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A One-Night Stand
(Soapbox Column #8)
Bass Player Magazine
Published December, 2000

A remarkable thing happened to me a couple of months ago. For one night, on one gig, for one song, I was a guitarist with a bass over my shoulder.

It sounded like fun. A friend of mine in a band full of friends of mine asked me if I wanted to sit in for a tune. Nothing too serious, just an original rock side project they did mostly for kicks. The guy asking me was the band's main songwriter - and bassist.

Back in 1994, I'd come over to his apartment and overdubbed a distorted bass part on the song's intro and outro, plus a solo with a wah pedal. This was the tune he had in mind, but instead of just spot playing, he wanted me to double the guitar part throughout the song. Well, why not? I pretty much knew the part already. I liked distorted bass. All our buddies would be at the gig. The band had a rehearsal scheduled. I said I'd be there.

The rehearsal studio was equipped with guitar amps, so I figured I'd just plug into one, turn up the gain and go for it. I borrowed a wah pedal from my guitarist roommate, took my own trusty chorus pedal and left feeling confident.

We all shared silly grins and Beavis-and-Butthead-like laughter as I set up. "Huh huh . . . two basses . . . big bottom . . . this is gonna be cool." Then I plugged in to the P.O.S.-model guitar amp in the room and immediately produced a squeal the likes of which I hadn't heard since jamming with my heavy metal band back in high school.


Fingers were jammed into ears around the room. I yanked the cord out of the amp and apologized profusely. Then I looked at the controls. Gain. Presence. Punch. Crunch. Munch. Channel 1. Channel 2. Mix. Stir. Puree. My eyes crossed. I looked helplessly at the guitarist. "Uh, can you tell me how to, like, set this thing?"

The sound never really got much better, but at least he got the amp to stop whining. Meanwhile I was having all sorts of trouble. I couldn't find the right volume mix between a moderately dirty sound (for the verses) and a lead tone (for the intro, outro and solo). The drummer would play a fill and I'd instinctively play a lick along with him, making the band sound like galoshes squishing through mud. My solo consisted mainly of feedback. Too much Munch in Channel 1, maybe? Like I knew. This was supposed to be fun?

After the rehearsal, while the rest of the band was probably regretting ever having asked me to do this, I went straight home and dug out every relevant piece of gear I had. Then I collared my roommate - a guitarist well-schooled in the art of overdriven tone, a proud Matchless owner, the kind of guy who builds his own pedals and pedalboards in his spare time - to help me figure out what the hell I was supposed to be doing with my EQ and gain stages.

Then I practiced. I practiced not deviating from the part on the verses and choruses. I practiced bringing the volume on my bass down from the lead level to the verse level. I practiced working the wah so I knew how it would react on certain notes. I practiced getting out of the solo and back into the pre-chorus without sounding like I was falling down a flight of stairs. When I'm practicing a tune on bass - for bass - I can usually knock it out in two times through. This one I ran six times and still I wasn't comfortable. It all felt so . . . alien.

Fast forward to the gig. My little 2x10 speaker cab and special "distortion rig" was placed on the side of the stage pointing in, off the ground by two feet. (Not coupled with the floor - blasphemy!) My place to stand was just left of dead center. My pedals sat on the front lip of the stage. We ran a bit of the tune in soundcheck, and I turned around and saw the bassist standing next to the drummer, both behind me. Weird.

They called me up about halfway through the set. People were smiling and pointing. Huh huh . . . two basses . . . this is gonna be cool. After the count of four I began talking to myself.

Volume full up, step on the wah, move your foot slowly so it hits the harmonic-wow, the sound's cutting through the room like a buzzsaw! Cool, man. Whoa, here comes the first verse. Stomp off the wah, bass volume down to three-quarters, play a little softer so the sound isn't quite as distorted. Chorus on for the pre-chorus. Volume back up almost full for the chorus. Oooh, nice drumfill. Nice bassfill, too. Chorus pedal off. . . .

The song was built more around riffs than chords - lucky for me - so I was just pounding out the line over and over again. Meanwhile the bassist and drummer, while tied to the same structure, were finding cool ways to add little fills at key moments. Halfway through the second verse. Transition from verse to pre-chorus. Chorus into bridge. Bridge into. . . .

Solo. Volume full up, chorus on, wah on, everything on, play really hard so the dirty edge squeals out. God, am I that loud?!

The soundman had miked my cab - after all, it was playing a guitar amp's role, no need for direct signal at all - and was cranking it through the mains. Stranger still was the sensation of an entire band grooving behind me. Unlike your typical bass solo, where the rest of the band (save the drummer) seems to just stop playing altogether, this was a flight pattern with wingmen on both sides. It ended all too quickly, and I frantically began unstomping pedals and adjusting volume while holding out the last, high, distorted note.

And then it was back to the chorus riff. The bassist and drummer notched it up quite a bit, digging in and improvising neatly around the groove on the last chorus. Again, every instinct in me felt like I should be doing something different to signify the peak of the tune, but there just wasn't any room. Soon enough the song was over.

After soaking in the relief that my friends ended up not regretting their little experiment, I did a quick comparison in my head.

Bass: Get one clean sound, play it pretty much all night, play the tune faithfully but improvise lines where necessary at your discretion, lock in with the drummer rhythmically, anchor the band harmonically, stand near the back of the stage.

Guitar: Get a dirty sound, a kind-of-dirty sound and a clean sound, be able to switch back and forth between all of them without gain differences, change levels on the fly, play the part fairly religiously for over three minutes while trying not to be lulled into a trance-like state, shift gears into kick-ass mode for the solos, go back to the original part without losing intensity, let the rhythm section take it home. And stand in various parts of the stage.

Seems like a no-brainer to me. And to those who might suggest that only a bassist would agree with my preference of the former, I would suggest that they refresh their memory as to the title of this magazine.

But I admit, it was fun to pretend. For one night, on one gig, for one song.

Reprinted with permission from the December, 2000 issue of BASS PLAYER. For subscription information, please visit

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