One of the greatest instruments of all time is the double bass. You've probably heard it called an "upright bass" too, but there's just something about that wooden body that moves the soul. Whether it's slapped, plucked or played with a bow, this giant instrument always seems to please the ear. The genres of music associated with the double bass started with classical, when it was solely played with a bow. Eventually, musicians decided to start plucking the notes and wailing uncontrollably to the sweet sounds of bluegrass and jazz. These day's you can hear its unmistakable sound in hip-hop, folk and genres the have yet to be invented.
When paired with an acoustic guitar, the double bass really starts to sound its best. This instrument is obviously played in an upright position, so the musician needs to be either standing or sitting. The seated position is common for classical music, whereas the standing stance seems to work well for rockabilly and any other music that requires the body to groove along.
The double bass is a member of the string family of instruments from Europe in the 15th century. Back then, most double basses had only three strings, instead of five or six. Even back then, people loved the deep, resounding tones emanating from this instrument. The body of the double bass is much larger than its cousin, the violin. The double bass is taller which may explain all the tall double bassists! Modern versions of this instrument featured a sloped shoulder which helped the classical musicians of the time. Today, one of the true masters of the double bass is Edgar Meyer. His explorations of this instrument are nothing short of amazing and you can find him playing with smaller groups including Yo Yo Ma. Another collaboration is with Bela Fleck and these push the boundaries of the double bass as well as banjo.
In the 80's the double bass made a comeback, with appearances in the band "Stray Cats" who embraced the rockabilly style of music. Later in the decade, the double bass started to pop up in new styles of music, like Eric B and Rakim's "Don't Sweat the Technique". This was one of the first uses of the double bass in hip-hop. Although it carried jazz roots, this song propelled the instrument back into the public eye, and ear! It's important to note that one should never sweat the technique when playing bass, but rather let the music flow. If your hand starts cramping up, then be sure and stretch often, so your bass lines are smooth as can be.
The master of jazz double bass was none other than Charles Mingus. Mingus was a student of Duke Ellington and rose to popularity along with John Coltrane and Miles Davis. A great album for any double bass listening collection should be “Ah Um” which is a perfect example of this era of jazz music.
When played live, the double bass is often equipped with a direct input or “DI” so the bassist can plug directly in with a normal cable. In the studio, the bass is almost always miked with a large diaphragm condenser microphone, which captures the subtle wooden tone alongside the thick strings.
Written by Ben Long
Ben Long is a composer, sound designer and lover of all guitars, new and used. His music and sounds can heard in countless video games and across every major TV network. When he's not making music, you can find Ben tinkering with technology. Find him on Google+ and say howdy!