INTRODUCING: Survival Of The Lowest

Hello friends. Today, we begin the first of a series for metal bass players. This series won’t be talking about playing with a pick vs. fingerstyle – that’s a whole different beast there. Instead, I’d like to talk about a certain scenario that is more common than it used to be – Low tuning and extended range guitars.

If you have listened to my music¬†recently, you may know that I have picked up an 8-string guitar within the last year or two. As it is, this brings up one problem – the pitch of that low open string is found on fret two on the bass’ E string. So what do you do? Well, you could tune down to compensate and keep that “octave apart” relationship, but there’s a problem or two there. For one thing, your new low F-sharp is not only lower than any note on a piano, but you’re also near the very bottom of an average human’s hearing frequency range. And that’s not even talking about your strings feeling like rubber bands unless you set your bass up right and/or use a bass with a longer-than-normal neck. Well, crap. Now what?!

In my listening, I found three possible solutions. Meshuggah’s bass player actually tunes up so he’s playing in the same positions – his playing style and either amp or effect settings cement his place in the mix. The bassist from Ever Forthright plays a 6-string tuned down a fourth, giving him that octave relationship while still having a good range for the band’s many clean sections. Finally, the excellent bass player from Intronaut works around the super-low tuning (F# F# B E G# C#) by simply using a fretless 5-string bass in standard tuning. All of these work fine, but I have my own solution.

So how do I deal with my 8-string riffs when I’m playing bass? Well, it’s a fairly simple process. I alter them to fit my instrument, playing down the octave when I can and playing in the same octave whenever the 8th string gets involved. In the coming weeks, I’ll provide plenty of examples, complete with tabs and maybe even some video. I’ll see you next week with the first example, from my tune “Gristle McThornbody”. Until then: keep playing and You Shall Be Heard.


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