The double bass…

is an unwieldy instrument, not so much heavy as big and definitely more fragile than it looks. Difficult to transport and subject, like any hollow bodied instrument, to the whims of humidity, weather, and care, it is, in some ways a relic of a world before electricity.

And I understand why players let it go when the Precisions, Jazzes, and Longhorns and such, light weight, easy to carry and unlimited in amplification, came along. Surely the double bass looked old, worn out, and boring compared to its faster, sexier, progeny. As long as the juice was flowing the sky was the limit.

Still, upstairs in the music room is a double bass, shiny, clean, always in its stand and ready to go. Every other instrument I own f to is its back up. Every gig I play they all stay home and “Number 4” as I like to call it, is in the car headed for another adventure.

Some of it is the nostalgia. It’s good to have something made by hand of wood and steel requiring only imagination and a steady hand to bring it to life. When you bring it in from the cold it needs to warm up. It flexes, it moves, its organic and earthy. The sounds it produces are the ones built into its structure awaiting only a touch to be set free. It is in its own way a time machine calling people back to a special kind of beauty and simplicity, songs on the porch with friends in a long ago time before IPods. And yes, you can still make music when the lights go out.

Some of it is personal. More than most other instruments the double bass is an equal partner with you. The instrument and its player move together as a team. It’s not something you put on your body but rather something that stands with you, next to you, a companion on the musical journey. If you think you are its master you are already lost. If you treat it like a friend you will discover its magic.

And that magic, that sound is irreplaceable. Over and over again in the reviews I read about how this bass or that set of strings has the “acoustic” sound of a double bass. They do not, because they do not have the size or dimension or organics to make that happen. No electric bass can summon from within itself the tone and note of an instrument that uses vibration, air, and wood, to conjure sound. There is no mystical emptiness inside a solid body instrument where the alchemy of music can be produced in the same way. On my electric basses the gear is used to make the bass sound like something else. On my double bass the gear is used to help project and sustain its own sound.

Of course, its kind of cool as well. People’s eyes move to the double bass and little children like to touch it. A band with a double bass has a kind of authenticity that comes with the presence. When you play it the people listening know that its you, every resonating note and every mistake as well. It’s big enough for some people to hide behind but you never can, and when you play it well you and the bass have your own quiet way of being a star.

Looking back I wish I would have had the chance to start earlier, practice longer, and have the benefits that come with years of encountering an instrument. It was not to be. Perhaps when the time is right the instrument arrives as well. Looking forward I wonder if there may be a day when age and health make it impossible to stand next to my bass. One never knows. All I have are these great moments with my friends, playing music, smelling coffee, and dropping out of the real world for a while on stage. Me and “Number 4”, my partner in crime and a big wooden box filled with soul.


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