brni (brni) wrote,

zen and the art of sliding

I mentioned this on facebook, but not here. I've been sort of a social media hermit of late. I must apologize for that, but, well, have been spending a lot of CPU cycles thinking about the various and sundry projects I'm juggling - a steampunk story, getting the book into actual print, working on the novel and working on the comic.

Have I mentioned the comic? I have 24 pages scripted, Linda is getting a handle on comic-book art, doing character sketches and such, and I'm hoping that sometime in the not too distant future we'll have a weekly webcomic for y'all.

I sort of love my characters. Even the ones who are fucking bastards. And the ones who I didn't realize were fucking bastards until they started talking.


I'm not here to talk about writing. Or social media. Or why one trumps the other.

I'm here to talk about a slide.

Back in the early 90s this song came on the radio. Fucking blew me away. 2-string slide bass, baritone sax, and drums. Mark Sandman, the bassist/vocalist for Morphine, died tragically a few years later. In the early 00s, I stumbled upon a band called Twinemen - the sax and drums from Morphine, plus bass, guitar and vocals. They opened for Was, Not Was. I went searching for them, and came across A.K.A.C.O.D - which again had Dana Colley on sax, and a wonderful bassist/singer named Monique Ortiz. Looked her up, discovered her (now former) band, Bourbon Princess, and eventually got to see her live in May as she drifted from Boston to Austin.

And got to see a 2-string slide bass in action for the first time.

So I talked to Ms. Ortiz and got a sort of basic understanding of what I need. "Get a cheap japanese bass," she said. "That way if you drop it, it doesn't cost you much. Also, you don't want great tone out of it. You want it to sound raunchy. Don't pay more than $200 for the bass."

Last week I decided to do this thing. So I went to George's Music, but none of their basses felt right. And really I was going on feel, more than anything else. So, off to Sam Ash. I tried every bass they had under $350, and ended up with a Kramer bass. It was the cheapest bass they had. $129, and it sounded better and fuller than basses three times the price. I got the bass, and some spare strings, and a slide, and some picks.

The next day I carved some notches in a bit of dowel and set the bass up with a jury-rigged very-deep nut. Restrung it using the A string (in it's normal position and tuning) and the D string tuned up to a high A. Somewhere between A flat and A the string broke (not the dramatic break of guitar strings a-twangin', but a sort of bizarre unwinding, when it comes to bass strings), so I used the G string, tuned up to the octave. And then I played.

Linda says it didn't sound like crap.

I've played around with some Bourbon Princess tunes, and some Morphine tunes, and Led Zeppelin's In My Time Of Dying. Lots of fun. :)


The slide I'd bought was too small for my finger, so next time I was in the area of Sam Ash, I went in to return it.

A surreal experience, that.

There was a guy ahead of me at the guitar department. A country/western kinda guy. Older gentleman, name of Craig, with the wide-lapeled shirt with the embroidery, the cowboy boots, the hat. He'd brought in a couple of amazingly sweet guitars from the 50s. One was a small solid-body guitar (neck and body out of one piece of wood). The other was a classical/acoustic guitar that had some elements of mandolin to it. Rachel, who had the counter for this, had to call Sam himself to get him to figure out what to offer the guy. In the meantime, Craig wanted to check out one of the very nice guitars behind the counter.

Rachel pulled it off the wall and handed it over the counter to him. He reached out for it, and then thought better. "No, you can't trust me with this. Give it to this man here." He points at me. "You don't mind, do you? I had a stroke, and the left arm don't work so good anymore."

Turns out he was selling the guitars that he could no longer physically play. The action on them was too hard, and his fingers too weak. He needed a guitar that could be played with almost no finger pressure. His doctor had suggested that playing would help him relearn how to use his hand, but he needed a guitar where he could actually push the string to the fretboard. This was the guitar for him. This was the one that called to him.

He found a seat next to one of the keyboards and I lay the guitar on his lap, holding it in place until he could get his left hand to claw its way around the neck of the instrument. He tested it out a little, then asked me to try it. So I plucked out a few bass lines on it.

"I'm not really a good judge," I said. "I'm a bass player, so anything like this is going to feel like I barely have to touch it to get the strings to fretboard."

"Oh yeah? What kind of stuff do you play?"

So I told him: punk, jazz, everything in between that isn't disco. And I told him about the 2 string slide bass. We talked about that for a bit.

"But, let me get this straight. There's only two strings? Why's that?"

"Well, you know how a slide works, goes across all the strings. And that works for guitar, but the frequencies on the bass are so low that if you have too many strings when you try to do this, it all turns to mud."

"Hm." He was quiet and thoughtful for a while. Then: "You know, there's a life lesson in there, if you want it. Too many strings and it all turns to mud. Same thing with women, you know."

I laughed. "Yup, that I know."

"Good for you," he said. "Took me 'til I was sixty-five to figure that out."
  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.