Short Scale Joy

Day 213 Week 31 Q3 Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Can I tell you about the latest instrumental breakthrough I am making right now? Does this have anything to do with innovation? Or anything to do with musicianship? Or anything to do with what others might need to know or care about? 

I have found over time that when I am either excited or concerned about something, I am not alone; others do too. How many others? It is hard to tell if you do not share. So here we go.

Taking things from the very top – sound has a tremendous impact upon many if not most, living creatures, humans included. Growing up in the sixties in New York City, I found my generation, the baby boomers, seemed to be transitioning in many ways, including replacing religion with music. Concerts were our church and temple, musicians were our philosophers, and albums turned out to be our wisdom literature. They had liner notes and cover art, which lasted a long time and annoyed the previous generation allowing us, in retrospect, to create our own generational identity. 

One part of this was the emergence of a previously incognito instrument. The bass guitar had been invented in the previous decade by Leo Fender, father of the Ubiquitous Fender Bass. Our generation discovered and danced to the beat of the electric bass guitar. With their longer wavelengths, the deeper notes cut through everything, everywhere and still do. Sure, there were taiko drums, marching band tubas, and string basses in the orchestra before this, but none had the pizzazz and charisma of the electric bass and the electric bass players. 

Also, interestingly, it turned out the bass was present in every kind of music, with classical and country bookending rock, jazz and everything else. Not all ensembles had violins, guitars, brass, woodwinds, pianos or even vocalists, but almost every band, large and small, had a bass player. When the singer-songwriters who played the guitar needed reinforcement, the next instrument was always a bass. The piano-bass duo was born when a solo jazz pianist needed accompaniment to drive the rhythm.

Okay, so what is this short-scale joy about?  Basically, the standard electric bass has 34-inch scale strings, and for the same reason, longer grand pianos have more bass than shorter ones. I am not going to go into physics here, but don’t tempt me because it is fun.  Suffice it to say that the real accompanying vocal accompaniment can be the short-scale bass and the human voice. 

This is the combination that Sir Paul McCartney, Sting, Jack Bruce and other singer-songwriter bandleader composers extremely powerfully employed even though they all played and composed on other instruments. And deliciously, they did it in an incognito manner. Everyone noticed their ensemble’s leading voices and the lead guitarists, but no one noticed they actually ran the entire band from their short-scale basses, and now owning one, I understand how and why.

Short Scale Joy