old bass day

“New Bass Day” is a big thing at TalkBass.com, where people show and tell about their new instruments. There are so many different variables in the design, features and appearance of a bass, and so many custom and one-off instruments, that it can be a fascinating thing to geek out over. GAS, the combination of curiosity, envy, and the thrill of getting New Stuff, seems like it might be even stronger among bassists than synth folks, and NBD is a bigger deal than New Module Day.

I’ve already gushed about my purple Ibanez Mikro GSRM20, which honestly is as far from unique as basses get, but they’ve got the design nailed. And I’ve raved about my Hadean uke bass (and ranted about the tuner problem). But here’s my Old Bass Day post:

SX Ursa 2 JR MN 3TS. Fretless, 30″ scale. Not pretty (some people hate the headstock on them, and… yeah, I see it). I bought it in 2013, knowing little about different bass designs and techniques — but it was cheap and available, I was curious to experiment with strings and electronics, and “short scale” sounded like a good idea. I noodled with it a little, found it awkward to play and awkward to keep near the computer with the synth gear, and mostly let it sit around.

As I know now, it’s in the style of a Fender jazz bass: two “J” pickups, 3 knobs, a neck that tapers a bit as it goes up for slightly easier playing, and a copycat of the Fender body shape and pickguard. The neck might be thicker than is normal though, and the body leans toward the heavy side.

(There are different designs of magnetic pickups for basses: J, P, MM, and some hybrids. All of them, one way or another, provide at least two different coils positioned differently along the string — they pick up string vibration out of phase from each other, and electromagnetic interference in phase, so they can cancel each other out for a cleaner signal. Different positioning of the poles and coils leads to different kinds of tone, and allows different mixes of the coils to sculpt the tone. Piezo pickups on the other hand, pick up acoustic vibration of the bridge rather than magnetic fields from metal strings.)

It had some kind of flatwound strings on it originally; I don’t know what. The sound was neither bright nor punchy — “bright” typically comes from roundwound strings and “punchy” happens more with P or hybrid basses than J generally, as I understand it. Not at all good for slapping or tapping, but strong in the characteristic fretless “mwah.” And the amp I have upstairs — a keyboard practice amp with a bad, rattly resonance to it — sucks in general but is especially unsuited for a bass. Overall, the impression I got was that it was kind of a dull, ungainly instrument.

Putting the Chromes on it and running it into Bitwig with the compression, EQ and optional light chorus that I set up for the Mikro, feels like the bass has risen from its grave. It’s not as spry as the Mikro and won’t be dancing a jig or doing parkour, though. It doesn’t have quite the double-bass mellowness that the U-bass has either. But I’ve upgraded my opinion of the Ursa quite a bit from “near trash” anyway.