I see this shit all the time. By all the time, I mean all the time.
Log onto any bass related forum, and as soon as you get past the fingers vs pick dumbassary (fingers for life yo) you will come to the next most hotly debated topic: How many strings are appropriate before you are a (pick one boys and girls): badass, poser, douchebag, egomaniac, loser, virtuoso, insane, cutting edge, god, etc.
This meme that I saw on Facebook today sums it all up quite well.
I just accepted it as the way most of us bass players operate for years. It is just us right? Do guitar players give the seven and eight string cats grief over that too? I don’t know. Do drummers give the guys with seventy rototoms a bunch of bullshit? What about the singer with three throats? I think its mostly the bassists that grumble. Remember that movie Total recall in the 80’s with the alien chick with three breasts? I don’t remember any guy complaining that she had one boob too many. Why can’t I have eight strings on my bass?
Of course, everyone loves to post anything with an extreme amount of strings onto my Facebook page. This picture found its way onto my wall, I was tagged in it, and it was sent to me in multiple messages.
What the hell is that? Wow! I bet that is really hard to play. I remember saying to someone that I was not cool enough for that instrument. They said “Yes you are.” But in truth, I found myself thinking that I would have no idea what to do with it. I did not need it to pursue my goals musically.
It occurred to me today that perhaps some people think that I chose my extended range instrument solely because it had the amount of strings that it does. Or that I wanted to be different. Or to be obnoxious (this is not a farfetched logical conclusion considering I wear stuff like this:)
There is a bit of truth to all of that I suppose. My personality does lend itself for behavior displays that are outside the norm. However, in this case my instrument was the end of a long journey to find a way to meet my musical goals.
A journey with a very specific goal.
In this regard, both camps, those that hold that four and five strings are it and those that think it is fine to venture forth into uncharted territory are right. I don’t think there is anything wrong with someone wanting to play that monster bass in the picture. However, without a purpose to do so it would be ridiculous.
If I only played bass in a Billy Idol tribute band, showing up with that fifteen string monster would be ludicrous. It would probably take away from the band. It would be everything that those who like to say “Why don’t you just play guitar” or “Buy a piano” are thinking of with their smug smiles. And in this case, they would be right.
What kind of bass player needs that thing? I don’t know. But I do know, that if there is a guy that does, truly does need to play it…he will find it. He will not buy it because he saw it and thought “Holy fuckballs, that looks cool.” He will see it as a possible solution to a problem he has been trying to solve. The answer to a sonic enigma. That is the man who will take that and master it, and then give us incredible music out of it.
If the person makes great music, I would venture that they should be playing whatever it is they are playing regardless of the amount of strings or what others might think. If it sounds good it is good.
If you buy a seven string bass guitar, and you never ever use the highest two strings, then you should sell that thing and get a five. You don’t need it. You are what is wrong with extended range scene. You are the ones that give ammunition to those that already hate us. My first time to see a seven string bass in action was at show here in Houston where a band from Dallas had come in to jam. The bass player never used the high string. It was pointless, and I was disappointed.
So the big question. Why do I have an eight string bass? Do I really need it?
You bet I do.
In fact, I really think I need a nine.
But before you dismiss me on this as nuts, listen to my reasons. After playing bass for a very long time (30 years this year) I noticed a few things about myself that I wanted to change. I love to play hard rock and heavy metal music, but I also like to take solos. I want a ride just like the guitar fellas. But it was never working very well.
There are two major problems with bass solos in metal. The first is when the whole band stops except for you and the drums. This sucks. I don’t want all the energy to go away. I want to soar over the crunchy guitar riffs like the other guys do. So when you try that instead you realize that the reason the band stops playing for the bass solo is that there is no way in fuck anyone will hear anything you are doing over a wall of distortion. No matter how loud your amp is.
I came to the conclusion, that if you are going to play solos and crazy fills over a band full of distortion, you need to play in a higher range so that you cut through. I tried a six string, which works kinda, but you still have a very small area to work with before you dip back into the “Invisible Zone.”
I decided that a nine string would work. You would have a regular five string bass for all your main basslines, and then four melody strings for when it was time to cut heads with the guitar players.
I never did get the nine. I met Don Schiff online who talked me into my 8 string NS/STICK. This gave me everything I wanted for the most part. My only complaint is that the split between pickups occurs between the D and G string. I would prefer to keep it separated as a five string bass and then a melody section. But, it is a good compromise to my vision and I love to play it.
When I write my basslines, I keep them where they belong. In the good ol’ five string range where the bass frequencies are meant to be. I use my high range for adding chord textures when needed, for extra crazy fills…and mostly…for when its time to make the guitar players nervous.
It is true Jaco only needed four strings. And if you are only going to play Jaco bass lines (provided you have the skill to do so) you will only need four strings too. There is nothing wrong with this.
That said, if you are going to play Dr. Froth parts you have a choice. You can play my basslines on a five string…but if you want to play all my parts and solos. You are going to need an 8. (I recommend the NS/STICK…it kicks ass). There is nothing wrong with this either.
I am not Jaco. Neither or you. Again…nothing wrong with that.
Figure out what you want to create and get the tools to do that. Nothing more, but nothing less. Make beautiful music that speaks to your soul. If you do this, your art will always be fulfilling.
Good luck folks.