Tag Archives: warwick basses

My 6-String Warwick Thumb Bass – Bass Practice Diary 108

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.

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.

Michael Brecker Solo Transcription – Bass Practice Diary 73

Michael Brecker Jazz Solo Transcription on 6 String Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 10th September 2019

This week I’m playing a transcription of part of Michael Brecker’s solo on Charlie Parker’s Confirmation from Chick Corea’s Three Quartet’s album. If you saw my video last week, you’ll know that I picked out one lick from this solo already. Because I felt it fitted nicely onto a four string bass. But I actually worked out the transcription on 6 string bass. That’s what I usually do with jazz transcriptions. So, this week I thought I’d feature the solo, or at least as much of it as I’ve transcribed so far, on my fretless 6 string bass.

The Solo Transcription with Bass TAB

Michael Brecker Confirmation Solo with 6 String Bass TAB page 1
Michael Brecker Confirmation Solo with 6 String Bass TAB page 1
Michael Brecker Confirmation Solo with 6 String Bass TAB page 2
Michael Brecker Confirmation Solo with 6 String Bass TAB page 2

This isn’t the complete solo, it’s just the first chorus plus a couple of bars. And I’ve played the transcription one octave below where Michael Brecker plays it. Just because I think it sounds and fits better on a bass guitar in this register. I have seen other transcriptions of this solo but they’re all written in treble clef and in the key of G major for Bb tenor saxophone. As far as I’m aware, mine is the only bass clef transcription in the concert pitch key of F major.

The backing track that I’ve used in the video is not one of my own. If you follow my videos regularly, you’ll know that I often make my own backing tracks. But this was just a convenient backing track of Confirmation that I found. The feel is slightly different to the feel of Chick Corea and Michael Brecker’s original. So I’ve played the feel to fit in with the backing track.

Applying Jazz Vocabulary to Jazz Standards – Bass Practice Diary 70

Jazz Vocabulary on Jazz Standards with Six String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 20th August 2019

Last week I was writing out and practicing 16th note jazz lines on II-V-I’s. When you’re practicing jazz vocabulary like that, the next logical step is to try to apply the vocabulary to the chord changes of a tune or jazz standard. And that’s what I’ve been doing this week.

Why do jazz musicians practice playing II-V-I’s?

When I first came across the idea of practicing II-V-I’s, I couldn’t understand why jazz musicians were so obsessed with this one very simple chord progression. But now I get it. Because once you can play lines on II-V-I’s, you can then use those lines in such a huge number of musical situations. Even when there isn’t a II-V-I written in the music, you can superimpose the II-V-I harmony with your lines over it.

Here are just a few examples of what I’m talking about. If you are playing on a minor 7th chord. You can treat that chord as a chord II and play II-V lines over it. Or, if you’re playing on a dominant 7th chord, you can treat it as a V chord and do the same thing. The most obvious place to superimpose a II-V-I is on a major chord or major 7th chord. Using these kind of ideas, jazz musicians have become masters of turning just about any harmonic progression into a sequence of II-V’s or II-V-I’s.

So if you can get good at improvising on II-V-I’s, then you can improvise on so many different chord progressions and harmonies.

Applying jazz vocabulary to standards

Practicing jazz vocabulary in this case just means playing lines that work over common jazz chord changes. Most commonly II-V-I’s. It’s essentially like learning licks. The vocabulary could be lines that you’ve worked out yourself or they could be lines played by someone else. If you’re going to learn to improvise in a jazz style, I think it’s essential to practice some jazz vocabulary. And that’s basically what I was doing last week.

When you practice jazz vocabulary it’s a good idea to transpose it into different keys. It’s an even better idea to apply it to the changes of a real jazz standard. Because then you have to think about how and where you can use the lines. As well as changing the key to follow the harmonic movement of the standard.

I’ve written out two examples. This first one is on the first eight bars of In Your Own Sweet Way.

In Your Own Sweet Way - Jazz Vocabulary Exercise
In Your Own Sweet Way – Jazz Vocabulary Exercise

As you can see, there are lots of II-V’s in this tune. Both major and minor. So, it works really well for applying this kind of jazz vocabulary. My next example was on Miles Davis’ tune Solar.

Solar - Jazz Vocabulary Exercise
Solar – Jazz Vocabulary Exercise

Why practice jazz vocabulary?

Now I should point out, as I did in the video, that this is just an exercise. I wouldn’t choose to improvise like this. Because I don’t use licks or preprepared vocabulary when I improvise. I know that a lot of jazz musicians do use licks in their solos. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that. But it doesn’t work for me. Because I see improvisation as spontaneously creating something in the moment. And that’s what I love about it. If I were to apply a preprepared idea into an improvisation it would feel incongruous to me, and so I don’t do it.

The reason that I practice licks and vocabulary is so that I can hopefully absorb the sounds and melodic ideas. So that hopefully when I want to improvise a jazz solo, I can come up with similar ideas of my own.

Giant Steps Improvisation – Bass Practice Diary 50

Giant Steps Improvisation on Fretless & Fretted 6 String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 2nd April 2019

Some jazz tunes are so iconic that every jazz musician and enthusiast should know them. John Coltrane’s Giant Steps definitely falls into that category. The chord changes have made it iconic, because they’re notoriously difficult to improvise on. Over the years it’s become a kind of rite of passage for aspiring jazz musicians to learn to play on those changes.

I’ll do a more complete analysis of how I approach playing on Giant Steps next week. But the purpose of this video is to show how I approach practising any tricky piece like this. The first and most important thing when approaching any difficult repertoire is to start slow. If you want to be able to play fast, then practice slow.

Start Slow and Vary the Feel

When I’m approaching any chord progression, I’m trying to internalise the sound of the changes. It’s much harder to do this if the changes are flying past at 300bpm. Coltrane may have played Giant Steps blisteringly fast, but I’d be willing to bet that he practiced it slowly first.

I love practicing playing over slow changes. You can really enjoy playing over each chord and having loads of time to hear the changes go past. And this will really help you to get the sound of the changes into your ears.

Another piece of advice I would offer, is to practice playing the changes over as many different feels as you can. As you can hear in my video I start by using a slow straight 1/16th note feel, and then move on to a faster swing feel. But that only scratches the surface, there are so many different tempos and feels that you can use.

It always amazes me that some jazz musicians seem to only practice improvising in a swing feel. You can always tell who these people are because they instantly sound very uncomfortable playing in anything that doesn’t have a swing feel.

John Coltrane and Giant Steps

Giant Steps was recorded and released in 1959, which was a watershed year in jazz for many reasons. It came from the album which was also called Giant Steps, and that album is seen by many as a masterpiece of jazz Bop style improvisation and composition. In fact it’s seen by many as the ultimate recording in that style of jazz.

You can find my bass TAB and analysis of a John Coltrane lick from that album here. It comes from a composition called Countdown which features similar chord movement to Giant Steps.

It’s certainly possible to believe that Coltrane himself believed that he couldn’t improve upon Giant Steps. Because from that point on in his career he went on to explore other aspects of jazz improvisation such as modal jazz and free jazz. And he never returned to the Bop style vocabulary of the Giant Steps album.