Tag Archives: fretless bass

Sire Marcus Miller V7 Vintage Fretless – Bass Practice Diary 125

Sire Marcus Miller V7 Vintage Fretless – Bass Practice Diary – 15th September 2020

I’ve been wanting to feature my Sire V7 Vintage fretless bass in a video for a while. I’ve featured Sire basses in my videos before, but never this one. And this is probably my favourite of all of the Sire Marcus Miller basses I’ve played. This is the only Sire bass that I’ve played that I didn’t need to do any setting up when it came out of the box. It played perfectly from the outset and the setup has remained very stable ever since.

Sire V7 vs V7 Vintage

So, what’s the difference between this Sire V7 Vintage and the regular V7’s that I featured in this video. This bass has a body made from Ash and the fretted V7’s both had Alder bodies. However, all of the V7 models come in both ash and alder versions. This bass has a maple fingerboard, my fretted V7’s have ebony fretboards, but once again, both models come with both options.

To find the differences between the models you have to look a bit more closely, and the differences are small. The position of the bridge pickup is different. It’s closer to the bridge on the Vintage model and further away on the standard V7’s. This does give the Vintage model a slightly tighter sound on the back pickup. The Vintage models have a gloss finish on the neck, the standard V7 neck has a really nice matt feel. I slightly prefer the matt feel of the standard V7 neck, but it doesn’t make much difference to me.

I think those are the important differences. There are cosmetic differences, like the scratch plate looks different and the bridge on the Vintage model has vintage style saddles. But I’m not interested in that stuff. I’m only interested in how it plays and how it sounds.

Why I like the Sire V7 Vintage Fretless

I said that this is probably my favourite Sire bass that I’ve played. The setup is really good, but honestly that’s probably just luck with this particular bass. Sire basses are set up with a low action, which can be great but it can also go wrong, and this particular one came out well.

So, that’s not the reason I like it. The reason I like it is because it gives me something that I never thought I’d have, for a very low price. I grew up listening to legendary bass players like Jaco Pastorius and Marcus Miller playing vintage Fender Jazz basses. But it’s never been my thing to try and recreate a vintage sound. I’ve always looked forward and tried to create a modern bass sound. Investing in a proper vintage Fender Jazz bass, even a reissue, would be very expensive. And it’s not an investment that I’m willing to make when it’s not the sound I’m aspiring to make.

This Sire bass gives me a vintage style passive J style fretless bass for a price that I can justify buying it and keeping it just to have fun with. Honestly, I hardly ever play the bass with the preamp switched on. Not because the preamp isn’t good (it’s really good). But because I just want it to be a vintage Fender Jazz Bass. The fact that it has this preamp on it, which makes it capable of functioning as a modern active fretless bass, is just a bonus. It really adds to the versatility of the instrument.

I’ve even kept the flat wound strings on it, and I never play flats on my fretless basses. To be honest, the bass has the wrong name on the headstock. I know that Marcus Miller is an under rated fretless player. But every time I pick up this bass I just end up playing Jaco lines for hours. I spent years learning Jaco’s catalogue and playing it on basses that sounded nothing like his bass. Now I have the right tool for the job and I love it.

Improvisation Strategies on 6-String Bass – Part 2: Naima – Bass Practice Diary 118

Improvisation Strategies on 6-String Bass – Part 2: Naima on Fretless Bass- Bass Practice Diary – 14th July 2020

Naima by John Coltrane has a beautiful but challenging chord progression. Last week, I featured a video demonstrating how I play the chords. But the story isn’t complete without looking at how to improvise over those chords. So, this week I’m demonstrating an improvisation strategy for playing over the part that I find hardest to improvise on.

Modal Chord Progression

Most improvisers think of Naima as being a modal composition. Meaning that they think of each chord as representing the sound of a scale or mode. This is different to the diatonic approach that I looked at in my Improvisation Strategies: Part 1 video. In that video I looked at a I-VI-II-V sequence of chords where each chord represented a different degree in the key of Bb major.

When you hear improvisers analysing how to play Naima, usually you’ll hear them say something like, ” play this scale or mode on that chord, and this scale or mode on that chord etc”. And it’s not wrong to think about the progression as a sequence of modes. If you listen to Coltane playing Naima, you can definitely hear that he is playing complete modes quite often.

However, when I’m coming up with an improvisation strategy, I prefer to think in a more economical way. I want to start with something small that I can expand upon. I want to zero in on the notes that I feel best spell out the sound of the harmony. Remember that you can come up with multiple strategies for playing on the same progression. So when you zero in on just a few notes, you’re not limiting yourself, you’re actually creating the potential for much more variation. Because if you start by using all of the notes from the implied scale or mode, then it doesn’t leave as much scope for expanding and using different harmonic ideas.

Naima Improvisation Strategy

Last week I wrote about how I think of all of the chords as being major 7th chord voicings over a pedalled bass note. I won’t repeat myself, so if you’re interested in the chords check out last week’s post.

This four bar section of the harmony comes from the second half of the B section. The chord symbols that I’ve written are different from the Real Book changes, (even when you allow for the change of key). But I think that my changes reflect the harmony that Coltrane was using fairly closely. I wouldn’t recommend getting bogged down in what the chord symbols are. When I was working out how to play this piece, I wasn’t thinking about chord symbols, I was just trying to recreate the sounds that I was hearing and I put the chord symbols on afterwards. So, here is my improvisation strategy for this short four-bar sequence, I’ve picked out five notes to use on each chord.

Improvisation Strategies - Naima
Improvisation Strategies – Naima

Fretless Bass Line with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary 114

Fretless Bass Line with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 30th June 2020

This is a fretless bass line that I wrote recently as part of a piece I’m working on. During the lockdown I’ve been trying to keep my creativity going by writing some music. The drums are provided by my good friend Lewis Davies who has appeared on my channel before.

The Bass Line

Fretless Bass Line
Fretless Bass Line

The bass line has a triplet feel. I’ve written it in 4/4 but I could have written it in 12/8. If you’ve read my book Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove then you’ll know that I like to count triplets with the syllables ta-ki-ta. Using those syllables, the two ta’s become the beat and off beat in a shuffle or swing feel. But I think it’s how and when you use the other syllable, ki, that can make a triplet feel really pop. Notice that I’ve placed a note on this subdivision after the second beat in every bar of this bass line. To my ears, that is what defines the character of this line.

If you’d like to check out another of my fretless bass lines with bass tab, then you can find one here.

Altered Pentatonic Jazz Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 110

Altered Pentatonic Jazz Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 2nd June 2020

Last week I featured a pentatonic scale that you can create by altering just one note in a standard major or minor pentatonic scale. This week I’ve put that altered pentatonic scale into practice. I’ve come up with a jazz lick on fretless bass that features both the standard and altered versions of the pentatonic scale.

The Lick

Jazz Lick using both Standard and Altered Pentatonic Scales
Jazz Lick using both Standard and Altered Pentatonic Scales

I’ve composed the line on a II-V-I-IV progression in the key of C major. I choose to use the IV chord rather than the more common VI7 chord in order to feature two different pentatonic approaches to playing on major 7th chords. On the Cmaj7 chord I’ve played an E minor pentatonic scale. It gives me the 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th and 9th relative to the root note of the chord. On the Fmaj7 chord, I’ve used the altered version of the scale to create a lydian augmented sound. The notes are E, F, A, B & C#, 7th, root, 3rd, #4th, #5th relative to the F root note. It’s like an F# minor pentatonic scale, with an F natural root note instead of F#. It’s a sound that I featured in last week’s video.

On the II chord I’m using the obvious D minor pentatonic scale. I like to start my jazz lines inside the harmony and then take them outside. The altered version of the pentatonic scale does a really good job of spelling out the sound of an altered dominant chord. It helps me bring in some of those outside notes on the G7 chord V. The notes are G, Bb, B, Eb & F, which is root, #9, 3rd, b13 &7th. It’s like the notes an altered dominant arpeggio. You can think of it as C minor pentatonic scale with the root note lowered by a semitone to B.

Passion Dance by McCoy Tyner on fretless 6-string bass – Bass Practice Diary 99

Passion Dance by McCoy Tyner on fretless 6-string bass – Bass Practice Diary – 10th March 2020

One of the most memorable musical moments in my life was seeing McCoy Tyner play live at the Jazz Cafe in London in 2003. I was 19 years old and I had recently got very into the John Coltrane Quartet. My parents had given me A Love Supreme on CD as a 19th birthday present. The thought that I was going to watch the pianist from that album play live, was almost too exciting!

I arrived when the doors opened (about 3 hours before the gig started) to get myself a position with the best view. I literally sat about a metre from McCoy Tyner’s right hand as he played an absolutely burning set with his trio, which at that time included the unbelievably talented Charnett Moffett on bass and Eric Harland on drums. It’s a memory I will never forget. At that point in my life I had never heard music played with that level of intensity by a small acoustic jazz band.

I’ve heard many musicians imitate McCoy Tyner’s style over the years. But I’ve never heard anyone who could do it like him. I saw him live many more times after that, always in concert halls rather than jazz clubs. I even met him on one occasion. But it’s that first gig in a jazz club in London that will always stick in my memory as one of my happiest musical memories. It was one of the first times that I’d seen “the real thing” up close and it had a huge impact on me.

It was with great sadness that I heard about McCoy Tyner’s passing this week at the age of 81. He was a truly unique musician, and his influence on modern jazz is enourmous.

Quartal Harmony

McCoy Tyner is best known for the sound of quartal harmony. That’s when you arrange chord voicings in fourth intervals. It’s a very distinctive sound, and instantly recognisable in modern jazz. Passion Dance uses that quartal sound, and is a great example of McCoy Tyner’s signature sound. My rendition certainly doesn’t capture the intensity with which McCoy Tyner used to play it. But I wanted to put my own tribute out for a great musician who influenced me massively.

Spain on Fretless Bass & Nylon String Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 94

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 91

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.

Six String Fretless Bass Arrangement – I Know You – Bass Practice Diary 83

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 Bass – Bass Practice Diary 82

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.

Can you Play The Blues with an Odd Meter? – Bass Practice Diary 75

Blues in A with a 10/8 Time Signature – Bass Practice Diary – 24th September 2019

Blues is at the root of so much of what I play. I started out by playing blues as a child. And the blues is also at the root of so much modern music, including jazz, rock, funk, soul… the list goes on. It’s actually incredible when you think about it, how the musical vocabulary of the blues has permeated so much music in the last 100 years or more. But, can you play a blues in an odd meter? That’s what I found myself wondering this week.

Where does blues end and modern jazz start?

Blues has its own rhythmic feels and distinctive harmony. Which have proved very adaptable to other genres of music. And it could be argued that once you break out of these structures, you’re no longer playing the blues. My own musical journey through my teen years took me from blues to modern jazz, simply by a process of trying to expand my harmonic language. It wasn’t a conscious decision on my part to leave the blues behind. I simply started to become interested in upper chord structures and alterations, and expanding my role as a bass player, and modern jazz is where I found myself.

So I’ve no doubt that some people could argue that an odd meter blues isn’t blues, it’s (blues influenced) modern jazz. But I would argue that if you can stay true to the rhythmic feeling, structure and harmony of the blues, while playing an odd meter. Then you can play an odd meter blues. And that’s what I’ve tried to do in this video.

The influence of John McLaughlin

It’s not a completely original idea, although I’ve never heard anyone try to do exactly what I’ve done here. However, I was partly inspired by the jazz guitarist John McLaughlin. There’s a tune called New Blues, Old Bruise on his album Industrial Zen. It’s in 15/8 and I think it’s a brilliantly original approach to playing blues harmonic language. That tune would undoubtedly be classed by most people as jazz fusion, but nevertheless, the blues influence is undoubtedly present.

The other influence of John McLaughlin came from his brilliant DVD called Gateway to Rhythm. In which, he briefly demonstrates a kind of subverted blues shuffle feel in 10/8. The rhythmic phrase he uses is Ta-Ki-Ta Ta-Ki-Ta Ta-Ka Ta-Ka, which is 3+3+2+2. When I heard it I thought it was genius. Because it seemed to capture the feel of a blues shuffle, but it wasn’t a shuffle. I think the phrase originally came from one of his old Mahavishnu Orchestra albums.

Hearing that made me think, if you can capture the feeling of a shuffle in 10/8 then maybe you can play an entire 12 bar blues in 10/8. I haven’t used that particular rhythmic phrase in my blues, because I didn’t want to copy John McLaughlin’s rhythmic phrase. But it did inspire me to come up with the blues in 10/8.

The bass line

The bass line was partly improvised and partly worked out in advance. It turns out that you have to concentrate really hard when you’re playing a 12 bar blues in 10/8. Especially when you don’t just stick to one rhythmic phrase. As I haven’t here, I’ve tried to mix up the rhythms as much as I could. But here is one chorus of transcribed blues bass line in 10/8.

Odd Meter Blues Bass Line in 10/8
Blues in A: Odd Meter Bass Line in 10/8

The fretless bass solo

The fretless solo on top was just a bit of messing around. I added it to add some context to the bass line. I found while I was doing it that I had to concentrated really hard on where to start my lines. To make sure they came out in the right place harmonically. I’ve transcribed the solo too and here it is.

Odd Meter Blues in A: Fretless 6 String Bass Solo
Odd Meter Blues in A: Fretless 6 String Bass Solo

If you’d like to learn some more about playing bass lines in odd meters, then check out this link.