RGC Presentation: "Guitar Plus Bass-–Basics" by Greg Franklin, May 16, 2012

Our presenter this month was Greg Franklin. In introducing him, I mentioned that the idea for this presentation came to mind when he was accompanying Marjorie Thompson during her workshop at Bernunzio’s Uptown Music. During the intermission, I was picking a tune, and Greg started accompanying me on his bass. I realized that in the many years I have played, I virtually never had a bass accompaniment. There must be some ins and outs to playing together, but I knew little about it. Maybe others have similar experiences (or lack of) and would find discussion of the topic interesting. I tell you now—it was.


Greg Franklin

Greg’s initial comments indicated that as an accompanist for a guitarist you are not actually needed; they can play perfectly well without you. Your job is to enhance the performance without becoming the focus of it. You carefully avoid stepping on the feature performer–just make the music a little better. It’s a fine line to walk and takes some work with the performer to determine what works best for each piece. For some of Marjorie’s tunes he provides a pillow under the melody, for some other pieces he might do something with more interest to augment the melody. He is looking for direction from the guitarist as to what kind of backup they want. For a bluegrass piece it might be just alternating root/fifth but Chicago blues for example has very different needs. It depends on the song and the performer. The right note at the right time makes the song.

Gear: Besides how you play, there is also what sound you want, as different basses provide nuances that modify how it sounds. Greg brought three instruments with him for the presentation. He had a Lehmann Instruments custom-made hollow body, a Rick Turner fretless solid-body and an acoustic Halfling bass made by Tom Ribbecke. You can use flat-wound, round-wound or ground-round strings. (round-wound strings that are then ground semi-flat) Each has a different set of parameters that affect the sound you get from them. Another variant is the pickup type used. There are both magnetic and piezo options, plus location of the pickup can significantly vary the sound. Finally the tone wood used for hollow bodies can make the difference between a muddy sound versus a crisper tone that carries further. We had some interesting discussion on the relative merits of different woods and pickups.

Trial performance: Several of us tried out the experience of playing with Greg’s accompaniment.

  • Dan Feuerstein played “Hesitation Blues.”
  • Jeremy Carter played “Helplessly Hoping,” (Graham Nash) first alone, then with a moderate bass accompaniment and then again with an over-the-top bass line to demonstrate what it sounds like when there is too much of a good thing. A final run through was done with moderate bass backup and lyrics to demonstrate the entire package.
  • John Williamson played the “Theme from the Odd Couple” (Neal Hefti) and “Watermelon Man.” (Herbie Hancock)
  • Bernie Lehman played “I Only Want To Be With You” (Dusty Springfield) and “Summer Song.” (Chad and Jeremy)
  • Dave Jones played “Anji” (David Graham) and “House of the Rising Sun.” (traditional)
  • Dan Feuerstein played generic a 12-bar blues in E and “Stormy Monday.” (T-Bone Walker)
  • John Williamson played “SanHoZay.” (Freddie King)
  • Jeremy Carter finished with “Deep River Blues” (Doc Watson) and a medley of Chet Atkins and Willie Nelson tunes.

~Jeremy Carter

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