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 My personal philosophy on having a bass tremolo

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EricHaven
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PostSubject: My personal philosophy on having a bass tremolo   Sun Mar 22, 2009 2:11 pm

Over the past several years, I have gotten a whole host of questions as to why one would want to have such a thing as a tremolo bar on a bass. "Why have one?" "Aren't those only for guitarists?" "Isn't that just playing lead guitar on bass?" Well, I can only elaborate upon my own personal experience as a bassist.

I first picked up the guitar back around 1980 at the age of 14. I started with an acoustic, and a love for rock and roll. I soon began dabbling in electric playing. My big guitar hero at the time was Eddie Van Halen, and I did what every other guitar player did in learning to do hammer-ons and pick fast. Curiously enough, I did not ever use a tremolo on those days, even though I loved tremolo technique, and still do just as much to this day. To hear a guitar note drop deep into the mud and grind, to take notes and violently wiggle them around, to be able to drop a string and come up with a screaming harmonic, all of it was pure bliss. But from my own personal perspective, the guitar just seemed "ok", but it really didn't seem to have it all for me. Something was missing. So when my cousin and a close friend simultaneously suggested I try a bass, I went "Great! What's that?"

I was 16 years old. It was July of 1982 the first time I plugged in a bass, and felt the walls and windows rattle around me. It overtook my senses. I was hooked. The power, the size, the weight, the heavy strings, well, it all just felt right. Of course, I had a LOT to learn about groove and timing fundamentals, but since I had no formal training, there weren't any limits on my development. I just did what felt right. But all of my guitarist friends were saying things like "Why would you want to be a bass player? Guitar is so much cooler!" And it was my good friend Tom (a guitarist, of course) who told me "Eric, I also think you're crazy for wanting to be a bass player. But if that's what you want to do, then do yourself a favor. Do something different, man."

I didn't have a clue what that meant. But I did reckon some things. In as much as I loved the power of the bass, I also knew that I wasn't entirely ready to let go what I had learned on guitar. So I asked myself "What if you could somehow combine the rhythm anchoring of the bass with all of the sonics of the guitar?" And since my biggest influence was Eddie Van Halen, I took what I learned on guitar and applied it to bass. Ok, it didn't always work so well, as I still had a lot to learn about what the bass was primarily made for. But over time, I was able to incorporate the hammer-ons, the harmonics, and eventually distortion. So yes, to answer your question, I did become a "lead guitarist on bass" for a time. But I was very lucky to be surrounded by a lot of really great players who quickly educated me on bass fundamentals. Some were really supportive of my "different" approach, but many were not. Still, I knew I was on to something. But I still needed one more thing. The one thing that I thought did not exist, but I still dared to dream of it.

A bass tremolo.

And lo and behold, in a music store in Santa Cruz during the spring of 1984, I stumbled upon a price list for Dean basses that included as an option a Kahler Bass Tremolo. "What?!?" They do make them?!? YOU"RE KIDDING!!!" I must have looked like a real moron hopping around the music store freaking out.

But it was literally a dream come true. It was July of 1984 that my very first Kahler was installed on my bass, and now, nearly three decades later, I have never looked back. It has become my very own personal expression as a player, and the one element that I absolutely will NOT be without onstage.

It is important to note that I have learned an awful lot in the past 24+ years as a bassist. Timing and grooving, locking with a drummer, keeping the band tight, etc. You will not find a bass player more obsessed and pre-occupied with good timing. Not to say that I always keep it perfect, but I do know why I am in the band. These things are the very foundations of what we as bass players must accomplish in order to keep it together. That being said, the bass has often gotten overly simplified. The fact is that we have a voice as relevant as anyone else in the band. There is room for creativity. It is NOT about playing the root note all night, nor is it about being stuck back behind the guitarist and singer. We are just as important as any member in the band, and we also have the right to add color to the landscape. Not overstep, and not solo all night, either. All things in moderation (although I will confess that it is easier for me to say it than to do it. I am still learning, you know?).

Sometimes I will hear someone say something like "You can't do that on a bass."

Really now? Betcha wouldn't say that to Geddy Lee. Or Billy Sheehan. Or Jaco.

"Oh but those guys are different."

Ah yes. And how did they become different? By not conforming to what was expected of them, but by pushing the boundaries. And by not listening to naysayers who have their own agenda about what music should be.

And I have a news flash. They don't own exclusive rights to do so.

So my approach has been, and always will be, to get as much out of my bass as I possibly can. And my tremolo is a vital piece of that equation. It is a love affair that has no possible end. It is in my music DNA to have a tremolo, and it always will be. My style is not for everyone, and that's that way it should be. Not everyone likes chocolate. Some prefer pistachio. Me, I believe in the cake, but I like a LOT of icing. If you enjoy it, then that's great. And if not, then that's ok too. I won't be offended. But I am also not going to change what I do to accommodate anyone, either. First and foremost, it has to work for me. Selfish? You bet it is! It's my playing!

So I encourage any player to fully explore these wondrous instruments that we throw around. Don't get stuck into what others believe you should be as a player. Be your own player. Find your voice and use it. And I mean this with all sincerity. Screw the critics. Listen to opinion, take in good advice, listen to everyone and everything, learn as much as you can, practice, co-operate with your bandmates, but be your kind of player. Because in the end, you are all that you have. I don't care how famous you become. We all come into this world alone, and we shall all leave it alone. It is up to the individual to decide what is right for themselves. And personal creativity is something that cannot and should not be chained up. There's enough of that crap in life as it is. But our music should be just that. Our music.

Now then, get off your ***, and go make some noise!
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PostSubject: Re: My personal philosophy on having a bass tremolo   Mon Mar 23, 2009 2:35 am

I keep hearing sounds in my head that I've learned can only be expressed by having a tremolo on a bass. Guitar trems don't quite do it for me. A bass sounds so much more sultry, but also so much more brutal to me. Why not make a low thing even lower? And it just seems to make sense. Since I started playing, I toyed with the "what ifs" and once I actualized it, it blew me away. Man, I love Kahlers more every day Cool
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PostSubject: Re: My personal philosophy on having a bass tremolo   Mon Mar 23, 2009 2:52 am

They've certainly been good to me over the years. They can't ever be a major part of fulfilling the role of a bass player, but they most definitely can be a major artistic augmentation. And in having one, I find that I challenge myself to find new ways of using it within the context of songs, and not just as a soloing tool.
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PostSubject: Re: My personal philosophy on having a bass tremolo   Mon Mar 23, 2009 11:30 am

Yeah I know...that's the best part, in my opinion. It keeps you on the edge of your seat, you know?
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