Tag Archives: fretless bass

Fretless Bass Strings: Flatwound or Roundwound? – Bass Practice Diary 141

Fretless Bass Strings: Flatwound or Roundwound? – Bass Practice Diary – 5th January 2020

Which make the best fretless bass strings? Flatwound or roundwound. It seems like every time I release a fretless bass video, I get asked at least one question about strings. I’ve even been asked questions like, “which flatwound bass strings do you use?” to which I then have to answer, “err… I don’t normally use flatwounds on fretless”. There seems to be this idea in the bass community that you’re going to somehow damage a fretless bass fingerboard by using roundwound bass strings. I’ve been using roundwounds since I first played a fretless bass as a teenager 20 years ago, and I’m yet to see any damage.

What’s the difference?

Flatwound strings are smooth to the touch while you can feel the coils on roundwound strings. So, if we assume that either set of strings is safe for a fretless bass neck, then the question becomes one of sound and feel. Roundwound strings have a brighter tone, especially when they are brand new, but they lose their brightness as they age. Flatwound strings are not as bright when they are new, but they do not lose their brightness so much as they age. I intentionally didn’t compare brand new strings in this video, because, I’m interested in hearing how flats compare with used roundwound strings. Do rounds really start to sound like flats as they get old?

In many ways it makes perfect sense to put flats on a fretless bass, because the lack of friction makes sliding between notes very smooth. Smooth in both sound and feel under the fingers. But the sound of flats is very much associated with a vintage bass tone. It was far more common for bass players to use flats in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s than it is now. There’s nothing wrong with a vintage sound, it’s a great sound. But if you want something more modern, then roundwound strings are the better option.

My verdict

I didn’t give a verdict in the video. Mainly because I hadn’t yet listened back to the recordings to hear the strings side by side. Now that I’ve done it, my verdict might surprise you. On this particular bass, I prefer the flats. I’ve always used flats on this Sire Marcus Miller V7 Vintage bass. The clue is in the name. It’s a modern bass designed to be like a vintage fretless bass (a fretless Fender Jazz Bass to be specific). And to me, it just sounds right to hear this bass played with flats. However, it’s not a sound that I feel would suit my fretless Warwick Thumb SC, which is an modern fretless electric.

So, it’s not much of a conclusion I’m afraid. Before doing this experiment I was using flats on this bass and rounds on my other fretless basses. And that’s what I’ll continue to do, having heard the results side by side. I guess it’s just nice to know that my initial instincts were right. Or maybe it’s just that I’m used to hearing my basses like that so hearing roundwounds on this bass sounds odd to me.

The recording setup

For those of you who are interested, I was using an Electrovoice RE20 microphone on the speaker cabinet and I was mixing that together with a DI signal from the back of the Warwick Hellborg preamp. They were going into a Focusrite interface and then Logic Pro X. I added some light compression in Logic after recording. Other than that there are no effects used.

Both sets of strings are manufactured by D’addario. I thought it made the most sense to use the same brand for both. I have no particular loyalty or affiliation to D’addario. It was just that they were the only brand that I had both flats and rounds in my possession at the time of recording.

As I mentioned in the video, neither set of strings were new. The flats have been on the bass since I bought it. I generally don’t feel that flats need to be changed until they become visibly damaged or break. The roundwound set came off one of my fretted basses. I did clean them a bit before putting them back on the fretless.

6-String Fretless Bass Modal Improvisation – Bass Practice Diary 140

6-String Fretless Bass Modal Improvisation – Bass Practice Diary – 29th December 2020

This is a modal improvisation on my Warwick Thumb SC 6-string fretless bass. What do I practice in the week between Christmas and New Year? Inevitably I’ve practiced less at Christmas than I usually would. Normally I would have been visiting various family members. But all my plans were cancelled at the last minute due to a COVID lockdown announced by the UK government on December 19th. However, despite that, I still have a wife and son at home, so my usual practice time got devoted to trying to make Christmas special for them despite the restrictions.

So, what should you practice at a time when you haven’t done much practice? For me, the answer is, just play! Play for fun, improvise, play for the love of playing music. Don’t worry about whether it’s good or not. Just get the feeling of the strings back under your fingers. So, with that in mind, here’s a video of me improvising on a short modal chord sequence that I’ve been playing around with this week.

The Chords

I’ve called this a modal improvisation. But how can it be called modal if I’m improvising over a chord sequence? The reason I’m calling it modal is because the chords are not connected by diatonic harmony. So I’m thinking of each chord as being a different scale or mode to improvise on. There is no key that connects the chords. They are simply connected by a bass note, each chord is played over an E bass note.

The chord progression in the video is very simple. It starts on an Eb major chord over an E natural bass note. That chord resolves upwards onto an Emaj7 chord. Then I raise the 5th and make that chord an Emaj7#5 before dropping back onto the Emaj7. These might sound like really small changes, and they are. But each chord change creates the sound of a new mode.

I think it’s an interesting way to think about chord progressions. Rather than thinking about chord changes. Think about changing just one note in a chord and see how that one note changes the overall sound.

Fretless Bass Jam/Improv on My Sire M7 5-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary 130

Fretless Bass Jam/Improv on My Sire M7 5-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 20th October 2020

I haven’t featured this Sire Marcus Miller M7 5-String fretless bass in a video since I first got it and reviewed it last year. In that review I mentioned that I liked the sound and playability of the bass, but I’d had some issues with it. So, I’ll use this post to update you on how I’ve got along with the bass, one year later.

The Music

Before I talk about the bass, I’ll just quickly tell you about the music in the video. I like to jam with myself at home. Meaning record an improvised bassline and then play over it. Let’s face it, it’ll be a while before I get to jam with any other musicians. Lockdown restrictions have been tightened once again in London and I don’t think it will let up over the winter. So I might as well jam alone.

The bassline was a one take improvised line. I was just improvising bass grooves in 7/8 time signature. I was playing along with the little clave ostinato that you hear at the beginning. The rest of the drums were added after the bass parts.

For the improvised solo parts, I did five complete takes. With each take I got gradually more used to playing along with the bassline I’d improvised. The take in the video is number five. The only composed element is the little harmonised melody section. I added that afterwards as I felt it needed some kind of recognisable melody.

The bass sounds good and it plays well. And you could certainly argue that, that’s all a musical instrument needs to do. I’m inclined to think that way myself, and I do like this bass.

Having said that, as much as I enjoy playing this bass, it has turned out to be the most unreliable instrument that I’ve ever owned in terms of holding it’s setup. I made a video, alongside my review, demonstrating how I initially set the bass up. I needed to do it because the setup was a mess when I first got the bass, which in hindsight was a red flag.

Sire Marcus Miller M7 5-String Fretless, One Year Later!

In the year that’s passed, I’ve needed to set the bass up three times. Setups are susceptible to changes in atmospheric conditions, and changes in seasons often necessitate minor changes to setup and intonation.

The bass arrived in the autumn in the UK having come via Germany. It was built in Indonesia. So it’s fair to say it had experienced a few changes in atmosphere before I ever took it out the box. This partly explains the poor condition of the setup when the bass was new. By the time we arrived at spring this year and the weather started warming up, the action completely changed, and then again recently as we move into autumn again.

Moving from dry and hot to wet and cold seems to really mess this bass up. If you think this is normal, then I’m not explaining the scale of the problem very well. I own a lot of instruments and while some of them experience small changes as the seasons go by, this bass is ten times worse than anything I’ve experienced before.

I’ve been unlucky with this bass, I don’t for a moment think that this is true of all Sire M7 basses. I don’t know what it is about this particular one, maybe there’s a problem or a fault with the truss rod. I own enough Sire instruments to know that the setups are fairly stable on most of their instruments.

I’m used to doing the setups now. I can get the bass back to where I want it in under 20 minutes. However, I feel like I can’t ever sell the bass. Or if I do, I must sell it to someone who really understands what they’re taking on. On the other hand, as much as the setup issue is annoying, I always forgive the bass when I start playing it. Because it plays and sounds really good.

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.