Last week I picked up my bass and ripped through about ten songs, knowing I wouldn’t be able to do it during the later stages of chemotherapy. It felt good in my hands and after the second song I was locked in–which is always a good feeling. As I was playing I started thinking about the basses I’ve had and how they affected how and what I play.
My first bass guitar was a huge Ibanez Blazer that my Dad bought me when I was 15. I’ve recounted the story of buying that bass before, and it was a good instrument to learn on–to a point. Because it was so big, and set up for funk playing, it was long scale (a long fretboard) and built for fat slapping strings. It would have been ideal to learn any Bootsy Collins riff out there. It had a great tone but wasn’t a good bass for learning fast, technical rock pieces (Rush, Metallica, Zeppelin, etc.) that I was playing at the time. Given their length and action, the strings were moving so much I found it hard to stay ahead of them; my fingers were always behind and I’d drop notes and lose the rhythm. I used this bass through high school and into college, but after I bought a Steinberger it stayed in the case.
The Steinberger I bought from my friend Stas, who was (wisely) playing musical basses through high school, looking for the right one. He started out with a Cort, basically a $100 beginner instrument, moved to a Rickenbacker 4001 and pretty quickly traded that (it wasn’t black like Geddy’s and the action was too tall, IIRC) for a 1976 Les Paul, sold that, and got the Steinberger, sold that to me, and then bought a new Precision Bass. We spent a lot of afternoons sitting and swapping instruments on different tracks, so I remember playing all of these basses, but I didn’t appreciate the feel of his P-Bass until much later. I immediately liked the Steinberger because it was shorter scale, MUCH tighter than the Ibanez, and easier to play technical stuff on. Plus it was compact and weird. I’ve had it since about 1990 or so and played it extensively, and what was liberating about it at first became a liability; with the shorter scale and smaller strings, the action was TOO tight. It has a great tone, it’s fast, and it doesn’t weigh four tons. But because the action is tight, there’s no feel. Somewhere between the booming ropes on the Ibanez and the tight piano strings on the Steinberger, there had to be a sweet spot. But because it was a hobby and not a profession, buying a new bass was never a priority.
When I bought a cheap Jazz bass on a whim last year, I figured it would be a fun toy for the right price that I could easily flip on Craigslist. I asked a friend to pick it up for me, as he lived near the seller, and because he’s a musician he knew what to look for. I honestly wasn’t expecting much but when I got it home I was astonished at how good the setup was. The nicotine-soaked strings, while disgusting, felt amazing, played like a dream, and had a killer tone. I restrung it after washing the body repeatedly and while I don’t like the replacement strings nearly as much the feel is still there. It’s the sweet spot between boomy and tight. I rarely get behind the rhythm and I don’t tire out trying to get a feel out of it. And it feels right in my hands. The scale is perfect–somehow it feels wider than the Steinberger but shorter than the Ibanez. I don’t hunt for frets like I did on the Ibanez and I don’t get crunched up on the high frets like I do on the Steinberger. It’s balanced and friendly.
Upon reflection, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed a Precision Bass as much as I enjoy its cousin. I remember Stas’ bass as being looser than the Steinberger but not by much; maybe that’s just 30 years talking. Having played several in the music store down the street over the years, they feel OK but not right. I never really thought to pick up a Jazz because I always thought they were bigger and heavier, but I guess I was mistaken. Thinking about how much I’m enjoying playing the Jazz these days, I wonder if my high school and college musical pursuits would have been different, knowing I had more confidence in what I was playing and how it felt.
Apparently there’s a pick-up dad band around the corner from here, and they need a bass player at some point. When I get past chemo and surgery and chemo again, I’m going to go look them up.
Uberbike has left the building. Last weekend I spent a good bit of time cleaning up the garage, which was cluttered with stuff we’d thrown in last fall. Uberbike was sitting in the back, on two flat tires, holding up the soft top for the Scout, and looking sad. We haven’t ridden it in three years, and now that Jen has a bike and Finn is supposed to learn how to ride her new bike, a tandem is pretty useless. I decided it needed a new home. On a whim, I posted it to Craigslist at best offer, and figured I’d get a random inquiry or two. What I got was multiple emails within 6 hours from several very interested parties. One guy kept at me all week until we could schedule his brother to come and pick it up, and he gave me $100 for it this evening. Goodbye Uberbike; may you ride long into the future.
On Monday I stopped into our local music store to pick up a new set of nicotine-free strings, and poked around the bass section to see what they had. Looking through the inventory there, it affirms the fact that I got a screaming good deal on this bass, even if it’s smelly, beat up, and not original; every MIM bass I’ve seen for sale on CL before and since is more than twice what I paid. I walked back to the string section and asked the dude behind the counter if he could identify what I had (he couldn’t) so I got a set of Ernie Ball medium-weight roundwounds for it. While I was there, I browsed a box of half-off bass strings and found a set of Rotosound 606s for the Steinberger. I’ve always played GHS Bass Boomers on that bass, and haven’t tried a new brand in 20 years, so I thought it was too good a deal to pass up.
The Ernie Balls are good, but they don’t have the warm, meaty tone of the unknown strings it came with, and they don’t feel as smooth to my hands. I kept the originals and I’m going to try again to find what brand they are when I have a little more time, because I like them that much.
I also got a package in the mail from Shenzhen, China, with two foldable focus adjustment tools for my lenses. There is a setting in most modern prosumer DSLRs which can fine-tune the focus point for each particular lens you mount; the camera knows which one you’re using and stores the settings for that particular lens. Last weekend I spent Saturday morning with a cup of coffee and a table full of lenses, adjusting each one with the D7000 and storing the data. It looked to me like the primes were the most out of register, especially the 50mm f/1.8, but I think I’ve got to do some more fine-tuning in direct sunlight and at a different focal distance to be sure.
I’ve been playing the Jazz bass for at least an hour every night I can. It’s a completely different experience from the Steinberger, something I can’t describe, but it feels faster, more precise. I can get around the frets faster, because the neck is thinner, and landing the notes with no buzz (except for the low E) is easier. I have to wonder what might have happened if I hadn’t started out with a big old funk bass and had traded up to a P-bass in high school. Would I have been discouraged less and practiced more? Possibly. This thing is crying out for a good setup, so now that this coming weekend is a little less filled, I’ll see if I can carve out some time to tune it up.
I’m starting a small side project with the dribs and drabs of free time I’ve got, which should combine an idea I’ve had for years with a new approach I hadn’t considered. Will this be another thing I mention here and never get to, or will I complete it? Let’s see.
I visited on opthamologist last Friday to look at my left eye, which has been cloudy in the center for a couple of months. Scared I might have cataracts or retina issues, I got it checked out. The eye doctor was very patient with me (I don’t like things near my eyes) and did all the normal tests. It turns out I’m dealing with posterior vitreous detachment, which basically means I’ve got a non-vision threatening change in the goo that makes up my eyeball. The opthamologist said it should work itself out in the next couple of months, but to come back in next year to check things out.
As one of my goals for 2016, I resolved to pick up my bass and guitar and start playing regularly again. The bass is an easier lift, because I can keep it quiet through headphones with the practice amp Santa gave me last year when the girls are in bed. As a result I’ve been playing a lot the last couple of months, and it feels great.
As I normally do with things I’m interested in, I’ve had Craigslist alerts watching used Fender basses for years now. My budget is very low, so I haven’t actively pursued anything, but I came close about four years ago when a guy in Baltimore was selling a MIJ Precision Bass for $150. He sold it before I could make it out to his house.
Last week I found out about a used Jazz Bass on Craigslist in DC and I asked my coworker to check it out for me. He went to the guy’s house on his way to band practice (ha!) and looked it over. Everything checked out (he’s pretty knowledgeable about instruments) so he picked it up for me.
It’s a 1997 made in Mexico Deluxe Series, based on the serial number, with a black body and tortoiseshell pickguard. Deluxe means it was made with active pickups, but the previous owner removed those and replaced them with a set of Fender Noiseless pickups and standard Jazz electronics. The battery plate on the back is held on with two pieces of clear tape, and the jack in the side of the body is disconnected (and held in with a wood screw). The bass has been beat up pretty good; there’s a chip out of the headstock, a good sized ding in the bottom, and a bit of buckle rash on the back side.
It’s strung with a set of roundwounds that only buzz on the E, so the action needs to be adjusted, but the neck is straight and it plays well. The neck itself is fast–it’s thinner than my Steinberger neck, actually, at the same length, but the Steinberger has two more frets. (I was always under the impression the Steinberger was short scale, but I was mistaken). It’s fast and light, which is amazing for a bass its size–I’ve been playing a headless bass for over 20 years, so it takes getting used to. The sound is rich and the tone is beautiful. In fact, there are several songs I’ve played where the tone I’m getting is almost exactly what was recorded.
The biggest issue is that it absolutely stinks of nicotine. The PO was obviously a heavy smoker, so the gig bag and the strings reek of smoke. I wiped the wood down with Murphy’s Oil Soap last night, but I’ve got to take the strings off and wipe the front of the neck down to get more of the yuck off. The bag is hanging out on the back porch, and will be, for the next week or so. Hopefully the sun and the air will pull some of the smoke out.
Now I’m trolling YouTube for instructional videos on how to set up guitars, which I’ll get to in the coming weeks. It needs a new set of strings for sure, so I’ll walk or ride down to Bill’s Music and see if they can tell me what’s on it right now, because I like them despite their stink.
Why is it that when I’m sitting on several hundred dollars for a purely elective purchase of something impulsive, there’s never anything to be had, and when I have no money all the things I’d love to purchase come up on a daily basis on Craigslist? (Corollary: Why am I looking at Craigslist when I have no money? Because I am foolish.)
Last week I dusted off my bass guitar and set up my little Crate amp out in the Doctor’s office (it’s far enough removed from the rest of the house that if I want to ROCK OUT I don’t upset anyone else, and nobody can see me strike my Pete Townsend poses) and started playing again, and it felt good. Like, where the hell have you been for the last three years good. Good enough that I seriously browsed the Musician’s Friend catalog and looked at gear I can’t afford and made up a list of things I’d like to own in a perfect world. My buddy Dave let me test drive his shiny new Jazz bass on Wednesday, and while it felt totally different from my bass (I have a Steinberger, the bass you saw a lot of in 80’s New Wave videos) it felt good to have a solid chunk of wood to play again.
There’s a beginner-level upright bass for sale this morning, something I’ve wanted to own for a long time (I played upright for seven years), but I don’t have the money for it. Do I need it? No. I have a guitar that I’m supposed to be learning how to play, but that’s sitting in the corner of the front bedroom until our houseguest leaves. Arrgghh! Damn you, Craigslist!
I’ve not been using my camera these days for anything besides some random shots of the hallway which never seems to progress; it’s a real shame because there are things out there to photograph, but I’ve just not been seeing them. Today, through one place to another, I visited heather’s site (she’s also responsible for the mirror project) and through hers another good photography site. I started thinking about pictures again. I remember when I first got my digital camera and was shooting everything I saw—living in a photogenic area of the city made finding subjects easy. Nowadays, I commute blindly by highway, rarely stopping to search for interesting shots. Instead of just carrying my camera around with me, I need to start using it again. Additionally: another thread, I’m rooting for Jay to win tonight, but thinking that Kara will probably take the whole thing.
Helpful Design Link: Fontleech, a site chronicling free fonts for poor designers.
This morning my neck is a solid chunk of concrete, thanks to the hibernation-mode sleep I got last night. The good news is that the hallway is primed upstairs and 95% ready for a final coat of bright white paint; the bad news is that the entire house is covered in white dust again. Meanwhile Penn has suddenly developed that wierd eye swelling thing where the inside of the eyelid blows up like a balloon and makes him look like a post-match Rocky. This means I’ll have to squirt medicine into his mouth (twice) and his eye once every 12 hours for the next week or so—I think the poor cat is ready to run away from home by now.
In the winter of 1986, my Dad drove me out to Mt. Kisco to look at a bass guitar listed in the classifieds. I’d just picked up electric bass after playing upright for three years, and it was time to find a beginner’s instrument. We walked up a flight of stairs to a dark apartment building and met with a longhaired, half-stoned dude who took us into his practice room. He had several guitars lined up and handed us the largest of them all, a survivor from the late 1970’s: an Ibanez Blazer, woodgrain with a black pickguard. It had the longest neck of any guitar I’ve ever seen (21 frets), it weighed more than a car, and it had deeper sound than a foghorn. I tried it out with a rudimentary blues line, feeling sheepish and embarrassed, and it sounded good. I don’t know what my Dad paid for it, but we lugged it back to the Rabbit and took it home. On this bass I learned to play, finding it was easier learn jazz than keep up with Geddy Lee (not that I didn’t try.) Later, I bought a Steinberger from my friend, finding its portability and size easier for college, and the Ibanez became second fiddle (pun intended.) Eventually, in the post-graduate purge, I “sold” it to a friend so that his wacky girlfriend could join an all-grrl punk band, and it passed out of my hands. I think the bass in this Microsoft ad could be mine, only because the pickups are white—we had the original pickups pulled and replaced by the music store in town, and for some dumb reason they gave us white—we never bothered to have them switched out. I heard that girl moved to Philadelphia and took it with her years ago, so imagine my surprise when I saw it again. It’s nice to think that maybe one of us got famous. (And thanks, Dad.)
Click on the link below to see what all the dudes said about my thermostat. Apparently I just need to be really careful about which wire I hook up to be the ground. So I’ll wait for a few weeks to fool with that- but first I have to make sure it’s compatible with my Bryant unit. After all the trouble of putting that unit in, I’m terrified that I’ll fuck it up.
Hmmm. Last night Jeff C. and I rode up to Guitar Center in Towson; he was looking to fix two of his guitars and I was looking to see if they had any Steinberger strings, which are harder and harder to find these days. I got my strings– $30 or so, and Jeff bought a nice Ibanez acoustic guitar. That place is huge. I got home, took a leak (was dying) and pulled the Crate amp out, dropped Siamese Dream into the CD, and played 6 of the 10 songs or so.
Saw a girl and her boyfriend fighting in the parking lot of the Rite Aid, where I usually have to park the fleet after 10 on weeknights. She was an upset blonde and he was an angry shaven jock-type. They argued for a while; she was apologizing, and then he shut his car door and left. She got in her Neon and left too. I was straining to hear what they were arguing about but I couldn’t hear anything. Next time, speak up so I know what you’re fighting about, OK? (this is the shameless nosy parker in me coming out.)
Last night I also booted up the 7100 running MKlinux and browsed some pages using lynx and then the browser that shipped with Xwindows. For some reason I had a problem seeing .JPG files- I wonder how old the openStep browser is in that install.
A few days ago I got PhotoVista reinstalled on the NT machine and ran it to update the vista pictures I took with the Cidera camera lo, these 2 years ago- they’re up now as applets and don’t need a plugin anymore, as long as you have Java installed on your machine.
I’m hooked on the subwoofer concept for computer stereo, at least; I have a Boston Acoustics BA735 here at work and it is awesome. Next paycheck I might have to invest in a subwoofer system for the house (providing I get the NT machine up and running again.)
11:27 PM Happy to report the 3dfx card is properly installed with the correct drivers and is currently powering my Sony 15″ monitor at a comfortable 1280 x 960 pixels. DAMN it’s nice. I brought up Quake2 and set it on first the default OpenGL drivers and then the 3dfx open GL set; the standard drivers were very dark (not helped any by the rapidly deteriorating tube in this monitor) and the 3dfx drivers were lighter but smoother- it seemed like a lack of detail was evident. I’m going to purchase a copy of Quake3 this week and we’ll see how that runs on this machine. The Best Supporting Technician Award goes to Jeff C. for his help. Now I need to look at some 17″-19″ monitors next paycheck….
And the Best Actress in a Laundry or Drama goes to Ms. Jen Lockard, for her work in Last Sunday Afternoon.