EVERY BASSIST HAS A STORY.
Doubling bassists tell two stories—how they
came to play the slab, and how they learned
to play the tree. The slab (the electric bass
guitar) is the kissing cousin of the people’s
instrument, the electric guitar. The tree (the
acoustic double bass) is a huge furniturelike
package that underpins classical, jazz,
bluegrass, country, and early pop, rock, and
folk music traditions.
This month, I speak with four masters
of both instruments—players who have created
their personal, identifiable sounds on
acoustic and electric. Listen to their stories
and you’ll hear something that resonates
with your inner bass muse, whether
you play the tree or slab—or both.
Tim Lefebrve provides bass thunder
for the cutting-edge jazz-funk-party band
Rudder when he’s not holding down the
bottom end for Chris Botti or swinging
on the acoustic for the likes of jazz diva
Patti Austin. Brian Bromberg lives on
the short list of modern bass doubling
virtuosi, a contemporary chop-meister
who always seems to have—believe it or
not—even more chops to spare.
Reggie Washington, an established bass
star on the jazz and funk scenes, has spent
years honing his doubling skills on gigs
with everyone from Will Smith to Branford
Marsalis. Another Reggie—Reggie Hamilton—
boasts a career as a top L.A. session
sideman. He’s played with pop artists like
Christina Aguilera and Whitney Houston,
and jazz heavyweights George Duke and
Did you start on double bass or electric bass?
I started on cello and got
shipped to the back of
the bass section in the
orchestra when I was 13
years old. It was horrible
back there, so I practiced
my butt off to become section leader.
Brian Bromberg I
started on the double
bass at age 14 or15—in
fact, I was an acoustic
bass purist in my early
days as a bass player. I
didn’t start playing electric
bass until I was 18.
Tim Lefebrve I
picked up the electric
first, and started playing
the acoustic at age
15 when I was a sophomore
in high school.
My band director, Steve
Massey, and my dad, who was a middle
school music teacher, both thought I had
the right size and aptitude for the acoustic
bass. I had a good high school music program,
because Steve Massey was, and still
Reggie Hamilton I
started on electric bass
guitar when I was 11.
I started playing contrabass
when I was 13.
What are the most
fantastic characteristics of the double
bass? What about the electric bass?
Washington Bass is about moving some
air. Oh, what a feeling! I love the fat sound
both my instruments make. Acoustic is
basically a box with strings, whereas electric
uses wattage to move air out the back
and front of the speaker.
Bromberg The size of the acoustic bass
makes it amazing to play since there is so
much wood. It is literally like making music
on a tree—so organic and real. There is just
something special about playing an instrument
with so much personality and character,
plus with its low register it seems to hit
you right in the depth of your soul. I love the
fact that it is strings, fingers, and no excuses.
The electric bass is actually quite different,
even though it serves the same function
in music. With the electric bass you
have more freedom in the fact that you
can walk around and move while playing.
Also, there are 4-string, 5-string, 6-string,
piccolo, tenor, fretted, and fretless basses,
which provide endless sound possibilities.
That makes electric a blast to play.
Lefebrve The huge fat sound of a great
double bass is appealing to me. As a connoisseur
of road rental acoustic basses, it’s
always nice to arrive at a gig with a beautiful
bass waiting for me. It makes me want
to play! As for electric bass, the appealing
parts are its immediacy and huge range of
Hamilton For me, tonal quality and
variety are the most fantastic characteristics.
The varied sounds that can be made
with a bow, pizzicato or prepared contrabass
are very exciting. The same applies to
electric bass guitar.
What inspired you to first pick up the
other instrument? What was the most unusual
problem you encountered when you
were first playing both instruments?
Washington Electric bass started for me
when Herman Hill, an old friend, used to
leave his Fender Precision bass at my house.
I further lost my mind when Marcus Miller,
age 15 at the time, would come to my house
to hang with my brother Kenny. He would
let me play his sunburst ‘72 Fender Jazz and
show me some things as he was learning
about jazz from my father’s record collection.
Bromberg Two things inspired me to pick
up the electric. First was hearing Jaco Pastorius
and being totally blown away, and the
second was the fact that I would work more
if I played both basses, as so many bands
and gigs required electric bass. I joined the
Stan Getz quintet when I was 18, and he
asked me if I played electric bass. I barely
played it, but of course I told him I played
it because I didn’t want to lose the gig! I
started practicing to be able to play well
enough to play it in his band.
The biggest problem I had between the
two was hand positions and fingerings. The
electric bass in the beginning felt like playing
an ironing board with strings. It took me
a very long time to feel comfortable playing
the electric bass.
Lefebrve I took up the acoustic bass
because I was inspired by straight-ahead jazz
in my youth—Miles, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious
Monk. I had to get that sound, which
was not possible on electric bass. The first
upright I owned had a broken neck and was
never set up right, so it was extremely difficult
to play. But I took a few lessons and got by.
Hamilton After playing electric bass
for a while in an R&B/soul music band,
I started to discover that my favorite bass
players had also dabbled with the contrabass.
Stanley Clarke was my most defining
influence. That led to me exploring the
instrument more. The most unusual issue
was finding a teacher who understood both
and wasn’t biased about music.
Are there any special tricks or considerations
you would share with other bass
players about playing both instruments?
Washington Bob Cranshaw read me the
gospel on the subject. He said, “The pork
chop and the dog house are two totally different
animals!” After I figured that out and
made adjustments to my technique, I started
on the gear. Neither instrument should be a
burden to play. For me, my basses are easy
to play. I attack them. I play into my basses
and they respond. You need a certain amount
of string height for this to happen. I don’t
like to use pickups on the acoustic, except
my Gage pickup when I need it. Branford
Marsalis asks for only a microphone to
amplify the bass on his stage—no pickup,
and no stick [electric upright] basses. You
make the sound, not the pickup.
Bromberg Tricks? I’m not sure about
tricks, but it is very important to look at both
instruments with the same respect and consideration.
I really enjoy playing both as they
have such different personalities. Learning
scales and fingerings on both is very important.
Also, your fingers hit the strings in a
completely different place on the two instruments,
so it is vital to make sure that you
have enough practice time on both basses to
develop your calluses and endurance. Their
function in music is the same, but you need
to know what you are doing on both to play
the music appropriately.
Lefebrve There are no special tricks—
you should just sound convincing on both.
Since I am self-taught on both instruments,
I tend to have my own slant on sound conception
and ideas. On acoustic, though, I am
going through a fundamental shift, studying
with some folks and learning to play with
the bow, in an effort to feel as creative on
that instrument as I do on electric bass.
Hamilton There really are no tricks.
They are two separate instruments, and they
demand equal respect and attention.