The overwhelming upright bass of choice for Rockabilly bass players
by far is a good, plywood bass. We offer the new
Thompson plywood bass. While our set ups have always been geared
towards low action (our G strings hover around 4-5mm!) with the use
of our Delrin bridge adjusters, upright Rockabilly bass players can
easily raise their action as high as they want in order to make
slapping the bass easier. We think as players, the more
accessible and versatile you can make your upright bass, the more
you will play it in more diverse situations and in the long run, the
more you will enjoy the bass.
What kinds of basses for Rockabilly? Again, usually a
simple brown plywood bass will suffice, though blonde colored
basses were and still are linked to Rockabilly bass playing.
Why? Because originally a blonde finished bass was the
cheapest way to finish a bass and therefore easier for the young
rockabilly, or newbie player to afford. Soon after, the blonde
finish became "hip" fashion as it remains today. Brown basses
tend to offer a wider range of situations that the bass will "fit"
into because of the identification of blondes with Rock or even
Bluegrass music. Want to play jazz or folk music, (I'd rather
have a brown bass!) We never see too many blonde basses in an
orchestral type setting and in general, brown tends to be a more
sellable (used) bass in the long run.
While plywood basses are mainstream Rockabilly basses, it was
mostly for economic than musical reasons. You can play the
same music on any bass whether it is fully carved, ply or hybrid.
Rockabilly players play and gig a lot and plywood basses also stand
up more to being thrown into a station wagon or trailer. Also,
for showmanship reasons only (not musical), people will stand on
their bass, twirl it and slide it across the stage floor! Our
Thompson Plywood RM-100 model basses are virtually indestructible in
that way whereas with a carved bass, your foot would go right
through the bass!
Type of strings used. Because Rockabilly styles of
playing bass involve slapping the strings against the fingerboard
and also by "popping" upwards and releasing them against the board,
the strings have to be loose and lower in tension. Doing this
with any kind of steel strings are for the most part, next to
impossible. They're too tight and will usually break quickly
(as they weren't meant for that kind of use.)
Most professional Rockabilly players will swear by their gut
strings. Upright bass gut strings are more expensive, but
surprising last a pretty long time if installed correctly and
maintained. We sell
Lenzner gut strings because they are good quality, reliably so,
last longer because of it and just play great. The E strings
are usually wound (gut core with silver round wound wiring around
it), the A is either pure gut with no winding or wound similarly to
the E, and the A and D strings are almost always pure gut. The
sound, the weight of the strings and the looseness of the strings
give an immediate quickness with the right hand and surprisingly
they are still thinner than the next choice brand used, Innovation
strings. Gut strings are probably the thinnest strings (for
slap) and the easiest
If you are new to gut strings, make sure you read or installation
suggestions before you throw them on your bass. They require a
slightly wider groove in the nut (near scroll tuners) and slightly
wider notches in the bridge than ordinary steel strings usually
require. (Always make sure that your gut strings can slide
through the nut and grooves and do not bind or are hard to travel
through. This will cause premature wear and breakage. (See
Innovation strings company is really geared towards slap style
of bass playing. Keep in mind that not only Rockabilly players
'slap', but you will see some Bluegrass players incorporating this
style (similarly) into their playing as well. Nothing will
steal a show or performance quicker than a meek, humble bass player
coming into the limelight to slap the hell out of his bass (solo)!
Innovation makes good, affordable strings. They too are
loose strings, but to many players' surprise, they can be a little
hard on the right hand. Innovation Strings are made usually
with a synthetic cord (not metal or gut) but even with the loose
tensions cause stress because of the nylon winding. All the
strings are wound (while guts can have no winding at all on them).
So if you only play on weekends, think hard about the Innovations.
If you play a lot more, your right hand fingers will have some nice
calluses to save you from too much discomfort.
Lastly, the absolute last string choice some Rockabilly players
will use are "Weedwacker" strings. I guess the thinking behind
them is at least their something that won't break and vibrates.
As players here, we just never liked them enough to bother selling
How to amplify a Rockabilly upright bass or those that do some
slapping? Part of the unique equation of the slapping
sound technique is how a fingerboard serves as the percussive part
of the groove, but on most upright bass pickups, very few will
really capture that thump and pop off the board. In fact,
that's really what makes slapping so cool and fun to hear and watch.
The rhythmic interplay of slapping against the board and the actual
notes being played. Otherwise super popular pickups like the
Fishman Full Circle or Realist won't "pick up" the exciting
K&K Sound specializes in pickups for Rockabilly players.
The combination (two pickup) system that is most popular is their
Master Rockabilly bass pickup. It has the regular piezo
style pickup for the wing part of the bass bridge that tends to
sound more like other popular pickups and the 2nd pickup used is
their special fingerboard pickup. Both pickups are blended to
a mixer/preamp module that is strapped onto the bass. With
this pickup you can capture both ends of the bass' spectrum: The
loud percussiveness from the fingerboard and the acoustical tone for
the actual notes being played on the bass.
Other Rockabilly bass links on our site:
Joe Fick, a great Rockabilly player! Also check out his playing
on our bass
Got a question about any of our rockabilly bass set ups? Give us a
call (800-600-2689) or