Electric Upright Comfort
appeared in DownBeat magazine
Bass guitarists looking to start playing electric upright bass face
the challenge of simultaneously adapting to a fretless neck while
using new fingerings due to the scale length differences between
most bass guitars (34") and electric upright basses (42"). Although
many bassists do double on uprights and electrics, those bass guitarists
who might not wish to relearn fingerings on a fretless upright but
still yearn to play an upright are in luck with the Barker bass.
Built by Redmond, Ore.-based bassist and woodworker Lee Barker,
the handcrafted Barker bass incorporates the fretted neck of an
electric bass guitar on a flat, 2-inch-thick, upright body. Barker
developed the idea for a fretted upright after experiencing wrist
problems while playing bass guitar, and subsequently has designed
the Barker bass for playing comfort. The bass has a free-standing
design, so players don't have to hold it up-that's taken care of
by a heavy duty stand with an attachment that locks in to a socket
on the back of the bass. This helps to keep a player's physical
contact with the bass to a minimum; arms, hands and wrists are held
in natural positions and are only focused on playing the bass, not
holding it. The minimal physical contact also keeps the bass's resonance
from being dampened; the sound rings clear.
As a bass guitarist who doesn't play upright, I found the Barker
bass easy to adapt to and comfortable to play on a big band gig.
Normally, with the bass guitar, I prefer to use a pick because I
have yet to find a comfortable position for my hands and wrists
to pluck the bass. With the Barker bass, I was able to find a relaxed
hand position within moments via the two thumb supports on its top,
so there was no tension in my hands when plucking the strings. This
helped to deliver a warm finger-on-string sound that swelled and
sustained, supporting the big band sound with a rich bottom end.
Many fellow band members commented positively on the bass's tone
(it features Seymour Duncan pickups) and individual look.
The Barker bass features a 34-inch select hard rock maple neck with
rosewood, maple or ebony fingerboards. It's also available in fretless
or lined fretless versions. The body, available in such woods as
cherry, alder, maple and walnut, is 2 inches thick and made with
a solid wood chambered core. The bass also has an adjustable endpin
that accomodates players to 6'6".