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The U Bass Ukulele: Everything You Need To Know

A wonderful and fun way to add some low-down bass notes to your songs!

by Jennifer VanBenschoten
The U Bass Ukulele: Everything You Need To Know

The U Bass Ukulele continues to grow in popularity among both ukulele and guitar players, and for good reason! A Bass is a wonderful, fun way to add some low-down bass notes to your next ukulele group gathering or music ensemble.

There are many benefits to playing a U Bass over playing a regular bass guitar:

  1. The U Bass is smaller and more portable.
  2. You don’t have to press down on the strings as hard as you do on a regular bass guitar, making the U Bass somewhat easier to play.
  3. Frets on the U Bass fingerboard are closer together than on a traditional bass guitar, which means if you have smaller hands (like mine), it’s easier to reach those notes!

Are you ready to take the leap into the world of the U Bass? Here are a few fun U Bass frequently asked questions to give you some basic information and get you started playing the U Bass!

How is the U Bass Ukulele Tuned?

Knowing how to tune your U Bass is the first step in learning how to make beautiful music! A U Bass is tuned like any other bass guitar to E – A – D – G. The order of the strings on a U Bass is the same as on a regular ukulele, with the fourth string being the one closest to the ceiling when holding your U Bass, and the first string being the one closest to the floor. If you need a little memory device to help you remember the names of the strings, I use Eggs Are Darn Good.

Strings on a U Bass are tuned in a linear tuning, meaning that the E string is lowest note (low E) on the instrument and the remaining three strings move progressively higher up the musical staff.

Using An Amp with the U Bass

Can you play the U Bass without an amp? Yes, and no. If you’re just playing on your own in a practice session, you can most definitely play your U Bass with no amplification. But if you’re playing with a group, then you will most definitely want to plug your instrument into an amplifier so that others can hear the U Bass. Even a solid body U Bass instrument will not require amplification in a practice session.

You’ll notice that all U Bass instruments come with electronic pickups installed. That’s because when you’re playing in a group, you need to have your instrument plugged in to an amplifier of some kind so that the U Bass to be heard with the other instruments. Some brands of U Bass recommend that you use the amplifier plug as a way to attach a strap to your instrument.

Read more: The Best Ukulele Amps!

How to Hold the U Bass

Holding a U Bass is very similar to holding a tenor or baritone ukulele: you want to make sure that you’re holding it up high enough so that you can easily reach both the strings and the fretboard, but not so high that you’re scrunching your shoulders up to your ears and can’t move your hands and arms freely around the instrument.

One difference between the U Bass and a regular ukulele is that most U Bass teachers that I know recommend that you use a strap when holding and playing your U Bass. Why? Because of how the U Bass is played. When you’re playing a U Bass, you’re not strumming the strings the same way you would a ukulele or a guitar. You need to have your arm moving freely so you can move quickly between strings to pluck them, so having a strap to securely hold your instrument while you play is critical.

How Often to Change the U Bass Strings

U Bass strings are very different than ukulele strings in many ways, but just like a regular ukulele, you’ll need to change your strings about every 6 months. In some cases, you may need to change them as often as every three months, or as long as 12 months, depending on how long and how often you play. Just like a regular ukulele, a good rule of thumb is to listen to your instrument and when you notice the strings lose their vibrancy, it’s time for a string change.

Playing the U Bass

Like I mentioned earlier, playing the U Bass is different than playing a tenor or baritone ukulele because you don’t strum the U Bass strings. Instead, the U Bass is used to pick out a bass line using fingerstyle techniques.

A first exercise in picking on the U Bass:

  1. Starting with the fourth string, rest the thumb of your picking hand on the side of the instrument. Alternate with your index and middle finger to pull across the string to get a tone. Repeat a few times until you get a good feel for how the instrument sounds and feels.
  2. When you move on to the third string, rest your thumb on the fourth string to mute it and repeat alternating the index and middle fingers. Remember to pull across the string instead of plucking it straight up into the air.
  3. Repeat on the second string, resting your thumb on the third string.
  4. Repeat on the first string, resting your thumb on the second string.
  5. Move back down the strings until you are at the fourth string again.

Remember that to play the strings on a U Bass, you want to “walk” your fingers across the strings instead of plucking them straight up into the air. It’s more of a slide-pull movement, and it can take a little bit of practice before your muscle memory kicks in.

Once you feel comfortable moving through each string, try this exercise but moving through alternating strings: go from the fourth string to the second, then the third to the first, and back again. Pretty soon, you’ll be ready to start creating your own bass lines and jamming out with your local ukulele group or music ensemble!

If you’re ready to purchase your first U Bass and jump into the world of bass ukulele, make sure you check out the beautiful instruments available on the Terry Carter Music Store website!

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