how do you be so short?

Bass guitar (or ukulele) seems to be a “journey” in much the same way modular is. One of the things I have to keep repeatedly learning is that a bass is not a violin.

My aha-moment is as follows.

On a violin, because the space between semitones on the fingerboard is relatively small, standard technique is to keep the hand in first position as much as possible and shift up the neck only when necessary. It’s easy enough for four fingers to cover a 6 semitone range. And I got used to thinking of low position and minimal shifting as the standard way string instruments are played.

On a bass, the strings are tuned in fourths rather than fifths, so you need to cover 4 frets rather than 6. But on a 34″ scale bass, it’s still a 5.1 inch reach between frets 1 and 4, from the index finger to the pinky, and just touching that spot at a weird angle isn’t good enough. This baffled me for a while — even on my 30″ short-scale bass, it’s still a 4.5 inch stretch (and no fudging it because it’s fretless), and that’s just not practical.

The main way this is resolved is with technique. Bass players don’t typically stick to the lowest few frets. Fret spacing gets closer toward the bridge, so the reach isn’t as far. Also by changing positions to match the key, they can maintain consistent fret patterns regardless of the root. Also, though it’s not universal (and not taught in the book I’ve been going through), many players use fingers 1/2/4 for 3 frets rather than 4 on the lower frets.

I realize also that this is also one reason why 5-string basses typically have a low B rather than a high C: not necessarily so you can play a 30.87 Hz B0 which probably doesn’t come up all that often, but so you can play up the neck a bit and still have a good range.

Short-scale and smaller basses also make that reach easier of course, and I plan to stick with them. The 21″ scale length of a U-bass is quite comfortable. I may give my 30″ fretless a bit more of a try now, farther up the neck anyway — but more likely I’ll sell or donate it. I could see a 5-string 30″ fretted bass working out, but I’m leaning more toward staying in the bass uke range or the Wing style 18″ scale stuff.

With all this bass talk, I want to say that yes, I am still very much doing things with synths. I’ve got 3 tracks recorded now toward the next project. (Admittedly, there’s a fourth that’s ambient U-bass; I’ll probably use a snippet of it as a transitional segment.) I’m also starting to have inklings about where it’s going, though in a difficult to articulate way… again, if I could express myself as well in words as in sound, I’d be a writer instead of a musician.

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