I thought I would share my attempt at emulating the synth bass sound in Michael Jackson’s Thriller using the Roland GR-55 guitar synthesizer and my Ibanez bass equipped with a Roland GK-3B bass pickup.
First of all, the pickup and controller installation on my bass is not ideal from a playability standpoint due to the shape and layout of my bass.I have tried mounting it in various locations and where I have it now seems to be the best compromise.One of the annoying things about the controller is that the volume knob is very loose and super easy to bump while playing which results in unintended consequences!To remedy that I pulled the knob off the shaft and added an O-ring around the shaft and put some foam into the inside knob cavity.That really tightened it up so accidental volume changes are not an issue anymore for me.The other problem is the S1/S2 switches are also easy to bump, but by being careful during playing I have been able to avoid them.However, I would like to find a more fool proof solution.If you have any ideas, let me know!
GR-55 Floorboard Settings
In the video below, the first image is the main page in the GR-55 Floorboard Editor (courtesy of Gumtown on Vguitarforums.com) and as it shows, for the Thriller patch I am using two PCM synth sounds, number 241 Synth Bass 2 and 18 Fretless Bass as well as an electric bass COSM model and some of my normal pickups blended in.I found that having the electric bass blended in added a little more definition which is needed for the staccato parts in Thriller.
The image for PCM Synth 1 shows the details for that tone.I believe that a Mini Moog was used in the Jackson recording.There is a PCM tone in the GR-55 called Big Mini that I thought could be a Moog like tone, but when I used it the sound just wasn’t right.So I auditioned more PCM tones and finally settled on 241.
The image for PCM Synth 2 shows the details for that tone which is for tone 218 Fretless Bass 1.This gave the sound it a little more edge.
The next image is for the electric bass COSM model, which in this case is number 4, Precision Bass.As you can see I have the volume and tone at 100 %.
And finally, the last screen is for the amp that I chose:A clean bass amp with middle gain.Next is a short sample of how the GR-55 Thriller Bass patch sounds.
I thought I’d share my quick install of the Roland GK-3B divided BASS pickup on my Ibanez 5-string bass.
I have been using the Roland GR-55 for several years with my guitars. I am also a bass player, but I just never felt the need up to now to add synth access to the bass. However I am playing bass on Michael Jackson’s Thriller for Evergreen Community Orchestra’s fall pops concert and I was trying to find some way to emulate the bass sound in Jackson’s recording. After doing a bit of research it seemed to me that the bass, at least in the studio recording of Thriller, was played through a Moog MiniMoog. So at first I searched around to see if there is some kind of electric bass effects pedal that could emulate that Moog synth sound and there are. For example, this or this or this. But, I stopped in my tracks when the old light bulb turned on in my head when I realized for about the same price as the Boss SYB-5 I could add the GK-3B and have way more flexibility using the GR-55. The GR-55 includes a HUGE number of synth PCM tones including one named “BigMoog” that I thought might come close to the MiniMoog. (more on that later!)
Here is a video and a summary of the GK-3B Installation:
About the Roland GK-3B Divided Pickup
The Roland GK-3B Divided Pickup is what you need to add to your bass in order to play through a Roland guitar synth, such as the GR-55.
The GK-3B is easier to install than you would think from first glance at the owner’s manual. The GK-3 includes an adjustable curve design to keep an even distance between the strings for better response. The shims, pads and double-sided tape lets the GK pickup mount right in front of the bridge. The guitar connection is 1/4 in. to 1/4 in., and the GK pick-up wire retracts for a neat installation. The Roland GK-3B Divided Pickup sends individual signals from each bass string to GK compatible devices. It is carefully designed for guitar performance by having a large GK knob, and a Select Switch to change from synth, to normal guitar tone, or both of them mixed.
The nice thing is by following Roland’s instructions you can attach the GK-3B without any drilling or modification of your instrument.
Roland GK-3B Divided Pickup Specifications
Normal Pickup Input Jack
Roland GK-3B divided pickup installation
The following diagram of the GK3B appears in the owners manual.
This is the process described in the GK-3B owner’s manual and it should work for other basses.
Make sure you have a clean, cushioned place to work on your guitar. It would be a shame to scratch up your baby.
If you need new strings, this would be a good time to install them!
Adjust the pickup string spacing. As distances between strings vary with the model of the bass, the spacing between each of the coils in the pickup must be adjusted to match the particular bass. Unless this adjustment is made accurately, the GK-compatible device will not function at its full potential, or may not operate correctly. Please make this adjustment with care. See page 8 of the owner’s manual for details on how to measure and adjust the spacing.
Attaching the Pickup with Double-Sided Tape: You decide on the location in which to install the pickup. For a 5-string bass:Attach the divided pickup so that the center marker is between strings 2 (D) and 3 the 2nd string marker is directly below 1 (G), and the 5th string marker is directly below string 4 (E).
The divided pickup must be installed in the correct orientation. Make sure that the cable from the divided pickup is extending from the bridge side.
Tune each string to its normal tuning.
Adjust the height of the pickup. Use the supplied spacers as needed to achieve a clearance of 1.5 mm between each string and the top of the pickup. Use the supplied 1.5 mm gauge to check the clearance when the top and bottom strings are depressed at the highest fret.
Remove the strings from the bass.
Attach with double sided tape: Remove the backing from the tapes for the pickup cushion, the pickup spacers, and the pickup, and carefully attach the pickup to the bass. Be sure to clean the surface of the bass carefully to remove any dust or film before attaching the tape. Press the assembly firmly to ensure a good bond with the tape.
Restring and tune the bass, then carefully check the height of the divided pickup once more.Adjust if needed.
Attaching the Controller: To maintain a bass-modification-free installation, I installed the GK controller using the supplied bracket. Due to the shape and configuration of my bass there was not an ideal location, from a usability standpoint, to install the unit. Ideally, I would like it to be located close to the other controls, but there simply is not room. Initially, I mounted the controller on the back side of my bass and from an aesthetics standpoint this is a good location because the only thing visible from the front was a small part of the bracket. However, from a usability standpoint, this location had some problems. The primary problem with it being rear mounted is that during playing the controller can bump into your body and change the GK volume knob position or the S1/S2 switches. This is not good! The volume know turns very easily. So at first, I wrapped the controller with 3M painters tape to ensure no controls would accidentally get changed. I control the volume and patch and bank changes outside the controller, so I don’t really need them. My second placement option is on the front side above the bridge. This location will be prone to bumping the volume knob and switches too. So, I am going to try it out here for a while and decide where to go from there after some real life experience.
Finally, be sure to attach the 1/4″short cable to the GK-3B and bass 1/4 inch output jack.
This is the Roland GK-3B divided bass pickup on my Ibanez SR405EQM 5 string bass.
I hope this is helpful to you and that you thoroughly enjoy your Roland GK-3B Divided Bass Pickup.
This is lesson DB-19 How to Rosin New Bow Hair, and is a continuation of my journal of things I have learned as an adult double bass student. See the video for a few pointers.
Watch The Video Lesson
Here is what I know about how to rosin a bow. First of all, I use Kolstein “Ultra Bass Rosin”, soft grade. I have tried several other types of rosin, and so far Kolstein is my favorite. I comes in a nice silicone case inside the outer cardboard case which keeps it fresh. I have my rosin for over a year and I haven’t noticed any degradation yet. Before you rosin your bow, if the rosin is new, you can rough up the surface first with some sandpaper.
I just got my bass bow re-haired. It is a Brazilian Pernambuco wood bow that I purchased from my bass teacher and I like it a lot. It is definitely better than the beginner bow that came with my bass! I think it is at least 20 years old, but it is in excellent shape.
Before you start to rosin your bow, first tighten the nut on the bow to about the tension you use when you play. Don’t over tighten it. Also be careful to not put your fingers or hands on the bow hair since the oil from your skin will get on the hair. All you want on the hair is rosin.
Now, hold the bow with the hair side up and put your thumb over the metal piece on the frog where the hair attaches. That will prevent the rosin cake from getting cracked when you apply the rosin.
Begin apply the rosin to the bow hair in short strokes about 3 inches long. I work one area at a time until I can feel the rosin begin to stick. I also work side to side to be sure the whole surface of the hair gets covered with rosin. Once the first area feels thoroughly covered, move on to the next 3 inch section and repeat the process. You might be able to see the rosin on the hair, but I can’t. I just go by feel. Once you are done with each section, go over the whole bow with rosin a few times. If you pull the rosin slowly from frog to the tip and feel some spots where it feels slippery, add some more rosin to those spots.
If you play your instrument and the bow seems to just slide over the strings and/or not give you much sound, you need more rosin. If on the other hand you see all kind of rosin dust falling off onto your instrument that means you have way too much rosin on the hair. If you have too much rosin, you can try wiping the hair down with a clean cloth. Again, don’t use your bare hands on the hair.
Don’t forget to loosen the nut on your bow after you are done playing to take the tension off the hair and protect your bow from damage.
Let me know if you have any questions or comments!
This is lesson DB-18 Introducing the Roland Micro Cube Bass Amp, and is a continuation of my journal of things I have learned as an adult double bass student. See the video for a few pointers about using the Roland amp.
Watch The Video Lesson
My main bass amp is a Gallien-Krueger 700RB-II in a 12 inch Neo combo cabinet, along with another Neo 12 extension cab, which is an awesome amp that has served me well. But, even with the Neo speakers, it is still heavy! Recently I began searching for something smaller and lighter that could still put out a great tone and I ended up settling for the Roland Micro Cube amp. The Micro Cube Bass Amp is battery powered…..it runs on 6 AAA batteries, as well as begin capable of plugging into wall power. I am so impressed with this amp. I have been using it during our orchestra rehearsals when there have been parts calling for electric bass and it has been more than up to the task of competing with a 40 piece orchestra and filling up a 300 seat theater space.
This amp includes, not only the standard treble, mid and bass EQ controls that you would expect, but in addition to that there are gain, master volume and FX controls for compression, chorus, flanger, wah, delay and reverb. Also included is a drum machine with a variety of different rhythm patterns and a tap tempo control. The complete specs for the amp from Roland are listed below.
START/STOP Switch, TAP TEMPO Switch, PATTERN Knob (METRONOME / ROCK1 /
ROCK2 / BLUES / COUNTRY / R&B / BALLAD / JAZZ / FUNK / LATIN /DANCE), VARIATION
Switch, VOLUME Knob
TUNER: TUNING METER
RHYTHM GUIDE: RHYTHM GUIDE, VARIATION
Input Jack (1/4″ phone type), Foot Switch Jack (1/4″ TRS phone type), STEREO AUX IN
Jack (Stereo miniature phone type), MONO AUX IN Jack (1/4″ phone type), REC
OUT/PHONES Jack (Stereo 1/4″ phone type), AC Adaptor Jack, Grounding Terminal
Power Supply: DC 9 V: AC Adaptor or Dry battery(*) LR6 (AA) type (alkaline) x 6 *sold separately
Current Draw: 186 mA
Accessories: Strap, Power Cord, AC Adaptor, Owner’s Manual
I published my video to go along with my arrangement and recording of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” played in the awesome style of the vocal group The Drifters.
This is a ukulele and string bass duet on White Christmas while thinking of all of our men and women in uniform serving America so far away from home. See the Music Store to buy this song.
I’ve always loved the version done by The Drifters after I heard a clip of it on Home Alone when Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) realized his family woke up late and rushed off to the airport on their Christmas vacation without him. So, with just a little internet research I discovered this had been a big hit for The Drifters for many years.
As I have been studying double bass for the last few years I was intrigued to see if I could create an arrangement of White Christmas that prominently features the bass in the style of Bill Pinkney, the bass singer in The Drifters. After getting into it for a while I needed to find something for the 1st tenor part that Clyde McPhatter sang and I settled upon the fun, humble ukulele (or ‘ukulele as the Hawaiians say….).
I am releasing today as a single my own pop/rock instrumental arrangement of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, in the style of someone like Mannheim Steamroller. You can get your copy either directly from my music store, from CD Baby or it should be available from iTunes, Amazon, Google Play or other on-line digital music sites. Once I have it ready, I can make copies of the score available for anyone who would like a copy. I created the instrumentation, played the instruments (see list below!) and recorded this in my studio. Engineering/mixing assistance was provided by “Powerhouse Studios” in Seattle!
The link to my Hallelujah Chorus video is right here. You can also find it on Youtube…see below! 🙂
I hope you like it. Have a blessed Easter.
The Hallelujah Chorus is very popular at Christmas time, but I think it is just as appropriate during Easter, and maybe even more fitting from a theological point of view. The back story is that I have been working on a number of Christmas-themed songs that I plan to release as an album this fall, in time for Christmas, but the work has to be done now and I don’t want to hold onto things once I am finished, so plan on seeing a fairly steady release of new music from me this year as singles. Besides, a lot of people love celebrating Christmas any time of the year. I know my daughter does, and she probably has the largest collection of Christmas music in the world.
I began working on my arrangement of the Hallelujah Chorus in late December after we attended the Seattle Symphony’s performance of Handel’s Messiah. There are probably countless performances of the Hallelujah Chorus in the traditional genre, so I wanted to do something more pop oriented and that is what you have here.
The Hallelujah Chorus is such an awesome piece and it is addictive. I want to listen to it and sing it over and over. Old GF (George Frideric) really knew how to write a “hook”. I think the power of it lies in its rhythm, which comes naturally from the words and the melody spiraling higher and higher.
Handel composed the entire Messiah oratorio in the year 1741 and he completed the entire thing in an incredible 24 days! Maybe he was a manic-depressive and got stuck in a manic mode. Who knows. At any rate, it is a brilliant masterpiece of composition and the world owes him a debt for his art.
In my arrangement I added a drum solo and moog synthesizer motif to the introduction. Below is the orchestral instrumentation on the left mapped to what I have used in my performance on the right. I played all instruments.