The idea of playing ABG has been smouldering in my subconscious for many years now, probably first sparked by hearing Jonas Helborg’s album ‘The Silent Life’, but that’s another story. This story is about how I finally got off my bony behind and did something about it.
I had tried many ABGs in bass shops over the years and always been left disappointed. This was for a number of reasons. The first was volume. I had a half-baked idea that somehow, miraculously, clever luthiers had found a loophole in the laws of physics that would enable an ABG to be as loud as a double bass. I see now this was foolish. Jonas didn’t call that first album ‘Silent’ for nothing. Strong bass involves shifting a lot of air, and most ABGs just don’t. More on this in a later article.
The second reason was the instruments themselves. Across the whole price range I struggled to find a bass that spoke to me. At entry level a lot of ABGs feel very much like a cheap 6 string on steroids, the only difference being that you get to pay twice as much for the same level of grimness. Clearly economies of scale are at work here – the demand for ABGs is far lower so the price is higher – but no wonder many players dismiss ABGs when their first experience of them is these indifferent clunkers. (Please note this article isn’t intended as a dis against cheap instruments. We all start somewhere and I still have fond memories of my first bass – 3/4 scale, no truss rod with weird pickups that acted like microphones…)
The mid-range instruments looked a little more promising. Reasonable feel, good construction and the beginnings of decent bass tone, but even so, it all felt a bit rough and clanky. I could see why many bassies buy these simply to improve their hand strength and twang on while watching the telly.
At the higher end the situation improved considerably. The basses there were beginning to sing. First-class craftsmanship meant basses that felt good in your hands, had strong unamplified bass production and an all round good tone. Surely, I thought, there would be something here to suit me. But after months of rooting through all the music shops in London, I emerged empty handed. Good as these instruments were, nothing was really calling out to me, and when you’re paying out this much money, it’s got to be love.
I heaved a wistful sigh, put my terrified credit card back into the safety of its wallet, and gave up on the whole thing.