The bass ukulele is a wonderful instrument yet with the ukulele it shares only the size – barytone ukulele, i.e. scale length around 20.3″ (51,5 cm). It’s basically a small bass guitar with a standard E, A, D, G tuning.
In order to create a bass instrument with such a small scale length, a set of new silicone-based “rubbery” strings had to be developed. Now, there is a wide variety of “rubbery” strings you can get and also flatwounds and roundwounds (unfortunately, I don’t have much experience with these yet). I tried Gali UXB810 Blacknylon (flatwounds), “croaking” Pahoehoe and of course Aquila – Thundergut, Thunderblack and finally Thunder Reds.
I’m aiming for more double-base-like tone so for me the Thunder Reds are the best choice – copper powder is added to these so they are less “rubbery” compared to other silicone-based strings: they are thinner, stiffer, and have a little more tension (they are not so loose). I think they have better intonation, the tone is more clear and playing is more comfortable (they feel less “rubbery”).
I’m aiming for a more double-bassy tone so I chose a fretless ukulele Ortega Lizzy-BSFL-GB. Later I replaced it with KALA UBASS-EBY-FL – the differences aren’t that big, but the intonation is a little better and I think it’s prettier :). I have to admit I practise also on a bass guitar, though short-scale (Allen Woody Rumblekat). It helped me a lot with the technique and to correct some mistakes which weren’t that noticeable on the uke, but they just were there.
I’ll finish a gear section with the combo. I use Phil Jones Bass BG 100 (yeah, the red one) which was recommended to me by a double-bass player. It is light, and powerful enough for playing swing. An ideal complement to a small instrument.
How did I get to a bass ukulele
I somehow felt playing ukulele just for myself wasn’t that fulfilling anymore and I wanted to try playing in a band. An opportunity came with swing dancing – a band (Swing Mustard) was forming from the members of the Swing Busters dance school. It was a long process and originally I joined with a classic ukulele, but as it happens, the bass was missing…
I knew something like a bass ukulele existed so I wanted to try it. I just didn’t realize it’s a completely different instrument so it was quite challenging, but in 2016 I switched to a bass ukulele. The main focus of the bass is to support everybody else in the band. So bass suits my “team role” more than the classical ukulele.
Eventually, I’d like to share one quote that inspired me – what should we also keep in mind when playing bass:
Serve the song. Get your shit out of the way and just serve the song.Geil Ann Dorsey
Swing band from Prague, founded by Lindy hop dancers. Playing mostly for dancers… and for the joy of course. We will be glad to play also for you so don’t hesitate to contact us on Facebook. We play mainly swing standards adapted for our band configuration (drums, bass ukulele, guitar, sax/clarinet, two vocals + occasionally a trumpet).
You can hear/watch us (and thus the bass ukulele) preferably live, but also on our YouTube channel. Our best production so far is a clip to a Darktown Strutters’ Ball: