Bass Basics for Guitarists with Dishan Abrahams

If you’ve been lurking in the comments sections asking Dan & Mick to delve into that funky, four-string world, this week you got your wish. At last, it was all about the bass! As our TPS anchormen confessed, many aspects of this topic and instrument are out of their depth. So to shed light on this blind spot, they called in some support from Dishan Abrahams, who’s laid down bass lines on the world’s biggest stages for artists like Kylie Minogue.

While Dan & Mick (and their drummer Dougie) spent a lot of time exploring Dishan’s pedal board, they were also quick to glean some wisdom on the world of bass for guitarists. Dan captured the naïve sentiment that many of us have felt: “As a guitar player, I thought playing bass should be easy. But in actual fact, it’s really, really tough.” Dishan noted that while it isn’t difficult to “learn the instrument and get a sound out of it… what’s hard are all the tiny little things that you just don’t pay attention to until you actually start getting into the instrument.”

So rather than knowing just enough bass to be dangerous, what are some of the things that we guitarists can do to fair better and falter less when picking up a bass? Here’s three tips pulled from Dishan’s bassist playbook.

Focus on Rhythm More than Harmony

As guitarists, we spend most of our time on the frontier of melody making. However, effective bass playing means abandoning that post and taking up a new space in the band. As Dishan summed up, you’ve got to “focus on rhythm more than on harmony.” The reason for this is that, where a guitarist might strum a chord or play a riff in a section, for the bass this probably is a single note. “So you’ve got to focus on the rhythm and feel of it.”

This also means making friends with the other half of your rhythm section: the drummer. As Dougie commented, deciding on the beat for him is about “keeping the space open [with the groove of the bass] to avoid fighting with each other.” Dishan noted that this is the relational mentality you’ve got to enter into as a bassist. “It’s an instinctive thing.” The challenge for us as guitarists is we’re wired to think of the solo, yet the bass forces us to collaborate, communicate, and adapt in a section less focused on harmony.

Getting Used to Ghost Notes

Dishan highlighted how setting up a bass “groove” is about being intentional about how long you hold notes, where you place them and, at times, giving space for a brief pop-and-pause (i.e., a ghost note). The interplay of space and time between notes is what makes for an impact with bass. It gives tension, provides swing, and can make a song go from subtle to explosive when done right. “It’s all these things that you don’t even realize [when listening] that that’s what’s turning you on about a certain bass player.”

This also means building lines that are ever-present and consistently relevant. As guitarists, we have the luxury of coming in and out, noodling over a progression if we’re not sure of our part, or the benefit of another instrument that can pick up our slack in the mid-frequencies. As Dishan noted, however, bassists don’t get a free pass: “You can never be a passenger.” So if you sling a six string and are called off the bench to play bass, think about how each note you pluck is an opportunity to build a groove and bridge brilliantly into the next note, phrase, or section.

Be Nice, Be Good, Everything Else Follows

As the hour with Dishan drew to a close, Dan asked him if he had any advice for emerging musicians. In the end, the tips were told from Dishan’s experience with bass, but are certainly applicable to any context or instrument. So whether the stage is big, small, or no stage at all, what did Dishan prescribe?

“Just be a nice person, that’s a huge part of it.” The point is that band life means spending time together. Like any working relationship, creative or otherwise, it’s better to think more of the people in the room than to worry about presenting the right persona.

“Be good, and when I say that, I mean actually care about what you’re doing.” The way Dishan described this was to remember the way you felt when you first started gigging—the attention to every detail in your rig, the sleepless nights of anticipation and fright, the relentless rehearsal regimen—and strive for that level of motivation and focus.

If you’re a bassist looking to build a pedalboard, stroll our aisles at Riff City for everything you need to integrate effects into your rig. If you’re a guitarist in need of a four string, we’d love to help you scout this new terrain. Regardless of your style or budget, we’ve got the gear to put Dishan’s tips into action!

TPS Rig Rundown:

Guitars: 1963 Fender Precision Bass.

Pedals: Boss TU-3 Tuner, Aguilar Tone Hammer Preamp Direct Box, Origin Effects Cali76 Limiting Amplifier, Panda Audio Future Impact 1, Boss OC-2 Octave, Boss OC-3 Super Octave, Musitronics MuTron III, Tech 21 SansAmp Programmable Bass Driver DI, Malekko Diabokik Analog Fuzz.

Amps: Dishan went sans amp with a bass signal run through the JHS Colour Box into a set of PA speakers.

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