Before the pandemic I had a bug up my ass about bass ukuleles. I believe it was tied to camping—traveling in general, with the thought that it could go anywhere. YouTube would certainly lead you to believe that ‘everyone needs one of these in their arsenal.’ I bought a fretless Hadean (cheap-o leaning) and strung it up with Kala U-Bass flat wounds (not the goofy rubber bands). After a month playing it like crazy I haven’t touched it too much. You could say U-Bass is to Bass Guitar is to Double Bass. Which is to say, different animals almost entirely.
I’M NOT A PLAYER, I JUST BUILD A LOT
Despite all the basses I build or modify, I’m a monogamist when it comes to instruments (which is to say small changes throw me off). I generally only play one bass ever, but occasionally I switch off for a month or two. After practicing on the U-Bass for a month, my intonation was crap on my normal axe. Despite it’s convenience, it proved to be a different instrument and not a great practice tool for bass guitar.
AIN”T THAT DANDY, SOMETHING OF A TANGENT
“I’d rather be a dandy than any boy or girl with an acoustic guitar.”
—Spencer Moody, The Murder City Devils, Lemuria Rising
During the pandemic I kept throwing my shoulder out. I would half-awake-stretch and an explosion would go off in my right shoulder. A week later things would start feeling back to normal. I started eliminating some of the exercises I was doing, to the point of practically not exercising. Oddly enough, it kept happening.
I’ve done a lot of my playing over the last (nearly)-two-years sitting on the couch. I don’t play with a pick, nor do I tend to play as you would a classical guitar (I tend to sound a bit sloppy). Which means while seated, playing in that finger-pluckin’ style, my right arm is kind of jammed upwards. Mystery solved. Exercise regimens are back in place.
What this does point out is that the acoustic guitar body is not necessarily the best shape for the acoustic bass guitar. Once again I tip my hat to Leo Fender and pause to wonder why I don’t just play a P-Bass.
THAT’S DOWNRIGHT PERPLEXING
During the pandemic I dibble-dabbled with the upright bass and found it wasn’t necessarily the dream machine I had imagined it to be. Combined with the shoulder issue, it did send me down a path towards finding a woodier sound. So I’ve got some experiments in the works dealing with scale, body shape, weight, string gauges and range.
In a calamitous moment of supreme giddiness I picked up two used Ibanez ABGs to speed things along. The PCBE12MH-OPN (PCB) will be the lighter-weight, piezo counterpart to Brenda. Much to my surprise I’ve found myself smitten with the AVNB1FE (AVN). Ibanez did a really nice job with the AVN. For one, they actually built a fretless bass—not a repurposed fretted bass. So the string nut is cut lower and the position markers are in the correct placement (not between where frets would be). The AVN is also a nicer build than the PCB, using solid sitka for the top, bone for the string nut and bridge along with wood (not plastic) for the rosette.
The AVN falls into the relatively new category of Micro at it’s 25” (guitar-like) scale. 34” long (standard), 32” medium, 30 1/2 or less as short and 35+ as extra long. Medium scale has been my sweet spot for a while now, but I was curious about this micro scale in relation to some of the back/shoulder pains. The AVN body is thicker, but narrower than the PCB which makes it a bit more comfortable to sit on the couch and play. Despite all the good stuff with the AVN build, I still had a few things I wanted to do. It was just hard to stop playing it and get to work!
WELL ENOUGH AIN’T GOOD ENOUGH
Despite being a damn fine instrument I had a couple things I wanted to do (more or less aesthetic), plus a couple issues that needed sorting out. First there was quite a lot of buzzing happening above the tenth position which wasn’t resolved with a truss rod adjustment. After further investigation I noticed that the fingerboard was slightly thicker from the twelfth position up. This fingerboard is “cultured maple.” That’s basically when you raise a maple tree listening to Mozart and reading books like Faust. Or, its just maple strands and epoxy. It’s quite hard, but easy enough to work with and sands well.
The other issue was the A string. Amplified, this string was much quieter than the others. First I notched out flex points between each string. This is something I’ve seen before and plays off violin bridge design. In this case, nothing really changed for any of the strings. I took a second go at it by cutting the bridge in two, creating an E-A bridge and a D-G bridge. This did the trick.
All the other modifications were pretty much done out of my need to customize everything.
- Replace stock tuners with Hipshot. These Y-key tuners are narrower than their standard tuner, but are easily ordered on their site.
- Replace bone string nut with ebony. This would have sonic repercussions, but the main intent was to create a solid black line up the fingerboard through the headstock
- Remove finish from back of neck. A violin family mainstay which I like. My hand glides with ease even on humid days. I did a little treatment to the back of the headstock which admittedly was more experimenting with finishing techniques than anything.
- Replaced plastic string pegs with rosewood.
And that’s actually it. I had every intention of swapping out these D’Addario round wounds with Gold Tone flat wounds, but I’m really enjoying the sound. The more I play it the more it reminds me of the sound Ron Carter was getting on his late 70s recordings like Third Plane and Peg Leg. At times he was on upright and at other times he was playing piccolo upright. On both instruments its a really unique sound he’s getting. As a result I’ve decided to rename the AVNB1FE, “Peg Leg.”