Bass players are often fiercely dedicated to their role of defining the
groove and harmony from the bottom up. That doesn't mean that a ten-string
Stick, and all of the possibilities it allows, shouldn't be among the
bassist's favorite instruments.
With some excellent feedback from Emmett, I've been working on a new tuning
that bass players would find familiar, and that wouldn't force them to choose
between the role they already know and the magic of the Stick's two-handed
bass in inverted 5ths that Tony Levin and so many other players have come to
love, myself included.
Emmett first expressed his own desire for this kind of a tuning in the early 1980s, with his "double bass" tuning, that lowered the melody strings a major 6th while raising the bass strings a minor 3rd. Any song in C was thus transposed to Eb with the melody down an octave.
The Dual Bass Reciprocal(TM) tuning combines a standard bass 4ths arrangement
with a Stick (inverted bass 5ths) tuning to provide myriad ways to fill the
bass player's role. A 6-string bass tuning covers the first 6 strings,
overlapping onto the 5-string inverted 5ths Stick tuning. Conceptually, it's
a set of 11 strings using only ten, with both sets sharing the common low B.
Here's how it looks (these are the notes at the playable X fret, which corresponds to the nut on regular 34" scale electric bass). Notice that the lettered notes take you consecutively through the cycle of 5ths (two more strings would complete the cycle):
1 - C
2 - G
3 - D
4 - A
5 - E (standard bass low E)
6 - B (5-string bass low B)
7 - F# (going back up in pitch)
8 - C#
9 - G#
10 - D#
Strings 6-10 are only a half-step below the Classic Stick tuning. For
testing, I just tuned my heavy-gauge Classic bass set down. For strings 1-5
Emmett sent me a set that starts out fairly light but gets relatively heavier
as the pitch drops to make the transition from the 5th to 6th string feel
consistent. I'm loving the sound and feel, and think I'm going to have to get
another Stick just to have one always available in this tuning.
Several different playing techniques can work on this tuning:
1. Two-handed interdependent parts on strings 6-10. I love taking advantage of the increased real estate available along the frets for each hand, a huge range of pitches and timbres is available right under your fingertips. This is the classic two-handed Stick bass technique popularized by Tony Levin.
2. The left hand can tap on strings 1-6 near the nut, with the right hand adding notes in at higher frets in the same string group, or double-stops on strings 9 and 10 or chords on strings 8-10. Players who have been tapping on a bass will immediately be able to translate their music to the Dual Bass Reciprocal tuned Stick.
3. Play like a conventional bass, fretting strings 1-6 near the nut and plucking with the right hand. Lots of different timbres depending on where you articulate the string, even plucking way up around the 7th fret. You may not be able to really lay into the strings without getting a bit of buzzing from the low action, but I've been plucking solos on the Stick's bass strings for years. It just takes a bit of practice. I'm sure it will be easier for seasoned bassist than it was for me. You can dig in more by plucking near the bridge, despite The Stick's very low tapping action, and here the tone is very funky. I'm not a "bass player" so co-ordinating my hands to play one note took a little getting used to. Please forgive my bad bass technique in this...
4. Incredibly fast and lyrical soloing capability with the right hand on strings 1-6 from about the 5th fret on up. Slightly lighter strings than you might normally use for a given gauge gives a warm, clear tone that's not thuddy like it would be when tapping on a conventional bass. This is the magic of Emmett's three-fingered melody technique applied to a lower pitched set of strings. The left hand can simultaneously play bass lines, accompaniment chords, or pedal tones and drones. The result is a powerful percussive and driving instrument.
Because there's lots of overlap between the string sets, the possibilities
for two-handed interactive tapping are truly endless. This overlap allows
for more timbral consistency within a close pitch range than 5ths alone,
lots of doubling of notes, stereo unison lines and octaves. I could go on
and on, but I'm sure you'll be able to discover more in a few minutes of
playing than I can put into words here.
I think bass players who are expecting to work in a group setting with
guitarists and keyboardists will particularly like this tuning, as it
provides so many ways to occupy the low end. Tapping bassists who want more
possibilities than their current instrument has to offer will enjoy the
freedom of having so many strings and timbrally varried locations to play
each note. It's all about expanding possibilities for the Stick-playing
Thanks to Emmett and Bob Schrum for their feedback on this tuning concept, and to all the Stick players who've written to say they support the idea.
The sound samples were recorded on a rosewood 10-string with a hybrid Stickup bass/EMG melody pickup, medium gauge DBR string set. Every effort was made to balance the two sides tonally to create a sense of unity between the two sets of strings. Please feel free to send me your feedback about this article and sound samples. email Greg
This video shows how to convert your instrument from Classic to DBR