Making Do With Bass Gear

Making Do With Bass Gear

Q: One of the issues of playing bass is that the market for bass-related equipment is much, much smaller than for other instruments. If you play e.g. electric guitar, you have way more choice of cases, effects, straps, and similar paraphernalia than you do on the bass side of things (let alone double bass). As a result, you have to make bigger compromises, and you don‘t always get what you actually need. One way out of this is to get stuff custom-made, but that has problems of its own: it can be considerably expensive, and it implies taking risks. Any experience you can share in these respects?

A: I have two thoughts. One possibly helpful and one that you might consider less helpful (but possibly much more, ultimately).

Let’s go with the potentially helpful first: DIY.

Some of the greatest inventions in our history have come about because of the DIY frame of mind. If nobody makes that ‘thing’ you want/need? Figure it out and start building it yourself.

This is precisely how my Gruv Gear Duo-strap came to be. My fingers were going numb on a tour because I was playing a heavy 6-string, 5 nights a week, for 4+ hours per night. As soon as I got home, I did some research, didn’t find anything that seemed like it would work, and went about designing my own. A dozen deconstructed straps, a worn out leather punch and a pile of rivets later, I had a fully functional double strap set-up that worked beautifully for years before I got approached by Gruv Gear to explore developing a more universally fitting version for the market.

This approach has also turned into a side business for many. For example, If you’re thinking, “yeah, but how could I make my own pedals?!”. Well, you can contact people who could and form a partnership to figure out how to build what you want. I know quite a few people who have either taught themselves to tinker successfully or sought out people to help them build the electronics they want.
If it doesn’t exist… Make it or find someone who can.

Certainly, product development costs more money than you might otherwise spend (especially if you’re developing it for the mass market, and not just yourself). However, with that know-how, any tools you may have needed to proceed, and the gumption, you can really set yourself up nicely to be much more self-sufficient in the long run. In fact, I know folks who have the “why buy it when I can build it” approach to gear, and they couldn’t be more excited and inspired because of it.

Now, to the potentially controversial thought I had:

I just disagree that bassists are lacking for gear options. There are countless pedals available, and endless sea of cable companies, almost as many custom instrument builders as there are players (seemingly), more power amp and cabinet companies that you could hope to explore, and more options for hard or soft cases than one could ever need. These days, I see bassists with pedal boards that rival those of the guitarist on stage. We have amps with thousands of watts powering speakers that you can lift with one hand.

And… we’re bass players! How much do we really need to do our jobs? Bass, cable, amp… go!

I think you may have a near-lethal case of G.A.S (gear acquisition syndrome). I know that I spent a LOT of time thinking that, if I just had this bass or this rig, I would sound so much better. I spent countless hours researching different luthiers, making photoshop mock-ups of my dream bass… watching pedal demos and reviews online, drooling over someones incredible gig-bag… you name it.

Do you know what I wasn’t doing all that time?

PRACTICING to become the player that I wished I was.

I think that ultimately, one learns more about their craft and their sound by being somewhat limited, initially, by what they have (at least for a while). I didn’t have the bass I wanted so I had to learn how to coax different sounds out of what I had. I didn’t have the strap I needed so I built one for myself. I couldn’t afford the rig I wanted so I had to learn how to really make use of the eq and settings on my rig to try and get a decent sound. When my bass stopped making sound suddenly, I had to crack it open, figure out what was wrong, and figure out how to fix it. Throughout all of that frustration, I learned an enormous amount about not only what I wanted to sound like but how to manifest it.

Also, I have known a lot of people with massive bass and gear collections. They know every detail of every instrument and can tell you how great every pedal is and what it does. You know what?

Most of them don’t sound that good when I hear them play. Partially because they didn’t practice as much as they should have and partly because they rely on their gear too much. It’s not the bass or the amp that makes Marcus Miller sound like Marcus. It’s the 1000’s of hours he spent in the shed, in the studio, and on the bandstand.
Sure, his bass helps to facilitate that sound but, by no means will you sound like him because you have his bass. I’ve never met anybody who could groove like Victor because they had a Fodera. I’ve never met anybody who could create the magical aural spaces that Michael Manring does because they have a fretless Zon and 19 of the best pedals that money can buy. It’s the time they spent honing their craft and their exploration of their own personal voice on the instrument combined with the personal life experiences and playing opportunities, etc…

So, I hope that I didn’t offend your sensibilities in any way but, IMHO, I think that you should really consider the differences between want and need and aim that energy towards manifestation and self-sufficiency.

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to askdamian@notreble.com. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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Share your thoughts

  1. Sandy W

    Great advice. Play the right notes (best note choices) with good time and feel.

  2. Kim Stevens

    Right on. The basic aspects of what you want in an instrument are all that need be figured out (# of strings, string height, spacing of strings). Then you’ve got your (inherently very simple) tool ready for what you can bring to it.

  3. Excellent points! very well executed! You’re spot on! my now ‘comfort’ bass strap = Sewing an old pair of my girlfriends tights around 4 – 5 washing up sponges!, a device to hold my wireless pack on better = a glass holder. and many more little tweaks to help in making my bass life easier! Great article! :)

  4. Noah A

    I couldn’t agree more with point #2. Point #1 is also valid, but 2 hits the nail on the head. Spend some time making sure your main bass is set up perfectly then, using exactly 1 cord, connect it to any decent amp and play the $#!7 out of it.

  5. Mark J Chyna

    common sense, pure and simple

  6. Eric Brewington

    I completely agree with your second point. I feel overwhelmed with the amount of gear options we have available. I have actually been trying to simplify everything to get to the basics of what I need and put more energy into improving as a player.

  7. Sté

    Couldn’t agree more.. Tried a lot of gear, gone through pedals, then multieffects, then pedals, etc.. And finally found THE amp with THE bass that sounds right to me. Just added a comp between and i’m done with GAS. And now: i’m playing the more i can. I even added a little acoustic bass that allowing me to practice at anytime, according to low music level on my computer or phone to play along with.