That’s groovy…

This past weekend, I took a new step forward in my hobbies.

What was it?  A new set of chisels?  A new table saw?  Instruction on a new technique?

Nah, but it is wood related.

I picked up a bass guitar.

Now, why would I take good money and spend it on something not woodworking related?  Call it a dream.  Call it a lark. Call it a mid-life crisis.  Whatever…

Let me tell you right now that I have never picked up an instrument before in my life.  Never.  Nada.  I dabbled with the thought of playing the trumpet back in grade school as part of the band, but never went for it.

I figured the bass over the guitar for a few reasons.  First, there are fewer strings.  That’s gotta be a good thing. The bass is considered a more ‘laid back’ instrument. I hear there are fewer bassists than guitarists, so if I ever want to play in a band, I might be a hotter commodity.  And, after hearing the digitally-remastered Beatles albums released last year, the bass grooves laid down by Paul McCartney really got me jamming.

So, this past Friday night, I got the money, I got the nerve and I took my youngest son with me to pick this up – a Fender Affinity Series Squier Precision bass. The body is made out of some kind of wood painted a deep, metallic red with a white plastic pick guard. The neck is made out of some light wood with a darker wood fret board and a strip of darker wood down the back of the neck. This provides a guide for my thumb to rest on while I play the notes.

The whole thing came as a kit.  Guitar, amplifier, tuner, cables.. the works. I unpacked the stuff from the box, assembled it per the instructions and proceeded to make nothing but noise.

Yes, that’s what most people who pick up any instrument do the first time they touch it.  After an hour or so, my wife told me to kill the amp and give it a rest. Man, that was rough.  I put the bass down in disgust.  I was NEVER going to learn how to do this.

That’s when it hit me. Eleven years ago, I didn’t know the first thing about woodworking.  Nada. Zip. Zilch. People told me I was nuts.  Too expensive.  I would never learn how to do it.  I would save time, money and frustration by just buying the furniture and calling it quits.

I’m so glad I didn’t.  Today, I can do it.  Practice, determination and time in the shop have made me a least a little more comfortable when it comes to woodworking.  That’s what I want to do with the bass… get better.

Now, for all you folks gathering at my garage door looking for the big woodworking tool sell-off or donation, you are outta luck.  I’m not planning on giving up my woodworking.  However, on those late nights when it’s just too hot to work in the shop, I’ll be putting some time in on the bass.

At least until my wife tells me to turn the volume down on the amp.

P.S. – Anyone know a good technique for learning the bass?  🙂

13 thoughts on “That’s groovy…”

  1. Tom,

    That IS groovy! The 60s were groovy. And you look pretty groovy, man… 🙂

    We are never too old to start anything; what is important is to hang in there when it seems we hit a wall, or a plateau. Every little uphill trek gets a little smaller, until you get comfortable with the climb.

    Eventually I see you getting comfortable and recording something for posterity, and for the blog. I don’t mean right away – rather, when you get there. I just know it won’t take you very long at all.

    A little background:
    I know nothing about guitars. But Sierra, our 9-year old, is doing great. Her daddy is trying to catch up with her.


  2. I actually learned how to play a very short, basic riff yesterday. It hit me like a bolt of lightning. From the noise, now I was able to make some music. And, I was able to put in some variations as well – playing it up an octave, doubling the speed of the notes… it was very cool…

  3. Wait, wait, wait… you didn’t *build* the bass? LOL

    Enjoy. I have a 6-string I don’t play often enough. But it’s fun!

  4. A ha! I haven’t built a bass… YET! I had to learn how to play first… THEN I can look like a rock god on my own hand-crafted instrument!

  5. Tom – count me as another woodworker that plays the bass. In my case, have been playing since I was 13 (that’s 41 yrs ago but who’s counting).

    Best way to learn is to play, but I do see alot of self-taught bass players with bad technique, so just like woodworking, I’d suggest getting a book. The best is written by a great ol gal called Carol Kaye (check out her website at

    Most of all, have fun!

  6. Hey Tom,

    Congratulations on your new endeavor! As a long time amateur musician myself, the one thing that I would suggest, is that NOW is the time to learn to read music, while you are learning to play the instrument.

    It will make sense, and will compliment your learning the instrument. If you learn to play only by ear, you will likely never learn to read music later. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn both at the same time.


  7. Just a quick FYI: For your wife’s sake, you can probably plug headphones into your amp while you practice.

    Good luck!

  8. You definitely need to combine the hobbies. I don’t play bass anymore, but while I was I built one: Photos of the build process on my Flickr^:

  9. start with a simple pentatonic (five note) scale. both major an minor. E and A first. play it in order, then out. in as many combinations as you can think of. they only require 2 fingers usually, and if you play them often enough in different orders, you will eventually discover just about all rock music. there are about 5 different formal positions up the neck where you can play a scale in any given key. try them all. hum along, too. you’d be surprised how that helps.

    70s hard rock is usually pretty good for learning too. most of them were just figuring it out themselves. 90s grunge is pretty much the same that way. (and I don’t mean that in a derogatory manner…)

    and trust me, get a metronome. bass is a rhythm instrument, if you haven’t got good time, you haven’t got anything. regarding the right hand, try putting that thumb in different places for different tones. up on the edge of the fret board, down near the bridge. bounce your thumb on the string instead of plucking. snap the higher strings with your finger tips so it slaps against the fretboard. experiment. but the timing is the thing. so long as you have good rhythm your wife will complain less.

    lastly, if you haven’t played before, build up the callouses slowly, you can, (and I have,) ended up bleeding all over my bass. you’ll always know it’s yours after that, and there is some satisfaction, but you might have to take some time off. which is annoying to say the least.

  10. oh, couple of other things. check your intonation. most of the time the dealers will make sure it’s set up properly before you buy it, but just in case it’s best to check. mostly important if you do find yourself playing with other people. (make sure the guitarists have done so too,) basically, if your intonation is out, the further up the neck you play, the further out of tune you will get.

    play the first harmonic on the E string, touch the string with your left hand over the 12th fret, without actually fretting the string and pluck. you should get a nice bell like tone of a note one octave up from the open string. then fret the same string at the 12th fret and pluck. the fretted note should be identical to the harmonic. if it isn’t adjust the bridge saddle until it is. then retune and go on to the next string. once set, a bit of nail polish on the set screws makes for a reliable but temporary way to secure the bridge from moving accidentally. if you can set the bridge as low as it can go without buzzing you’ll save some wrist trouble later.

    lastly, I suggest you don’t play unplugged. one very easy way to pick up a bad habit is trying to play an electric instrument loud enough to hear it with out plugging it into something. you end up playing way too hard. took me ages to get over that myself.

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