Dr. Duane Greene of Bass One Basses - interviewed by Jill Gambaro,Executive Producer of the Icky Fingers' Documentary
How long have you played bass?
Over 30 years.
What other instruments do you play?
Keyboards and digital drums (as a composer)
What challenges face bass players over other instruments?
Bass players have naturally the largest stringed instrument in a band with the longest neck. Often these instruments are heavy overall, or heavy are neck heavy or body heavy and therefore unbalanced. Having a “neck-heavy” bass strapped on your body over time can produce shoulder problems and a bass with too heavy a body can result in back problems for the bassist. Neck contours (that is, the way that the neck is carved) are important as well, and many bassists play basses that don't allow the hand to function in its natural fashion. This is the primary reason that so many bassists deal with repetitive motion injuries, with carpal tunnel syndrome being at the top of the list, and tendinitis being a close second.
Whats your most memorable experience playing bass?
My most memorable experience playing bass has to be with my hands were miraculously healed while I was playing in the church service. I had been playing bass for a little over a year or two years and my hands would lock up when I would play. Literally I look back now and laugh some because it reminds me of when Fred Sanford would talk about his arthritis! My wrists would be painful and literally it would feel like my hands were on fire and paralyzed at the same time. Later I found out that this was the symptoms of carpal tunel syndrome. In addtion to this when I first saw a doctor concerning with condition I was found to have rheumatoid arthritis after has diagnosis. When I would play for just a short while the pain would be excruciating! While playing the bass and giving thanks to God in service I received a miraculous healing. These months of painful experience became my first step in learning to take the health of my hands more seriously and not just for playing's sake but also for quality of life overall.
How did you get carpal tunnel syndrome?
During my beginning years of playing bass, I played with an unrefined fretting technique, and with basses that had unnaturally contoured necks. I practiced hours daily and continued to make my life more painful as time progressed. During this time, I also experienced a couple of back injuries to make matters worse, making the bass that I was playing at the time too heavy to adjust to continue playing.
What design modifications did you make to the bass?
I knew that something had to be done in order to be able to have an instrument that I would have to allow my hands to function naturally as well. In addition to that, I had to develop the audio electronics so that the sonic clarity was functional and recognizable as studio-quality sound. Many times Bassists have to be overly aggressive when contacting the strings which also produces unnecessary hand strain attempting to make the instrument to produce a certain sound. The use of careful wood choices and studio - discrete active electronic circuitry can allow the player to play with a lighter touch, thereby relieving hand stress, and consequently hand pain and injury from overuse. Mike Tobias, one of the most amazing luthiers in history, was very instrumental (no pun intended) in helping me to learn how the combinations of wood affect the tonal and communicative aspects of a stringed instrument (especially the electric bass) when the instrument is constructed well. He says, “First and foremost, the Bass is an acoustic instrument. It should sound great before you plug it into an amplifier.”
In my experience, the easier the bass is to play, the less stress is on the hands of the player. I try to construct each instrument with this goal in view.
How did you decide on what design modifications you made to the Bass?
In deciding which modifications to make to the bass after considering my own hand and back injuries, factors of weight distribution balance of the instrument and the need to play with a neck that functions exactly like the human hand was intended to with my hands in need of healing because of the damage that had taken place prior to. I began interviewing bassists from major music markets many of whom played on records that I really admired. These were from the major music markets in Los Angeles and Hollywood, Nashville from New York Detroit Houston and San Antonio and they all seemed to have similar challenges with the electric bass as an instrument-with concerns for the feel of the hand, the weight, the balance, and the tone. All those factors were up for consideration among these great players and many desired to see things change but didn't know what direction to go in order to see the change actuated. There were some Bassists who played with legendary bands like Parliament-Funkadelic, Smooth Jazz Greats like David Benoit. From Country, to Gospel to Pop Icons Janet Jackson, and Beyoncé, and they each voiced the same concerns with the state of the instruments they were playing to include: ergonomics- the playability, the weight, the balance, and the tone of the instrument that they would have to stand up on stage and play for hours in order to make their living. In the studio I desired to assist in bringing solutions as well- with the concerns for the well-being of the hand. Some Bassists would complain of having to play the instrument so hard to get it to sound the way it needed to sound and after considering what I found to be the most sonically clear wood combinations and choices in the construction of my basses, I worked with active electronics manufacturers to develop the level of sensitivity so that the player would not have to overplay his instrument to get it to respond the way that he needed it to in the studio. I'm blessed to have worked with sound engineers who worked with Quincy Jones, Kirk Franklin, Chaka Khan and Pat Metheny, just to name a few. I began developing strategies based on these amazing career musicians' testimonies - that they were after similar goals for the instruments that they would use to make records for a lifetime, that they could travel around the world with, and be secure that they were not deliberately making devastating health problems for themselves by continuing to play instruments that they were playing. Many of these needed to be better balanced, more sensitive to the natural range of motion of the hand and sonically clearer so that they wouldn't have to over play the instrument. This was how I decided to make the modifications to the construction and development of the Electric Bass.
What's been the reception to your bass?
I've had amazing responses during this journey of the development of this Ergonomically - Enhanced style of Electric Bass.
Chris Anderson owns a 6-String, a 7-String, and a 9-String Bass that I built for him. Here are his comments:
“It’s beautifully handcrafted and light weight and handles like a dream. As a Bass player that has to move/jump/run, etc. around on the stage it's important that I can play an instrument for long periods of time without the experience of cramping hands or sore shoulders and neck. I'm a true believer in never endorsing a product that you wouldn't purchase with your own resources. So that being said...
- I play, I love, I am the extension of my Bass Guitar. -
Chris Anderson, Bassist (Janet Jackson, Christina Aguilera, Boyz II Men, Yolanda Adams, to name a few)
Barry Jackson, whose career has spanned over 40 years as a studio and session player with some of the greatest names in music history owns a custom 7 string bass that I built for him that he literally says flows so well with him as an artist that it is just an extension of his body as he's making music. "I can stand all night and play this bass! It's a therapeutic thing! It's light in weight, has the tone and has the ability to do anything that the others can do, and believe you me, I've owned nearly every brand of bass that's been made!" He's about to release his first album and the custom bass I built for him (He named the Bass Puddin') is the bass featured on this album.
Drue Williams, the Founder/CEO and manufacturer of Boom Bass Cabinets (who incidentally has developed a line of the most phenomenal lightweight sonically - clear electric bass speaker cabinets that I've ever experienced) has one of my custom handcrafted 7 string version of my custom basses, and he states, “This (Bass One Basses) 7-String Bass is lighter than my 4-String, and I love the flatness of that neck! This Bass is so comfortable to play! And the tones I get out of this Bass: this Bass is a keeper!”
Again the weight, the balance, the playability and feel the hand, as well as the tone has captured bassists that are on the top end of the music spectrum. I have a few studio owners who literally say they keep a Bass One Bass as their instrument of choice when they're recording because they know exactly what they will get sonically and it is such a stress-free instrument to play they recommend it to the players above their own personal instruments that they normally use. So I've had some great response to the Ergonomically and Tonally-Enhanced Electric instruments that are Bass One Basses.
How did you hear about the documentary Icky Fingers?
Mr. Chris Ermoian, the CEO and Executive Producer of Texas Music Cafe TV show referred me to executive producer Jill Gambaro, who contacted me sharing her heart of concern for those with repetitive motion injuries and her years of expertise in this area, having suffered such in her own personal life, with her desire to reach out to the musical community following the suicide of Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer who in 2016 took his life because he was no longer able to use his hands to make mausic. I shared my story with her regarding my musical journey, complete with back injuries, hand injuries and the road to recovery from the carpal tunnel issues that I had dealt with. We seemed to have the same goals in view from the very beginning of our conversation and she invited me to be a part of the team.
How did you make the custom built basses for the film?
The vision that I had for these instruments was to beautiful, elegant, tonally amazing, and of course with all of the advantages of the ergonomically - enhanced basses that this journey has brought me to. To accomplish this, I had these great component manufacturers that were so generous to donate to the mission of the Icky Fingers' Documentary by partnering with me to get these done. The donors and their donations include Allparts (truss rods) Fine Lumber (Hand-picked Mesquite), Jescar (Fretwire and Finish buffing supplies), Woodcraft Austin Store (AAAAA Quilted Maple for the Book Matched tops), Hipshot (lightweight Bass Hardware - Bridges, Tuning Keys, Knobs), Q-parts (Custom Inlaid knobs and Straplox), Norstrand Company (pickups) Lace Music (lightweight Aluminum Pickups), Solarez, TCP Global. and Cardinal Paints (UV-Cured Finish), Gator Cases (High-end Gig bags), Levy's Leathers (They Make My Ergonomic Bass Straps). My final donation came from William Haines of Haines - On Design, (who does fabrication on some other - worldly level - He CNC machined the bodies for each of these instruments in a fraction of the time I could have completed them by hand!) I constructed these basses in single cutaway style, with the desire to bring to these qualities to the forefront in an uncompromised fashion: The synergy of beauty, ergonomics and tone.
Tell me about how your passion for the project impacted the instruments you made.
The passion that I have and share with executive produce of the Icky Fingers documentary Jill Gambaro, Jim King from the American Society of hand specialists, and the rememberance of the hand injuries that I had and how it impacted my life not just as a musician but as a husband and a father and the quality of life that was so challenged during those times where I was in constant pain and even going through the healing process prior to the miracle that I experienced seemed to ignite a new fire and inspiration in me for what I do as a luthier. The instruments that I built for the documentary I wanted to reflect the love and concern that I have for people who've gone through and are going through repetitive motion injuries that may not have experienced the miracle that I did or the meeting of amazing people that have remedy for the situation like Jim King or someone who is an advocate to fight to see the people get to enjoy freedom from these life-altering conditions such as carpal tunnel like Jill Gambaro.
My approach to the building of these instruments was a blessed opportunity that is both humbling and honoring. It was humbling in the fact that of all the amazing instrument builders on the planet that I was chosen to assist in a worthy cause that I have such a personal concern for. I'm honored in the fact that I get to serve the musical community in this manner by providing solutions for people in pain, which reminds me of a bigger lesson-that all times I was in pain and suffering with these life-altering conditions that non of those experiences went to waste. it gives me a renewed sense of purpose. I'm trying with all my heart now to pour these life lessons into every instrument I build so that the beauty, the ergonomic comfort, (that is- the weight, the feel, the balance), and tone empowers people to be their best as musicians and to live life at the fullest outside of their music without their lives being compromised by the silent pain and suffering of 84% of the musical community who deal with repetitive motion injuries.
Stay Tuned for more information on the Icky Fingers' Documentary - the upcoming film that will feature
Dr. Duane Greene and Bass One Basses!