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MoJo

Playing in a covers band with an ERB

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Back in 2003 when I was playing in a covers/function band, I attended the Music Live exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham with the intention of finding a five string bass to replace my tired Maison four-stringer. Wandering around the event, I spotted this on the Cranes of Swansea stand

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It was a Tanglewood Artisan A6. Special show deal price £275. Less than £300 for a six string, neck through bass. I picked it up and was surprised how comfortable it was to play. I took it home and played it from that day forth at every gig until, at a wedding, during the setup, one of the guests wandered up to the front with his young Son and said, 

"Look at that. A six string bass. This guy must really know his stuff." (I didn't, still don't)

It immediately struck me how pretentious I must look to other musicians, the guest and his Son, playing Mustang Sally and Midnight Hour on two of the six strings available. I sold it shortly afterwards and bought a 'more suitable' four stringer.

Whenever I see someone on YouTube, brandishing a six (or seven) string bass, they invariably have a hair scrunchy up at the headstock and play using a lot of chords and tapping. Is there anyone, like me that used a six-stringer 'out of context'? How did you feel about it? Is there anyone currently using an ERB in a covers band?

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I use an unlined fretless 5 string in the folk group I am part of - we performed at a barbecue in front of some punks (the aging spiky variety, not young upstarts) recently and I am apparently greedy for using more than 4.

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I know a few bassists on the function circuit who will rock up with a 6 string to a wedding gig. Generally miserable sods bitter about playing function music and not much fun to be around, usually not first choice call. 

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I have used a 5 string bass exclusively since the mid 90's. That's in all forms and styles of music, from functions, to covers of every decade, to reggae, to blues, to folk music.

4 strings are no more suitable than any other number of strings in any style of music.

When are bass players going to understand that what you play is far more important than what you use as the tools for the job. 5 and 6 string basses were normalised over 40 years ago. Why are we still having these conversations and experiencing these prejudices?

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Never played more than a 4 on a function/pub gig, I'm afraid, but I've had a couple of pulled faces (from muso types) when I've used my Shukerbird for a bit of slap covering Luther Vandross' Never Too Much, and I once had a self-declared 'very experienced guitarist' just object to the bass itself at a rockier gig: he made the effort to cross the room to me during a break to declare "A Thunderbird with a Fender neck? That's just wrong...." I showed him a picture of JE playing his, which didn't help:

"There you go: that's The Ox"

"Who?"

"Yep"

"What?"

"Oh look, we're going back on..." 🙂

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Posted (edited)

I have in the past, giggled 6 string basses. I used a Status, a Spector and an Aria pro over a period of 5 years. 

If I'm  honest, I  bought the Status to see what 6 strings would do for me and all it did, was attract comments. Some positive, some not. I rarely ventured into high C territory. The Spector was bought from here and tbh, was simply a price I couldn't resist although I did gig it for 2 years. Not a huge fan of the neck profile or the 35" scale. The Aria came my way via a trade. Cheap as chips and I  loved it. Great sound, super light and comfortable and passive (which I  prefer) gigged that for 3 years and did actually use the high C as I'd started to throw in some chord work on certain songs. As I  got older, the ultra wide necks were giving me gyp so now exclusively use 5ers as I  do rely a lot on the B.

I've  no doubt that quite a few people  do buy a 6 or more string bass to create an image of "look what I play" and I  have been guilty of this myself. However, I did eventually realise that despite being able to play the thing, I didn't actually need it.

One upside of ERBs is that no-one ever wants to borrow your bass😆

Edited by leschirons
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If the tool needs to be simple, Atlansia has that one string bass. Should that be the norm of a tool? Needs vary, tool tells very little of the player, or one's abilities. Playing is another thing.

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When I was playing in a covers band I always used a 5-string bass - either one of my Gus basses or an Overwater Original. They made the right sounds and as I've been playing 5 strings since 1990, they are comfortable for me to play.

TBH I could have got away with a 2 string bass for the vast majority of our set.

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Quite the opposite: I once brought this to a gig with a rather "serious" pop noir band with Nick Cave-like murder ballads:

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I'm on the left, this picture was taken 10 years ago. It's a Longbow Bass, and I still have it but never play it. It's a fretless tuned E A. The one on the right is a righty that was originally mine, with the strings reversed, but when I got the chance I ordered one new, a proper lefty (yes, there IS a difference between the two 😛). 

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Entertainment, skills and technique are more important than what you play.  I own basses with 4-, 5-, 6- and 7-strings. No matter what music I'm playing, I still play what the song needs. Unless someone is paying for my gear, I'll bring and play whatever I wish. I extend the same courtesy to others. As long as the instrument functions and sounds fine, that is most important.

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7 hours ago, MoJo said:

 

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A dozen comments in, we’ve all failed to mention this epic photo 

I really hope that’s you at a wedding soloing over Mustang Sally 

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There was a time when my only bass was an Ibanez Prestige SR3006 and I took it to every gig. Nobody made a comment. 

 

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Play what you like. 

I've never been one to entertain any comment from bystanders re my choice of gear - I know better than they do what I want to play and I'm usually the one being paid for attendance as well.

Used my Alembic 6er at a wedding just after I got it in '98. Groom was a bass player, as it turned out and was over the moon that the guy in the wedding band at his wedding was playing a 6. He had a shot and got the photographer to take pictures!

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Sounds like your own assumtion that you looked pretentious- from your report the guy was expecting you to be a great player from seeing your sixer.

In the covers scene it really matters not a jot what bass you play. How can playing Summer of 69 be any more wrong by doing on a six! 😄 Seriously though, it's a means to make music, and if anyone is looking at the instrument you play and making judgements, then they are the pretentious ones. There are still headstock-gazers out there who won't accept anything but Fender, or at least a brand they deem worthy. They are entitled to their taste, but I certainly won't be giving a shit how they percieve my bass. I'm the one out there paying the bills, and they're the ones watching and beaching that I can't be the real deal because my strings ought to be tied to a different piece of wood. That's their waste of a good time, not mine.

There is also no harm whatsoever in having those extra stings there and not using them- I've met guys who take a four and a five, because some songs don't need the B string. My own solution is simply not to play notes on the B if it doesn't seem appropriate!

As I said, in the covers scene in particular, but most other worlds quite frankly, it doesn't matter in the slightest. Personally I seem to be looking down a path of least resistance into the Rockabilly scene, which is very tuned in to aesthetic along with the music (and quite snobby about it, too!). Despite getting a very authentic sound on my electrics (which is where the opportunities have all come from so far anyway), anything but an upright is rather frowned upon. Performers and audiences also expect a certain look, and while I won't go off on one about how the modern Rockabilly scene seems as much to do with Punk,  Metal, and Glam as actual 50's throwbacks, the work and fees makes it worth making some concessions. As a very plain dresser myself I'll probably stick to the simple mid 50's look to save on hair dressing costs, but the point is that there is a thriving scene which is predicated on details and at least perceived authenticity, and if I want the work I need to bare it in mind 

Playing Dancing Queen, Brown Eyed Girl, and Sex on Fire at a wedding reception? Do it with a smile and you could do it on an 18 string made from The Mary Rose for all anyone cares- except the bride's friend's nephew who plays in a band himself and got pissed before coming over and saying he'd have done the gig on a P. But you're not going to worry about him are you?

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I do lots of function gigs and usually bring a five string. Sometimes I’ll bring a four if I know we won’t be playing any of the modern tunes which suit a low B string. And sometimes I bring a six string, like on Sunday doing a duo gig with acoustic guitar. 

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Posted (edited)

I have used 4, 5, 6 and on one occasion an 8 string at a wedding. Fretted, fretless, solid body, electroacoustic & semi-acoustic. I've used a fretless Yamaha TRB6, A Modulus Flea bass, Rickenbacker 4000, whatever I happened to have at the time.

99% of the time no one will notice what you have as long as it fits in with the sound of the band.

I'd turn up to a corporate gig with a Warwick Bootsy Collins Space Bass if someone let me borrow theirs. Nothing is out of bounds as far as I'm concerned as long as it has 4 or more strings.

 

Edited by Delberthot
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If you're playing a function you've got to have a 5 string. If the set contains any Bee Gees, Beyonce, Jesse J , Bruno Mars, Mark Ronsen, etc you're nailing it with a 5.

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What a really odd thing to think. I only play 5 strings. I have played a 6 string live but didn't get on with it. So if you are playing mustang sally, don't you think having a 3 string bass is pretentious? I mean, you don't need more than 2. How about the guitarists, they sure as hell don't need all those strings (ours doesn't!) and don't get me started on keyboard players!

But in answer to the question, I play a 5 string because I play a 5 string. If I was playing prog rock or disco or covers, I would be playing a 5 string, because that is what I play. 

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I don't think it's just the number of strings the bass has that provokes ridiculous comments. As has already been mentioned there is gear snobbery of varying types e.g. 'you must play that type of music with a P' or 'those basses are only good for slapping' etc, etc.

As we all know, the vast majority of basses will cover pretty much everything required down at the Dog & Duck on a Saturday night. My Aria basses will cover everything that I need but I know it's only a matter of time before some clown pipes up asking why I'm playing Crossroads 'on an 80's bass'.   

If a player decides to spend their hard earned on his or her dream bass then they have the right to play it wherever they like. Rock on 🤘.

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Think you’re good for whatever you wanna play personally.

I tried a 5er for 3 months years ago, hated it, but loved the B string. The next 7 or 8 years I played a Precision strung BEAD more or less exclusively. Still do fairly often. Screw the rules and screw what others think (if their thoughts are as you felt, which is unlikely).

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Our drummer takes the fosters out of me for always turn up to practice with a different bass (OK I rotate through five, but I like the way each feels and sounds different).

I still haven't had the guts to turn up with my 5-string.

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On 10/07/2019 at 09:54, BreadBin said:

I use an unlined fretless 5 string in the folk group I am part of ... and I am apparently greedy for using more than 4.

In a folk group? Aren't most instruments in a folk group a lot more stringy, like mandolins etc. And hurdy-gurdies!

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33 minutes ago, Woodinblack said:

In a folk group? Aren't most instruments in a folk group a lot more stringy, like mandolins etc. And hurdy-gurdies!

I played my Fender P in a folk group in the 70's. We used to play with the likes of Mike Chapman, who had a duo with Rick Kemp, also playing a P bass. We used to borrow Pentangle's Orange gear. Several stacks of back line and big PA, all for acoustic instruments. My last foray was about 10 years ago, playing my 5 string Lakland in a duo with an acoustic guitarist. It's all in the fingers!!

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35 minutes ago, chris_b said:

I played my Fender P in a folk group in the 70's. We used to play with the likes of Mike Chapman, who had a duo with Rick Kemp, also playing a P bass. We used to borrow Pentangle's Orange gear. Several stacks of back line and big PA, all for acoustic instruments. My last foray was about 10 years ago, playing my 5 string Lakland in a duo with an acoustic guitarist. It's all in the fingers!!

I didn't mean the basses, I meant the other instruments. Regardless of how your mandolin playing is in your fingers, it still has 8 strings!

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