All Bass, No Treble: When is a Bass Not “Bass”?

When is a bass not 'bass'?

Here at No Treble HQ, we watch a ton of bass videos, read a ton of email from bassists, and get all the news releases about everything bass. Our name is obviously an attempt at being clever. No Treble, after all, is another way of saying “All Bass”. We love the instrument, we love bassists, and we love where bass is headed. It makes our job a lot of fun.

And there’s an interesting conversation these days. Often times when we feature a new bassist doing a new thing, readers sometimes respond with “that’s not bass!”

In the last week alone, we’ve featured Zander Zon‘s all-bass cover of Metallica’s “The Unforgiven”, “new school” bassist Simon Fitzpatrick, and a video by Nick Mason performing his arrangement of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” for solo bass. Feedback for these bassists and their brand of music is usually mostly positive, but it is guaranteed to be mixed.

We hear plenty of responses, and while they’re not all “that’s not bass!”, they’re pretty similar:

“Frustrated guitarist!”

“Where’s the groove?”

“Why doesn’t he just switch to guitar and get on with it?”

And our favorite: “I thought this was ‘All Bass, No Treble’!”

Or the variation: “All Treble, No Bass!”

For those of us who play the bass guitar, our instrument is incredibly young. Leo Fender didn’t invent the electric bass, but he’s the one who made it popular, starting in the 1950’s. That’s not a long time ago as instruments go. In fact, there are plenty of bassists older than the oldest Fender bass still playing today.

While the bass guitar has grown in popularity (and string count), it didn’t start out that way. There were plenty of bassists who wouldn’t take the bass guitar seriously early on, and plenty of band leaders who didn’t either. I can hear it now: “that’s not bass!”

On Portrait of Jaco: the Early Years, legendary trumpet player Ira Sullivan shared the story of how Jaco Pastorius wanted to join Ira’s band. Ira refused at first, telling Jaco that he didn’t like bass guitar. Jaco remarked that he was out to “make this non-instrument an instrument” (Mission accomplished, Jaco).

Once Ira heard Jaco play, he realized Jaco was on to something really new and exciting, and looked past his bias. After all, in music and entertainment, if you have something that’s fresh, you stand a pretty good chance to stand out and make a bigger name for yourself. All Ira had to do was add Jaco to the mix to get there.

Those early days weren’t all that exciting either. Bassists pretty much stood in the shadows, in the back of the band. If they played electric bass guitar, at least they could be heard.

Not long after that first Fender bass, something started to change. Stanley Clarke started doing his thing, and it was exciting, new and featured the bass. It wasn’t bass as usual, that’s for sure. Can you hear it? “That’s not bass!” Today, Stanley likes to say (as he did in our interview with him), “I am proud to announce the bass is liberated.”

Then came Jaco. Playing harmonics and melodies and making his bass sing. I can definitely hear it: “That’s not bass!”

Of course, there were others. But both Stanley and Jaco showed us something else that was new: that bassists could stand in front of the band, and be the featured instrument. Wait for it…

“That’s not bass!”

Zander Zon uses piccolo strings and alternate tunings on his Zon bass. For some, the piccolo strings, and his choice of musical arrangement, disqualify him from playing “bass”.

At the same time, Jaco’s “Portrait of Tracy” remains one of the most popular tunes for bassists. Jaco didn’t use piccolo strings, obviously, but he did play an awful lot of harmonics that by definition should also disqualify him as playing “bass”. That’s not even mentioning his horn-like melodies. “That’s not bass!”

One of the most popular videos here on No Treble is Victor Wooten‘s “Ari’s Eyes“, where Victor plays a bass strung with tenor bass strings and loops various lines and percussive effects while soloing in the upper register. Is that “bass”?

Somehow, Victor seems immune to this criticism (at least as far as any reactions we’ve seen here). Jaco too. But at the time they got started, anyone could have said, “that’s not bass!”

Today, when it is Simon Fitzpatrick doing something along the same lines, perhaps even inspired by Victor or Stanley or Jaco, the “that’s not bass” reactions can be heard loud and clear.

So sometimes, it is selective based more on the player than it is on what they’re playing.

Let’s not leave double bassists out of the conversation. Double bassists play an instrument that’s quite a bit older than the bass guitar, but there’s still plenty of innovation and forward movement for that instrument too. Players like Miles Mosley and Donovan Stokes (aka Dr. D here on No Treble), are adding effects and distortion and all kinds of stuff that isn’t “bass”. I’m sure there are plenty of traditionalists who would say, “that’s not bass!”

Our tongue-in-cheek response to “that’s not bass” is “Looks like he’s holding a bass to us!” And that’s because to us, this is bass. We’re just witnessing this part of our instrument’s progression.

Everything new, and everything that’s a twist on the past, is what makes the instrument we love bigger and better than most. It is hard to imagine another instrumentalist being able to stand on stage alone and entertain the audience the way Victor Wooten does with a looper (or without!) Our instrument is amazingly diverse and flexible, allowing us to mimic drums and percussion, lay down the low end, layer on a solo or melody in the upper register, and even <gasp>, play chords!

While we love (LOVE!) the groove and can listen to James Jamerson all day long, we also love that players are pushing our instrument ahead in unique, previously undefined ways, redefining what it means to be a bassist, and showing the rest of us what’s possible. As I said in my tribute to Jaco on what would have been his 60th birthday, this is a family tree. Jaco and Stanley started it for a lot of us, Victor and Zander Zon and a bunch of other players have taken the baton and are running fast. The stuff that most anyone today would qualify as “bass” was likely qualified as “not bass” at one time in history.

We’re sure this will be an ongoing conversation for us as bass players, and we don’t think there’s a right or a wrong viewpoint. It just boils down to personal preference.

We’d love to hear your take… Please post your thoughts in the comments, and add your voice to the conversation.

Photo by Haags Uitburo

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  1. Adam M

    Seriously, who makes comments like that? It definitely isn’t “traditional” bass, but if it’s great music, WHO CARES?

  2. Hunter Highfiveghost Griffin

    People who say “That’s not bass” annoy me, you wouldn’t see someone saying that about any other instrument. Bass playing is how you interpret it and you should try to invent your own unique style of bass playing rather than only playing very Rhythmically or groove oriented.

    • Bobby

      I think thats because no one makes a 14 sting guitar with all lower strings. At some point it just becomes something else.

  3. Doug Lathey

    Why all the hate about how bassists experiment with their instruments? even if the bass has 11 strings or 2 strings, it’s still bass no matter how much you don’t like it! I love the solo stuff many bassists do. Whatever happened to having fun with the instruments and not conform to a single style of playing? I play in a metal band but I don’t exactly keep with all root notes in our songs. The point of the matter is bassists are always under-minded in the rhythmic section of any band/group, especially when they’re doing something out of the box. This was the exact situation with guitars when pianists didn’t think guitars could be on the same page with pianos. A few hundred years later pianists were proven wrong with doing classical compositions on guitar. Who’s to say the same thing isn’t happening with bass now? I love writing whatever the fuck I want to on bass and nothing is going to make me do otherwise, whether it be metal, experimental, or whatever I want to play.

  4. Tom Armbruster

    Look, I’m an Old Fart Traditionalist, so my definition of “Bass” is grounded in tonal range. IMHO, Bass = Low tones. When you start piccoloing things and getting out of that “lower” register, and these “extended range” 6 and 7 string models, that’s when my “It’s not Bass” thinking kicks in. Nick Mason’s You’ve Got A Friend” is more Bass to me than Zander’s Metallica, but each of them obviously have a passion for the instrument, and that’s the important thing.

    • Curt

      Amen Tom! I have people ask me ” Why don’t you do slap bass or solos?” Because it doesn’t fit the style of music I play! I like to play with the band and…wait for it…LISTEN TO WHAT EVERYONE ELSE AROUND ME IS PLAYING AND COMPLIMENT WHAT THEY ARE DOING! It’s not all about me! It’s about the band and the musical goals of the band. Let the people playing lead instruments do their jobs and you do yours.

  5. Jeff Schmidt

    As a fellow recipient of such criticism I can relate. But I love the criticism.

    In my case though – (at least in terms of YouTube comments) for every one “Get a Guitar” comment – there are 10 comments from people who dig what I do purely for it’s musical content. I don’t ever feel the need to defend anything because inevitably others seem to do it on their own. I’m grateful for that.

    That’s who I make music for.

    Most of them are bass players – sure. But my music isn’t necessarily created FOR bass players.

    It’s why I stopped participating on BASS forums.

    I don’t submit my solo bass music to BASS magazine. blogs etc… I understand that for the “mass” bass player audience GROOVE and POCKET are the essence of Bass Playing.

    And you know what – they’re right.

    From that worldview – to call what I do “Bass Playing” is misleading. I get it.

    So while I’m technically a “Solo Bassist’ – one listen to my stuff and I think even the most ardent critic can ear that I’m a musician making music with Altered electric bass guitars first – bass player distant second.

    I’m ok with that.

    Final thought.

    Cory – I hope you know I love your dedication to Bass and this site. But I’m just not sure what one can expect from a “No Treble” community to videos of players using lots of Treble.



    • Jaco only needed 4 strings.

      • Garret

        He was one of the first to record on a 5 string- December 13 1975. Its on Youtube.

    • Bass is not defined by it’s amount of strings. I have 3 strings lower than standard E. Technically, that is more bass than a 4 string is capable of.

    • One more thing. Vic get’s “a pass” because he gave the groove-tards the double thump.

      That’s a life-time get out of “you not a “bassist”” jail card free right there.

    • Well said, Jeff. And count us among those who love your videos.

    • ….. sounds like there’s been some jealous prejudice going on …. any instrument is what ever the player makes of it …. IMHO ….. to imply that Jeff Schmidt is not a bass player is beyond absurd ….. is Gene Simmons a bass player ??? … SPARE ME !!!!

    • one more, one more thing. thanks to @Corey Brown for using a LEFTY bassist in the post image above. But – I think his strings are upside down. :0

    • Haha. Glad to do it. (Sorry about the upside down string :)

  6. J Allen Graham

    Well Said!

  7. Jay Terrien

    MGM! Make Great Music!

  8. Scott Fernandez

    Bass determines a bass’s capabilities but it does not define it’s limitations. That can only be determined by the players. – incredibly wise and handsome fellow named Scott Fernandez.

    This is per Yves Carbonne and thank you:
    Why so many strings?
    Here’s a simple explanation:
    – 4-string: 3 octaves (bass guitar).
    – 6-string: 4 octaves (contrabass guitar).
    – 8-string: 5 octaves (sub-bass guitar).
    – 10-string: 7 octaves (sub-bass guitar, full range guitar, piano in guitar format).
    – 12-string: 8 octaves (sub-bass guitar, full range guitar, grand piano in guitar format).
    And of course I still love and play 4-string!

  9. Duane Larkin

    You need both: the Jacos to push the boundries and the Jamersons to have somewhere to return to. I play the bass because I love playing in the pocket, and I adore all the low end…but I like some (gasp!) treble in my EQ and enjoy stepping out on a solo, or running a counterpoint riff to the melody. We’re musicians and we love music in all its’ frequencies…it’s Bass if you play.

    • Aaron Gibson

      Well put!

    • We agree 100%… and we definitely try hard to cover the full spectrum. Thanks Duane.

    • One thing to remember is that for his time Jamerson WAS pushing the boundaries of what a bass was expected to do. Pocket playing was once 4 to the bar walking or simple 8 to the bar boogie patterns, so Jamerson encountered a world that said, “Just What the Hell do you think you’re doing?” to quote Anthony Jackson. The exceptional becomes the routine.

      • Pier

        indeed. Jamerson was fresh water back in the 60’s, like was Donald Dunn, among with british bassists like Paul McCartney and John Entwistle.

  10. Steve Lawson

    I’ve had my fair share of this – far less now that, like Jeff, I’ve backed off from participating in the majority of bass forum-type conversations online.

    My normal response to the ‘call that a bass?’ comment is ‘no, it’s a banjo – does it sound good?’ – what the instrument I’m playing is called, or someone else’s perceived limitations on its role are of so little interest to me I’m not sure I could measure it.

    It’s also true that my process in making music is ultimately no-one else’s business at all – at least not as far as calling its validity into question is concerned. It may be *interesting* to them, but how I make the music I make is all about my own journey/ideas/process, and all the listener has any real concern with is whether or not the end result is something that connects with them. If it doesn’t, let it go. If it does, fabulous.

    That my own process might fall out of someone else’s notion of what a bass guitar ought to be and ought to sound like is funny, but not of consequence.

    The liberation Stanley talked about only happens when the only parameters are ‘music that says what you want it to say’ or not. I’m on a perpetual journey towards getting better at that, so the idea that I would be constrained by the instrument specific reservations of a load of people whose opinions I have no context for and are therefor of no consequence at all, is laughable.

    Anyway, back to mixing this new live record :)

    • Aaron Gibson

      Steve, what you do is both inspirational and incredibly artistic no matter what tools you employ :) Can’t wait to hear the live album!

    • Don Henning

      The looping thing has been done to death. The MUSICAL fact is that when looping you are creating music that is limited in it’s arrangement. It’s boring to listen to in terms of composition. I’m glad you can layer four or more 4 bar sequences and solo over that, but really, it’s just musical masturbation and the audience will be very limited. Just my two cents.

    • Steve..I look at you as one of the best innovators in the bass community. The path you have chosen to follow is special and deep. If anyone has any issues with this, I feel for them and they should not be paying any attention the what you do. Just move on to a more mundane approach to the instrument and be happy. You are a gift and I love your playing and concept.

    • @Leland Sklar – your encouragement and support over the past decade has meant a huge amount, and I’m SO grateful for it. Thanks.

      Of course, the flip side to this is that within a particular setting the ‘role’ of the bass/bassist is often paramount, and it’s one I take a huge amount of pride and pleasure in fulfilling when I get the chance. Innovation and excellence within those parameters can be really inspiring, and has been one of the defining progressive elements in the development of pop music – every new genre shift has brought with it innovations in how we play, write and ‘feel’ bass, from what you did with JT to what Pino has done in hip-hop.

      I often tell my students when we’re thinking about what a bassist’s job is that it’s the same as any musician’s job – to make sounds that when added to the music make it better than it would’ve been if you weren’t making those sounds. Whose vision defines ‘better’ is pretty key, I guess, and that’s where we get to the difference between the craft of doing the job well and the art of using the tools we have to make the music we hear in our heads a reality. At that point, fixed roles are meaningless, and exploring the potential of each musician involved to make something meaningful is the task at hand.

      Stay inspirational, Lee …having said that, I’m not sure you’d know how to do anything else ;)

    • Thanks Steve & Lee! Great to have you both here.

    • Ever heard an 18th century double bass concerto? They were all about pushing the instrument’s scope, it seems sad that people nowadays feel so insecure about music should be

    • Leland Sklar Great to read that from you, Leland, especially since I spent so many hours learning your numerous lines! (smile) I agree that Steve has a very special voice, and has broken new ground in many ways.

      Even though I am now pursuing a solo bass/frontman career with my second CD (bass as a Blues guitar an octave lower – another “that’s not bass” thing), I have spent most of my 42 bass years as a groove player while watching a lot of friends (among others) pursue solo artist paths in addition to whatever else they might have been doing. And while I have been upfront that I felt that path wasn’t for me, I admire the bejeebers out of Roy Vogt,Sean O’Bryan Smith,Evan Brewer,Joe Sanchez, Adam Nitti, Doug Johns, and so many other friends (and, of course, Victor, Stanley, Steve Bailey, Jonas, Marcus…the whole line of greats), and love to hear them do their thing(s).

      Back in 1997, I wrote an op-ed that appeared in Bassics Magazine – I am a Bassist ( the main point of which was (and still is) that we are all bassists – brothers and sisters in groove – regardless of the music we play. We can all learn from each other, and support each others’ journey as we explore the instrument.

      We all have the honor of playing the coolest, most important instrument in the band. The fact that so many players have found so many ways to expand upon that role, and create new roles for the instrument only makes it cooler.

      And, Steve… thanks for showing me so many interesting possibilities, and for being an inspiration for finding my own.

      Keep Thumpin’!

    • Don Henning: I beg to differ about Steve’s compositions. I’ve heard plenty of players building layers of 3 or 4 parts and soloing over them, starting with Jaco in 1977. Steve is a whole other sort of player. I’ve never heard anyone bring the finesse of a composition to looping that Steve does. He’s not playing chops anymore, he’s playing Music.

  11. Centipede Farmer

    I dunno. There are lots of kinds of playing. I make the traditionalist argument at times myself, but what I’m really driving at is that I want music with heart and soul, and while a high degree of technicality can be exciting, it’s only lastingly exciting when the heart and soul is there with it. And this applies regardless of the instrument. So if you’re doing a lot of high-technicality things or things that are “unusual” for your instrument, it’s fine if it’s driven towards the goal of communicating something of beauty. There is nothing wrong with wanting to stretch the boundaries of your instrument per se, except when it’s done as an end in & of itself (for the sake of getting a cheap “OMG HE’S DOING THAT ON A BASS” reaction) as opposed to as a _means_ to making some great music. It’s the music that matters, not you.

    • Don Henning

      I agree completely. Most of the tapping stuff I see is technically cool, but it’s nothing I would listen to over and over. You see it and you’re done — disposable music. And then you have the looping — which is just downright boring. Too much time spent on technique and gear. If you want a career in music as a bass player, it’s most certainly the wrong path to follow if you want to quit your day job.

    • Centipede Farmer

      The way some of these guys react though if you say you dont care for their displays of tuppa-tuppa playing, they seem to think that we’re trying to force them to just play nothing but roots on the eighths. And thats not at all it either. There’s endless middle ground of melodic playing that’s still wide open.

    • I agree. I mean, yes I owned “Radio Free Albemuth” on vinyl, and loved “Moonlight Sonata” (what I see as sort of the start of this whole thing), and it’s interesting to see some arrangements of other popular songs and video game music. However, I look at it like I look at people who make their whole youtube channel doing Jamerson lines note-for-note: how does this inform YOUR playing? What kind of statement are YOU making as a player?

      Unless your goal is video game music or being in a Motown tribute band… :-)

    • Even my own early inspirations, though coming from more of a punk rock background, included people using the bass guitar in nontraditional ways — Peter Hook being my most immediate example. I basically taught myself to play by playing along by ear with my Joy Division cassettes. Discovering how “She’s Lost Control” is driven by that immediately immediately identifiable melody played on bass, that starts out the 19th fret of the G… not to mention all the parts that involved playing a melody over a droning open string below, that’s a huge part of my playing to this day. Like the article says, electric bass guitar is a young instrument and it’s partly for that reason that it’s so ripe for experimentation.

      Some of the reaction may come from a kind of humility that a lot of bassists have, that perhaps I was expressing with that last sentence above, that probably is a little of what influenced us to become bassists in the first place rather than the flashier roles of lead guitarist or even drummer.

    • That’s definitely true, Centipede. Thanks for adding that.

    • Centipede Farmer : To your point, Hooky’s lines, like Simon Gallup’s, Geezer, going all the way back to Entwistle and McCartney and Jamerson and even great jazz players like Jimmy Garrsion seem different to me; those are lines that still support the song.

      These solo arrangements are interesting, but not my cup of tea. I’d rather hear a great, ear-grabbing line as the part of a great song.

    • @[510621639:2048:Lorenz Inez] There is definitely something a little more magical about an ensemble playing together. Experience as a bassist gives you a bit of an understanding or intuition about musicians working together in a group. Mike Watt’s solo career seems to be built as much around him putting groups of musicians together and setting up the conditions for that magic to happen as it is around his roles as bassist and songwriter; I get a sense there’s something about the traditional bass roles that actually gives bassists some advantages as composers and band leaders. But all-bass arrangements often seem like mostly a novelty.

    • Centipede Farmer My thoughts exactly. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! :-)

    • But then if there’s a counterexample I’d cite @[13831895413:274:Steve Lawson] (below). :)

  12. Grant Sharkey

    I never get to hear the ‘that’s not bass!’ comment – maybe I’m doing it wrong. (currently in a two piece set up of drums and me playing a 4-string tuned Low B and E and High G and D and songs about Bono). However, I also think it’s about the context of delivery. I’ve been labelled a bass player in my time but I’ve always presented it in the role of a songwriter.

    I guess it’s the perceived difference between owning a car and going out to find a burger. Or going out to find yourself.

    (Steve – sorry about dinner the other night. I was sabotaged by Guernsey.

    Jeff – was only just looking at your stuff from the Pedulla site last night. great stuff! Love the idea of Michael making an upside down, right way up lefty).

    • Jeff Schmidt

      the pedulla site has my stuff? hmm. didn’t know that. thanks!

    • Grant Sharkey

      Jeff Schmidt ha! I’m on too many cold remedies to use actual nouns. Videos – stuff – same thing. :) I think that’s where i found it – I was on a bit of a youtube binge.

    • Jeff Schmidt

      Grant Sharkey ha! I knew what you meant. I genuinely didn’t know they had posted my videos on there. I think I’ll send them a bill. ;)

    • Grant Sharkey

      Jeff Schmidt They’re website is all duct tape and g-clamps – they probably didn’t know they had your stuff on there either. Great basses though. :)

    • Grant Sharkey

      urgh – they’re -their – there.

    • A bass is a means, not an end in itself.

  13. Steve Mindak

    Anthony Jackson said it best, I’m a bass player, refering to why he hadn’t at the time put out a solo album. A bass is not a bass when it solo’s over the entire song, Bass is part of the foundation of all music, if ya want to solo, learn a different instrument!

    • Interesting! Did he say anything when he did what is considered his first solo album (the one he teamed up with Yiorgos Fakanas? Among the things Philip Wain said in his review of that album here on No Treble: “Jackson plays some stunning ensemble bass and a number of beautifully phrased bass guitar melodies: usually with a pick and often multi-tracked.”

    • and yet – Mr. Jackson was a judge at the 2005 International Solo Bass competition in which he quite publicly educated us all that Solo Bass is quite different from Bass Solo.

    • Jeff Schmidt well said sir well said and i concur!!! whole heartedly

    • But I’m not Anthony Jackson. I value his skill & opinion, as well as yours, but I want to solo sometimes. And I want to on my bass.

      Bass is a musical foundation, for certain, but try removing it from a plethora of Motown hits and see what is left of the melody.

  14. Kyle Gluck

    I don’t care what people have to say. I want to learn every possible technique out there to improve my playing. It’s for me not them. I want to get every aspect out of my bass that I can.

  15. Steve Mindak

    With his reinvention of the 6 string(thanx Anthony) it allows bass players to evolve and add something new to the mix, some of the greats emulate sax players to help the soloing techniques.

  16. Steve Mindak

    By the way, What a great site for bass players love it. I go to it almost everyday and check out something cool.

  17. Bill Brickley

    I think a distinction needs to be made between bass as a solo instrument and bass as a band instrument. Messrs. Wooten, Clark, Pastorious, Sheehan, etc., all paid their dues as working bassists, became recognized for their phenomenal talents in that role and EARNED the right to become featured artists and band leaders. I personally have no ambition to be a solo artist so I limit myself to being the best bottom thumper I can be. I’m 60 years old but I’m still constantly trying to learn something new about my instrument, about my technique, about music in general. I *suspect* that when someone most of us have never heard of before has a video demonstrating mad skills on a bass outside the ‘traditional’ role, our reaction is an automatic “who is this guy, and why does he think he’s earned the right to solo without paying dues?” The ‘get a guitar’ comment seems like an almost natural segue to me. If you’d like to nip that kind of thing in the bud, try posting some info about the artists who are innovating when you post their videos. If I know up front that Steve Lawson played with Level 42, shared a bill with Michael Manring, wrote for ‘Bass Player’ and teaches bass, my mind and my critical ear will be more open than if I just see a video of *this guy* with a ton of effects playing… uh… with himself. :)

    • We try to give some background on the player, Bill. But to us, the resume doesn’t matter. All we have to do is close our eyes and listen and decide for ourselves if we think it is good. Jaco didn’t get his record deal with Epic because of his resume. He got it from a live audition of him no doubt showing some of what ended up on the solo debut. Colomby’s jaw hit the floor, the contract got signed, history was made.

    • Bill Brickley

      Corey Brown Yeah, in a perfect world everything would be judged fairly on its merits. But, to be honest, a loop track that sounds pretty amazing to a non-bassist, may be pretty mundane when you analyze it. Which set of criteria do I use to judge it? As a bassist I might listen to a triple-layered tour-de-force and go ‘ho-hum.’ That doesn’t mean it’s not innovative, shouldn’t be appreciated as art, isn’t worth my time. It just means that I’m not interested in praising the work of someone else whose skills don’t *seem* to exceed mine by a lot — as evidenced by that particular example. Even Jaco had some less than stellar moments live-in-loop-land, but he was still Jaco — he whose fretboard I am not worthy to wipe. :)

    • Don Henning

      Corey Brown – Jaco paid his musical dues for years before doing his solo stuff, and he most definitely lays down great traditional style bass lines as well as more melodic soloing. The problem that I see is too many people are pursuing these specialty areas without becoming great in the more traditional bass playing role. I respect the dedication, but I just hate seeing people waste their time and effort, getting little to no reward in the end.

    • Don Henning No doubt about it, Don. I don’t think the argument so much is about paying dues, because I’m certain the people we’ve featured -@[633571454:2048:Steve Lawson], Zander Zon, Simon Fitzpatrick and others – have paid their dues as well, and they’re certainly successful doing their own thing. Paying dues is a requirement for all art, and a bassist doesn’t have to pay his or her dues by playing a certain (traditional?) style of bass in order to earn the right to play another style. Their art should be judged on its merits and the subjective nature of judging art. My hope for this discussion topic was to discuss and even celebrate the ever-changing role of our instrument, from the early days in the shadows to the becoming an accepted featured instrument, plus everything in between.

    • Bill Brickley I’m not arguing for how we evaluate art. Whether a loop is exciting or boring is up to the listener. Whether or not it can be considered bass is an interesting topic – one I had hoped would open up discussions just like the ones in these comments.

    • Jeff Schmidt

      Don Henning I find putting something original and personal into the world far more rewarding than bowing to a “tradition” I never even agreed to uphold.

      If you absolutely must consider the views and rules established by others when making your art – stand on their shoulders – not in their shadows.

    • Kevin Reginald Cooke

      I think a point that has been massively overlooked here is that no one has to ‘pay dues’ to create, or play their instrument in a particular/different way.

      “Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn. They teach you that music has boundaries. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art.”
      ? Charlie Parker

      This quote resonates strongly for me in the context of Steve’s music & and how the role of the bass guitar is defined.

    • Bill Brickley

      Corey Brown Looks like you got your wish. Merry Christmas to all! :)

    • Even though I’m a woodwind girl who sings, the bass and piano are my favorite instruments, actually! I don’t know how to play either (though the piano a little by ear).

      • Liam

        “Like Oh Em GEEEEEE! I am a person too, look at me everyone!” Your comment is vapid, meaningless and does nothing to add to the conversation, please leave your internal organs at the door so maybe something useful can be taken from your existence.

    • read @[564740648:2048:Darren Michaels] comment about dogma

  18. Darren Michaels

    Perhaps the worst thing to ever happen to music is musicians. There comes a point in any musician’s journey when the realization of the infinity of music hits home. That musician then has the daunting task of falling into that infinity or taking the easy way out by putting up fence posts that stake off a finite area of something too immense to fully comprehend. That little area becomes their dogmatic definition of “music”.It’s comforting I’m sure. Also, I’m certain it must give a musician confidence because they feel validation and definite direction of what they perceive as “correct” music.

    Certainly, dogma can be useful to a blossoming bassist. Unfortunately, dogma backlashes easily since it has the ability to close minds and plug ears. We bassist, I guess, have to find a balance between dogma and daring.

    Sure the haters are there, but I’m thankful for them. Chuck Rainey said that if you have the notion to make music, that means that somewhere out there in the world, there’s someone who needs to hear it. The trick is to find them. Let the haters post their comments. That allows me to cross off one more person out of 7 billion possible fans, and it brings me one person closer to finding that someone who needs to hear my music.

    In these days of musical saturation, getting ANY emotional response with your music is a definite green light. From an artist’s perspective, there’s nothing worse than apathy. At the same time, if everyone loved you, you’d never grow as an artist. You can’t control what others say to you, but you can control how you take it. Criticism can always be taken as constructive. Any gardener will tell you that if you want to grow anything great, you need to take a bunch of manure.

    • Adam M

      Well said man. There will always be haters no matter what kind of music it is. Too bad some folks can’t be more constructive; but, then again, that’s their own problem, not ours.

    • It’s funny, when I look at some Youtube clip and find nasty vitriolic comments about a player pushing the boundaries on their instrument I NEVER find a video from the poster of the comments of their playing! It used to be ” Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” (patently untrue). Now it’s “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, snipe from behind an anonymous online name.”

  19. Matty Bryson

    If it walks like a bass… really, I don’t mind being a ‘frustrated guitarist’. People said the same type things about the style of Elvis, The Beatles, Jimi, Kiss, Miles, Claypool, etc. The first man who chose to beat his log drum with two sticks instead of one may have faced the same attitudes. Creative process requires difference, and difference is the seed of uncomfortable anxiety.

    Maybe Victor Wooten doesn’t get singled out in this regard because of his ideas – music is inside us, not on any instrument. He didn’t come up with that theory per say, but he’s the most influential musician to say it loudly recently. And being in a great sounding group with a lead jazz banjo player and electronic drum wizard don’t hurt either.

    To say a bassist shouldn’t play above the 12th fret, not pick, tap, or whatever, is just silly, as an idea.
    As an opinion, it’s just fine. All opinions are, like the one I just gave.

    I do take some satisfaction in fact that electric bass is such a baby. Recent ‘advances’ in bass styles have paralleled advances in technology we see on and everyday level. When I bought my first ‘real’ bass, an Ibanez 5 string(quite new at the time), I still made conversation on a wall mounted telephone in my kitchen. Now I play an ‘old school’ P/J bass and walk around town chatting on my cell.

    Frustrated guitarist? Yep! And Mozart was just a frustrated DJ/Producer.

    Ditch the fears. Peace, Love, and Thanks!

  20. Danny Fox

    So many great responses from so many great MUSICIANS. That’s the key word to me here, forget the instrument and appreciate the musical content. I’m yet to see a keyboard video where there are comments saying “pfft, go and buy a steinway”. A lot of the guys who’ve posted below are my heroes, as people first, then musicans. I’ve found that generally the only people who negatively contribute on videos/soundbites, are the ones who contribute NOTHING musically. Everyone has things they dig more than others, it’s just that sensible people know that’s just preference and don’t post it all over other peoples work.

    • Hannah H Foxx

      Well said – musicality & technical ability are two aspects of instrumentation – Hxx

    • … well stated Danny… some ppl seem 2 complain about everything. I take notice and IGNORE their opinions …Music is NOT a competitive sport….

  21. Tom Shrout

    How can any serious bassist question Victor Wooten’s playing? Is it bass, and no teble? Is the electric guitar not a guitar, because it’s not an acoustic instrument? Music is not static, it’s dynamic, it does not stay still. Players like Victor are just participants in the progression of the role of the bass.

  22. Brad Bobo

    .. there are recordings dating back to 1975 with me playing EXCLUSIVELY a Fender six-string bass. The flack I received from my fellow bassist use to really bug me. Today, I sit back and smile at some of those very same bassist as they sport their CUSTOM six-strings… just live long enough….

    • Brad Bobo

      thanx Angie…I had to repost…

    • Shelley Burns

      Merry Christmas, Brad!

    • Dave Freeman

      I loved your six string with Eddie Harris

    • Orson Clarke

      That was a great piece…..So so true…. Fear of Change and moving forward! But is there such a thing as “TOO FORWARD”????

    • Brad Bobo

      @[655937673:2048:Orson Clarke] …..mmmmm….NO !! Only too BACKWARDS ::)))

    • Orson Clarke

      When I had my “TREE” Built (6 String, which started as a 5) It was at the Height of all the SynthBass Maddness, First it was the “DROP D” then went down hill after that…. So for a while I was the only guy playing a 6 string with some pedals and was able to play all the new stuff coming out without having to tune my Bass every other song! :)

    • Jim Miller

      Man!..I can’t comment really..I am very happy with my measly 4 strings..haha.

    • Brad Bobo

      @[1021370446:2048:Jim Miller] …lol… we’re NOT mad at cha’ Jim…just make sure U play IN TUNE :::))))

    • Ray Bailey

      Hey Brad,do you still have the fender 6?

    • Awesome to have you here, Brad! Love the “just live long enough comment”. :)

  23. Rob Doane

    Remember when Maynard Fergusun started playing notes higher than anyone had ever heard on trumpet? I wonder if people said “That’s not trumpet!” I love to hear what a good bass player can do with more than 4 strings when they go outside the box. I like to call it “Bass Plus”.

  24. Aaron Gibson

    I am now an unapologetic Bassist. I just released a new Christmas song employing only drums, vocals and three bass parts. My brother remarked that he liked the song , then offered suggestions for entry in the “fully produced” version. I was the tiniest bit offended because I had written and recorded the song, and to my ears it was complete. I put that forward to say that I see the bass as an instrument in itself. Bass is not a spice to flavor the dish, but a principal ingredient that has value in itself.
    When I record, I will occasionally apply my bass to the creation of keyboard or guitar-like parts. Here is the thing though: These things were born of necessity since I could not seem to find the right players for everything. I found that I enjoyed the process of making these sounds too. As a live performer however, I have evolved into an odd species of purist clutching a set of rules for myself:
    Only four strings.
    Tube Amp
    No effects on bass or vocals.
    If I can’t present a song on stage with this simplicity then it is not a good song, just tricks and techniques, smoke and mirrors, not music. Techniques are gravy.
    I might get lynched here, but it seems that when most players get to a pinnacle they then begin producing cheesy Jazz or cheesy Prog-Rock. The playing is what shines instead of the songs. Take Victor Wooten as an example: Pair him with Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer and the result is stunning (Circus of Regrets), Pair him with certain others and you get Velveeta with technical mastery. I have been a fan a Victor’s music since I saw the Flecktones open for Gerry Garcia band in 1990, but I find that I do not go back over and over to the cd that came with “Bass Extremes” as I do to “Tales from the Acoustic Planet”. I am thankful that he sticks mostly to his four string.
    5, 6, 7 or Piccolo? Bass or not bass? These are not my questions as much as “Is it exciting or affecting?”, then “Is it musical?” , the former being a necessity, the later being super important. Many of the variations of basses have, in the end, lead to cheesy, smooth virtuoso music which is not my thing.

  25. Steve Northam

    Wow, its nice to know I am not the only one that gets hateful comments for thinking outside of the box! Thanks All Bass No Treble for taking a stance on this issue! I agree with Mr. Fox,” The only people who negatively contribute on videos/soundbites, are the ones who contribute NOTHING musically”. I’ve never had a great bassist or musician, in general, who has ever left me a negative comment. All my negative comments come from people who don’t post videos of themselves playing. I find it strange when people tell me to pick up a guitar, when I play with my fingers, and do things with my right hand that would be impossible to play on guitar! Also, I chose to play the bass over any other instrument, because I believe its the superior instrument! You essentially get to be the drummer and the guitarist all in one! Also, I don’t understand why people get so mad if you choose to play a different style then them! Really you hate me because you don’t like the selection of notes that I chose to play! Some people don’t like the fact that I play a 6 string, yet they own 3 basses with 3 different tuning’s. My 6 string gives me the option of staying in standard, without having to tune 10 different ways. The other thing people hate is when you play fast! They often think that means you cant play slow! Really? I have 33 videos of me playing all different types of genres! I hate it when someone watches one video of me laying and assumes that is the only thing I am capable of playing. Playing by the rules is easy and its a cop out! Some people think AC/DC sucks because their songs are easy to learn! Yet, it is nearly impossible to write a song as good as them. Just because you can play covers doesn’t make you a GOD! So, please stop criticizing originality! Also, I cant even fathom that anyons would criticize Danny Fox or Jeff Schmidt! They write some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard! Bottom line it all stems down to JEALOUSY!
    Thanks FOR LETTING ME VENT : ).

    • Ryan Armes

      Well said

    • Doron Markowitz

      well said Steve! I agree completely! Jamerson, Mingus, and other pioneers believed in thinking outside the “root groove only” box as well and really made it quite ok to treat the bass as a solo instrument, even within the context of a song. And let’s not forget Anthony Jackson’s contributions to making the bass an even bigger lead voice! He actually had a “proper” 6 string bass invented that became the template for what all multi string basses would be!

    • Michael Gardner

      What do you mean AC/DC is easy?

    • Or Lubianiker

      Agreed 100%, I think it’s really stupid to be critisized because of playing things that are not usually played on an instrument, i mean, come on… that’s like saying that innovation is wrong.
      besides that, a musical instrument is defined by more than just the frequency range it can produce, even in classical times they made the same instruments with extended tonal ranges, so saying that you should play guitar is like saying that a virtuoso Soprano Saxophone player should play flute!

  26. I’ve always thought that part of this confusion is down to the name of an instrument, no-one plays a treble. But no-one has a problem with a bass clarinet melody so why the negative comments when a musician extends the role of the bass?
    Bass has at least three meanings- first the frequency range, second the musical function (bass function is incredibly important in music – I’d put it on a par with melody, harmony and rhythm) and then bass as a musical instrument.
    You can play as much music as you like on a bass, just because it shares the name with a musical function doesn’t limit it. Similarly, many other instruments can play bass function – human voice, keyboards, guitar, tuba etc. So why confuse the meanings, bassists are musicians first and should be free to express themselves. Of course we often also have a special understanding of bass function too but that’s not exclusive to bass players.

  27. I think the “that’s not bass!” comments only come from those in the know. The general public just judge the music on it’s merit. I do solo shows on a yamaha trb6II tuned EADGCF and also duo with an Austrian female vocalist and as audiences aren’t full of bassists the reaction is always positive. I’ve listened to a lot of Steve’s and Lobelia’s work and judge it purely on it’s musical value. Most of the time Steve’s bass is swamped with effects, but it’s still a BASS and it’s still entertaining! I could do my stuff on guitar, but Ilove the TONE of my instrument and like to keep pushing the boundaries. We all like to groove too, my hero is Jamerson, but our amazing instrument of choice is so versatile. Viva Mr Lawson and Mr Fitzpatrick et al.

  28. I love the ending statement here, “We’re sure this will be an ongoing conversation for us as bass players, and we don’t think there’s a right or a wrong viewpoint. It just boils down to personal preference.”
    It’s just perfect.
    Guitar, for example, has so many styles and effects, and just overall ways of playing it that you could easily hear it and say “Now, that’s not guitar.” But people accept it for what it is. I feel that we should start looking at bass a little more in that light.

  29. sorry to bust the bubble but if we keep adding strings and don’t maintain a groove we are just a baritone guitar.

  30. Here’s some bass (and only bass) for you:

  31. In the beginning, I wanted to be a drummer. Unfortunately, so did everyone else. The three positions available for drums in our high school concert and jazz ensemble filled way before my name was even called. I found an old copy of a Precision in the band storage room painted metal flake purple. Strings that felt like transatlantic cables. But, it was an instrument and the only thing left. I wanted to be a part somehow, so I bought it for $10, took it home, took some lessons and just kept learning and playing. Today, I still have that old bass, but I also have a Fender Precision and my new Marcus Miller Jazz. My early Christmas present to me. This is one of those debates which will inevitably go on forever because it’s based solely on opinion.

    I sit back and watch Marcus, Stanley, Jaco and quite a few others who can get it done with a four strong. It’s really about what you have to say with whatever instrument you got. I was getting bored once and decided to learn jazz sax lines on my Precision. It certainly helped my technique and gave me a deeper appreciation for what that 4 string could really do.

    I hear a similar argument as I play in a gospel band which takes many of the well known Praise & Worship songs and re-arranges them to an R&B/Tower of Power/James Brown/Marcus Miller approach depending on the song. Some of the older folks think we’ve killed “What we are used to” but that’s just it. At what point do we quit being emulators of someone else and be the innovator we could be? I just want to make music. That’s all. I’ve suffered three strokes consecutively and was paralyzed on my right side for almost six months. I’m lucky to even be alive so if I pick up a bass guitar and try to learn something new, does it really matter if those notes are coming out of an alto sax or maybe a trumpet? This conversation is but a circular reference. Say what ya gotta say. If ya want to say it with a bass guitar, go for it.

  32. Instruments are just tools. A bass clarinet doesn’t sound like a soprano sax. A piccolo bass doesn’t sound like a baritone guitar. String spacing, finger positioning, tone and timbre are all different. The music is all that matters and that comes from the soul of the musician, not the instrument. Multi instrumentalists who compose songs chose which instrument to compose the song on because “the music” itself choses.

  33. Have you ever seen a piano forum complain about someone playing something as “not piano”? It’s all music, enjoy playing it, enjoy listening to it. The ultimate goal is to create music, whether that means playing whole note roots for 3 minutes or a two handed tapping chord melody piece. Life is much more fun when you focus on the sound coming out, not what the instrument is or isn’t :)

  34. Ok, so think about this, would it be harder to play something on a EADG bass that you could easily play on an ERB? To still achieve some of the same effects that would be crazy difficult. I play a 5 by the way. a 4 string is too hard now.

  35. The guys crying “not bass” are the same guys sitting at home trying their damndest to figure out how you play that. And how cool is it to see Leland Sklar here!

  36. When I first started playing bass in the ’60’s I was blown away by Bruce and Cassady and the way they expanded the role of the bassist in a group. So I played a lot more notes into the music and still do @ times. I often heard “that’s not bass” myself. Good thing I didn’t let them stop me from the kind of experimantation I was doing. I loved the groove and in the pocket style but heard more there in my mind and searched for what I heard. I wouldn’t be nearly the bassist I am today if I would have let their criticism stop me from going where I wanted. If you can do both, why not. I chose not to only pay tribute to those I heard but to walk my own path up and down the neck. There is a time and place for everything bass, knowing when and where is the critical issue. Play on!

  37. I was fortunate, when I was playing stand-up, our orchestra director wrote parts for the first violins, the second violins, cellos and bass for “Love is Blue” (1968) Since I was the only bass, I got to solo. Yes, Virgina, bass are solo instruments.

  38. I don’t know how productive the “is it a bass/is it not a bass” discussion is as it is similar to other discussions amongst innovators and purists – i.e., the what is Jazz/what is not debates. These debates result in nothing constructive – just intellectual exercises. I focus on the quality of the playing and the expression of the musical ideas regardless of whether it’s piccolo bass, etc. For me, I remember when I first saw Victor Wooten and was totally captivated by what he was doing with the instrument and the musical expression–while he was playing the thought never occurred to me, “is it a bass?” nor did I care. People like Edgar Meyer and Victor showed me and others the many the possibilities with an instrument that was once relegated to a certain role. In addition, people like Edgar, Victor, Stanley Clarke and others are great musicians and would be fabulous regardless of whatever instrument they chose to play. So, maybe the focus should be the musician–not the instrument?

  39. The bass guitar suffers from a prejudice from its early beginnings and use. Let’s look at it in context of other instruments of a different style but linked in tonal pitches they can produce.
    The difference between a Euphonium and a Baritone are slight and of no real consequence but they exsist as two separate instruments. In order of design they could be seen as a double sized Trumpet or Cornet ( another example of two instruments so similar it is slight) or a half sizes Tuba. These instruments because of design require tube length and bore to produce the pitches, as longer tubing produces lower pitches the bore can alter the tone ( Trombone is considered bass clef and shows that the elongating of the slide lowers the note).
    But as both Baritone and Euphonium can be played in treble or bass clef then where does it live (Euphonium can also be Tenor clef).
    All these pitches and tones spread over different clefts and instruments, but all can do different aspects of playing and representation.
    Thus we have the bass guitar, the pitches and tonal representations can be as varying as those brass instruments, but the difference is they can be on the one instrument with the addition of more strings, or as separate individual instruments is four string versions. So we can be picky if we want to be about use but in the end it is the players expression that is being judged not the function of the instrument. With better technology for amps and better instrument designs these days, modern basses can do so much more than their old counterparts just could not cope with……and with that the modern player can use and push playing to the limits….if they so wish. Like the piano the bass is becoming a full range instrument with only the imagination and skill of the player being its limit. As I said at the start, the bass was called a bass because it played, and could only ever play bass pitches, and that idea is the prejustice it carries within in certain circles, and of course forums all over the web.

    • If Jaco didn’t put folks right then they should be condemned to endless Nolan sisters on loop…..

    • It’s point that a lots of electric bassists in the past, because of popular music I may add, never looked elsewhere for music that used in different ways…I mean what Beiderbecke did on his cornet is a world away from say Maurice Murphy, but both were accepted by players and listeners, even though Murphy later made his name as Trumpet player, again no real drama over what these two giants ever played…..because it was music.

  40. So a number of years ago I was doing the metal band thing. I play a 6 string bass, which for some reason, puts a lot of metal guitar players on edge, not only that, a lot of the drummers seemed to find it odd too. I once had a drummer ask me “Do you have a 4 string bass? And can you play it with a pick?”. This was arguably the reason I got out of playing conventional heavy music. I was so offended that’d he’d even ask me that. I play bass, how I play bass, if you don’t like it then find another band to be in… Or I will. Which was ultimately the case.

    If I want to do a tapping arrangement of Booker T and the MG’s “Time is tight” as a bass solo then I will. I don’t care if someone else doesn’t like it. I do. As a musician, I’ve learned that if I’m not playing for myself above all else the people I am playing for will see that and not enjoy it as much. I spend HOURS with my headphones on (sometimes without much to my neighbours chagrin) simply listening to myself play. Why? Because it makes me happy, gives me some sort of peace… and for a brief time shuts out all the stress and BS in my life. My father even once said to me that the bass shouldn’t be treated like a guitar. To which I replied “‘The techniques I use can be applied really to any stringed instrument”. Although I’ve never seen someone slap on a viola. It’s that old mentality I think that a bass sounds like flat wound strings through a modified guitar amp with no definition to the tone. Which we all know now is crap. Most of our instruments have more tone in one string then most whole guitar rigs do.

    There’s a lot more to bass now than thud thud thud thump thump thump now. For me right now, the pinnacle of bass playing, is a guy named Tom Jenkinson aka Squarepusher. He is pushing our instrument (and has been since the mid 90’s) to new levels on all of his albums. He recently released an album called “Solo electric bass 1” If you haven’t heard it I suggest you listen to it. There will be the usual that’s not bass comments that I and anyone else who uses more than 4 strings are subjected to. But those comments are coming from people who have their heads stuck in a 50 year old ideal of groove and “holdin it down”. If you’re capable of playing your instrument at a virtuoso level, entertaining most people, and having fun yourself above all… then DO IT. There’s no reason any more that a bassist has to stand at the back of the stage, tap his foot and look menacing. Unless of course that is what you like to do… Sorry this rant was so long. As far as people hating on Simon Fitzpatrick are concerned… they’re just pissed they aren’t playing with Carl Palmer.

  41. Bottom line, if it’s lead, solo or what ever you want to call it! If its not carrying the bottom and if it looses the groove it’s not playing bass! It’s saying , Look I can play lead with big strings!

  42. Music is defined as organized sound so my thought is as long as a bass player can pull off the skelaton of the song and add a few things here and there its still bass as well as music. I remember a fellow bass playerer telling me its not always about how many notes that you can play rather its sometimes the notes that you leave out that really makes a song special. I can tolerate both so I guess you have to make up your own mind on this one.

  43. With regards to physical characteristics, personally, I’ve always thought any bass guitar with more than 4 strings “wasn’t bass”. Playing style however, as an artist you can and should play your instrument any way you want, that’s what being creative is all about. Shove a drumstick in between the strings and neck, see what sounds you can get with a pedal or two. Play with a pick, fingers, slap whatever so long as it’s something original. However keep in mind if you’re playing in the context of a band the bass has a primary purpose to tie the rhythm and lead sections together. If you’re slapping away with 4 effects at the same time, the composition will more often than not suck.

  44. for me, music has only ever had one rule: anything goes. people should only be interested in how music sounds, or feels. why put all these unnecessary limitations on what you can do?

  45. In 28 years as a bass player, I have heard some of the most ridiculous things. “Real bass players don’t use picks” Ok, so Paul McCartney isn’t real, Carol Kaye isn’t real, John Entwhistle wasn’t real? I use picks about 20% of the time, when I want a cutting tone. Any bassist who finger picks and uses picks knows that using a pick doesn’t make you play faster, in some cases it slows you down. “Real bass players don’t Take lead solos” Ok, well I’m not going to preach to the choir here on that one.

    I have had a lot of people ask me, “should I use my fingers or a pick? Do I need to know how to slap?” My answer is “You should learn every technique you can, if you can hit it with a potato on a stick and make it sound good, you’re doing it right…no rules”.

    • Potato on a stick… Definitely worth trying :-)

    • >if you can hit it with a potato on a stick and make it sound good, you’re doing it right…any tips for getting bits of mashed cucumber off the strings? Didn’t have a potato to hand, and my experiment went horribly wrong…;-)

  46. Let’s all count to 4 shall we? I appreciate the playing prowess of 6 string players and of course nothing shakes my bowels like the sub-sonic low B. But bass playing will always be a 4 string affair for me. Again, my opinion and preference as an old school player……peace!

  47. Looking at that guy playing Metallica guitar on a bass oddly fails to impress me; I’m not talking achievement here, but novelty factor. The problem with performances like these is, that because they sound like a guitar I perceive them to be guitar, however proficient a bassist may need to be in order to be able to pull a stunt like that off. – Two days ago I went to see Anthony Jackson play with Hiromi. That guy plays his own custom ‘contrabass’ six-string guitar, uses pedals, effects, a pick, his fingers- you name it, he masters it AND he has his OWN SOUND. Every year I go to see my favorite band in the world, Motörhead: Lemmy a bassist? I’ve heard a lot of dissin’ about him not being a bassist, etc. – the guy is 66, plays 200+ shows a year, does all the ‘singing’, fronts a power trio AND he has his OWN SOUND. 5 years ago I had the pleasure to see ‘Heaven and Hell’ on stage and one of my heroes play the bass: Geezer Butler. Whenever he touches his instrument you know it’s Geezer, he has his OWN SOUND… see where I’m going with this?
    If you want to impress you gotta MASTER your instrument by making its sound YOURS. Heck, playing the bass and sounding almost like acoustic Metallica, who cares?

  48. I tend to stay out of “my definition of music is better than yours” type debates because I think it’s totally pointless. Sure, the main purpose of the bass is to keep the groove going, but there’s nothing wrong with taking a sidestep and to venture in a different territory, be it taking a bass solo, or making a solo arrangement of a song (such as the cool Nick Mason video mentionned in the intro). If the result is pleasant to the ear, who cares what instrument it comes from? If you can’t appreciate creativity (and/or virtuosity) when it’s right in front of you, then perhaps you’re just thinking too much…or you’re thinking like a technician, not a musician. I’m pretty darn sure that there were a lot of naysayers when Jimmy Blanton started playing solos on the upright in the late 1930s – but look at his legacy! Such an incredibly rich tradition emerged because one guy, at some point, dared to play his instrument “the wrong way”.

  49. I think there’s a difference between playing the bass and playing a bassline. Us players of bass are the only instrumentalists whose ‘role’ in the music is in our title. If you ask me, that’s what’s at the heart of this conversation.
    I don’t know if this makes me Mr.Obvious or not, but to look around I can’t tell if everyone realizes it. Not that they should. Pretty cool that musicians playing bass (guitar or stand up) have been able to entertain so many while exploring other roles for ourselves then our given namesake.
    There’s a strong argument for the range and timbre of an instrument in relationship to arranging music which, in some people’s eyes, may limit the chances to spotlight us. But you can’t please all the people all the time!

  50. Thanks for the article. Narrow minded musicians need to read this…and learn from it.

  51. Great discussion here with many interesting viewpoints on the subject.

    Having read through them, I would like too add (and reiterate, somewhat) my thoughts.

    Concerning the instument itself, because of the symmetrical-interval tuning system used, it places the bass in the string family. The guitar’s non-symmetrical tuning places it in a different family. Yet, because of similarities in body shape and design, a lot of people view the electric bass as “just a low-pitched guitar.”
    Of course, this is an inaccurate statement but the stereotype still persists. More alarming, even within the bass community itself.

    I have read more than one article concerning Leo Fender’s development and introduction of the electric bass in which the author states that Leo “got it right.” I would say that, he certainly made THE leap with “liberating the bassist from the doghouse” with the Precision bass but because the idea was to electrify the four-string “doghouse,” we are still saddled with the idea that the bass should be limited to four strings.

    Leo Fender has been called “the Henry Ford of electric instuments” and the comparison certainly has merit. Both were visionary geniuses who changed the world in their own way, but just as the Model T evolved, so has the electric bass. Obviously unlike the Model T, the Precision bass is still a practical working tool. Can anyone not like that tone? I have been playing one for twenty three years now, but I also play a five string bass and someday hope to move up to six.

    The term ‘extended range bass’ just makes me cringe. It’s as if we are supposed to be apologetic for playing an instument with more than four strings. It’s a bass. Four strings or ten…it’s a bass.

    One common argument is that “Jaco and James and Geddy and so on and so on…” did it with four, and that’s good enough for me.
    It’s good enough for me too!
    But that does NOT mean that you or I should limit ourselves in that way!
    Fact is that Jaco and James Jamerson’s body of incomparable work came before Anthony Jackson’s vision for the six string was fulfilled. Sadly, one can only wonder what would have been if these two visionary artists would have explored the possibilities of the ‘extended range bass.’

    As bassist, we know (or should know) where our instument should sit in the mix. If you are part of an ensemble then you better be grooving and in the pocket. If it’s a solo piece… throw out the ‘rule book’ and make it fun for yourself and more importantly, your audience. Both of these approaches to the instrument can be done on four, five, six or more strings by any accomplished bassist.

    As mentioned, the electric bass is in it’s infancy. There are going to be growing pains associated with it’s development and evolution. It’s an exciting time to be a bassist with so many great manufacturers and luthiers contributing their talents and vision to the mix.
    Do yourself a favor and embrace it!

  52. This is an interesting discussion and coincidentally relates to a new clinic that I am debuting next week, entitled “Whose Box is This Anyway” While the concept of “thinking outside the box” is noble (I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve heard it or said it) the truth is that we actually cannot think outside OUR box. OUR box was created by years of expectations and limitations. Expectations and limitations that were both self imposed and imposed upon us by others, whether it be our upbringing, society, family, friends and yes, fellow musicians. It is the human nature to “name” what they cannot understand; to put things in neat little categories as to define our expectations of ourselves and each other. We cannot truly think outside that box but we can continually expand the walls of that box and thereby our understanding and perceptions.

    Just yesterday, someone asked me the dreaded question, “What do you play?” How do I answer that? If I say I play bass, then that person has begun to define me in ways that do not represent reality. Punished by his lack of understanding or his own “box”. I state that I play bass, his next question, “do you play rock, jazz, blues, what?” My answer, “yes” As our conversation continues, I know that he is defining me by his box. The real question is DO I LET HIM DEFINE ME by those same parameters? I explain to him, in part, what I do and recommend that if he is interested in seeing more he watch a video of me at a regional TEDx conference. He states, “who were you playing with?” Again, he is finding it difficult to look over the walls of his own box.

    As an educator, I see this as an opportunity. As a musician I see this as a challenge. In order to “think outside the box” or as I propose to expand the walls of your box, you MUST first understand who built the box and what the limitations of that box are. Only then can we understand and appreciate those play “when Bass is not a “bass””.

    Mike Dimin, Author “The Art of Solo Bass”.

    • so glad you hooked up we these fine fellows at all bass no treble . loved the website from the concept . total agreement with all of the above statement , additionally i would add we are not just bassists we are pioneers in an ever evolving instrument that has the most innovation over the last 30 years and no slowing down . cheers mike see you soon .

  53. Just wanted to say “this is not JUST bass, this is even more than bass”. Corey’s article outlines everything in a very nice way. I am proud to be a “non-bass” player in this context.

  54. I took the name (all bass, no treble) to mean music written in the bass clef played on string instruments. beyond that, music is music. some good, some bad. one needs to listen critically to all of it to have an informed opinion. you can’t dismiss a genre/instrument/artist out of hand with “I don’t like it” without having a defensible argument as to why. as the great satchmo once said “all music is folk music. I ain’t never heard no horse sing no song.” and as jimi hendrix once said “I don’t play guitar. I play the amp. I just use the guitar as a controller.” (i hope I got that reasonably right)…

  55. Great discussion here with many interesting viewpoints on the subject.

    Having read through them, I would like too add (and reiterate, somewhat) my thoughts.

    Concerning the instrument itself, because of the symmetrical-interval tuning system used, it places the bass in the string family. The guitar’s non-symmetrical tuning places it in a different family. Yet, because of similarities in body shape and design, a lot of people view the electric bass as “just a low-pitched guitar.”
    Of course, this is an inaccurate statement but the stereotype still persists. More alarming, even within the bass community itself.

    I have read more than one article concerning Leo Fender’s development and introduction of the electric bass in which the author states that Leo “got it right.” I would say that, he certainly made THE leap with “liberating the bassist from the doghouse” with the Precision bass but because the idea was to electrify the four-string “doghouse,” we are still saddled with the idea that the bass should be limited to four strings.

    Leo Fender has been called “the Henry Ford of electric instruments” and the comparison certainly has merit. Both were visionary geniuses who changed the world in their own way, but just as the Model T evolved, so has the electric bass. Obviously unlike the Model T, the Precision bass is still a practical working tool. Can anyone not like that tone? I have been playing one for twenty three years now, but I also play a five string bass and someday hope to move up to six.

    The term ‘extended range bass’ just makes me cringe. It’s as if we are supposed to be apologetic for playing an instrument with more than four strings. It’s a bass. Four strings or ten…it’s a bass.

    One common argument is that “Jaco and James and Geddy and so on and so on…” did it with four, and that’s good enough for me.
    It’s good enough for me too!
    But that does NOT mean that you or I should limit ourselves in that way!
    Fact is that Jaco and James Jamerson’s body of incomparable work came before Anthony Jackson’s vision for the six string was fulfilled. Sadly, one can only wonder what would have been if these two visionary artists would have explored the possibilities of the ‘extended range bass.’

    As bassist, we know (or should know) where our instrument should sit in the mix. If you are part of an ensemble then you better be grooving and in the pocket. If it’s a solo piece… throw out the ‘rule book’ and make it fun for yourself and more importantly, your audience. Both of these approaches to the instrument can be done on four, five, six or more strings by any accomplished bassist.

    As mentioned, the electric bass is in it’s infancy. There are going to be growing pains associated with it’s development and evolution. It’s an exciting time to be a bassist with so many great manufacturers and luthiers contributing their talents and vision to the mix.
    Do yourself a favor and embrace it!

  56. They’ll get it eventually. At least those who grow up :-)

  57. Bass is the instrument, not necessarily the notes you’re playing… But a bassist role is defined by the song, if your soloing all over a blues song when your job is a simple progression, then yeah, you should have picked up guitar… but if you’re playing some John Myung stuff, then you’re playing exactly like you should. I’m a big fan of doing what’s right by the song. If you play your own stuff and its busy on the bottom end, well its your music, might not be for some people, but who cares? In a world where the likes of Brittney Spears and such are “popular” and truly talented musicians struggle to pay their bills, why worry what everyone else thinks?

  58. It’s hard enough to make a living making Music on this planet! Why tear each other down over how we choose to improve the planet by offering our heartfelt Art! I can’t help but feel sadness when I see other bassists and aspiring bassists criticize each other for playing what’s in their heart. I can hear Beauty in Mike Watt and Victor Wooten, Steve Lawson and Billy Sheehan alike. Boxes are for things, not people!

    • Well spoken Roy!!!

    • Preach Roy Preach!!!

    • I think that comes from an ignorance of the capabilities of the instrument. Yes our role in music is to provide support and groove, and outline the harmony, but too many non bass players, and some bass players as well refuse to hear the bass actually being capable of creating melody and actually being very musical and enjoyable to listen to. The classical upright can be very melodic and beautiful. The fretless electric, what else can emote such emotion!!! I think it’s like most things in life, when people get set in their minds what something is they refuse to bend.

    • I think other instrumentalist are just jealous because they can’t groove on their instrument and we can do both, groove and melody. LOL

    • Thanks posting this, Roy! As a Bass Musician and a professional I have played just about every form of western music save classical ( which I love, BTW) if we just understood that ALL good music tells a story.. and we love stories…I feel that musicians should have the least prejudiced ears……

    • Love is all you need. Love and maybe a bass.

    • Well put my good Brother !

    • So right Roy…..Music is not a competition!! Joe Osbourne summed it up by saying “The song tells you what to play” I love that philosophy!!!

    • Very well said,Roy. Unfortunately this is true of so many bands and musicians of all kinds. There is way too much criticism and competition. Maybe it is because I am getting older, but as time goes by the brotherhood, the individual creativity and the love of creating music all take on a greater importance.

  59. Yeah, I’ve heard that a lot over the years. Having spent a fair amount of time with piccolo bass, playing in thumb position on upright, playing above the 12th fret on 6-string bass… My response? Screw ’em. If someone doesn’t like it, fine. If it’s what YOU hear and feel a compulsion to get it out of your head and into the atmosphere, go for it and let the ignorant flap their jaws. Why give any power to such childish, uninformed criticism? Music is music.

  60. Wow this is sad that people think that. Did people think like this too when distortion was made for the guitar? THAT’s NOT TREBLE!

  61. It’s all about the music you produce – most people don’t care how you got there.

  62. I probably should have mentioned in my first comment that I get more than enough flack for bringing a Spector NS-6 to Blues gigs. Man, you should hear some of the Traditionalists complain. “Willie Dixon didn’t need no six strings, man.” My reply is often something like, “yep, and he didn’t need electricity. In fact, if you want to be “traditional” about it, get a cigar box and make a guitar, or go find a beat up guitar with only 3 rusted strings. Because those were the first instruments Blues players could find. Then tell me your traditional.

    The thing is – you can play that game to death. For some players, it’s acoustic only. For others, it’s Vintage Fenders. Still others… who knows… It all depends on where someone draws the line.

  63. I am by nature a purest. I prefer playing a passive 4-string bass with my fingers through a tube bass amp. I also view the bass as more rythymic instrument that ties the percussion and melody together. However, music is an art and requires creativity, imagination and is at is core an expression of ones feelings and emotions. I may be jealous of some great players, but it is encouraging to see others play better or stretch the “boundires” that some believe the bass to have. It inspires me to be a better player/artist and focus on being able to play with more skill and practice…practice….practice.

  64. Interesting that I’ve only just see this article and read some of the many comments. As a bassist I’m always looking for inspiration, new ideas and I’m continually blown away with the incredible talents of the amazing musicians whose videos are reposted on this site. There are many different ways in which we can express our talent on a bass, some fit in the stereo typical band settings and others are the way we see the amazing soloists. Personally I love the way bassists be unbound, creative and express themselves across 4,5,6 and more strings and wish I was that talented! Please continue to post these incredible clips – the inspiration to bass players around the globe like myself is definitely worth the criticism.

  65. As my comment – I’d like to share this link: It’s my bass teacher Kazik Kaszubowski – well know bassist who finds himself in many music genres. The track is played only on electric bass. This guy knows how to make magic out off bass. And it’s still bass. :)

  66. Well, Prince, when asked about the lack of a low – speaking instrument in “When Doves Cry” used to say that bass is not an instrument, it’s a function. The kick drum was the bass in the song.
    Maybe the best way to answer your question is: an instrument we visually associate with a bass guitar or a double bass, will ALWAYS be a bass instrument, regardless of what you are playing on it.
    If we’re talking function, I would say (and it’s my opinion only, based on what I like to listen to and play, a bass instrument that’s not fulfilling his widely cultural accepted role of providing low frequency pressure and pulse is not a bass AS A FUNCTION.
    I also would like to acknowledge the fact that while a handful of visionaries have bent and adapted a limited instrument like the bass guitar (Manring, Lawson, Wooten come to mind) and can produce meaningful art with it, it seems to me (and it’s just my opinion) that due to the physical limitations of the instrument (i.e. the limited relative range that can produce polyphony, due to low intelligibility of low frequency chords and the inherent playing technique) a lot of solo bass pieces are to be applauded for the boundary – pushing value and the novelty (as in “never played before” not “weird gadget”), but not for musicality. But then again I subscribe to Scott Thuness point of view that you should never put the sound of your instrument above your musical voice. When it comes to me I adore playing songs and that’s what makes me happy; at the same time I am glad we have a number of artists that prove my point of view limited every now and then!

  67. Even guitar is bass, as the lowest 1 1/2 octaves is below middle C, and that is where most people play the instrument.

  68. Bass can definatlt be a solo instrument, but its also an ensemble instrument. That’s why Victor Wooten now tours with a 2nd bassist.
    I say that as a bassist you got to be able to do both. Billy Sheelan even said that shredding comes only after you can groove it out and be the backbone of a band.

    So solo bass is great, but you also have to be an ensemble player. And I don’t know too many bands lookin for piccolo bassists (though times may change).

  69. You know as an up and coming bassists all I can say is, great job to those that think outside the box! Seeing people dp incredible things with the instruments makes me want to get up and maybe take it to the next level if possible.

  70. cajons are probably frowned upon as “not really percussion instruments, and certainly not drums” – they sound bloody cool, though, when played well, don’t you agree?

  71. ok, here goes…”Bass is not Bass” ( to me ) when your not playing a “bass line” when you’re SUPPOSED to be. If I showed up at an audition for the “oldies but goodies 50’s tribute band” to be the BASSIST with my 7 strings and mile long pedalboard, and lapsed into some fretless weirdness looping with 2 hand tapping on top, instead of playing what’s appropriate for the music, I’d be an ass, and my EGO would be eclipsing my musicality. A proper musician plays what suits the music, not himself ( unless you’re the composer, and it’s YOUR vision, then the two can coexist ). And as far as the pedantic “that’s not a bass” B.S. when it comes to extended range instruments, it’s ONLY what you do with it that matters ( believe it or not, you actually CAN play “Low Rider” on a 7 string! ; )…). When Jack White uses octave pedals, is he not playing the “bass line” for the song? A person should only “pick up a guitar” when their sense of MUSICALITY tells them that it’s TIMBRE works better than a bass for what they’re doing ( last time I checked guitar and bass share a lot of the same pitches…) otherwise it’s matter of personal preference, and “vision”, and the staggering variety that THAT translates into is why there’s so much great music to listen to! ( and that wouldn’t be the case if everyone listened to the “not supposed ta’s” )…but I do have to say that someone really should pull Larry Graham aside and tell him that he hasn’t been playing basslines properly for quite some time now…it’s really been a bit embarrassing….

    ; ) ( hehe….JOKE! )

    • Pissing myself here :)

    • In the 1970s, Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorius and Charles Mingus quite simply changed what it meant to play the bass. They were true geniuses.

    • I hope, for the sake of the beautiful music you make, that you don’t let pedantic, small-minded individuals interfere with the estimably worthwhile work you are doing. I really love what you do. The music affects me deeply and positively. Thank you, very much and “godspeed.”

    • Life is not so full of beauty that we can afford to lose any. “Haters, piss off.”

    • Well put Eric. I read this article earlier and thought it was interesting.

    • Unfortunately many “music lovers” are told what to like and then force-fed that formula by the entertainment industry…band leaders almost all reach for that brass ring much to the dismay of some very talented and original musicians…I personally think that while you are clearly a bassist by trade, your music transcends your position on the field and I see you as a composer and performer. of absolutely BITCHEN’ music and i can’t wait to hear whats next.

    • Thanks guys for writing, and all the kind words! This ( as you can see ) is quite a debate…( even though I’m not entirely sure why…) I just think that a lot of players are selling themselves, their understanding, and their enjoyment of music short with allegiance to the formulaic. For me, exploring new territories, and dimensions is one of the many things what makes music so rewarding!

    • Well said my friend.

  72. I agree entirely! The brotherhood of bass should include all musicians that play an instrument that is predominantly pitched in the bass register. If players are innovative and seek new musical hues to add to their tonal palette that should be welcomed and applauded. The fact that the bass guitar is such a young instrument means that it is in the early stages of it’s musical evolution. Think about how the improvements in recording and the onset of digital broadcasting have enabled the bass to progress and be heard clearly by an ever widening and ever more appreciative audience. As a bass guitarist and double bassist, the evolution of the bass guitar inspires new thinking regarding my double bass playing and this, in turn, feeds back into my bass guitar playing. As musicians at the very core of most musical ensembles we must be open minded and ready to incorporate new ideas into our playing and into our collective “brotherhood of bass” thinking. It’s all good!

  73. A bass is always a bass.

  74. I think there was a story about Johann Sebastian Bach who received bad comments like “that’s not cello” about his suites for cello solo, at a time when the cello player’s job was to “hold down the groove”.

  75. Not this topic *again*. Don’t tell me…the next next topic will be “Can a 5, 6, (or more) stringed bass actually be considered a bass guitar?”. I think these things get recycled from old circa-1990 Bass Player magazines. Where is Jeff Berlin’s 3+ paragraph rant when you expect it?

    • I think you’re missing a couple of things (and I’ll ignore the “circa-1990” stuff). First, I wrote this in because of reader responses to several of the bassists we’ve featured. Second, by my count this article got tons comments and 1,000 new readers today. It’s okay to think this is old or a waste of time (even though you took the time to comment), but I think it is safe to say that plenty of readers enjoyed reading and weighing in.

    • Bass is good in any form !

    • @Corey Brown – Always enjoy visiting this site. It often exposes me to new artists, products and material. If you were looking to stimulate conversation, this was definitely low-hanging fruit!

  76. Well,I have a pedalboard that has 8 effects on it including a Roland G20 synth.And a Warr touch bass .Bravo and kudos to you sir.

  77. All those who are hating innovation,sound like guitar players to me!Lol Capernicus I believe was burned at the stake for stating that the earth was not the center of the universe.Enlightenment will soon follow,Steven.

  78. The only time I’ve EVER said “That’s not Bass!” is form Manowar’s Joey DeMaio, who fooled a lot of bassists on his “Sting of the Bumblebee” solo by actually playing a piccolo Bass and pretending it was a normal everyday 4 string. That really wasn’t bass.

  79. And as far as I’m concerned, good ol’ Vic Wooten can do whatever the hell he wants and I’ll still listen to it.

  80. Thanks for writing this, notreble.

    Bass is whatever you want it to be, more now than ever. Anyone else ridiculously excited to be a bassist!

  81. A bass is not a bass when it’s a guitar… :O

  82. A bass is always a…bass!

  83. Anything that can be played on a bass, is “bass”- don’t be a “musical Luddite” and limit the creative, forward progression of our instrument and art. Welcome and embrace innovation- you might even learn something!

  84. I hear that alot when talking about Bassists like Joey DeMaio of Manowar. His bass playing is not typical and he recieves alot of criticism for it. To me, being a Bass Player means being innovative and not just playing the same note over and over again.

  85. I never pull the “it’s not a bass” card, even if there’s 23 and a half strings and they’re all unwound. But as for the piccolo bass, I really cannot call that bass. Piccolo bass is a contradiction to me. Nothing “bass” about it. You might as well call a ukulele a bass as well since they both have 4 strings.

  86. And yet your “history” of the bass is continually biased toward jazz

  87. I love taking risks ,exploring for the love of finding new things regardless of what “should be played” or not . but i feel the drive to solo or be front on the bass is particularly strong these days aomong younger players. I other words its like “lets become great soloists ,groove can wait its easy” attitude. And thats funny to me. If u look at the greats of the past,most of them if not all of them had signature grooves as much as they had signature licks or solos. I feel that balance is broken today. Leaning more towards the soloeing . Thx

  88. Al

    It’s all bass. My belief is that doing whatever style or approach tastefully in the right context is the bigger issue. That’s what makes a great player. We also have the freedom to plug ourselves in anywhere or everywhere on the time line or style or technique line we want, and respect others choice to do so. Play on !

  89. Mihai Scurtu

    This article is not bass!

  90. Pier

    you still can hear things like “the bass should only be played with fingers! the pick is for guitarists”.
    idiot’s mother is aslways pregnant.

  91. Kelly

    If you’re making music or performance art, it is what it is. The bass is just as versatile as any instrument and doesn’t have to be relegated to being a background instrument that needs ago be anchored to the drummer. A big part of the problem is that all too often everything in popular instrument-based music is seen from a rock perspective by fans. Bass has rarely been considered a dominant or essential role in rock. Rock is an image-oriented, guitar-dominant genre. Rock is about the cool, posturing, pompous frontman (think: Robert Plant, David Lee Roth, Bono), The over-obnoxious, in-your-Face power chords and spastic (and equally-pompous) lead guitarist (Eddie VH, Neal Schon, Jimmy Page) who rivals the frontman for attention and the thundering beat of sweaty drummers showing off their wanna-be-Neal Peart-like skills behind kits that look like souped-up hot rods. (Notice that despite being the most versatile member of Led Zepplin, bassist John Paul Jones almost always got ignored by fans and music reviews). Bass players in rock are essentially relegated to a second class status unless they also happen to be the lead singers like Sting, Jack Bruce (R.I.P.) or Gedde. You can see it in the kind of jokes that circulate about being the bass player in a rock band. Like, How female groupies try to avoid getting stuck with the bassist and how bass solos are the time for everyone else onstage to go the bathroom or check their email. Many bands forgo bass altogether like White Stripes, Black Keys and The Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs. Despite the number of amazing bassists in rock, bass still gets the least amount of respect in that genre and often is just considered an instrument to play eighth notes on to make the drummer sound good. That’s why so many hacks with little musical talent but who want to join a band automatically choose bass, because they think it’s the easiest instrument to play without a lot of lessons.

    But in many other genres like jazz, r&b, funk, dance, pop and fusion, bass is the dominant or at least equal and indispensable component. No one says, “that’s not bass” in jazz. Bass is recognized as an equal voice without hesitation.

  92. Ric n

    it is all good all it does is open your ears to become supportive or up front.

  93. Just me

    While I admire players like Jaco, Stanley, Victor and the like, they didn’t liberate the bass, if by liberate you mean playing the upper range, using harmonics, chords, whatever. Maybe your readers would do well to google Domenico Dragonetti, Serge Koussevitzky, Giovanni Bottesini, Gary Karr and especially François Rabbath.

  94. Mike

    I dig it all…..?

  95. lemonshoe

    The beauty of our instrument is that it is capable of doing so much more than just lay down the groove. Who knows what the bass guitar would become some 5 to 10 years from now. I admire bassist who innovate and take the bass to a whole new different level.

  96. Joe Wright

    Just let people play what they want to play and get on with your own thing! If no one pushes the boundaries then everyone will just play the same and sound the same. Experimenting opens up new doors and styles to all of us. Its in the best interests of every musician for us too boldy discover new ground. Dont allow your ‘thing’ to be shot down. The music you play is as unique as the individual thats playing it and thats how it should be!

  97. I bought one of those Bass Vl’s… I played it and found that it was not quite like playing my other basses, I could do things on it that were so much more guitar like. So I handed it to a guitarist friend. He played it, and said that it didn’t play like his other guitars, that he could do things that were much more bass like.

    Conclusion: The instrument is a bass when played by someone who identifies as a bassist.

  98. The question to those people would be “Do you really think that there’s any absolutism in music?”. For example, here in Argentina, the Tango purists says that Piazzolla didn’t play Tango at all. There’s a lot of examples in music history that “the people who are not doing such things”, ended up doind something HUGE!. “Rules are meant to be broken!”

  99. A four string piccolo bass has the same range of a common electric guitar without the highest pitched strings. Since electric bass and electric guitar are instruments of the same family, owning many similar building features, a tenor – alto strung bass IS definitively a tenor – alto guitar. Which Is NOT, by definition, bass, lacking the capability of producing bass pitches, as much an alto saxophone is not a bass saxophone. For instance, i could never sing bass because my vocal strings are tenor strings. I could sing bass only if i could change my strings, which is impossible.

  100. In my opinion an instrument is a bass when the strings are tuned an octave lower than a guitar. When a bass is tuned in the same octave as a guitar, it’s still technically a bass but needs a specific designation. For example, if guitar is tuned to the octave of a standard electric bass, It’s a bass. When a traditionally bass instrument is tuned above that, it needs a specific name, like a piccolo bass.

  101. Anon

    I love the comment, “It looks like he’s holding a bass to us.” Sums it up pretty well! A bass is a bass is a bass.

  102. Steve

    What is bass? Is it sonic frequency? Rhythm? A tuba sounds bassy to me. So does a baritone sax or the bottom octaves of a piano.
    Is it not just an element of the music and can be ascribed to any instrument performing a function?
    In regard to the bass guitar, I would imagine the intent is pretty clear given it’s name regardless of how many strings it has.

  103. Cyrille

    What I think here, is that some people just can’t stand the fact that a bass player is playing anything other then laying down a groove and think that he should stick exclusively with the accompaniment function. Of course, this is the primary function and every bass players should be able to do that. But we shouldn’t restrict the bass to that role only. As some people said, it all depends of the tune and the arrangement. If it sounds good and nothing seems missing, who cares?

  104. The bottom line (no pun intended), is that it’s music. It’s either good, or not, it’s either musical, or not, you either like it, or not… Hat’s off to those who think outside the box and force the rest of us to see things (or hear things) in a different (and often cool) way.

  105. Kyth T

    Regarding the extended range issue, let’s not forget that most instruments that have 7+ strings are all custom made to order. They are usually not the whims of the luthiers because they are very expensive to make and don’t fit their normal molds. It can also be hard to get pickups, strings, etc… Players are requesting these instruments (sometimes at great cost!) be made to suit their own desires and personalities.

  106. Adrian

    I get super bored with solo artists that just play normal songs two hand tapped whether it be on guitar or bass. I guess I’m just a huge fan of the interactions between musicians.

  107. juan manuel

    if you can´t play it then you must no camment…´s easy

  108. Bass player, bassist, solo bassist, solo artist… these terms all overlap so maybe we should attempt to qualify them? Speaking strictly from my personal perceptions, with no attempt to be dogmatic, just presenting a discussion point…

    Bass player is a person like myself who plays the electric (or acoustic) instrument in what is primarily a support-the-song role. 4 strings, five strings, 6 strings… doesn’t matter. That doesn’t preclude soloing or even original composition, it’s just not the focus. The goal is to sometimes be the glue that keeps everything together and sometimes be the oil that allows friction among the other instruments (and vocals) to be resolved successfully.

    Bassist is all that plus, maybe, a broader grasp of music theory, sometimes a preference for for the upright bass, the ability to bow… in general a bass player plus…

    Solo bassist has all the above skills AND the ability (or at least the desire) to create entire pieces of music using those skills. Generally includes composition abilities but they’re not strictly required. (E.g. performers who develop beautiful bass-only renditions of other people’s songs.) Often involves the use of technology (looping, pitch shifting) in the creation process.

    A solo artist may or may not have any of the above skills. The goal is to create music. The instrument just happens to be a bass. Any accompanist who has worked with a singer-songwriter who normally works solo knows what I mean. If you normally sit there with your guitar or piano and sing songs by yourself, you speed up, slow down, pause, etc., as the mood strikes you. Anybody playing with you at that “special gig” is sweating bullets trying to anticipate what you’ll do next. The “solo artist – bass” is no different. He/she writes a piece of music just as it feels right, and because that solo artist is accompanying his/herself, there’s no problem. If asked to back up Stevie Wonder… Things… probably wouldn’t go well for many of them.

    Is ability involved in the divisions? No, I don’t think so. There are AMAZING players in each category. The primary differentiator is desire. I LOVE that moment in a show when the drummer and I will telepathically communicate and suddenly turn some chestnut soul or rock tune on its head. And when my big solo comes along in the 3rd set, I try to keep people entertained without ever wandering far off the ONE. Yeah, I’ve written some songs that my bands have played, but the bass was just… bass. THAT’S who I am — a bass player. Your mileage may vary… and that’s FINE.

    SO… going back to the original discussion… I think the reason “No Treble” gets sh!t has already been correctly stated by others ahead of me: “No Treble” –as a title– implies a [strong?] leaning toward the bass player, accompanist role. When you begin showcasing solo artists and all the other categories of people who use the bass instrument to accomplish their goals, while[possibly] not honoring that accompanist role… yeah… it’s not unreasonable to expect pushback.

  109. This was a fantastic read! I play bass, as well as other instruments. I sometimes get the “that’s not bass” criticism as well, mostly for my “unconventional” use of effects. But I have adopted a phrase that I will forever preach; “I am not just a bassist, I am a musician.”

  110. Sam

    Well if we’re thinking like that… the 4 string fender P bass is just an evolution of the acoustic bass, so is the fender really a bass? haha

  111. Bass music is, music that makes you dance. The bass part of music is the part of any music that makes you want to dance.
    Think about it; Billie Jean, Black Night, Superstition, I heard it through the Grapevine, A Chick From Korea, Can’t Hold no Groove, School Days, Niels Henning Ørsted Pedersen’s fantastic double bass pieces, TM Stevens and Raw Like Sushi, the Cello and double bass parts of Dvoraks Slavonic dances nr. 7, The call and response of Halford’s voice and Hill’s bass playing on Prophecy of the Nostradamus album.
    So many different genres, and different takes on bass playing, but they all make me wanna dance.
    To me, as soon as the music stops making me wanna move, it’s just a guitarist holding something that looks suspiciously like a bass. Or; if what’s happening i actually good; something completely new. Michael Manring is a good example of this. His combination of effects, d’tuners and all sorts of paraphernalia to me leaves what he does in a realm different from bass playing. He’s not really playing the bass, he’s just making music. I’ll allow him to, cause it’s still awesome.

  112. Yann

    I wouldn’t say it’s “not bass” and I see a value to this kind of playing : as you well described it, it expands the posibilities of our instrument. But I must say, I have seen bassplayers who seem to enjoy only those moments when they get to play chords or anything fast above the 15th fret and just fade out when they’re done … For me, they do miss the point and should play another instrument. Cause the basics of our instrument, from Bach to Jamerson, is to hold the low end and make others sound good. Once you get that, anything else can make only you stronger … But if you don’t, there’s just no point being a bassplayer.

  113. virtanen

    It seems that there are two paths that can be followed, here. The first is about the instrument “bass” and the other about making music, or “the bass sound in music”.

    Bass as an instrument
    Now I remember something about the history of the bass as an instrument from my studies (a long ago). Viola da gamba has been around since the 15th century. This instrument usually had 6 or 7 strings and frets. The frets could be moved to fit scales. This is because only later Telemann and Bach started to experiment with tempered scale.

    From VDG the evolution went to double bass (Which is NOT a big violin! Remember the word GAMBA). You can find them in several sizes as well as with different amount of strings and pretty different tunings (like “solo”).

    From these short notes we can see that the instrument itself has not been limited to experiments. Rather the evolution is ongoing and we have the possibility to see, what will be the next enhancement or feature.

    The other path: “bass lines”
    I will be put only very few examples for you to think about the role of the bass in music. As a start there were and are (male) bass voices. This is probably the first in line. Before this VDG, there certainly have been several instruments that have taken the role of the bass (voice). There are players who accompany their voice with instruments that have lower register – which I then think could be considered as bass. Here the bass does not equal 31.5 Hz, but something that is lower than higher.

    From this point of view I can see, that even a solo guitar (that tiny toy that has around six strings) or a brass instrument in a symphony band can act at least partly as a “bass” and create “bass sound” or “bass line”. So if I listen to music that has “bass” which is created by string, brass or an electronic instrument, or an artificial voice (i.e. using an octaver or similar), isn’t that bass after all?

    Questions for us, bassists:
    For bass lines, does it matter, what is the instrument?
    For creating music (or even a solo), does it matter what kind of instrument was used?
    Is there any reason to limit or degrade the possibilities artificially?
    Are there any conventions in music that HAVE to be followed?

    A is usually 440 Hz now, but it used to be 415 Hz during Baroque. This number actually has no relation to anything, it is just an agreement in western music at this moment. Even this number can be tweaked, if needed. Symphony bands tend to go higher all the time, like to 443 Hz or even more.

    This text is very brief and limited but I think that everyone can take these two paths into account in this discussion.


  114. Instrument names are sometimes vestigial, carry-forwards that no longer carry the significance they once had. Piano is short for pianoforte, a soft/loud, which was its big-news innovation over harpsichord which doesn’t have touch sensitive volume. Extended range bass is something like that. I sometimes call my six or seven string bass just an extended range guitar.

  115. m00

    I think it’s arrogant to define someone else’s music/style/instrument as”that’s not Bass”
    “that’s not my idea of Bass” is more accurate.
    And who’s the hell are you, to tell me what i am and what I should be playing?

    Daft and pointless.

  116. Hey Corey – Came in way late on this conversation, but glad I came across the dialogue.After reading all 230 + comments , I came to several conclusion, but one stands out for me …There is room for all of us no matter how we string, swing, and sing with our instrument. We have some amazing pioneers on bass and owe them a great deal of praise and gratitude . As you stated in the article, bass was always in the background , almost non existent to many listeners…and players !We now have respect thanks to fellow bassists like Lee Sklar, Jaco, Victor, Roy V., Pino, John Entwhistle, StanleyC., James J., David Hood, Duck, and on it goes with so many more giants in the bass world.I say all this as one of the older four string bottom dwellers of the bunch !
    As John Lennon stated, ” If you don’t grow with the music,the music outgrows you.” The same can be said about our instrument . There is room for all of us…. Bass on and groove on !

  117. Jim Lucas

    While it’s certainly”interesting music, Marty” it’s novelty. Tuba players can make a solo album or play in front of another Tuba player but it’s very rare that Low Enders can make a living doing solo gigs. [excluding Victor, Dave Pomeroy, etc]. It’s the Dancing Bear Syndrome: it’s not that the Bear dances well… Plus that stuff will get you fired.

  118. Very interesting and deep conversation among very thoughtful bass community. I am not a big fan of bass forums (full of fanatics and jealous anonyms with no videos or recordings of their own out there) and I definitely dislike all truth owners but sometimes you have to go and measure your opinions with others. No Treble is doing one of the best jobs in nourishing bass on-line community and this discussion is worth reading or even contributing. Recently I am working on my first proper bass solo record and trying to accomodate every possible technique to express myself in full spectrum. Thank you for you, bass brothers.

  119. Nick Bielli

    Lemmy, Lou Barlow, Mike Watt, John Entwistle, Tom Petersson, Peter Hook, even Paul McCartney, Geddy Lee, John Wetton…all very creative, all doing something “other,” be it distortion, etc.

  120. Pbw30

    To me the issue is fairly simple. As a bassist I admire the dedication and skill of the tappers and chord players and enjoy watching the videos. Technical exercises and choice covers create interest but don’t move me.

    As a human being I’m moved by original songs and the feeling created by music and lyrics in combination. No technical ability is required for this. Allegedly rudimentary players like dee dee ramone, or paul simonon can move me through their part of a great song any day of the week. A great technical player
    like McCartney or entwhistle can do the same just as easily.

    It’s about the song and the feeling behind it as far as I’m concerned. The skill level is kind of irrelevant.

    But that’s just my opinion.

  121. Nahir Samur

    I’m a bass player too, actually a metal bass player, and i have to say that that i love the groove as much a any bass player do, but i also love bass players that push hard the limits of thier instruments and that would qualify as “Frustrated guitarist!”. There are many great examples of unique player such as Steve DiGiorgio, Marcel Jacob, Giorgio Terenziani and even the mighty Geddy Lee. This guys knows how to cut in the mix and stand in front of the band at the same time they keep holding the groove, you just need to give ’em a chance. I apologize for my english i’m from Argentina.

  122. There is something to be said for the musicality of playing notes in the most ideal range when playing the traditional role of an accompanist. But just as lesser featured instruments of an orchestra, that don’t normally get the spotlight until a composer challenges the depths of what a given instrument is capable, we don’t always get a chance to shine. And so logically the pioneers on this great instrument are demonstrating the full range and of what can be done.

    That being said it can be a high wire act in satisfying bass self interests and avoiding the temptation to wander into overindulgence. This could be what rubs traditionalists the wrong way.

    Musically the bass is a highly imposing force. Should a bassist have enough ability to explore exciting techniques they should be careful that they’re developing their musicianship and musical awareness as well, to avoid being oblivious when playing with others. Some find things to be distracting and those views should be considered lest we be seen as selfish.

    THAT being said, imposing restrictions on the creativity of others is selfish. Narrow views of what ‘should’ be done, if it doesn’t concern you (as in they’re not in your band!), don’t serve anyone. But it can be hard for some of us to enjoy something we wouldn’t do ourselves.

  123. Bill H

    With all other instruments, particularly in college or conservatory training, players are required to play solo works, not just for the sake of soloing, but for proficiency on the instrument, developing skills, growth in virtuosity, and overall development as a player. This is not a foreign concept at all to most musicians.

    Using the logic of the “it’s not bass” crowd, I suppose that bassists in orchestras or jazz groups need only practice grooves, lines and the occasional technical exercise? Edgar Meyers should stick to bass lines? Ray Brown needs to play a simple groove and not stray from it? Tuba players only need to play oompahs? Pat Sheridan should sit in the back row, shut up, and play his 1-5’s like a good boy all night?

    To believe that is absurd and base (NOT bass). How would they ever improve as players? What does it say about someone who, for no other reason than their own taste, would relegate players to playing merely lines and grooves? Isn’t music and expression mich more than that?

    If it ain’t your thing, no big deal. You aren’t required to listen, but to say it is not bass does a disservice to the player, the instrument, music, and artistry.

    I’m not a soloist by any measure at all, but solo/virtuoso playing can, if nothing else, provide inspiration, ideas, appreciation, and an avenue for musical and technical growth. Genuine musical expression notwithstanding, of course.