All about that UBass
Updated: Oct 27, 2020
I recently wrapped up a month-long mini-saga of attempting to acquire a Kala UBass. I've wanted a UBass for a long time and figured that my upcoming hip surgery made me deserve to get myself a treat (and something to play in bed perhaps?)
Several years ago, I bought an Ashbory bass for about $60 at a garage sale. I don't know how many times I had to buy new strings for it, they snapped constantly. I always had to have talcum powder on my hands when I played it so my fingers wouldn't stick to the strings. I only ever made one recording with it. I nearly abandoned it in favor of my normal Gibson Ripper on that recording, but I did end up using the Ashbory in the final mix for this Paul Simon cover:
That bass found itself being used as part of a trade-in for my Washburn Cumberland acoustic. I never really thought I'd head down the rubbery bass string path again. I didn't like those old Ashbory strings or the short scale fretless neck at all. I did like the sound though.
But then the whole ukulele thing happened for me and those are fun. They're also legit instruments and I thought I'd give the Kala Wanderer a try with the Thundergut strings by Aquila. I purchased mine from a major online retailer, not from Kala direct. When mine arrived, it had metal strings on it. I was disappointed. Ever since I got a lute, I've been obsessed with Aquila strings so they're the main reason I purchased this bass. The metal strings sounded ok, but it sounded more like a regular acoustic bass guitar than anything. I ordered some Thundergut strings from Curtis at Aquila and I thought I'd be set. Once the black Thundergut strings arrived, I noticed that the bridge holes were too small. Then once I drilled those out, the nut slots were too narrow. I didn't want to keep modifying this bass without knowing where the differences ended, so I emailed Kala. They were immediately helpful and sent me a new nut. I was surprised they hadn't encountered this before, but from what I've seen on YouTube and whatnot, I'm assuming I'm in the minority that wants the Thundergut strings. Is that true?
Anyways, the new nut came. I popped the old one off, placed the new one in and attempted to tune up the strings. The nut held in place ok but I just couldn't get the strings to play in tune. The first few frets played with a pretty severe rattle or buzzing sound. I asked Kala for more advice on how to adjust things to make it work but they ended up offering me a free replacement instead! Once it arrived, I was astonished at the differences. There's more drastic of an angle on the saddle making a longer scale for the lower strings, a longer scale overall by about 1 centimeter, taller and wider frets, larger nut slots, and larger bridge holes. The body is also about 1 centimeter wider from side to side, measuring parallel to the bridge. It also sounds and plays like a dream. Intonation isn't 100% perfect up the fretboard, but it's acceptable overall. Even on the notes that play in tune, the metal-stringed version gives a very dull and lifeless thunk to the notes. The proper Thundergut bass still has a thunk, but there's more of a definitive attack and a much more musical quality to the note.
I spent several hours playing through various bass studies and other bass nerdiness just to try it out. I started to realize how pretty this sounded and I started improvising with some polyphony. I don't think there's enough fingerstyle bass solos, so here's one I came up with for "Amazing Grace". It's arranged with the UBass in mind, but I'm sure it would sound just fine on an electric bass or even an upright. I then took it a little further to explore the intonation up the neck. So I have two versions available, the intermediate version in G and a more advanced version in C. In G, the highest on the neck you'll go is the 7th fret. In C, we get to go up to the 12th fret. Give each one a shot, I'll post them here for free for a little while before I add them to my store. If you'd like to make a video of these and post them on social media, tag me and I'll post it on my blog! I'd love to hear what you can come up with based on these arrangements.
I snapped a quick picture of both basses before I shipped the one on the left back. So now I have two sets of strings, white and black Thunderguts. Do I mix them up and have a black & white stringed bass? Share your thoughts on the UBass, let me know what you've been playing on yours!