project: “bass” ukulele

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bass clefone might ask: why “project”, the ubass has already been introduced?
looking closer, the question already contains the answer: the ubass (and all its variants) is in fact not an ukulele but a small scale bass. most obvious proof is the tuning: ukulele is tuned gcea (or adf#b) – ubass is tuned eadg which is the standard bass tuning.

in a group of ukuleles you’re always a bit weak on the bass side, mostly for pure physical reasons: as a matter of fact low frequencies simply do not properly resonate in small instrument bodies with short-scale strings. big bass needs big space (or proper amplification as we see on the ubass). period.

coming from ukulele i do struggle with bass playing, all fretboard knowledge (“which note is where“) is useless and i have to relearn. after all the bass is an instrument of its own. learning the arpeggio patterns etc. is not rocket science, it just takes time and prevents a easy quick flick between uke and bass.

the solution of this “dilemma” is imho quite obvious: for more bass you need a bigger ukulele body with strings tuned below standard c4. the biggest available ukulele bodies are baritones, but these are usually tuned dgbe (like the four highest strings of a guitar). fortunately baritone string sets are available in gcea as well, even in linear tuning.

and this is exactly what i will try: a baritone tuned (low-)gcea, one octave below standard c4 tuning. i know it will not be as low as a real bass but i expect it to be a nice low-end addition to the smaller ukes. see the picture below with tonal ranges of various ukulele sizes (all tuned gcea) and the bass (tuned eadg):

  • yellow = sopranino
  • green = soprano, concert, tenor (low g enhancement in light green)
  • orange = the “bass” ukulele (baritone tuned low gcea)
  • blue = bass
tonal ranges of ukuleles and bass
tonal ranges of ukuleles and bass

all necessary materials are ordered, i am curious about the results.

i will start off with a inexpensive standard (re-entrant gcea) set of aquila 23u baritone strings which i will use for linear low g tuning by swapping g, c and e strings to descending diameters from top to floor:

4th string = c string, tuned down to low g
3rd string = e string, tuned down to c
2nd string = g string, tuned down to e
1st string = a string, tuned to a 🙂

btw: this is the easiest way to test linear tuning without investing any money in a dedicated set of strings. the strings could feel a bit sloppy, but in any case they will give you an overall idea of low g sound on your ukulele.

update 12 dec 2015:

the string tension of the aquila 23u is so low on the baritone that i refrained from the low-g trial – re-entrant tension is already pretty sloppy and way less than what i am used on my concert and soprano ukes. the c string is almost in tune once you pulled it tight and fixed it on the peg, hardly no need for a few peg turns if you don’t want to go for adf#b tuning.

anyway, it gives the expected low end even though strummed chords tend to sound “muddy” – but that’s most probably caused by the ear’s disability to clearly distinguish the low frequencies.

bottom line: test passed 🙂

if you need some bass in the ukulele group and don’t want to spend time and money on ubass the gcea baritone is an instant solution.

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