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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Dr. John Explains Things To Us Mere Mortals

Dr. John responds to my bitching about how bad bands sound in concert by talking down to me with his five dollar words and store bought shoes:

Live concerts DO sound worse than they did in the past. There are a couple of reasons I know:

1 - the guys working the sound board are listening with headphones and staring at real time computer sound graphs. They should take off the damn headphones and hear what the audience is hearing. And stop staring at the computers - the human ear is a way better assessment of pleasing sound than any computer printout.

2 - the concerts are WAY too loud. I come from the ear of LOUD concerts. But the sound was always limited by feedback. Now they have computerized "feedback destroyers" that immediately sense feedback and clip the frequency at which it is occurring, so the concerts can be much louder. If you don't wear earplugs (Hearos high fidelity are the best - $20) your ears quickly lose the ability to hear properly and that ruins the concert for you.

3. Subwoofers and the invention of the five string bass. A four string bass, the lowest note is an E at 40 Hz. A five string the lowest note is a B at 34 Hz. and some bands detune (tune their instruments lower to where the open B string is in the infrasound range - below the level of human hearing ) - but you can feel it. This produces what I call the "ghetto car boom box effect" - where you hear each bass note as a thud, not a musical sound. This combined with too many overpowered subwoofers turns the music into sludge.


Blogger Robert G. said...

Not sure I buy it. Hard to say.

The one thing that's a constant is the shitty venues. How good is anything going to sound in a hockey stadium, converted boxing hall, converted restaurant, or a dive bar? Music is usually second banana to selling Coors Lite in most cases. This problem isn't unique to rocque; symphonic halls are generally still designed to accomodate late 19th century music and orchestras.

With all due respect to Dr., how many bands use 5-string bass?

7:09 PM

Anonymous Ishabaka said...

I'd say over half the new bands use five string basses. It's the "in thing" since the mid-90's.
Punk bands rarely use them because Dee Dee Ramone and Sid Vicious played four strings (Dee Dee started out with a Fender Mustang and switched to a Fender Precision, Sid played a Precision). Even country music which is about as old-fashioned and traditional as punk is transitioning to 5-stings. And just about all the nu metal bands use them. I've been playing bass since 1977 and had to buy a five string in 2002 because bands want it now. More worthless info you didn't need.
You are right about the crappy venues. But the thing is now live music is sounding WORSE at the same crappy venues.
The only technology that has made live music any better is the auto-tuner. Antares makes the best one. This allows the singer to sing off-key and the machine automatically corrects the pitch. If she didn't have one of these Brittany Spears would be working at McDonalds. Whether making talentless people sound good is a good thing I'll leave up to you - the market says "Yes".

6:06 AM

Blogger Robert G. said...

Ish, I didn't realize the 5-string was so prevalent in certain genres. The only alterna-basses I've seen in recent years are Trey Gunn's (ex of King Crimson) Warr touch guitars, which are a different kettle of fish altogether and create their own live-mix problems.

10:13 AM

Blogger Emerson said...


Don't mess with Ish. I've known him for years and if there's something he doesn't know in splendoofidous detail it doesn't exist.

11:08 AM

Anonymous Ishabaka said...

Yeah, I saw Blues Traveller and they had a guy playing a six-string. He was really good too.
I don't know if the five string is a craze or if it will last. It's humbling to know that Victor Wooten, who can eat anyone who has ever played the bass' lunch plays a simple four string - Fender Jazz.
In terms of other really talented bass players - not in terms of whose music I like but who is head and shoulder above the rest Flea plays a Modulus four string, Les Claypool plays everthing from a six string to a one string electrified washtub bass called "The Whammo" and Matt Freeman ex of Rancid, the only punk bass player who gets real respect from the bass playing community plays a four string Fender Precision or Jazz.
To get REALLY TECHNICAL AND SHOW MY SUPER POWERS - In my opinion the only advantage of a five is you have a low D. If your singer sings in D a four string has it's pedal note on the third string, which is near guitar range and sounds lame. So you have to tune to drop D. And a partridge in a pear tree. Don't believe anything Emerson says about me. He confuses me with some character from The Family Guy.

3:04 PM

Blogger Robert G. said...

Ish, now that I'm paying attention, I do see 5ers abounding. I notice in a fairly recent interview that Percy Jones is playing an Ibanez 5-string fretless now.

I guess there's no market for second-hand Taurus bass pedals, eh?

6:11 AM


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