fretted version to be made and the first with a 34″ scale length. The bass features a wooden acoustic style bridge, but with adjustable saddles, like an electric bass bridge. The first bridge was made from ebony, and I was finding that the wood was slightly too soft to hold some of the saddles in place and the intonation was slipping. Chris very kindly fashioned this new bridge from a very hard wood from South Africa. So far it seems to be holding the intonation perfectly.
Practicing with a looper
In the video I’m demonstrating something that I’ve done regularly in my practice for well over a decade. I bought my first looper pedal about 15 years ago, and I’ve found loopers to be an amazing practice tool. One of my favourite techniques for practicing using a looper is to record the chord changes to a jazz standard into the looper and then improvise over the looped changes. In this video I’m using the chord changes of Freddie Hubbard’s jazz waltz Up Jumped Spring.
I’ve often been asked “what is a good looper to buy?” And it’s a question I always feel uncomfortable answering. Because I’ve used various loopers from cheap ones with just a single button to expensive ones laden with features. Which one you choose depends on what you’re planning to use it for. If you just want one for the kind of practice that I’m doing in this video, then buy a very cheap one. It will do the job. However if you want something to perform with, then it’s impossible to advise you. Because you will have to choose a looper that has features that correspond to how you’re planning to use it in performance.
I recently purchased a Headrush Looperboard, which is like a recording device/audio interface/live looper all rolled into one. So far I’m impressed by it, but I haven’t yet had the chance to use it in a live performance as the UK has been in COVID lockdown continuously since I first bought it.
However, if you’re interested in trying looping for the first time, I would suggest buying something very cheap to try it out at home. And then you can upgrade later on if and when you start to feel like you need to.
Learn a Linley Marthe Bass Groove with TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 16th March 2021
Recently I was going through this concert on YouTube. It’s a trio led by the amazing jazz pianist Mario Canonge from Martinique featuring one of my favourite bass players, Linley Marthe. I’ve been watching the video and stopping at various points to transcribe some of the bass parts and I thought I’d share one of these parts with you. This little groove that I’ve worked out only happens once, very quickly.
He doesn’t play it repeatedly as I have in this video. You can find the moment that he plays it at 1 hour 39 minutes and 34 seconds. He plays it once, then he starts to play it again with a little variation before he goes elsewhere. There are so many great little moments like this in the concert. If I had the time I could probably spend a lot of hours going through this and practicing different parts.
There are a few things that you need to practice if you are going to get this groove right. First you need to get the triplet 16th note feel. Meaning that the notes written as 16th notes should be played with a shuffle feel. Then you need to look at the techniques that he uses to play the muted notes. As I mentioned in the video, he only plays three different notes in the groove, G, F & D. However, it’s the addition of all the muted notes that really brings the groove to life. The muted notes are played with a combination of raking the strings with your right hand index and middle fingers, and a percussive tap with the left hand. You can watch the video for my specific breakdown of these parts.
The fact that the groove contains relatively few different notes makes it potentially very versatile. Clearly the root note is G, but you could use this under a G7 chord, a G minor 7 chord or even some kind of G sus chord.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have seen Linley Marthe perform live with Joe Zawinul. Zawinul was known to have impeccable taste in bass players. If you look back through his career, both with Weather Report and the Zawinul Syndicate, he seemed to always have his finger on the pulse of who was the next great young bass player to be coming through.
I vaguely remember before the gig hoping to recognise one of the famous Zawinul bass players that I knew. Richard Bona or Victor Bailey for example. I think I was slightly disappointed when someone I didn’t recognise came on stage. However, my brief disappointment was very quickly turned into amazement as the young bass player from Mauritius proceeded to absolutely blow me away.
Since that concert, I’ve seen him live a couple more times. Once in a duo with the drum legend Paco Sery and once in a band called Ozmosys featuring Omar Hakim, Rachel Z and Kurt Rosenwinkel. Each time I see him, he amazes me with the scale and breadth of his musicianship. He is incredibly inventive with his technique. He seems to have a hundred different ways of striking the strings with his right hand, each one creating a different sound. And it’s not just his techniques that make him brilliant. His timing and groove are just incredible, and if you listen to the concert linked at the top you will hear that he has an incredible ear for harmony, melody, improvisation and the jazz language as well.
I’m trying to find ways to feature the bass players that inspire me in my videos. And for me, Linley Marthe is right up there as one of the greatest bass players of all time.