Ever wondered about ubass? Experienced musician and performer, Cath McCourt, summarises the ubass experience.
“Playing ubass is the most satisfying instrument. You’re the rhythm, the beat, tone, soul and sweet melody, especially when you’re in a room full of ukuleles, the bass mellows them out.”
Ubass? What’s that?
The ukulele bass is the largest instrument in the ukulele family, and similar in size to a standard baritone ukulele. It’s tuned the same as a bass guitar, double bass, or the four lowest-pitched strings on a guitar. The ubass has the scale length of a standard baritone ukulele, but it’s scale length is shorter than the typical electric bass guitar.
One appeal of the bass ukulele is its ability to produce a big sound despite being much smaller than a bass guitar. Although at about 75-80 centimetres in length, it is still pretty big compared to most ukuleles.
The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Bass Ukuleles gives a good description of types of ubass, and some ubass features. (strings, octave range, pickups and frets).
The Bass for You
The ubass body type affects its appearance and sound. Bass ukuleles look like a giant ukulele, or a baby bass guitar. The sound of a hollow body bass ukes resembles the upright bass, while a solid body bass uke sounds more like an electric bass guitar. Remember to choose the body type that best suits your style of music.
The Kala Ubass is around $600 and has the sound of a double bass from the thick rubber strings. Kala also make electric ubasses with metal wound strings that sound more like an electric bass for around $800. The Mahalo Ubass is better value, just over $325, and they are a great little acoustic instrument. Check out ubass options at Morris Brothers Music Store at Stafford.
Now to put all that into practice you can learn a lot from Youtube and online face-to-face lessons. When watching YouTube videos about uBass, it helps if you use good quality headphones.
The advantage of pre-recorded online lessons you find online is that you can revise lessons whenever you want and how often you need.
Former instrumental music teacher, Rod Iffinger advises,
“If you are a beginner I recommend buying an introductory bass guitar method book, e.g. the Hal Leonard method with the CD/DVD. THE TUNING AND NOTES ARE THE SAME AS A BASS GUITAR. You can also record yourself playing uke on your smartphone or tablet and then work on your bass skills by playing along with yourself. You can experiment with different bass lines in the comfort of your own practice space.
Start off just playing the tonic of the chords in the song, once you are comfortable with that, start including other notes of the chord e.g. tonic and dominant (1st and 5th notes of the chord) and then experiment with passing notes and developing your own riffs. As you develop seek opportunities to play bass with ensembles that you belong to. The bass is an important part of the group. It drives the group rhythmically as well as providing a harmonic foundation for the strummers and singers.”
However, for the offline experience, hopefully later this year, BUMS will conduct more bass sessions to round out your bass experience. Meanwhile, you can certainly plug in your ubass and play along at BUMS Online hosted in Facebook.
Once jams resume, you might like to buddy up with one of our more experienced ubass players.
Visit our BUMS Inc ‘Playing Ubass‘ web page to find out more.
Brisbane (& surrounds) Based Players
“When I started my recording studio, MARS Productions, (Mick Angeles Recording Studios) formerly MicaMusic Productions Studios, I had my brother playing bass on recordings. He decided he didn’t want to do it anymore, so I bought a 5 string bass and started playing bass myself. Being a lead guitarist, I tended to overplay bass lines in the beginning. So I cut back but maintained the diversity. I taught myself ukulele attending BUMS jams, and loved the solid deep double bass sound quality of the ubass when it’s set up properly. I bought a ubass (three now), and use them regularly in my studio.”
(Mick played ubass at BUMS Northside and Coorparoo jams, at clubs in Hervey Bay, Townsville and Bundaberg and at SPRUKE, Sunshine Coast Ukulele Festival and Bony Mountain Music Festival. He alternates between ukulele and ubass when he performs with his band DUKE UKEM and when he fills in at gigs with Hypnotonics, Kine Kool, Ol’ 55 member Keith Pavy and numerous other musicians. Check out Mick’s COVID Lockdown Show on Facebook, and play along.)
“Trained as a classical pianist, I’ve always had a bass clef in my musical life. When inspired to play a string bass, the physical size of an upright bass was a blocker. I investigated some novel bass instruments like the Kona Walking Bass (no longer available). But then I heard Joe Souza demonstrate his newly-designed Islander by Kanile’a PAKO at NAMM 2013. The ability to deliver so close to the sound of an upright bass sold it to me. So I acquired PAKO off the wall at the Kanile’a shop in 2014. She’s FRETLESS.
Whenever PAKO appears, the initial mirth of bass players changes to outstretched hands within a few notes, and I often have difficulty re-establishing ownership. Like ukulele, ubass can be simple, or complex at virtuoso level. I’m always willing to play at jams, but there is now a long queue of keen bass players for BUMS jams, and then there are other ukulele to play as well!”
(Jim played bass for fortnightly sessions at Sheltered by Grace Homeless Shelter with Vic Kena, at the Scratch Bar and Coorparoo Jams, and filled in a time or two with Stephen Sandilands. He also performs with Kine Kool.)
“Bari-uke was my first instrument (in 2009 – I was a very late starter), and soon after that guitar. But I’d always been interested in what was developing overseas with low-end uke, so when the u-bass came to Australia, I got one, and loved it straight-away. I quickly inveigled my way into The Performing BUMS (under Pres Bruce Uhlhorn); our band had the only u-bass at both the inaugural Melbourne Ukulele Festival and the inaugural Cairns Ukulele Festival! Others took notice, and now most groups (wisely) have one. I’m now mostly a guitarist and tenor-ukulelist, but am developing a more melodic way of playing bass; the small body-size of my beloved “Choogle” enables a variation on fingerstyle to work well.”
(Ross was the inaugural ubassist in The Performing BUMS. He now occasionally plays ubass in his duo Daylight Moon with Helena Bond, who also plays it sometimes. Ross is currently writing/arranging some songs for voice and solo u-bass and leg-bells.)
“I first heard uBass played in 2015 at Coorparoo and Toowong jams (remember those??). Intrigued by the lovely deep sound, I noticed that when I listened to groups playing, it was the bass part that I heard. After learning the fretboard position of a few notes, I played very simply at first — mainly just the root notes and a few passing notes. I began taking my ubass to weekly jams of the Logan group HUGs, but stopped after a few months. When Ian Phillips asked me to stand-in as bass player for The CAGE in 2018, I played and practised more regularly and began to extended myself.
I learnt to read tabs because I have no knowledge of musical theory and can’t read music either. Watching YouTube instructional videos or bass covers of songs was a great help. I’ve since played the bass for The CAGE at jams and a couple of festivals, and I was very pleased when The Ukey Beats invited me to be their bass player. Practising for The CAGE and The Ukey Beats fills many, many happy hours of my week. I absolutely love it and can’t wait to get back out there, playing in those groups!”
“After starting in BUMS on a tenor uke over 5 years ago, I undertook Cath McCourt’s Bass Classes as I was interested in learning to play bass. She is a fantastic musician who inspired me to be the founding member of the Spare Parts ukulele band in which I could play bass. Spare Parts has performed at numerous BUMS Northside and Coorparoo jams and at SPRUKE 2019. I love playing bass and always strive to pick up new patterns to improve my bass playing. I encourage anybody interested to take up bass playing.”
(Len plays ubass for Spare Parts, and attends Northside and Coorparoo jams.
“Having played double bass since my teens in small jazz combos and symphony orchestras as well as piano and organ, I have always loved the important function of the bass in music and enjoy playing the bass in ensembles. I was drawn to the ubass 10 years ago when we formed our Dukes of Uke Club. I love the woody timbre and being a theory nerd, I enjoy teaching bass lines, techniques and style to our uke classes at Binary Music in our Studio and on Zoom every week.”
“Playing bass is fun, challenging and versatile with lots of opportunities to play different styles of music. Oh, and it can be highly addictive! My first foray into bass playing came many years ago at uni. I studied brass (trumpet and horn) but I was also required to learn a string instrument. So I spent a year grappling with string bass in group lessons.
Some years later I bought a bass guitar. Once again it was a struggle playing a full-sized bass with a 34-inch scale as arthritis affects my finger mobility. Then I discovered the ukulele and fell in love with it. And when I saw a bass ukulele for the first time I knew that I was onto a winner. I bought a solid mahogany ubass, and started learning how to play it. Not long after that I bought a second one, this time a solid body which looks like a scaled down bass guitar. One of the most useful things I did was to attend Cath McCourt’s two-day workshop.”
(Rod Iffinger plays bass with The CAGE, A Hint of Rosemary, other groups and with his music students.)
“Being a musician most of my life, I realised that playing guitar had two parts — the high strings are the lead/melody, and the lower strings are the bass. You might say I was an accidental bass player, when our bassist didn’t turn up one night and so I put the knowledge I had learnt into that performance on bass. I found it was meant to be!”
(BUMS Life Member, Cath McCourt played ubass at performances and uke festivals with The BUMS Big Band, The Bottom Line, Anything Goes, Mama Juju and the Jam Tarts, Hypnotonics and most recently as a member of The Inconvenience Store, with Terry Sasaki & Tony Richardson. Cath plays ubass at several BUMS jams, and prior to COVID cancellations, led the WE BUMS jam at West End. As one of our most talented and experienced bass players, Cath often runs bass workshops for BUMS.)
“Initially an enthusiastic soprano and tenor uke player, pain in my hands began to make playing a little difficult. I gave the ubass a try, and was instantly hooked. YouTube helped. I even took some lessons from a young man who was a little confused about this tiny bass instrument. Most of my bass learning took place when I played with NUMB BUMS and Duke Ukem. Mick Angeles would show me a riff. I would video it, then practise until I had it. Eventually, you reach a point where you have a basic understanding of the ‘shape’ of most songs and can adapt to play along.”
(Marg played with NUMB BUMS and Duke Ukem, and at open mics with The Ukey Beats at the Sunshine Coast Ukulele Festival at Kenilworth. She’s also been an occasional set leader at Wavell Heights, Coorparoo and most recently on Facebook for BUMS Online Jams.)
Paul Morris from Morris Brothers Music Store is an experienced musician who has played bass guitar in bands. Paul noticed that ukulele beginners struggled to keep up with the pace and complexity of songs at some BUMS Inc jams. So he decided to launch a beginners jam at Ferny Grove. He took up ubass to accompany Linda Gough leading sets at the jams. Ferny Grove has moved beyond being a beginners jam, but keeps the goal of catering well for beginners alive through the hour-long pre-jam beginners group run by Donna Farrell.
(Paul attends Northside and Coorparoo jams, and plays ubass for set leaders at Ferny Grove jams.)
“Well having never played any musical instrument in my life, I thought I had better join in and keep Sue company playing a uke. But the uke really wasn’t for me. Then Will Whitaker showed me the ubass, and I persevered to become a fairly basic bass player. I’ve improved a bit over the past couple of years, and I guess I’ve done a few things right, as I was the initial bass player for The CAGE, A Hint of Rosemary, the Toowong Jam, and now our Westside Jam at Rosemount. Of course, Sue picks up my occasional!!! wrong notes.”
(Peter enjoys coming to Coorparoo Jams, and plays ubass at the Westside Jam.)
“I wanted to expand my ukulele experience, and to this end I was given a bass ukulele for my 70th birthday. I enjoy the deep sound of the bass and the challenge of working out and researching the various patterns, riffs and runs for new songs.”