Hands down – on upright or electric – Christian McBride is one of the greatest bass players of the generation of low-end masters that carry on the torch from legends like Jaco Pastorius, Ray Brown, Marcus Miller, Ron Carter, Stanley Clarke, Charles Mingus, Bootsy Collins, Paul Chambers and other greats.
So, did I list upright and electric players in turn just by accident? No, absolutely not, because, as mentioned, Christian McBride is one of the most respected bassists on both upright and electric bass. The function of the instrument may be the same, but surely the playing technique is very different, and few master both instruments to the same degree as McBride does.
I was particularly curious to interview Christian McBride because I have noticed some use of effects when he plays electric as well as upright and was interested to learn more about his use of pedals and effects as well as some general insight on a bass player with such a diverse skillset as a musician, band leader and composer and at the same time has a credit list as a sideman that – to name but a few – includes such artists as Pat Metheny, Sting, David Sanborn, Chick Corea, John Scofield, George Duke and Maceo Parker.
BP:You are equally respected on upright, fretless electric and fretted electric bass. When you use effect pedals is that mainly for one type of bass, or do you regularly use pedals for all your basses?
CMB: “Well, between 2000 and 2006, I used a lot of different pedals. Too many to name, actually, but in 2007 I finally settled on the Boss ME-50B for both my acoustic and electric basses. However, while my two main groups over the last four years have been my trio and my big band where I play the upright exclusively, I do have future plans for projects that involve the electric bass and for those, I am sure I will try some new systems. I am always looking to try new stuff.”
BP: Do you have any tips you’d like to share on using effect pedals on bass in a live setting?
CMB: “I’m still trying to find a way to effectively use effects on my acoustic bass without getting feedback. Because of the nature of the instrument, it’s almost impossible to eliminate feedback in high volume situations. However, when I was touring with Pat Metheny, he gave me some great advice as he suggested that I always have two signals if I use effects: One clean and one with effects.”
BP: Do you have a favorite ‘sexy’ type of effect as well as favorite ‘fundamental tone-shaping’ tool?
CMB: “I have always been a fan of envelope filters because they remind me of Bootsy Collins. I also like to use a wah-wah pedal when I play arco (with the bow) on acoustic. As for the tone-shaping, I am always trying to maintain some sort of acoustic sound even when I’m using effects on the upright, so my EQ is almost always completely flat.”
BP: On George Duke’s ‘Ten Mile Jog’, you get around a lot of different playing styles – including ‘normal’ fingerstyle, slapping and Jaco-like tone favoring the bridge pickup. There seems to be some compression – at least on the slap parts – and I was also wondering if you used different EQ or other tone-shaping pedals for the various parts on that song?
(If you don’t know ‘Ten Mile Jog’, check it out right here)
CMB: “For Ten Mile Jog, I actually didn’t use any effects during recording. It was just the clean signal of my Fender Jazz bass, but I did go back and forth between having both pickups open and having the neck pickup off for the Jaco-type sound. Any effects that you may hear would have been applied by George Duke in the post production stage.”
While I would have loved to get some more details on specific pedals and effects, I also love the fact that while effects may be fun and in some cases the icing on the cake, for a musician like Christian McBride, it’s never an essential part of the music. I love pedals and effects, but still, I can clearly see the point and have nothing but respect for that view. In fact, it’s not like Christian McBride has never prioritized using pedals – quite the opposite as he says: “I have been so all over the place with my effects through the years that I don’t even think I have any specific favorites…” That kind of sums it all up – effects can be used extensively for creative reasons and even with great results, and still, the next time you may want to reset the game and start over just in case you stumble upon some new great tools that has the potential to inspire.
Likewise, when asked if he has a preference for active or passive basses, McBride answers: “No, it basically depends on the song.” Again, serving the musical purpose first and use whatever tool that makes that particular piece of music work the best.
It all adds up to the two final questions I had. And the answers correlate well with the above…
BP: Reportedly, you were (musically) brought up by Ray Brown, and you spent a lot of years early on mainly playing the upright, but later you have recorded and toured with e.g. George Duke and Sting in more funky and pop/rock oriented settings. Was that a result of an inner urge to try out some different musical territories?
CMB: “Absolutely! I have always been interested in exploring as many musical situations as possible.”
BP: Any final thoughts or advice on music in general?
CBM: ”As a bass player, always concentrate on accompanying! The solo stuff comes second!”
As mentioned, that pretty much sums it up. According to McBride, the music comes first. The gear is secondary, whether it’s about basses, amps or pedals and effects. And in the same spirit, laying down the groove is paramount. Flashy solos are great and can be tons of fun as well as amazing – but they will always be secondary…
3 COOL CHRISTIAN McBRIDE VIDEOS