I asked 11 of my favorite bass players a series of questions designed to reveal a little bit about who they are, how they play, and what they like. These guys have played on 100’s of recording sessions, and many hit records and major tours. Most of them have influenced me in my formative years. They are established session and live players that play everything from Rock to Jazz, Latin, R&B, Pop, Country and more. There is a reason why they are the choices of so many producers, artists and executives. They get it done fast, with a great sound, and great ideas. Their answers in this survey may only serve as interesting facts for some of you, but for me they provided insight into why and how they do what they do. Anyway, on to the results.
1. The first question was “What is your favorite string configuration, 4, 5 or 6?”
7 chose 4-string, 2 chose 5-string, and 2 chose 6-string. I am with the 4-stringers. I play some 5, and can appreciate 6, but a sweet 4_string just puts me in the mindset of playing “bass”.
2.“Would you consider yourself self-taught?”
Actually 8 of the 11 considered themselves self-taught. That doesn’t mean they never had a formal lesson. I also consider myself self-taught, even though I have had a few lessons over the years and have studied extensively through print material and various other media.
3.“What is your favorite bass cabinet speaker size?” The options were 8, 10,12, 15 or 18.
5 chose 10’s, 3 chose 15’s, 2 chose 12’s, and 1 chose 18’s. I personally like the clarity and low end response of 10’s, but I have heard great things about 12’s, and of course you can get some interesting results from combining different speaker sizes.
4.“Do you like bass in your monitor on stage?”
4 chose No, the other 7 like a healthy dose of bass in the monitor. I would rather not have it ideally. My struggle at times is to get my bass to sound like “bass” in the monitor. If it doesn’t I find it very uninspiring. If you have a good monitor engineer, or can clearly explain what you need to the monitor engineer, it can be great, and it also minimizes stage volume.
5. This next question addressed their use of effects, the options were if they use them “once in a while for a solo or special effect”, “not at all”, or “all the time”.
9 chose once in a while, 2 chose not at all. I am probably a once in a while type guy. I do like them for a change of pace, especially in a solo, but depends on the venue. I don’t think they translate as well in larger venues.
6.“How important is it to be able to solo well?”
For this question I used a scale from 1-5, 1 being not important at all and 5 being extremely important. Of course these results are going to be tied to the individual players skills set, genre preferences and other personal preferences.
Six chose 3, kind of in the middle, probably indicating soloing is good to be able to do, but not critical. 1 player chose 5, extremely important, Two chose 4, and Two chose 1, not important at all. I am with the 3’s, I can appreciate being able to solo well, but it is definitely not something I emphasize, as a matter of fact I de-emphasize it while a student is grasping the fundamentals.
7.“How would you categorize the action on your bass?”
The choices were high, medium, or low.
8 players chose medium, 1 chose high, and 2 chose low. This result surprised me a little bit. I thought more players might choose high, especially since studio legends like James Jamerson and Chuck Rainey attributed high action to their stellar sound. Maybe the advances in instrument manufacturing and recording processes have diminished the need for high action. I would probably fall into the medium to high category. I tend to like my action on the high side, but I have recently had setups that were more medium and felt pretty good.
8.“Was bass your 1st instrument”?
For 9 of them it was not, the other 2 were bass players from the start. I was a bass player from the very beginning. One thing I have noticed though, not as a rule but it seems that many who start on a melodic instrument bring that melodic approach to their bass playing, creating some very “un-bass” like and innovative approaches to the instrument.
9. The final question was my favorite,“On what song did you record your favorite bass part?”
This question was a bit selfish because being a fan of all of these guys, I had my own favorite bass performance of theirs. Did their answer match up with mine? In most cases it did not, but that’s ok because it gave me some listening homework. You will find their answers at the end of the blog. After listening to their choices I now see why they chose those specific songs.
10. As a bonus I asked them to list their favorite recording by another bass player. Of course anything by Paul McCartney or James Jamerson received many mentions. Others were “For the Love of Money” by the Ojays, “Reverend Lee” by Roberta Flack, “Young and Fine” by Weather Report, “I Was Made To Love Her” by Stevie Wonder, and “What Going On” by Marvin Gaye. All amazing songs and bass performances.
At this time let me give a special thanks to my all star list of bass players who participated in this survey. Simply the best, please familiarize yourself with their playing if you are not.
Leland Sklar, Nathan East, Freddie Washington, Gary Lunn, Reggie McBride, Jimmy Haslip, Rickey Minor, Ruben Rodriguez, Bobby Watson, Bob Glaub and Francisco Centeno
Discography of their own favorite performances
“Tears from Heaven”-Eric Clapton
songs from “Feets don’t fail me now”-Herbie Hancock
“I Will Be Here For You”-Michael W. Smith
“Perfect Angel”-Minnie Riperton
“Time is a Magazine”-Jing Chi
“I Will Always Love You”-Whitney Houston
“Palabras Del Alma”-Marc Anthony
“Rock with you”-Michael Jackson
“The Pretender”-Jackson Browne
“Night Song”-Noel Pointer