WELCOME BANNER

Welcome!

Hi, I’m a bass player. Wait, I mean bassist. Whatever. I started playing in 1983. Went through a few bands and school music classes (ended up with 5 during my final semester!), More »

EMAIL ME

So email me about it!

Just got a message from a friend/student who told me what a very informative blog I have. Of course, my first thought was that I really need to keep that updated… but More »

Welcome!

WELCOME BANNER

Hi, I’m a bass player. Wait, I mean bassist. Whatever. I started playing in 1983. Went through a few bands and school music classes (ended up with 5 during my final semester!), took lessons from some great teachers (Dave Beegle, Marty Rein, Peter Huffaker), and ended up attending school at MI in Hollywood, where I graduated in ’89 with honors.

In 1991 I joined a group from the Boulder, Colorado area called Wind Machine, where I got to develop my fretless chops for 8 years and tour the country with some of the finest musicians – and people – I’ve known to this day.

During off time from WM, I taught private lessons all over northern Colorado, recorded several albums with various notable artists as Dave Beegle, Bob Hollister, Danny Oertli, and GasHead, among others. It was certainly more interesting than attending college!

When WM disbanded in 1998, I began to freelance more, and temporarily joined a few bands until I decided to move to Nashville in 2002. Upon finding that I didn’t really care to live there, I returned and began my performing and teaching career again, this time joining forces with Jennifer Lane at Elway’s Steakhouse and Bar in the Cherry Creek section of Denver, where we have performed together as a duo since November 2004. I have also spent considerable time performing with Dave Beegle, a rock-and-roll cover band called The Jurrasicasters (also including Dave Beegle), and Kevin Karrick.

I currently teach private lessons from my home on the east side of Fort Collins. I also have my own personal home recording studio, and often record bass tracks for people who contact me over the internet. Pretty simple – they send me an MP3, give me an idea of what they want, I record the part and send it to them. O, Technology – where would we be without thee?…

Sometime around the fall of 2003, I began having strange physical problems regarding my walking and right hand motion. After a few years of denial and more and more symptoms showing up, I finally gave in and went in for a physical, and to make a long story short, I was diagnosed with MS in October of 2006. It’s been just over 4 years since then as of this writing, and while my body can only take so much exertion and the right side of my body has been considerably affected by the disease, I am still able to maintain a healthy student load and 3 gigs/week. THANK YOU GOD. :-)

I am always entertaining inquiries for new students and recording/performance work. You can reach me via my contact information.

Oh yeah – did I forget to mention that I’m a caffeine addict? :-)

So email me about it!

EMAIL ME

Just got a message from a friend/student who told me what a very informative blog I have. Of course, my first thought was that I really need to keep that updated… but my second thought (because this is how my mind works!) was “Why bother? Who really reads that anyway?”

This, of course was followed by my third thought, which was: “Well? Who really DOES read this anyway?

So here’s what I want for you to do: If you’re reading this, and it’s before March 2011, EMAIL ME. Go ahead and use fretlessman71@gmail.com to get ahold of me (something seems to be wrong with the pointer from this website), and tell me that you’ve read this and other blogposts of mine. Tell me how much you enjoy my writing/ranting/general tomfoolery, and be sure to massage my ego a whole bunch when you do. Who knows… I might just start doing this on more of a weekly (weakly?) basis.

Fretless Bass Tone

Hey folks! Been a while, eh? I know, you missed me so – let’s not get mushy about it okay?

I’ve been meaning to get back into the land of blogging for a while, but a whole host of things stood in my way (or at least I allowed them to do so). So when they finally fell by the wayside and I wanted to do my first blog in at least a year, along comes an email from a big fan of my old band Wind Machine. Turns out he is a former DJ and a current fretless bass player and was looking for help with his tone, and as such had several questions for me.

Needless to say, this greatly appealed to the teacher in me. :-)

So a two-hour email was returned to him, and upon completion of said email, I re-read what I sent and decided that it would make a fine “first blog back”. So, without further ado…

Allow me to give you a somewhat detailed dissertation on my view of all things fretless in the land of Michael O:

* FINGERBOARDS. I am a big fan of coated fingerboards. The basses I played in the WM days were Tobias 5- and 6-strings built in the early 90′s in Burbank, CA. And as perfect as Michael Tobias’ craftsmanship was, it still didn’t yield the glassy consistency I was looking for, and I found that the issue was in the fingerboard – pau ferro rosewood just absorbed too much of the energy for me. So off I went to Harry Fleishman (he’s a guitar builder of some renown in CA these days), who made a very thick epoxy coating for my board, and it made all the difference. The woodiness of the tone wasn’t compromised, nor was the wood itself – when the epoxy wore down, it was either sanded flat or removed to put a fresh coat on, thereby preserving the wood and preventing string damage. It’s not for everyone, and not all of my current fretless basses have the coating, but it helped me dial in my sound very quickly by giving me a consistent surface to play on.

* PLUCKING TECHNIQUE. One of the things the coating did was highlight my subpar technique, though, so off I went to the woodshed to manually fix my tone. I found that hard calluses on my plucking hand fingers got in the way and would create a light “tic” just before the attack of each note, like the sound made by someone just learning to use a pick. (You can hear a bit of this in the first few records I played on – or a lot of it, if you happen to be ME.) I used to sand them down like you would use a pumice stone to remove your heel calluses – sometimes I’d overdo it and be REALLY uncomfortable during tracking :-/ . Later on I discovered that pulling straight across the strings cleaned up a lot of my tone, as did timing my pluck with the release of the note in my left hand, and I stopped having to sand off my calluses. Thank goodness!

* FINGERING TECHNIQUE. Another major aid to the tone was playing on the very tips of my left hand fingers so I got the best leverage on the string possible without having to squeeze the note; this let me make my “affectations” (slides, smears, vibrato, etc.) with ease without compromising the tone. Means your thumb needs to be on the BOTTOM HALF of the neck – make a “thumbs up” sign with your left hand, place your thumb on the neck where you could push the neck up with your thumb if you wanted, and bring your fingers around. If you already do this, great – if you don’t, it will feel WEIRD. Keep your arm and wrist relaxed and try to get used to it. (Practicing with an unsharpened pencil in the left hand is helpful: hold the pencil with your thumb in the middle on one side and all four fingers on the other, spread out as far as they can go – then try to break the pencil between your fingers. It works!)

* RIGHT HAND LOCATION. Along with pulling across the strings, location made a big difference for me regarding my plucking hand. I usually play groove lines with my hand between the two pickups (assuming you’re playing a jazz bass-like instrument), but when it comes time for the solo, my hand moves to the end of the fingerboard – usually around the 22nd fret on my 2 octave neck. This makes the high notes sound bigger than they would have otherwise, and also forces me to pull the string parallel to the string plane, making the notes blossom nicely. (Yes, this slowed me down a bit, but WM wasn’t really about blazing speed, was it? ;-) ) A bassist named Gary Willis has taken this concept to the next level – google “Willis Ramp” and you’ll see what I mean. I have played a few basses with said ramp, and it does indeed make a difference.

* PICKUPS. I’ve had the best luck with the bridge pickup soloed – just like Jaco did. I like the other tones a jazz bass affords me, but for solos I stick to the bridge for the most part.

* BOLT-ONS. About 10 years ago I became disenchanted with neck-through basses – they seemed to all have a natural “dip” in the upper mids (1-1.5 kHz). And the more I played well built bolt on basses, the happier I became with their tone. For many years I played an Ibanez Prestige 6 fretless – mahogany body, wenge neck – and I wish I had had that bass in the 90′s. It was definitely the sound I was looking for all that time. Not to mention the fact that upper-end Ibanez basses often have my favorite preamp in the world – the “Vari-Mid III”, which had a 3 band eq with a sweepable midrange, so I could always find the sweet spot (most often a good bump at about 1.3 kHz – BOY did this help a lot!). That bass was stolen out of my van about 3 years ago. Hopefully some kid in Guatemala has ended up with it and will be the next big thing in about 6 years…

* SETUP. I used to have really high action to get as clean of a tone as I could – I even had Harry make a wooden “bridge pedestal” to take up space between the bridge and the body so I could get higher action for a while. Eventually, though, reason won me over (as well as tendonitis in the left wrist!) and I learned to go for a lighter touch and much lower action. Being gentle was a hard lesson to learn, but it helped a LOT. I now go for a nearly flat board (almost no relief in the neck – ALMOST) and fairly low action.

* STRINGS. Steel strings have great top end but get “clacky” and feel sticky; nickel strings feel nice but sound a little dull. GHS Boomers are nickel plated steel – kind of the best of both worlds. But my REAL favorite lately are Elixir Polywebs. The polymer coating is GREAT for never again having to worry about string slide sounds, and the strings sound good and last much longer than uncoated strings – I had one particular set on an oft-used fretless for nearly two years! I wish I knew more about the strings UNDER the coating, though – I’ve always thought that coating a nickel-plated steel string in the Polyweb (thicker) coating might be the ultimate string. Elixirs are pricey compared to normal strings, but for the tone you get and the life you get out of the string, they’re worth it.

* EFFECTS. I like a little reverb on fretless solos. Not much. And not much else, either. I always considered using chorus on fretless “cheating”. It’s just not right to have to use an effect to cover up poor intonation, as many people do. Chorus in the reverb, maybe, but not on the bass itself… it’s cheating! :-)

* DISCLAIMER. After all that, it’s worth considering that given your physical makeup, your instrument, effects, amplifier, ears, brain, and political leaning, all of the above may do BUPKES for your tone. But I hope not. :-D

A New Experience

Here’s how to have the same kind of “wake-up” call I did while performing one of the 4 S’s – the one you usually do sitting down with your underoos at your ankles. It’s really quite simple….

-Lean forwards as you normally would.

-Have your quads spasm so your legs tuck under the bowl up in the air.

-Go down on your knees with your underoos wrapped around your ankles.

-Have your quads spasm from the TOP of the thigh this time so your legs straighten out and shove your head under the rollator, whose wheels are now covered in kitty litter (just like you) because your cat was practicing his long-snapping skills overnight.

-THEN have your left quad only re-spasm and tuck your leg underneath so your legs are trying to tie themselves in a knot.

-Follow with entrance of cat giving you a disapproving look.

-Wait 5 minutes for everything to relax, then push your way back to your knees and do your best to clean up (because there’s no way you’re sitting on the stool again). Thank goodness for moistened Cottonelle!

-Push rollator against the wall opposite you, lock wheels, and attempt to stand up using several different arm/leg combinations and leverage points. Allow 5+ minutes for this step, all the while conisidering very seriously the LifeAlert system in your near future.

-Once finally on your feet + four wheels, flush, pull up underoos, get to powerchair and transfer. Take pulse (120!); consider the last time you were over 120 for any length of time and how much more fun you were having then. Wipe a tear from your eye as you marvel at how the years have passed (carefully – you need to get back and wash your hands).

-Go to internet and whine about it to all your friends. Lather, rinse, try not to repeat.

An Open Letter to NMSS

Not too long ago I was sent the following link: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/news/news-detail/index.aspx?nid=269

If you’re not a link kind of person, here’s the text of the link:

Aug 19, 2008
Exploring Why Physical Activity is Reduced in People with MS: Society-funded Investigators Seek Participants

Investigators funded by the National MS Society are seeking people with MS to participate in a study exploring whether the frequency and severity of MS-related symptoms influence physical activity. Robert W. Motl, PhD (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) and colleagues are tracking changes in activity over three years in 250 individuals with relapsing-remitting MS, a course of MS characterized by flare-ups followed by complete or partial remissions. This study could improve our knowledge of the factors that reduce physical activity in people with MS, and help design programs to increase it.

Physical activity is being measured by an accelerometer, a device worn around the waist that measures movements throughout the day. Participants will complete questionnaires and wear the accelerometer for 7 days, and then will repeat this process every six months for three years. The results are being correlated with clinical measures of disease activity and patient reports of symptoms.

All materials will be delivered and returned pre-paid through the United States Postal Service. Participants in this study will be paid $120.

Anyone interested in more information about this study should contact Elise McAuley via email at symptomstudy@gmail.com, or via telephone, toll-free, at (888) 796-7966.

The following is my reply to their “study”:

YOU REALLY MUST BE JOKING…

Allow me to express my disappointment in the study I’ve just read about regarding physical activity in MS patients.

I find it very difficult to believe that so little is known about MS that a multi-million dollar study is required to find out if it affects sufferers physically. Allow me to save you some time and money. YES.

Are we really so far behind that we essentially have to start at the very beginning?

In the two years since my diagnosis, I have been reduced to using a walker or a scooter to get around; on the rare occasions when I am able to amble down my hallway unassisted, my girlfriend refers to me as “Lurch”… and it’s not because I have a great baritone.

Any time I have to stretch to reach something, my muscles all fire at once sending my arms off in wild, unintended directions. If I want to move my feet while sitting in a chair, any “over-stimulation” of the muscles (by way of a signal from my porous brain) sends me into a spasm that has twice literally thrown me from my chair.

I know my experiences aren’t unique to PWMS, and the disease has been around for a good long time – officially recognized for well over a century, and who knows for how long before that (it’s been postulated that the apostle Paul had MS – worth a google if you have the time).

And $120 for 3 years worth of dealing with a belt – even if it’s only a week at a time every 6 months – is ridiculous.

If there’s no way to use information already previously gathered to come to a conclusion, I see no reason to hope for any significant advancements in the fight for a cure over the next 10-20 years. At least this study has given me the freedom from waiting for things to change for me, and force me to accept things as they are and move on… and for that I thank you.

If this is the state of studies regarding MS, you won’t have me as a test subject… or a financial contributor. All the best to your research.

Sincerely,
Michael Olson

In response, I got a form email reply thanking me for my interest in the study. *sigh*