We are going to explore something a little different this month. I want you all to close your
eyes—no wait, then you can’t read this. How
about let’s all take a deep breath, and think
about simplicity, the quality of being simple
or uncompounded. For such an easy word, it
becomes hard to apply. How many things do
you have that you really don’t need? For some
reason, we feel that we need everything—
iPods, the latest cell phones, forty guitars
onstage. But in reality, simpler is better, especially when it comes to bass.
you have those things makes you who you are.
Rock those triple-wah/harmony/distortion pedals until your fingers go numb. It has nothing
to do with stripping the individuality away, I am
simply encouraging you to ask yourself, How
can I be me with less?
The Essence of Simplicity
happy to be hearing your fingers, your tone,
your individuality. You’ll be shocked at the
results. And in a good way.
Current economic trends are causing folks to
go lean on their lifestyles. Out of necessity,
folks are getting rid of the clutter in their lives,
and excelling by using less—which makes more
sense in the long run anyway. I remember my
mom telling me that she used to get one pair
of shoes and a new jacket for Christmas every
year, and that was how they stocked the closet
for the year. Now it seems we buy those things
once a month. Why? Goods are more accessible to us, as well as in greater supply than
they were 50 years ago, and in our musical
world there are many thousands of products
that weren’t around when “The Twist” was the
dance craze and all the cars had tailfins.
If we had the DeLorean and got it up to 88
miles per hour, we could go back in time and
see the bands of 1959. We would probably
see the bass player with his fantastic ’ 58 P-bass
running directly into his tube amp, grinding out
a tone that would make us all weep. And how
simple is that setup? We flash forward to today,
and we feel we need a ton of outboard gear
to get our sound going. There is the school of
moving forward, and I am all for progress; at
the same time, maybe we should look back first
in order to move forward.
It’s no secret that one of my favorite players is Sting. Bash him for not being technical, or for being too successful, but with the
Police his blend of notes and silence created
musical magic that has survived the test of
time. Another favorite of mine is Family Man
Barrett, who all but created the playing style
heard in reggae, and his loudest tool was
silence. So many times it is not what you play,
but what you don’t play that is effective. You
can always apply simplicity to your playing
style as well as your rig.
How great was life when you got your first guitar? It was blissful and magical, and that sound
was the greatest thing you’d ever heard (even if
it was awful). Over time, you started to mature.
You started buying more things, searching for
this tone and that tone. Before too long, there
were a dozen pedals in front of you and a few
more in the closet, and for some reason you
were still searching for a good tone.
Before we get into the “grandpa did it with a
broomstick, washtub and piece of string” arguments, I must say this first: by no means am I
bashing anyone for what they use onstage or in
the studio. We are individuals, and the fact that
Why not try this at the next band rehearsal:
take the pedalboards away and take two
toms and four cymbals off of your drummer’s
kit. Be prepared to be a kid again, blissfully
Another player who defines the essence of
simplicity is Aden Brubeck. I am glad to know
Aden, and his straight ahead, no-nonsense
approach to bass is wonderfully refreshing.
Aden tours and records with country superstar Miranda Lambert, and he can be seen
all over the place with his 3-string bass. Yes,
three strings. The bass was custom made by
Glendale Guitars, and is by no means a novelty.
He explained to me that the one-octave spread
makes him think horizontally rather than vertically, and the added string spacing changes his
approach to the bass as well. He uses it live and
in the studio, and it has a swagger all its own.
And in keeping with his no-nonsense approach,
he runs bass-to-tuner-to-amp. Love it!
If you’re exploring ways to broaden your
musical voice, or your approach to playing
in general, maybe you can start adding by
taking away. If you look at your rig and have
more lights than the local arcade, or can get
more sounds than the keyboard player, then
maybe you should rethink your approach.
Let the guitar players have the lights and the
show—it’s our job to keep it solid and be the
foundation. And to be able do it with less
makes us that much cooler.
Steve has performed and recorded with a diverse range
of artists, from Edwin Mc Cain to Randy Brecker to Course
of Nature. Steve is also an alumnus of Woodstock ‘ 99,
performing with his band King Konga. His current projects
include extensive touring and video production with Bucky
Covington (Lyric Street) and writing a popular weekly tour
journal on his website: shinybass.com.