Much has been made of the thumb rest on the Alien. It’s an interesting feature, seen on instruments ranging from vintage Fenders to Godins, but never universally adopted as essential. The most obvious reason for this is that most electric basses already have a rest, in the form of the pickup(s). From here you can maintain eveness of tone as you spider across the strings, grind away on that low B/E with authority, and anchor your hand position as you prowl the stage/throw those crazy rock’n’roll shapes. But what happens when you want to play away from this position? Sometimes the sweet spot isn’t bang over the pickups, or you want to introduce some variety of tone into your playing. You’ve just entered the hand position twilight zone.
Understandably many players never go there. Why suffer the anxiety and indignity of your hand flopping effeminately about the lower strings like a regency dandy, when you can just weld your thumb to the pick up and give it some? This is where the thumb rest comes into its own, and with the right height and spacing from the strings, it can free your fingers to leap about the strings like a young mountain goat.
I’ve yearned for a thumb rest on many of my previous basses for precisely these reasons. So when I finally got my Alien I was particularly looking forward to this aspect of it. In reality however, it has turned out to be a mixed blessing. On the plus side it works beautifully in giving you a strong anchor point to play a wide range of positions, especially important with an ABG where there’s no knob for the volume or pan pot for the tone control, it’s all coming from your fingers. The downside is a problem that keeps rearing its head in different forms – the sheer acoustic liveliness of this bass. If you play rest stroke on an electric, the finger thuds to an inaudible stop against the thumb rest. When you play the same on an ABG the whack of your finger into the rest is clearly audible, like an additional percussion track tapping away on top. This can be a cool effect to incorporate into your playing but it’s not suitable for everything, and leaves you back where you started. You’re changing technique to play the lowest string.
Having played the Alien for a couple of months now I’m tending to feel that an ABG doesn’t really need a thumb rest. In the seated position your arm has to come over the depth of the body and, unlike an electric, this gives plenty of support and enough strength to anchor your hand without needing a rest. An important fringe benefit of this seated position is that now my practice position and my performance position are exactly the same. (With the electric, unless I go all 80’s and wear my bass like a medallion my performance position is markedly different). I guess if I needed to stand up then it would begin to earn its keep, but the Alien doesn’t come with an upper strap button so there’s no chance of that happening anytime soon. Besides, after years of twitching about on stage I’m kind of getting into this whole sitting down lark. It’s a good feeling bringing all of your attention onto the music instead of posturing. Give my thumb a rest? Maybe I’ll just park my mojo for a while instead.