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My hidden frequencies – Rediscovering the upright bass

Phases are a natural part of our lives. They can be experienced within ourselves, as groups, in relationships or as a community. No specific rules seem to apply – things just have a natural tendency to flow one way or another at any given time, bringing us closer or further of something or someone.

As a musician, one tends to create relationships with instruments, too. As great late Petri Walli of Kingston Wall said, “choose an instrument and stick with it. Learn its strengths and weaknesses, and how to work your way around the latter.” Mr. Walli lived by this, using one Les Paul throughout his career. Since one bass can’t serve as an electric, a fretless, an upright and a synthbass at the same time (I wonder how THAT instrument would look like??) I haven’t been able to be as extreme. But still, other instruments have stayed with me while others continued their journies.

One of these long-time friends has been my upright bass. I bought it somewhere around 2010 after getting frustrated with a loaned-up plywood bass. This one’s all wood and has a huge sound. It’s the only one I’ve owned and used actively for about 6 years, until I just stopped playing it. All of a sudden, I couldn’t relate to the sound and feel of the instrument. Since it is a bit bigger than standard uprights, producing sound is a rather physical challenge. I grew discouraged and disconnected, and even started to think that maybe I am simply not an upright player. The bass needed a glue-job to be done by a professional instrument-builder, but I just kept postponing it, and thus my worthy companion was left standing alone in the dark depths of our music school, almost forgotten as time went by.

This spring, we started talking about the acoustic sound of our group with Jones. Me playing the upright played an important role when the band first started, and we felt that it would be nice to approach this again. I started thinking about my bass, and all I could think of was negative stuff. How unnecessarily big it is, how frustrating to bring to the gigs, how my hands used to hurt after playing for long periods of time… but we wanted the sound. I suggested that I could switch to a smaller bass, making it easier for myself on many levels. I even went out and tried one – and felt nothing. Or actually, I felt something missing.

The essence of upright bass playing for me was those thundering low frequencies flowing out of the bass I already owned, and I didn’t get that someone’s-rumbling-my-guts feeling with the bass I tried out. I headed back home feeling a bit confused. Could it be that while only playing that one upright all these years I had actually forgotten its persona? I was determined to have a JonesAndYou-rehearsal the same week and come up with my own upright again, after two years or so.

It all pretty much fell back to its place while we played through the first song. What I heard was the ideal sound, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing about it. Jones, knowing better (he usually does), smiled at me with a friendly “I told you so” face. I smiled back, simply being happy for finding my friend again and picking up right where we left off.

All in all, I guess it was OK to zoom out for a while to make zooming in enjoyable again.

Thanks for reading and have an awesome day out there,

Conan

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