retracting the claws

I’ve decided to downsize my synth setup just a little.

My original thoughts about getting the Strega were that I’d either have to put aside my Microfreak or unload 60HP of modules to empty the Pod60. Now that we come to it, I’m going to do both.

  • Microfreak is now officially sold, I just need to ship it.
  • Mixwitch is being replaced by a Doepfer A-150 — a little smaller, cheaper, simpler, but dual. I honestly have been using Mixwitch rarely and only for transposition and rare switching, reaching instead for the more ergonomically favorable Shades or Blinds for everything else. And I honestly could probably have skipped the A-150 too.
  • Angle Grinder is out. It’s a lovely filter and pretty interesting as an oscillator. But between Blades, Inertia, Katowice, Lacrima Versio, the Minibrute’s filter, Strega’s filter and software I am really well covered here!
  • Jena is out. Wavetable-based waveshaping is covered by Shapeshifter and Bitwig Grid. I can still use Drezno for making audio dirtier, reshaping signals, extracting and generating patterns, and so on. (I also won’t be picking up Erfurt, which would largely just been enhancements for Jena.)
  • Crush Delay is out. Strega has its own, similar but more mojo-fied dirty delay. And I’m seriously not lacking for other delay FX.
  • Plancks is out. I used it rarely, mostly for crossfades I could be doing with Planar or Blinds. I’d put some thought into going for a Morph 4 instead of this downsizing, but nah.

So the Strega will sit right next to the 0-Ctrl, the awkward laptop arm of my monitor stand will be folded back out of the way, and I’ll also put away the towering DJ stand that’s holding up the Model:Cycles. The latter I’ll keep as an occasional toy for drum jams in the easy chair, and a once-in-a-while contributor to my recordings).

Selling off this stuff will also go a long way toward re-zeroing my music gear spending for the year. Which means more leeway later if I decide to pick up that headless travel piccolo bass (a category that needs a more concise, less awkward name).


Speaking of basses, I have found my holy grail: reliable pitch to MIDI conversion (and thus, pitch to CV). Jam Origin Guitar to MIDI works very well and is polyphonic, though it only tracks guitar range (losing almost the bottom octave of standard bass tuning). Bass to MIDI is monophonic — more appropriate for CV anyway — and tracks the full bass range with decent reliability and pretty low latency.

I had all kinds of fun last night not just playing synths with the bass (which can be really nice when doubling it with the original sound), but using it to make filters and oscillators track pitch — nice with comb filters, ring modulation, and some funky stuff with using the amplitude to control waveshaping. But the ultimate was Rings, particularly in the chord modes. It was hypnotic! I’ll also definitely be trying it with other resonator patches using Mimeophon, Beads, Minimal Audio Rift and so on.

inevitable witchcraft

I’ve mentioned the Make Noise Strega 8 9 times in this blog so far and talked about it on forums a little more. A few of those times were “I’ve decided not to buy one.”

To nobody’s surprise, I decided to buy one.

Like I originally said, the instrument seems to have been designed to appeal directly to me specifically. (I know it was actually for/by Alessandro Cortini, but that’s nearly the same thing, in terms of sound design aesthetics. I wish it was as similar in terms of musical career success and acclaim…)

The Launchpad Pro mk3 certainly made me happy enough to put the Launchpad X up for sale. Yes, pressure works a little differently on it, with a low threshold making it less aftertouch-like… but it is extremely well suited to directly controlling the level of a synth voice, which is great for most of my purposes. The sequencer, too, is pretty nice to work with, allowing for better editing than the Microfreak although obviously with a few limitations compared to using a DAW. It also has more immediate appeal and simplicity than a typical piano roll in a DAW though, which was the point.

The Microfreak is certainly competent as a synth, but I do have the modular and Minibrute and lots of software. It’s a fun little package overall, and I may end up missing it in a nostalgic sort of way, just as I miss the Lyra-8. But I don’t really need it. I was mostly keeping it mostly for sequencing and simple parts, but I can do those on the Launchpad, whose responsiveness and flexibility I prefer. I think overall the Strega is a better fit for my purposes — patchable with the modular and the Minibrute, designed to work well with the 0-Ctrl, an excellent range of sounds overall, and able to process and react with external audio.

And on that last point, since part of the Strega is a dirty crunchy delay, I’ll also let go of my Befaco Crush Delay. I believe they’re based on the same PT2399 delay chip, but with different analog circuits in the feedback path, and from what I’ve heard of the Strega it’s really got something special in its implementation. No idea yet what might fill the space in the modular, but something will come up eventually I’m sure.


That back pain is still obnoxious at times, and leaves me almost completely alone at other times. I haven’t figured out much of a pattern.

But this weekend I did at least manage to fix the kitchen light (replacing the ballast, which was the cheapest and simplest thing to do), and recorded a track with bass and drones, with the expression controller to tweak feedback levels on reverb for the bass. I was thinking it’d be for the next Ambient Online compilation, but of course it’s kind of ominous (like I do…) and maybe not what is wanted for this round. So I’ll try to be a little more cheerful and bright if I can stand to 🙂


Reading!

Before and during the road trip I re-read Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the Ninth, back to back. Harrow made a bit more sense this time, though it wasn’t because I remembered the plot entirely. To be fair, the sometimes first-person perspective is meant to have the reader share in the protagonist’s disorientation, as someone who is both metaphorically and literally haunted…

I followed those up with two stories from qntm: Fine Structure and Ed. Both share themes of extreme weird science fiction. The former involved superheroes and much more chaos; I think it might have been the weakest of qntm’s books because the escalation just didn’t hit as hard as Ra. But it was still fascinating in part. Ed is about a super-genius mad scientist, is tongue-in-cheek and might be the funniest of qntm’s books, though it too gets blown up to multiversal proportions. I’d like to read something by this author that is equally weird but remains on a relatively human scale, where everyone remains in the same universe and timeline, the year is measured in no more than four digits, and the Earth is destroyed a total of zero times.

I’ve begun Neal Stephenson’s Termination Shock. In some ways you know what you’re going to get with a Stephenson book — lots of tangents and trivia and deep nerdery, and usually a great combination of humor and doom — but within that formula you really have no idea where it’ll go. A novel about climate collapse, so far it has involved the kind of badass Queen of the Netherlands, a guy on a mission to kill rampaging feral hogs, and fire ants that destroy air conditioners. I groaned an audible “nooooo!” when “COVID-19, COVID-23 and COVID-27” was mentioned. Still not as much of a kick in the face as the first chapter of Ministry for the Future, Kim Stanley Robinson’s take on climate disaster and recovery.

sound

x: Sounds are not “analog” or “digital.”

x2: Analog envelope generators do not cause synths to sound “more analog”.

Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.


Addendum:

If you happen to like the way thing A works more than you like the way thing B works, that does not make thing A objectively better. It is the opposite of that, it’s subjective.

Likewise if thing A has features that thing B doesn’t, and thing B has features that thing A doesn’t, and you like the features of thing A and wish they were in B, that still doesn’t make thing A objectively better.

Let’s review:

harderobjectiveMohs, Vickers, or Brinell hardness scale
bettersubjectiveno applicable unit of measurement
fasterobjective(any measureable unit) per time unit, e.g. meters per second, gallons per hour, frames per second; OR the time to complete a standardized action (e.g. booting into Windows)
strongerobjectivemaximum load that can be lifted (kg, lb, etc), material breaking strain (MPa/psi), etc.

back home, back pain, back at it

We’re back from our 9 day vacation (+1 day for recovery). The visit with my parents was nice and peaceful. Bringing instruments (my bass uke, her dulcimer) turned out to be a great idea and I’m sure we’ll do that again. Since so many folk songs that my spouse plays are in D, I tried dropping my tuning to DGCF but the strings are way too floppy that way. Drop-D tuning (DADG) works, but can be a bit confusing, so most likely I’ll just stick to EADG on the uke at least. Maybe the LaBella strings on the Mikro will be up for DGCF. At any rate, it gave us something fun to do, our families seemed to enjoy it to some extent as well, and I’ve maintained the minor callouses on my left hand fingers. 😉

In my parents’ backyard we saw plenty of birds, deer once, and a fox in the evening right as we were getting ready to leave. We played a couple of board games, watched Captain Marvel and a few TV shows that were not too bad considering, ate some experimental meals that my mom made which mostly turned out quite well, watched my dad’s slide shows for the last couple of years, and just hung around.

The next step was to drive to Atlanta in the dark and rain, and it reminded me how much I dislike Atlanta. But our morning visit to Georgia Aquarium was pretty fantastic — even without a stingray touch pool, I’d put it at a very close second to Shedd (Chicago), right alongside Tennessee Aquarium (Chattanooga) or Ripley’s Aquarium (Gatlinburg). (The St. Louis Aquarium is more modest yet still worth a visit if you’re in town.) They have the largest tank in the world at 6.3 million gallons, which houses a whale shark and mantas among many other things; they also have a big shark tank and a beluga tank, and a nice variety of other animals as well, including all my personal favorites. We didn’t do any of the “optional” ticketed shows since the goal was to go through and then hit the road, but it was still about 2.5 hours of stuff to see. I took something like 150 pictures, and it took three rounds of culling to bring that down to 19 photos and 3 videos to post on Instagram.

The drive to my in-laws’ new house from Atlanta is just slightly shorter than from our house to my parents, though with fewer traffic snarls. The new place is pretty nice, with a bunch of land in the back — the chickens are all set up, but the goats are still at their old place which they’re sloooowly moving out of. My mother-in-law has an erhu (Chinese spike fiddle) that she hadn’t set up yet, so I learned a little about it, tuned it up and started to rosin the bow (but it really needs a lot more rosin for a good tone). It’s an unusual instrument to me, in that the horsehair of the bow can be disconnected and is threaded between the two strings (tuned to A440 and D below that), and the nut is made from string, surprisingly far down the neck. There’s no fretboard to press the strings against, it’s just finger pressure as needed. It’s a pretty neat instrument though and I could see getting one maybe… but I feel I should concentrate on synth and bass.

The official justification for this trip was my nephew’s second birthday party. He’s a cute kid with an infectious laugh — fond of dinosaurs and frogs, red and orange, and throwing balls at peoples’ faces before announcing “catch!” I’m glad I finally got to meet him. He got approximately a million toys for his birthday and I’m pretty sure he deserves them all.

The drive back home was shorter and generally less traffic-filled and stressful — but by that time I had developed a nasty persistent backache which I’ve been unable to shake. It’s high enough I can’t apply Aspercreme myself, and I’m not sure that would help. Lying down flat, the pain almost entirely disappears. Unlike my usual aches, a heating pad is pretty marginal. The shiatsu massager or my wife’s efforts are a bit more helpful but it’s not long before the pain creeps back. I tried a Salonpas pad that’s supposed to bring 10 hours of relief, and it was more like…. 10 minutes of nothing, then 15 minutes of discomfort, then 7 hours of some help, and I still keep smelling menthol even though it’s been another 12 hours and I’ve showered since then. Weird.


Music! After doing some online research during the trip, I’ve bought a Launchpad Pro mk3. The main feature it offers over the Launchpad X I have now is a very friendly standalone sequencer mode. There’s some concern that they’ve changed the pad response significantly and it might be better at velocity and a little worse at pressure, but probably tweakable enough in software to make me happy. My thinking here is that the main reason I have been holding on to the Microfreak isn’t necessarily its synth capabilities — which are fine but not really outstanding compared to the modular, Minibrute or my software collection — but its controller/arpeggiator/sequencer combo. So the LPPmk3 could replace both the LPX and Microfreak, leaving room for a Strega if I choose to pick one up, or just consolidating if not.

Also while I was away, the Noise Engineering “Bundle 1” plugins were released: Cursus Vereo, Basimilus Iteritas and Desmodus. I’ve owned both Basimilus and Cursus in Eurorack form and moved on from them but I’m very happy to have them in this format for occasional use, and Desmodus even more so. Basimilus struck me as a killer kick drum module but I so rarely need kick drums; in plugin form and polyphonic its versatility stands out a bit more. Likewise, Cursus feels like a different beast as a polyphonic plugin than an oscillator. It was one of many “this is good but I have too many oscillators” choices. And the Desmodus plugin is not-so-secretly both Desmodus and Electus (with sync) and its variety shines in this format too — and also lets me feel more free to keep running Melotus and Lacrima on my two Versio modules without dipping back to the Desmodus firmware on occasion.

Befaco Noise Plethora — not one I’d paid too much attention to before — also dropped as a VCV Rack plugin, and it’s pretty great. A dual digital noise generator with 30 different algorithms (independently selectable) and analog filters, plus a white noise with “grit” generator and another filter. Some of the algorithms are clusters of oscillators, reminiscent of the Odessa, and if it had volt-per-octave tracking and linear TZFM I might actually have been tempted to free up the Odessa. But for me it’s a nice free addition to the already amazing VCV.

And Bitwig 4.2 has left beta and become official. This is the update that adds MIDI manipulation to the Grid, which opens up a lot of hybrid sequencing and processing of controllers.

So I have a lot to explore. I do have an idea for the next album but in retrospect it seems like an idea for part of an album — a suite or concerto perhaps.

All Points Collapse

The new album is now available! As usual it’s free/pay-what-you-want.

Enjoy!


Speaking of collapse… with the news that Epic Games has bought Bandcamp, there has been much discussion and pessimism about that in various online communities. I am… let’s say “not thrilled” because to me Bandcamp is pretty great already, with just a few convenience features wanted but basically having a great thing going both for listeners and artists. Epic promises not to screw that up. But what happens nearly every time a relatively small, cool company gets bought by a larger, uncool one? Promises get broken.

Epic didn’t buy Bandcamp just because they love independent music and musicians so very much. They have a bigger plan, which involves buying other media companies outside their area of expertise and doing something with them.

As I’ve just demonstrated — and will further demonstrate this afternoon when I get home from work and buy a bunch of music, skewing toward Ukranian artists and labels this time — I’m not abandoning Bandcamp now. But if things go south, in the form of more emphasis on popular artists over independent ones, canceling Bandcamp Friday, taking bigger cuts from artists, NFTs/crypto, required subscription fees, pivoting entirely to streaming, or other general fuckery, I will find an alternative.

if it ain’t one thing…

New album has been ready to release, I’m just waiting for Bandcamp Friday.


I got some La Bella white nylon tapewound strings for the #1 bass. These are supposed to be super smooth yet relatively bright, and are very well liked. I know I previously said I’d just stick with the roundwound strings it came with because of how well they worked with a specific resonator effect… but sometimes those bug me in normal playing. So I’ll see how these work out.

I kinda feel like my basses should have names. “#1 bass” may not be accurate in the future — in terms of how much I’ve used it in recordings it’s already not — and “the Mikro” is kind of boring. Since it’s purple and relatively small, I thought about “the little Prince,” but I’m not that big a Prince fan. The name of its exact color according to how it displays on the Ibanez website is apparently MediumOrchid4, though the closest named CSS color is simply “purple.” I’m not sure Orchid is a good name for it though. I’ll figure something out, or I’ll just stop worrying about it 🙂


We’re going on a road trip soon: to visit my parents, a morning visit to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, and then my in-laws. Thanks to the pandemic I’ve never met my lil’ nephew Luke in person (and it’ll be his birthday!), and I’ve never seen my in-laws’ new house. My spouse is thinking about bringing her dulcimer and I’m considering the U-bass.

With a little more than a week before that, our kitchen lights died. No problem, I thought, I’ll just order new bulbs. We have ballast bypass LED tubes replacing the old fluorescents, which used to be an online order from a specialty store and is now common and cheap. But new bulbs didn’t do it — it’s the ballast itself. Probably the old bulbs are still fine…

My options are:

  • Replace the ballast and continue using the same type of LED bulbs. This seems kind of silly, but it doesn’t cost too much.
  • Cut out the ballast and rewire direct. In our case this unfortunately also means replacing the sockets with non-shunted ones, and also probably replacing the bulbs… which in total would cost more and be more difficult than just replacing the ballast.
  • Replace the fixture with an integrated LED light and not have to be think about it for the next 40-50 years. The light itself barely costs more than the ballast would. Since I’d want professional installation, labor would cost something. But it’s not too big a deal.

Really this was just sort of a hassle right before a trip, so we’re waiting until after. We also had some plumbing stuff happen that was looking pretty dicey but managed to resolve ourselves. We also need to have a roof leak repaired (we had to wait for the ice to thaw first).


I haven’t said anything yet about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine…. and I think that’s the correct way to say it: it’s not Russia, it’s Putin. The Russian people seem mostly not to want this. It’s inexcusable. Other than that, there’s not much for me to say.

I do feel a bit weird about calls to donate to the Ukrainian military. I’m trying to imagine that in the US, where the budget already exceeds basically everything ever and it doesn’t need crowdfunding. I am mostly a pacifist, but I think this is exactly what an army is for — stopping other armies from doing what they should not. Actual defense, not offense with a euphemistic name. Still, I am more comfortable giving to a cause that will help refugees and other civilian victims. I’m certainly planning to support a few Ukrainian musicians on Bandcamp Friday.


Recently read: Ra by qntm. If it’s not the weirdest book I have ever read, it’s on the top five. Magic is a branch of physics, discovered in 1972… and anything else I might say about it other than “it’s not about Egyptian mythology in any way” would be a spoiler. Each new chapter makes the story exponentially stranger than the last.

Between this and There is no Antimemetics Division I’ve decided to just go ahead and buy their other two ebooks, Fine Structure and Ed. But right now I’m re-reading Gideon the Ninth, which is certainly weird, but mostly funny + over-the-top-goth + mystery.

That makes me think, though: what would be on the “weirdest fiction I’ve ever read” list? In no particular order, and with the caveats that (A) weird is not necessarily always fun and (B) I have vague memories of some other weird stories and no recollection of the title or author or even any search terms:

  • qntm, Ra
  • Tamsyn Muir, Harrow the Ninth (Goes off in a completely different direction than Gideon, time is extremely nonlinear and the perspective character changes. Still pretty enjoyable though.)
  • China Miéville, Perdido Street Station (Weird city, weird citizens, weird magic/science, just weird everywhere.)
  • Greer Gilman, Moonwise. (Entirely written in impenetrable dialect, as I recall. I don’t particularly remember enjoying it and I may have given up on it in frustration.)
  • Samuel Delaney, Dhalgren (I did not like it. All I really recall is it was post-apocalyptic, the protagonist wasn’t necessarily sane, and there was a lot of sex of every kind but all of it came off as grunting and sweaty and completely unsexy.)
  • Rudy Rucker, Spaceland (Like the classic Flatland, but with higher-dimensional creatures visiting us in our 3-dimensional space. Disturbing and gross at times, but also funny and brain-bending.)
  • Gene Wolfe, pretty much anything (Can be hard to follow, sometimes brilliant, often baffling, usually disturbing.)
  • Elizabeth Hand, Winterlong. (I kind of want to reread this to see if I can make more sense of it. A weird journey in a weird society after some kind of weird magical/chemical apocalypse? But quite poetic in its imagery.)

that part of winter

This has been the sort of week where we went from 66 degrees to dangerously icy roads in two days. I really don’t mind another work-from-home day, especially since it didn’t come with a huge pile of snow to clear this time.

The still unnamed album is now in the mastering and figuring out the name phase. I will probably just default to the name of the first track, which also suggests some designs for the album art.

The mood of the album overall is more on the desolate side, although it’s not too unrelenting about it. There’s even a track named “Bleakest” — but it was named after an oscillator in VCV Rack that provided the heart of the drone. Though I’ve certainly had some days, I don’t really feel any more depressed than usual these last couple of months; this is just the music that came out of me. Music for the dead of winter after the festive season has passed.

A couple of things are on the way:

Fretwraps: these are like fancy hair scrunchies for the neck of an instrument, which you can slide back behind the nut or in front of it to gently mute any open strings. (Indeed some people have used scrunchies for this, but they’re not ideal.) This reduces their sympathetic vibrations when playing, without having to worry as much about muting them with your hands — especially helpful when tapping. I got the “Nik West Signature Edition” (purple and obnoxious bright green) for the Mikro, and “walnut” to match the U-bass. The U-bass has this issue a bit less, but it’s still there.

Foot controller: a used Line 6 FBV Express, which is an expression pedal and four configurable switches in a compact unit. With this I’ll be able to control stuff in Bitwig (and thus also the modular) while playing bass or synths — loopers and freezers, stepping through sequences, toggling stuff on or off, playing specific synth notes, or triggering whatever else. Volume swells and timbre shifts and whatever else I might normally do with a fader, but while my hands are busy with other things. There were a few different possibilities I could have gone for here, but this seemed the most cost-effective. It’s unlikely to save me from having to overdub to get more than a little synth with my bass on recordings, but it does expand possibilities. However, aside from this controller, I’m standing by my general resolve not to buy effects pedals, since software and modular can cover my effects needs.

whole again

I successfully fixed my U-bass tuner. I had to drill out the screw from the old one, and I even managed to break a drill bit in the process. But once I safely extracted it, everything else went smoothly.

The nut that holds the tuner on has a tube that runs through the hole in the headstock, and that was slightly wider than the old one — but the old one worked fine there. The tiny screw that are supposed to stop the whole tuner from rotating was less tiny in the new kit, so I didn’t have to fill in the old hole or drill a new one. I only replaced the D tuner; it looks so similar to the old ones you’d have to get a very close look to see differences.

I restrung using a slightly different method from what Aquila’s video showed, which meant less excess string wound around the post. Everything is hunky-dory now.

The Thunderbrown strings are nice. I’m not noticing any difference in tone from the old Thunderblack strings; there might be a hair little less sustain (but it’s still plenty) and I think I’m getting more mwah (perhaps due to the slight difference in tension and gauge). They’re supposedly a bit louder acoustically, but it’s not a big difference. The feel is sort of a “sandy” textured plastic, not too grippy but noticeable to the touch — maybe somewhere between a flatwound and roundwound in texture.

Overall, this isn’t a big upgrade, but then, I wasn’t complaining of stickiness with the old strings. People who find Thunderguts/Thunderblack too sticky, dislike the tendency of Pahoehoe strings to stretch forever and not stay in tune, but otherwise like the sound and general character of these types of strings would probably love them. People who want “normal” bass strings should go for the Gallistrings flats that Kala sells on their website.


8 tracks are done for the next album, and the U-bass appears on three of them — sometimes stealthily, and on one track there’s a synth sounding like it’s a fretless bass. I know my synth music influences my bass playing/recording (which is fully intentional) but some flow is happening the opposite way as well (which isn’t, but is not unwelcome).

I plan to record one more track, probably with the Mikro and some zingy resonator stuff with NI Raum. That’s one of the plugins that really comes to life with the right material, and the Mikro is the right material. Arturia’s Chorus JUN-60 is another; it’s moderately pleasant but not really ideal for most synth stuff I’ve given it and it does very little for the U-bass, but on the Mikro it’s fantastic.

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.


stringent

My Aquila Thunderbrown strings arrived Monday, and I put them on, following Aquila’s YouTube tutorial. But I didn’t stretch them enough first, and they wound too many times around the posts, particularly the D, which is a bad idea. So I went to unwind the D and the tuner stuck. It just wouldn’t loosen any further.

Checking in with more experienced folks on the Talkbass forum, I was able to get the string off by stretching it over the post (these are very stretchy strings), but the tuner is still both jammed, and wobbling loosely in the headstock. To make matters worse, the screw that holds the gear and spool on — necessary to remove if I’m going to tighten it, check for damage, or replace the tuner — is stripped. It’s in a recessed part of the gear where my trusty Vampliers can’t get a bite. So I guess the next step is to try using a rubberband to get a better grip, and if that doesn’t work, carefully drill the screw out.

I have replacement tuners on order. Thankfully these are cheap and simple, at $15 for a set of four, rather than the $20 for a single Hipshot Custom Ultralight tuner that is all Kala sells. I don’t know if my own mistake (too many windings) is what botched the tuner, or if it exacerbated a defect or improper installation, or maybe the previous owner did something to it too. But hopefully this is all the expense that will need to go into fixing it; taking it to a luthier would be costly and I’d feel pretty dumb doing so, and few luthiers have probably worked on a U-bass much anyway.

The strings themselves seem nice though. They have a bit of texture to them and aren’t slick, but they don’t have the kind of sticky feel that the older Thunderblack strings had. I never had a serious problem with that, but then, it’s winter, the humidity is low and my skin is really dry. I didn’t really notice a big difference in tone. I was going to compare the sustain, but the tuner fiasco was a mighty distraction. A more thorough review with actual playing will have to wait until things are fixed and it’s got four strings properly wound, but my general feeling is: if the feel of Thunderblack strings bugs you, these may help a lot. If it doesn’t, it’s a minor upgrade, and you can wait until your old strings really need replacing.


As for the Mikro: the more I play it, the more I like it! I’m going to just stick with the current strings until they’re worn out, and probably keep roundwounds on it forever. I found some resonator effects where the zingy sound of running fingers over the strings creates some sonic magic, and I really like how easily I can slap and tap with it. I was doing some two-handed tapping with it last night and it was a joy — the technique looked difficult to me until I actually tried it — and found a use for ambient slapping.

My main crime right now in terms of technique is in how I let the pressure off the frets while the note is decaying, causing a rattle. Staying put until the note is done ringing out, or muting it first would help; it’s also likely that lifting the finger off faster, cleaner, all the way will prevent a rattle.