Ethereality News & Weblog

December 8, 2007

Venturing into the low end

Filed under: Audio & Music,My Life/Musings — Rob Chang @ 11:37 pm

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The bass guitar has been on my “list of instruments to learn” for years now, and I’ve finally gone and done it. After some research, I got a used Warwick Corvette $$ Double Buck 5 string with Nirvana Black finish from ebay:
Warwick Corvette $$ 5
Warwick Corvette $$ 5

It did not arrive in very good condition–a broken 3-way switch, some rust on screws, saddle, and with belt scratches on the back. I’ll take care of the rust with rust remover gel, and I’ve gone and replaced the 3-switch this afternoon (I hate soldering!). I dropped by Guitar Center in San Francisco to pick up a new 3-way switch, and they tried to make it sound like you had to be an electrician to replace the electronics in your instrument–basically to scare you into spending $100 or more to let them do it for you. Yeah right. Anyone who can solder and is not a complete moron with horrible eye-hand coordination can do simple electronics repairs. Whether you want to spend the time doing it is another matter I guess. I personally enjoy the occasional repair work and have opened up more than my share of home electronics and fixed them–all jut relying on educated guess and common sense.

while at GC, I tried out the Line 6 Lowdown Studio 110 combo amp, and it performed surprisingly well for such a tiny little thing (10″ driver running on 75 watts). The low B-string on the Warwick Corvette $$ 5 string is particularly punishing when you turn the active preamp up, and 110 handled it just fine–as long as you crank it to volumes beyond its intended use (practice and small gigs).

While there, I couldn’t resist the temptation of trying out the legendary Music Man Stingray 5 and the Bongo, and I really wish I didn’t because now I want one of each. The Stringray 5 played like a dream–extremely smooth action, and with that famous metallic punch–begging to be slapped hard and fast. Even without plugging it into an amp, a single thump on it and I can already hear that unmistakable Stringray sound. Plugged in and with the active electronics turned up–Oh. My. God. It’s like I just gained a another year of skills in slapping automatically. Absolutely mind-blowing. The Bongo was also very nice–probably tonally more versatile than the Stringray, since it’s easier to dial in a more mellow sound with the Bongo. Some people think the Bongo is ugly as sin, but I think it’s actually quite a cute looking piece of wood–kinda like a round bubble.

I hate to say it, but the way the Stringray and the Bongo played really took away the joy I felt for the Warwick. Don’t get me wrong, the Warwick is a solid piece of wood, and has its own uniqueness, but it certainly isn’t as smooth or exciting as the Music Man basses. (Edit: I need to retract this sentence here, since after I posted this blog entry, I put a different set of strings on the Warwick and it made a huge difference. The new strings the previous owner had just put on it prior to selling it were flat wound Ernie Ball Slinkys, and gave the bass a really mellow tone, which is good for certain styles, but terrible for punchy slap tone. I replaced the strings with a set of DR Hi Beams, and it made all the difference in the world. I still wish the Warwick had a mid-tone knob for the active EQ though, since I loved the low-mid and high-mid knobs on the Bongo.)

I just won a Line 6 Variax 700 Acoustic too, but it probably won’t arrive for at least a few more days. I had contemplated other Variaxes like the electric and the bass, but the acoustic seems to be the one that gets better reviews, and based on the sound examples on Line 6’s site, I like the models in the acoustic much better than the acoustic ones in the electric. I almost went for a 705 bass, but it’s already discontinued and I don’t want to deal with non-existent customer support down the line. The bass models actually sound quite good, but most reviews seems to agree that the action is not very good.

I used to feel that tonal versatility is where it’s at, and I can live with not-so-great playability if the tonal versatility is excellent, but now I think that first and foremost you need to really love playing the instrument, because you will play better, have a better time, and your emotional bond with the instrument will be much stronger than something that merely “does its job.” I’ve always wanted a Parker Fly guitar, which is not cheap, and it’s because I played one once almost ten years ago and it blew me away with how smooth the action was. I have not been able to get it out of my mind ever since. One day I will own a Parker Fly. I’ll most likely end up with a Stingray or a Bongo too.

If you’re not a musician, it’ll be hard to understand gear lust. Although photographers share similar weaknesses for gear lust, it’s not quite the same, as musical instruments span a very wide range (guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, microphones, mixers, monitors, softwares…etc) and different models can have very unique personalities of its own and can contribute to your music in very different ways–even changing the way you play or compose. With photography gear, different models and brands do pretty much the same thing, and the differences between them are not nearly as drastic as with music gear.

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