Warwick Thumb Bass – 6-String Bolt-on Broad Neck – Bass Practice Diary – 19th May 2020
This week I was servicing my 6-string Warwick Thumb bass when I realised that I’ve never featured it in a Bass Practice Diary video. Recently I did a video in which I renovated my first childhood bass. But this Warwick Thumb bass has even more significance to me. It was my first 6-string bass, and I’ve played this bass more than any other instrument in my life. This is probably a slightly self indulgent Bass Practice Diary video, but I thought this might be interesting for my fellow Warwick bass enthusiasts.
A couple of times each year I take this bass out and service it. I change the strings, polish the frets, oil the fretboard with lemon oil and treat the natural oil finish with surface finishing wax. That’s what I was doing this week when I realised that I’ve never featured this bass before in one of my Bass Practice Diary videos. You’ll only recognise this bass if you’ve followed some of my old, old videos from before I started my practice diary.
How I Came to Own It
I’ve owned this bass since I was 19 years old and it was my first 6-string bass. I was at music college at the time and I had a teacher that played 6-string bass. At that time I was still playing mostly 4-string. I owned a cheap 5-string bass, but it wasn’t good and I rarely played it. My main basses were a fretless Mexican Fender Jazz Bass and a Gibson USA Les Paul Bass, both of which I’d picked up second hand.
It was a good time for buying second hand. I couldn’t afford a good new bass and at that time. And you could pick up second hand instruments for a fraction of their value new. These days, I look at the high prices of second hand instruments and I wonder why anybody buys them.
My dream bass in my late teens was a Warwick. I’d never played one up to that point. But they were very popular at that time among pro and semi-pro bassists. So I heard them a lot in the live music venues that I regularly visited. They had a very distinctive tone, and that tone, to me represented what a modern electric bass should sound like.
So I dreamed of buying a Warwick bass and, inspired by my teacher, dreamed of playing a 6-string bass. So, for months I scoured the internet for a second hand 6-string Warwick bass that I could potentially afford, assuming I sold all my other basses.
My Warwick Thumb Bass
It’s a difficult instrument to play. The neck is massive, both deep and wide. It has a 34 inch scale, which is standard on Warwick basses and it has 20mm spacing between the strings, which makes it a broad neck model. Over the years, I’ve seen many bass players try and play this bass and fail. This bass was built for tone not playability. It’s heavy and it doesn’t balance very well on the strap. It balances well on your lap when you sit down and play it which makes it a good bass for recording, but gigging is hard work.
The best way to get it to balance is to put weights on the strap, which adds to the weight of an already very heavy bass. I would always have a very stiff and aching shoulder the morning after any gig. It’s remarkable really that I used this as my number one bass for 10 years. I thought for a long time that this would be my number one bass for my entire career. It was so much a part of my sound and my playing style. But eventually, practical considerations took over, and using a bass that is as heavy and as distinctive sounding as this one is just not practical in many situations.
The bass is made from solid Ovankol, which is a heavy tone wood, similar in it’s tonal characteristics to Rosewood. The fretboard is made from Wenge. The pickups are MEC Soap-bar and the active circuitry features Bass and Treble controls and an active/passive push/pull control on the volume knob.
It’s a bass that really needs to be your number one. It’s hard to play, so if you’re going to master it, you need to spend lots of time with it. If you stop playing it regularly, it’s very hard to pick it up again which is why you don’t see me playing it very much any more. It’s a shame because it’s a bass that means a lot to me, and I learned so much with it.
Six String Bass – A guide to the 6 String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 30th October 2018
I just want to share some of the reasons why I play a six string bass. I get asked about six string basses a lot. So, I thought I should make a video about why I play them. And also give out some advice for anyone learning or thinking of learning to play a six string bass. I’ll also write a little bit about the history of the bass guitar and how basses came to have six strings.
The first thing I need to say is that how many strings you choose to play, 4, 5, 6 or any other number, is not that important. What is important is the music you play and how you choose to play your instrument.
You need to decide what is the best instrument for you and the way you want to play. There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to how many strings. And I think that bass players sometimes care too much about it. They need to remember that what matters is music, not strings.
Why do I play a six string bass?
Having said that, I do have good reasons for playing six strings and I’ll share some of them with you now.
The biggest advantage of playing six strings is the extra range you get. With an extra low string and an extra high string you can extend your range in both directions, which makes six string basses very versatile. I don’t do many gigs where I don’t need to use the extended low range of my six string bass. I can play bass lines that weren’t originally written to be played on bass guitar.
The extended high range of the instrument enables me to play melodies, chord voicings and harmonies that would be very hard to achieve on four and five string basses. I know that not every bass player wants to explore these kind of harmonies, but I do, and if you’re interested in that too then you should think about playing six strings.
Is it Harder to Play Six string Bass?
Yes and no. Hopefully if you’ve seen my other videos you’ve seen me play four and five string basses. Other than the extended range, there’s no difference in the way I play 6 string to 4 or 5 string basses either technically or musically. My technique changes when I switch to fretless bass. But it doesn’t change when I switch between a fretted 4 and a fretted 6 string bass.
So for me, playing 6 isn’t any harder than 4 or 5 strings. In fact it’s easier because I play 6 most of the time and it’s what I’m most comfortable with.
Having said that, you need a strong technique to play 6 string bass well. And you need to make sure that you really learn all six strings.
There are a few technical things to consider when you learn to play six string bass. I see some 4 string players putting their left hand thumb on top of the neck when they play. It’s not great technique to do that and you can’t get away with it on a 6. The extra width in the neck means you won’t be able to access the low strings.
Another technical consideration is string damping, meaning that you don’t want to let open strings make noise when you’re not playing them. This is a technical consideration for all bass players, but the more strings you have, the more difficult it is, so you need to work on that if you’re going to play six strings well.
My final thought on the technical considerations is that it’s a bit harder to learn to play slap bass on a six string, because the high C string can be a bit in the way. But if your technique is good then you can still play in that style.
Learning to play bass
When I started playing bass, I learned on a 4 string bass like most people do. Then I switched to 5 and then 6. I started playing 6 string basses in my late teens. The first thing I did when I got the extra strings, was learn where the notes are on those strings. If you don’t do that, you’ll never play the 6 string bass really well.
I’ve heard it said that bass players should learn how to play 4 strings properly before trying to play 6. That doesn’t make any sense to me at all. If you take that argument to it’s logical conclusion then we should all start with one string on our basses. We should learn it properly and then add another and learn that properly. That’s not how you learn to play a musical instrument.
My advice would be that if you want to play a six string bass, then get one and start to learn it properly. Make sure that your technique is good and that you learn all six strings.
What to Look out for When Buying a Six String Bass?
So if you’re thinking of learning a six string bass, there is some advice that I’d like to give you about the instrument that you buy.
The first thing that I think is really important is string spacing. You want a nice wide string spacing, just like a 4 string bass. I really wouldn’t recommend getting a bass with a very narrow neck and the strings close together. I’ve mentioned already that there’s no difference in the way I approach playing 4, 5 or 6 strings. And for that to be the case, I need the string spacings to be the same. If the strings are much closer together then it suddenly feels like I’m playing a different instrument.
The next thing to consider is that the bass has a very even sound across it’s whole range. It needs to have a strong and clear low B string. And it also needs to sound good and be easy to play in the high register. If your bass is week in any part of it’s range, then you’ll lose the benefit of having the extra range that the 6 strings give you.
The last thing that I would highlight is the balance. That’s very important. If your bass neck is too heavy then it will dive to the floor when you let go with your left hand. Which means that you’ll have to constantly hold it up which will ruin anybody’s technique. So make sure your bass is well balanced. Make sure you can rest it on your lap with no hands and the neck doesn’t dive for the floor.
So, if you have a six string bass with a wide string spacing, a nice even sound across it’s whole range and it’s well balanced, then you have everything you need. And the good news is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good six string bass.
My Warwick Artist Series “Steve Bailey” Bass
I know that people will ask what is the bass in the video. So, I should say that it’s a Warwick Artist Series bass. Unfortunately they don’t make these any more, which is a shame because they’re really good. But if you’re looking for something similar without breaking the bank, then I would recommend trying the Warwick Rockbass line.
I just want to say one more thing about the history of the bass guitar and why basses have four strings to begin with.
Many people think that Leo Fender invented the electric bass in the 1950’s, he didn’t. It was invented in the 1930’s by a gentleman named Paul Tutmarc. And it was originally sold as a bass fiddle.
Musical instruments usually evolve from other instruments rather than being invented out of the blue. The electric bass was no different. It was modelled on the orchestral strings violins, double basses etc. Hence it had four strings, was tuned like a double bass and it was called a bass fiddle.
What Leo Fender did, which was revolutionary for the electric bass, was to realise that it would be much easier to play if it was shaped like a guitar rather than a fiddle. And he created all of those iconic Fender basses like the Precision and the Jazz Bass which became the archetypes for all future bass guitars. But the Fender basses retained the four string tuning of Tutmarc’s original electric bass fiddles.
Who Invented the Six String Bass?
It was Anthony Jackson in the 1970’s who started to ask the question, if the bass guitar is now a member of the guitar family, not the orchestral strings family, then why retain the four string double bass tuning? Surely it makes more sense to have six strings like a guitar? It was Jackson who came up with what we now consider standard tuning for a six string bass. He called his bass guitars contrabass guitars. The name never caught on, but the concept of the six string bass has become more and more popular.
That’s my thoughts, and please don’t take this as any kind of criticism of four or five string basses. Most of my favourite bass players play four string basses and many play five. I play four string basses. And I can’t stress how much it doesn’t matter how many strings you like to use. You should find the bass that feels right for the way you play, and that’s all that matters.
In a Sentimental Mood by Duke Ellington – Jazz Arranged for Fretless Bass and Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 4th September 2018
I love to play jazz on my basses at home when I get the chance. I usually make my own backing tracks and practice by playing along with them. In this video I’ve laid down the chords of Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood on my acoustic bass guitar and played over the chords on my fretless Warwick Thumb SC.
In a Sentimental Mood
In a Sentimental Mood is one of those great jazz tunes that’s both simple and beautiful. It has a very lyrical melody and some simple but effective chord changes. It was written by Duke Ellington in 1935 and originally performed by his orchestra. But the version that I’ve been listening to was recorded by Duke Ellington with John Coltrane in 1963. I also like Ella Fitzgerald’s vocal rendition of the song, where she sings the melody with just a guitar backing her. I’ve tried to get some of the flavour of both versions in my video. In a Sentimental Mood is also a staple standard of Sonny Rollins sets. He seems to play it a lot and he’s done some wonderful versions of it.
The Warwick Thumb SC is not only the best fretless bass I’ve ever played, it’s the best bass I’ve ever played. If you’ve seen many of my other videos you’re probably quite familiar with this bass by now. But if you’d like more info, you can find it here.
This is my new Warwick Alien Deluxe. I’m very impressed with it for a number of reasons. It’s my first 6-string acoustic bass and my biggest concern was that the bottom B-string would be weak. I’ve played 5-string acoustics before and none of them have had such a clear and powerful low B-string as the Warwick Alien Deluxe.
How does it sound?
I’ve tried to demonstrate in the video that the Warwick Alien Deluxe has a very clear sound across it’s entire range. From the clear low B-string all the way up to soloing above the 12th fret. It has a very clear and pleasant acoustic sound.
How good is the build quality?
Very good. Surprisingly good in fact. All of Warwick’s acoustic basses are now made in China. Even the more expensive Warwick ALIEN. The Warwick Alien Deluxe 6 features all of the standard Warwick hardware including Warwick Machine heads and Just-a-Nut III. It also features Fishman electronics including a piezo pickup and a Fishman Prefix Plus T Electronic preamp.
However, the most important thing about the build quality, and the thing that makes Warwick instruments stand out in general is the quality of the woods used. The Warwick Alien Deluxe 6 boasts a mahogany neck, a wenge fingerboard, a laminated spruce top and, as you can see in the video, beautiful back and sides made of laminated Bubinga. It’s the quality of the look of these materials and the tones that they produce that really makes you feel like you’re playing a high quality professional instrument.
The Warwick Alien Deluxe 6 is an outstanding, high quality professional acoustic bass guitar. It is fairly expensive, but not considering the build quality of the instrument and the quality of the materials used.
If you are looking for a high quality, great looking acoustic bass with a clear sound across a wide range from low B-string and playable above the 12th fret then the Warwick Alien Deluxe 6 is the instrument for You.
In the video, I play the Warwick Alien Deluxe 6 through my Warwick Hellborg rig. The Hellborg Preamp is quite simply the best preamp for bass on the market and I use it for virtually all my recording. It’s so good that I use it when recording other instruments and vocals as well.