Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Electric Bass or Six-Bass Pans?

Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Electric Bass or Six-Bass Pans?

Article excerpt

Using electric bass in a steel band is considered a necessity by some pan teachers but to others, it is not used because it is non-traditional to a "real" steel band. This article will explore some ideas regarding bass options in your steel band.

The Almighty Bass:

As most music teachers are aware, the bass is one of the most important instruments in any ensemble. Whether it's the tuba in a concert band, the electric bass in a jazz band, or the six-bass in a steel band, music ensembles just don't sound full or balanced without the important bass notes. It gives every chord its most important note, the root. Interesting bass lines also give any song a degree of excitement while at the same time providing the crucial foundation for everyone else to play with or even solo over. Just check out "Bassline" for steel band or any Motown hit with the great James Jamerson (or Bob Babbitt) on bass! Bass drives the band, holds the tempo, and fills out the sound. Bass is king!

The question I am often asked by new pan teachers is: "Do I need to buy six-basses for my ensemble or can I get away with an electric bass?" Sometimes, budget will dictate the answer. A set of six basses runs for about $1100.00 to $1400.00 without stands. If you have to choose between buying more lead pans or a set of six-basses, you may wish to get an electric bass which costs about half the price of a set of six bass pans.

Electric Bass:

For high school student use, I would personally recommend the Fender Precision Bass (usually called a "P-Bass" in bass circles) or the Jazz Bass. The Mexican-made version sells for about $500.00, and is fine for school use. The American-made Fender basses sell for significantly more. Yamaha also makes some good basses for comparable prices. Note that this is only my personal opinion; I am only offering this here for teachers looking for specific recommendations. In addition, you will still need an amplifier ($300.00+) and a bass patch cord ($12.00). If you are traveling a lot, a hard case is a must, which sells for about $75.00. A stand for the bass guitar is nice to have for concerts as well, giving your bass added protection ($15.00).

Benefits of Electric Bass:

In addition to being somewhat cheaper than a full set of six-bass, the electric bass and amp configuration makes traveling much easier. If you don't have access to a truck for that small pan combo gig or if you must move your pan ensemble on a school bus (i.e. without a truck) the electric bass is great to have. This has happened with my pan ensemble several times and having an electric bassist in each pan ensemble has given me a lot of flexibility. For outdoor gigs, especially on windy days when the sound of the six bass is notably smaller, the electric bass can also be turned up giving the band a fuller sound.

The other benefit of electric bass is portability. Students can take it anywhere in the school to practice, or even home, unlike the six-bass. I buy used basses from people in order that the bassist for each ensemble can have one for home use. Their musicianship improves at a faster rate when they can borrow one for home practice which is not possible with the six-bass.

Remember to consider the size of the venues you are playing. At times I have played a gig where there simply was not enough room to fit a set of six-bass. A five-piece pan combo can fit into a very small area whereby the six-bass alone requires a minimum of thirty square feet (6' x 5'). …

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