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Best of 2013: The Top 10 Ask Damian Erskine Columns

Editor’s Note: For the last week of year, we’re sharing the best of No Treble for 2013, based on readership. Be sure to check back each day until January 1st for the most popular features, lessons, videos, bassists and more.

Damian Erskine was No Treble’s first regular columnist, and he has been going strong every Wednesday afternoon since June, 2009.

We feel very lucky to have him and based on readership, you all agree.

Here are Damian’s top 10 most popular columns this year, based on readership. There’s a lot of great advice in here!

Butter Strings: A Guide to Finding the Best Bass Strings for You

1. Butter Strings: A Guide to Finding the Best Bass Strings

Q: What’s the best way to smoothen up my playing? I notice that a lot of bass players play like the strings are made of wool. I play a basic 4-string Cort G-series model, but I always get the feeling the strings are way to hard/high to play smoothly, or when I lower them, they make a lousy sound because they touch the frets higher up the neck (around fret 12 and higher). I can’t really find a balance between the two (especially for the E- and A-string). I figure I should buy new strings, but I have no clue where to start. Any ideas?

Low Action on a Bass: The Pros & Cons

2. Low Action on a Bass: The Pros & Cons

Q: I was at a bass players’ get-together a while back, and I noticed the other cats have their action set really low, and some used ramps like yourself. A lot of high dollar basses too. I thought “this is too low for me”, and I was pulling too hard. My basses feel good to me, and I like a little resistance, but the other cats thought my stuff was unplayable, like James Jamerson or something. Am I doing this bass playing thing wrong?

Bass Ramps: The How and Why

3. Bass Ramps: The How and Why

Q: I see a lot of people talking about the use of bass ramps. I see that’s it’s basically a piece of wood in between the pickups, but I’m not sure what the benefits are. Also, how do you make one?

Life as a Working Bassist: Where Does the Money Come From?

4. Life as a Working Bassist: Where Does the Money Come From?

Q: What is the reality of how guys like you earn a living? I don’t mean to imply that you are “rolling in it,” but how do bassists who focus on freelance work actually make ends meet?

Boutique Basses: Are They Worth It?

5. Boutique Basses: Are They Worth It?

Q: I see so many people spending thousands of dollars on handmade basses, but so many of the recordings I listen to are recorded using a standard P or J bass. What is it about these high end basses that is so “worth it” to so many?

The Bass Solo: A Guide to Soloing More Freely

6. The Bass Solo: A Guide to Soloing More Freely

Q: I am at a stage with playing jazz where I feel confident playing bass lines, such as walking through challenging pieces. Given time to learn the chord sequence, I am pretty confident at playing solos over the top of backing tracks and grooves. My problem is that when playing with a jazz band – when everyone cuts out for the bass solo – my playing falls apart and I get lost (unless I have spent time arranging a specific solo). How do you advise learning to improvise interesting solos, which reflect the tune’s harmony, without just playing arpeggio licks for each chord?

How To Groove at Jam Sessions

7. How To Groove at Jam Sessions

Q: During jam sessions, I normally have a “hit and stick” approach to coming up with grooves. Essentially, there’s a lull between grooves where I end up peddling notes or playing the one. My keyboard player pointed this out and it bothers me. How do I lead a groove during these lulls as opposed to waiting for something to click?

Deciding on an Amp: A Discussion for Bass Players

8. Deciding on an Amp: A Discussion for Bass Players

Q: Damian, what’s in your rack and why? The last time I had a paying gig, I could just roll in my Acoustic 360, plug in, and play. Now I’m trying to get back in to playing just as a hobby. What do you need for today’s amplification?

Lines on a Fretless Bass: Is it Cheating?

9. Lines on a Fretless Bass: Is it Cheating?

Q: Is it cheating to have lines on the fretboard of a fretless bass? Also, what would be better for a first fretless: picking up a quality used instrument and de-fretting it (assuming I cant find a used fretless) or a brand new entry-level one? The only fretless basses I’ve played so far I liked was a Warwick Corvette and a Fender Jazz. Any other suggestions?

Choosing a Bass: Price, Age, Quality, and Other Questions

10. Choosing a Bass: Price, Age, Quality, and Other Questions

Q: I’d like to know the difference between a quality bass and a mediocre one. I have a 1977 Fender Precision bass I absolutely love (I paid $450.00 for it in 1976. Until this year, I thought it was a ’76 P bass, but according to the serial number it’s a ’77). I also have a 2011 Squire Vintage Modified Jaguar bass that cost $299, and it sounds and feels incredible. However, I’d like to know what makes a $2,000 bass guitar superior to one that costs $300 – besides being made in Indonesia, China or Mexico, or wood choices. If an instrument sounds good, does anything else matter? Will a $2,000 instrument last longer than a $300 one?…