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Wearing a Ring while Playing: A Discussion for Bass Players

Bassist's left hand with ring

Q: I’m getting married soon and thought about how much wearing a wedding ring could affect my playing. I suppose it takes some time to adjust to it anyway, but I’m especially thinking about fret and string noise, or neck scratches. I noticed that you play with a wedding ring yourself and seem pretty comfortable with it, even on wide 6-stringers. Did that affect your left hand technique in any way? How did you adapt? I suppose married bass players might wanna share some experience about that, too.

A: I’m most surprised by the fact that you had the foresight to see this issue beforehand. It took me a few tunes into a set during my first gig with a ring on my left hand to realize the potential for damage to the neck or unintended sound effects on the bass.

I don’t worry too much about dings and dents as my basses get used heavily and, while I do try and take care of them, I’m not thinking “future resale value” or anything. My primary concern was unintended sonic effects by the ring.

It’s not an issue on my 4-string but, yes, on the 6, (and when playing on the low B string especially) there is a danger of the ring fretting a note and getting a sitar-ish / bottle-neck slide type of sound.

This actually caused me to experiment with larger flat rings to try and get that sound intentionally but, when trying to avoid any unintended sounds your options are limited.

  1. Remove the ring when you play
  2. This is the easiest way to avoid the issue but, of course, opens the door to some serious consequences and frustrations if you were to ever lose it!
  3. Be careful and/or alter your technique slightly.
  4. For me, personally, once I was aware of the potentiality for the issue I simply put just a hair more of an arc in my fingers when playing deep on the neck and it solved the problem.

If you have an overly “flat-fingered” style of playing, it might take a little more effort but beyond those two options, I can’t really think of much else ther eis do be done about it.

Keep in mind that I also use a 16.5mm spacing on my 6-string basses. I still find that when I try someone else’s bass that has a wider spacing, the issue rears it’s ugly head again. On a recent trip to Japan, I swung into quite a few bass shops, and one had an early model Anthony Jackson 6-string Fodera (which has a notoriously wide spacing). Aside from being unable to play it well at all (man… that thing is wiiiiide), I was indeed getting the old unintended sitar notes on the C string while playing in the lower register. If I ever had to play a bass like that for some reason, I would probably just have to remove my ring but, thankfully, I’m not partial to 4-string spacing on a 6-string bass.

Readers, what’s your approach? Tell us about it in the comments.

Photo by Neil Gould