Thursday, December 8, 2016

Great Gift Giving For Bass Players

We all have bass players in our lives that we love dearly and want to keep happy.  Bass players are great, reliable, humble people.  Let's face it - we need the stability that bass players bring not only to music, but to life.  Therefore, we must spare no expense in keeping them happy.  Here are some gift ideas for bass players that suit all budgets.  Show your favorite bass player how much they mean to you - and if  you don't know any bassists, I'm happy to be the recipient of anything from this list you want to share with me.

1.  The Holy Trinity: The Fender Jazz Bass, Precision Bass, & The Rickenbacker 4003
There are so many great basses out there; and it's a myth that you have to spend a ton of money for a great bass, particularly if you're just starting out.  That said, it can be hard to figure out what to purchase for your bassist companion, so why not just go for the best?  There is a high probability that a disproportionate amount of the songs you love were recorded on a Fender Precision Bass, a Fender Jazz Bass, or a Rickenbacker 4003 (or a variation of the 4003).  Think about how much those songs mean to you, then think of how blown away your beloved bassist will be when you give them one, or better still, ALL THREE of the greatest basses of all time!
Pro tip:  While all Rickenbackers are still made in America, not all Fenders are.  Buy 'murican!  On the Fender basses, skip the bells and whistles and buy the "standard" models.  If it's good enough for James Jamerson and Jaco Pastorius, it's good enough for you.  If purchasing the 4003, keep it classic:  buy the JetGlo (that's black to most folks) finish.  It's instantly recognizable to anyone who pays attention to music.

2.  Simple Insurance:  Dunlop Strap Locks
I've experienced the heartbreak of watching my 1977 Musicman Sting Ray slip out of my strap, fly away from me in slow motion, and break in two on the stage after executing a totally rad jump during a performance.  Two expert repairs later, the Sting Ray sings on, thank heavens.  You can be damn sure after that day I never purchased another bass without putting strap locks on them.  There are lots of great options for strap locks; I like the looks, simplicity and ease of installation of the Dunlop strap locks in nickel.
Pro tip:  Make sure you know what color the hardware is on the bass for which your purchasing the locks.  You'll want to match the color of the strap locks to the hardware on the bass.
Dunlop Straplok Original Strap Retainer System:  $10

3.  Tone Factor:  Pirastro Obligato Double Bass Strings, Rotosound Nexus Strings, And LaBella Old School Flats
Let's start with the Pirastro Obligatos.  It's hard for me to tell you how great these sounded on my upright bass; I think my head would have blown apart if my upright was of higher quality.  That would've really brought out the greatness of these strings.  I loved the the volume, the warmth, the sustain, the pleasant "thump" of the initial attack of the notes when playing pizzicato, and the nice "mwah" sound when sliding into another note. (The first note of this tune is a great example of what I mean when I say "mwah" sound.)   Like most metal strings for upright, these aren't great for rockabilly slapping (but these are), but you won't miss it so much when they make your playing sound so refined.  Rotosound strings are legendary among bas players.  I've only ever used a couple of sets for my electrics, but I found them to be loud, lively, and tight as hell.  For those who like to wrestle with their bass, the size and string tension on Rotosounds  are perfect.  Couple that with the coating on the Nexus line of strings, and you have a vibrant string that will sound great even when that great enemy of string tone (sweaty hands) shows up to ruin the sound.  Finally, if you're looking for a mellow, warm, old school soul sound, try out the LaBella Old School Flats.  If you've never strung your bass with flat wounds, I highly recommend it, especially if your bass has passive electronics.  They are comfortable and it will change the direction of your bass playing - the pocket will become more important than a clever riff.
Pro Tip:  Before buying strings for the beloved bass player on your shopping list, make sure you know the scale of their bass as well as what kind of string tension they like to play with.  If all else fails, ask them what's currently on the bass.  Look it up online and you'll know both scale and gauge (gauge = string tension) you should be shopping for.
Pirastro Obligato Double Bass Strings:  $227
Rotosound Nexus Electric Bass Strings:  $32 
LaBella Old School Flats:  $35

4.  Bass Porn:  A Subscription To Bass Player Magazine
There was a time when I would've told you subscribing to "Bass Player" magazine was a terrible idea. Looking at all the gear in there would create in me the same unfulfilled desire that gives young men blue balls.  What's the point, right?  I can't afford any of that stuff.  But the truth is, there is a lot of great stuff in there besides gear - transcriptions, interviews with bassists of all genres, stories of legendary recordings and players - there's a lot to digest besides the latest gear.  And even though the cover boys (almost never cover girls) seem to be a rotation of only Jaco Pastorius,  Geddy Lee, Flea, Chris Squire and John Patitucci there's a surprising amount of diversity in the players covered inside.  They won me over the minute I saw Mike Watt profiled.  Plus, the subscription often allows subscribers access to online content not available to anyone else. Bonus!
Pro tip:  Double check your address info before subscribing to ensure the magazine goes to the right place. 
Bass Player Magazine Subscription:  $19/year 

5.  In Tune:  The Fishman FT-2 Clip On Tuner
There are many fantastic clip on tuners on the market.  Clip on tuners are nice because unlike other types of tuners, you don't have to use a patch cord to connect, play into a silly onboard mic, or try to suss out what an analog tuner's needle is trying to tell you.  The Fishman FT-2 is small and easy to use, and it's low profile make it easy to stow away or hide.  But don't let me catch you gigging with that thing clipped to your headstock.   
Pro tip:  Whatever tuner  you buy for the bassist in your life, make sure it is a chromatic tuner.  This allows the tuner to be used for non-standard tunings.
Fishman FT-2 Clip On Tuner :  $20

6.  Take The Edge Off:  Glenfiddich 12 Year Single Malt Scotch, Weed
Going to a gig or into the studio with players you respect can be a pretty nerve racking experience:  you don't want to let your bandmates down.  While intoxication before either a gig or studio session is never a good idea, taking the edge off is.  Free up bassist you love with some Glenfiddich 12 year to sip on. Glenfiddich is an amazing bargain considering the price and the taste.  If the $33 price tag gives you sticker shock, you've clearly never priced out single malt scotches before.  Plus, Glenfiddich can easily be purchased at most supermarkets.  As for weed, well, you can't beat Mother Nature when it comes to highs.  Consult a trusted friend/dispensary on this.  Try to score weed that is a nice counterpoint to your bassist friend's personality.  If he's hyper, get something that will mellow him.  If he's pretty chill, get something that will make him focus/be more aware.
Pro tip:  This gift is not suggested for those who struggle with addiction.  For rill.
Glenfiddich 12 Year Single Malt Scotch:  $33
Marijuana:  (prices and participation vary, see dealer for details)

7.  That's Entertainment:  "Rising Low" DVD
When Allman Brothers/Gov't Mule bassist Allen Woody passed away, friend and Phish bassist Mike Gordon gathered all of Woody's favorite bassists to record an album with the remaining members of Gov't Mule.  "Rising Low" documents this adventure.  The diversity of bassists gathered for this project is a tribute to Woody's love of music generally and bass specifically.  Chris Squire, John Entwhistle, Mike Watt, Jack Bruce, Les Claypool, Meshell Ndgeocello and many, many more gifted players and all around engaging personalities make appearances in this movie.  It is an absolutely entertaining movie that your bassist will watch over and over again.
Pro tip:  This movie is a who's who of the bass world.  Watch it with your favorite bassist and you'll you'll leave with a pretty good handle of some of the best bassists around.
"Rising Low" DVD/download:  $17

8.  Poor Man's Upright:  The Bogdon Bass
The Bogdon Bass is the bass world's answer to the rise in popularity of the cigar box guitar.  You can purchase the kit and build a serviceable 3-string upright bass that will sound decent and look awesome when you're busking on a sunny Saturday at the farmer's market.  If it gets trashed, just strip the parts off the box, find a new box, and build a new one!
Pro tip:  Don't want to pay for a kit?  Use these instructions to build your own bass from scratch.
Bogdon Box Bass:  $119

9.  Dialing Up Some Bass:  "Bass Tab White Pages"
Surely there will be something in the "Bass Tab White Pages" that your bassist friend wants to learn.  It's in standard notation, and free of the interpretive guesswork usually involved with deciphering music tabs found online.
Pro tip:  Don't say I never gave you anything.
Bass Tab White Pages:  $23

10.  Practice Makes Perfect:  The Cafe Walter HA-1A Headphone Practice Amplifier
I use a Korg Pandora's Box to practice when I'm learning songs by ear, or if I don't want to disturb anyone by playing through an amp.  It works, but the wide array of settings means I spend more time trying to dial in my sound that actually playing.  The Cafe Walter HA-1A Headphone Practice Amplifier gets rid of all distractions.  It has a volume knob for the bass, a volume knob for the mp3 player/device and an input for headphones - that's it.  When I was looking to purchase one for myself for vacation, not only I could I not find anything bad being said about this amplifier, I couldn't find a device with a comparable performance and price point.  It is touted as a vital tool for sharpening your technique.
Pro tip:  The dude that makes these - I think his name is Walter - informed me that the HA-1A is out of production, but stay tuned:  the next iteration of this practice amp will be coming out soon.  Until then, check eBay and other second hand sources.
The Cafe Walter HA-1A Headphone Practice Amplifier:  (stay tuned)

I have many other great gift ideas for bassists, so stay tuned:  If I have the time, I'll post a sequel to this post.

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