THE SLAP UPRIGHT BASS TECHNIQUE WAS originally a response to the problem of getting heard in a group. Unamplified players discovered that the additional volume and percussive quality helped the bass project through the mix and created rhythmic drive in the music. But slap bass puts a lot of stress on an instrument, and over the years, practitioners of the “Un- Gentle Art” have developed ways to hot rod the instrument’s performance and durability for this extreme pursuit. Several years ago, the King Double Bass brand was resurrected and made a big impact on the world of slap upright, with purpose-specific instruments featuring eye-catching sparkle/flame paint jobs and electronics Green Pearl, Tobacco Burst, Blood Burst Stain, or Copper Pearl Burst for a $200 upcharge. The finish is durable, but not heavy, which aids the instrument’s acoustic resonance. The review instrument sported the classic “Bill Black” look, with its black body and white pinstripping around the edges and ƒ-holes. The hard maple bridge is stained a dark brown to match the color of the fingerboard and tailpiece—it’s dead sexy with the black finish. Blast Cult’s six-pointed aluminum bridge adjusters make it super easy to change the string height, even with the bass under full tension. One common slap-inspired mod the One4Five boasts is a flatter bridge and fingerboard radius, which aids rapid-fire slap designed for slap. The company met an untimely demise, but from the ashes rose former KDB founder Jason Burns with a quest to take the evolution of the slap upright bass even further. Enter Blast Cult.
While the developments made by King may have been the starting point, Burns says the new One4Five model (named after the ubiquitous chord progression) is redesigned from the bottom up. Everything from the body shape to the pickup system has been rethought. The five-ply maple laminate body has nicely sloped shoulders, with solid maple trim. Extra internal bracing and Gorilla Glue ensure the One4Five can withstand the punishment of the road, or a typical psychobilly gig. The One4Five’s tasteful, understated matte finish is available in Black, Bloodstain, or Antique White as standard, and technique and makes it easier for electric bassists to adjust. This radius is not ideal if you intend to do much bowing, which is not impossible. (Note: If a traditional radius is your thing, Blast Cult can build that, too.) The fingerboard and tailpiece are made from an obscure but sustainable Brazilian hardwood with similar weight, density, and hardness to ebony, dubbed “swamp skunk” by the Blast Cult crew. The tailpiece anchors the ball end of the string in a straight pull to the bridge, which makes changing strings simpler, and decreases the potential for breakage.
For slap upright, you need the strings high enough to get your finger under for the pluck, and to give you some bounce back on the slap. But the resulting higher string tension can work against you. Blast Cult gave the One4Five a less extreme angle where the strings break over the bridge, greatly reducing the tension. The 1" string spacing at the bridge is a bit narrower than usual, but the concept has taken hold in the “legit” upright bass world as well, along with the One4Five’s tighter spacing at the nut. The endpin is a sturdy, no-nonsense piece of hardware fabricated in-house, and secures a plastic-coated braided metal tailpiece wire. At the other end of the bass, a set of Rubner machines handle the tuning chores with smooth accuracy.
Not only was the One4Five created with slap in mind, it was also designed to get really freaking loud. Heavy bracing and stiff materials reduce the acoustic volume, but they also make it possible to stand in front of a monster stack and crank it out with less feedback. Toward that goal, Blast Cult has developed a new dual pickup/preamp system—the Channel Blaster, which gives you individual mix and EQ controls for the bridge and fingerboard transducers. The bridge piezo has a tension-adjustment screw that fine-tunes the pickup’s response, a holdover from the old KDB Dollhead system that works great. Like the bridge pickup, the fingerboard piezo (a.k.a. “clicky”) is encased in wood but attached to the underside of the fingerboard. While the preamp looks like a 1950s radio, inside the box we have a strikingly new concept for EQ, which—while not immediately intuitive—produces great results. Rather than duplicate your amplifier’s EQ function, the Channel Blaster gives you two bands of frequency filtration for each piezo. The bridge pickup controls are sub and bass—the sub control is a highpass filter that rolls off at 60Hz with a –6dB per octave slope. Running it at full bore simply gives you the fl at response of the pickup, but the sub lows can be troublesome in some situations, so rolling it back will control low rumbling feedback and give you a tighter bottom. I found setting it at 3 o’clock was a good default position. The bass control does not add more lows as you might expect; instead, it gives you a warm, round tone between the 6 and 9 o’clock positions, and then gradually adds more mids and highs as you go higher. It is possible to get plenty of high end from the bridge pickup if you want, but the Channel Blaster really shines as a two-way system. The mid and treble controls work with the fingerboard piezo, and essentially affect the high-mids and highs. You can dial in a nice, warm click or go for the full screwdriver- in-your-ear tone that cuts through the gnash of high-volume psychobilly.
I took the One4Five on a honky-tonk gig where the requirement was fat, woody bass with occasional slapping. I easily dialed in the big thump and brought in enough of the fingerboard pickup to make the slaps cut without being abrasive. Since the highs were assigned to the clicky piezo, they only activated when I slapped—very cool! The setup made slapping way easier, and general fingerstyle was a breeze. Most surprising was the overall note consistency and clarity of the bass. While the tone was definitely acoustically appropriate, the punch and definition came closer to electric bass than any upright I had played before. There were no dead spots on the neck; every note fulfilled its purpose, and I didn’t have to fight for it—it made my job easier. In spite of the instrument’s decreased acoustic volume, I sat in on an impromptu acoustic bluegrass jam in a nice, live room, and the bass certainly found its place amidst three guitars, banjo, and mandolin. It’s not loud enough to cover most gigs acoustically, but it produces enough tone to be miked in the studio with good results.
When playing a swing jazz solo, I initially had some trouble adjusting to the flatter fingerboard radius, as it went against my 40 years of muscle memory—but I had the bass for only two days, and I think another week would do the trick. The factory- supplied strings were Blast Cult’s Tonemonger Hybrid set, which has a gut G and D, and steel E and A strings. (Full gut or steel sets are also available). This hybrid setup is a favorite for psychobilly (and oddly enough, jazz, too), as you get the low tension and natural click of gut on top and the definition of steel on the bottom. I found the tone between the steel and gut strings to be very well balanced—it didn’t sound like two separate instruments, and I liked the clear fundamental and authoritative punch of the low E.
While Blast Cult may seem to cater to the rockabilly and psychobilly crowd, this bass will be appreciated by anyone who needs to plug an upright into an amp. It has consistency and punch that gets you heard, as well as flexible tones that can cover everything from the deepest rootsy blues to over-thetop thrash, and even straight-ahead jazz with the right strings.
BODY Five-ply maple laminate
FINGERBOARD Swamp skunk
TAILPIECE Swamp skunk
PICKUPS Wood-encased dual piezos: bridge element w/tension-adjustment screw, ﬁngerboard element (both wired to TRS jack)
INPUT q" TRS
OUTPUT q" mono
CONTROLS Sub, bass, volume (bridge), mid, treble, volume (ﬁngerboard)
POWER 18 volts, AC adapter optional