Hello bluegrass friends, Dan Eubanks of Special Consensus here to tell you about an amazing instrument, the Travel Bass. I’ve been asked by Bluegrass Today to review it for you, so here goes. Gonna be a lot of bass specific stuff here, so you’ve been warned, but first a little background into my decision to seek this instrument out.
First, I am kind of a purist. I’ve had the same upright bass for 30 years now, since my college days, and it has been on every recording I’ve ever done that required upright bass, including the last four Special C records, and many more besides. It is a part of me. I want the sound it makes and I want the feel it has in the hands, the vibration I feel from the wood, the position it puts the body in, the whole experience.
Because of that, I have had a very hard time getting comfortable with the class of instrument known as an EUB, or, electric upright bass. There are many on the market and you see more all the time if you pay attention. They all do several things well. I have owned two others over the years, but they just didn’t “do it” for me. So basically, the upright bass, and the player’s physical and emotional, even spiritual, connection with it, like every other instrument, is a very personal, intimate thing, and for some people, it is just difficult to be yourself on the instrument if those boxes are not checked.
In an effort to retain that feeling and performance, when having to fly to a gig or series of gigs, I have tried different strategies, a few EUBs have been in the mix, but they didn’t cut it for different reasons. We settled on a huge flight case for the last several years, horrible to travel with, expensive and inconvenient to say the least, but the shows were great because of having the right instrument. Then, last summer, the airline cracked the case, right across the bridge. My bass was unharmed, but coupled with the outrageous expense of renting a vehicle big enough to carry it, the oversize charges and shoddy handling, I resolved to find another way and started getting serious. I had already been looking into the Travel Bass, the design and concept really attracted me.
Here is where some of you might be saying, “why don’t you just get a folding bass or neck-off option?” Believe me, I considered it, and there are some great designs and some good friends of mine are hot rodding old basses to convert them to be more travel friendly, so if you must have a full size option, there are plenty.
I did not want another full size bass, and didn’t want to convert mine – personal decision – plus when I saw how small the Travel Bass could get, I was intrigued. So I emailed the company by email and soon I was conversing with the man that builds them in his shop in Italy, Gionny Quercetani. Soon after that, the bass was at my house in Nashville, right after IBMA this past year. By the way, there is an “out of the box” video I did floating around on the space books if you want to see.
Let’s talk about the instrument.
It comes in a compact ABS style case, wheeled, backpack straps, only 36 inches tall, which will fit into many airplane’s overhead compartment, including the common 737 I fly the majority of the time. But if it has to be checked, it will be fine in this case. The instrument is fully disassembled in the case, the fingerboard is in two pieces, which snaps and locks together, and the seam is unnoticeable once together. Strings are attached to the tuners and held in place via two velcro straps during transit. This the key to the compactness, since the neck and fingerboard are in two pieces, they can pack into the small case. Everything about the neck, fingerboard, scale length, strings, bridge, pickup, are the same as a 3/4 upright bass.
The Travel Bass comes strung with Thomastik spirocores, but you can easily change to a preferred brand if you like. A Fishman Full Circle or David Gauge Realist are the pickup choices it ships with. The body is a hollow chamber with several circular holes, so it does produce acoustic sound, just not very loud. Once I got it together and adjusted (it didn’t take much of that since Gionny asked about my action and had cut the bridge and set neck angle accordingly before it shipped), I played it acoustically just to get the feel.
Here’s the true game changer, it comes with wood shoulders, giving it an upper bout, which transfers vibration, and is also adjustable to your preferred slope. It has a very long wooden endpin as well, allowing for a good fit and position. This allows for the feel I was going on about before, and the result is a satisfying playing experience, very comfortable. By the way, I use the Fishman pickup, which requires an adjustable bridge, so action is very customize-able, plus, there is a neck angle adjustment! You can really dial this thing in.
I have now played two live gigs on it, both club/restaurant gigs, and I am a little slow on the assembly, but it gets better each time. Assembly time is only negative I can point to, and that is mostly user oriented. There will be a gig bag available for leaving it assembled once you hit your destination if you wish, or for playing locally, but the trade off of easy travel vs setup and teardown is a no-brainer for me.
The sound is just like any other plugged in acoustic upright bass, and adjustable through an amplifier, preamp, or the front of house, but not on the instrument itself, just like most upright basses. Both bands I played it with, Special C and my regular jazz trio buddies, guitarist/vocalist Ben Graves and drummer Bob Harsen here in Nashville, thought it worked great and felt like a full size instrument to play with on stage.
The last thing I will address is the cost, without giving a specific number, but if you are in the market for real, you can look up the cost of a new full size folding bass with case like you see everywhere in use on the road, and the Travel Bass is right in that range.
To conclude matters, I’m keeping mine, and when we finally get past the challenges of the current state of things, and travel hard again, this instrument will serve my needs very well.
Thanks for reading friends, good luck out there wherever the trail takes you!