View Full Version : What's makes a U-Bass a bass uke?

01-01-2012, 05:59 AM
A couple of my bandmates own U-basses and I own a Beaver Creak travel bass. I argue that my bass is as much of a ukulele bass as theirs, as someone just took a Baritone uke and put some "bass" strings on it. When I saw the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain play a couple of summers ago, they each went around the semi-circle saying what they were playing and the bass player called his instrument a bass uke, even thought it was a full sized instrument.I suppose it's all semantics, but what do you think?

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01-01-2012, 08:22 AM
I saw Marcy Marxer play a Cello Banjo at Milwaukee ukefest. She said "just think of it as a very large banjo uke"!
To me the Ubass is a uke because of the way it's built. It's a baritone uke with non metalic bass strings on it. Not having steel or bronze strings IMO also makes a difference. No way would I call an acoustic bass guitar a uke, but others might.

01-01-2012, 08:35 AM
What about the strange strings the U-Bass uses? I guess they need to be different from traditional strings, but they're so odd. Plus, the tuning pegs are plastic, so they break easily and
don't look like they belong. The U-Bass body definitely looks like a uke, so you have a good point. I like your Marcy Marxer story. ;)

01-01-2012, 08:44 AM
You say potato I say potahto - and Dan Quail mispells it anyway. :)

The bass player with UOGB is just cutting up, though, when he calls his bass a bass uke. I've seen clips of shows where it's obvious he's joking about it - I think he started making that joke about the time he switched over from upright to the acoustic bass guitar (it's amazing how long most of those guys have been together).

I think they call the UBASS a uke bass simply because Kala built it using what is essentially a stock baritone uke in other respects. (Actually, they licensed it from the guy who created it, but the idea remains.) The UBASS is no more a uke than an Ashbory or other short-scale bass. Or, I suppose, we could say that they are no less a uke.

However, I think if you consider what role an instrument plays, the UBASS has to be considered a bass, not a uke. It doesn't matter that it may physically resemble a baritone uke, it fullfills a completely different role than any that can reasonably be expected from a uke. A uke, even a baritone, is a high-register instrument used primarily to play melodies or rhythm comprised of strummed full chords. Yes, we can, and often do, play arpeggiated chords but that is not the ukes primary role.

A bass on the other hand rarely plays the melody and is rarely strummed with full chords. The bass is designed to lay down a groove "under" other instruments. The bass works with the drums to establish the rhythmic feel of a band, and assists other band members by signalling the coming of chord changes - those are its primary rolls. Sure, guys like Victor Wooten or the Ox can play it as a solo instrument but if they couldn't also lay down a steady groove to support a band they would not be "playing bass."

Claiming that a UBASS is a uke is kind of like claiming that a banjo is a drum because it has a skin head - it may have a skin head, and you might even be able to get some soft drum-like sounds if you mute the strings and tap it, but it's designed for a completely different role. Does this make sense or am I babbling again? LOL


01-01-2012, 09:05 AM
So does that mean a bass trombone is not really a trombone?
It mostly plays the bass notes in a trombone section even though you can play melody on it (like a bass guitar can play melody) but that's not it's primary function.
I think we should stick with calling the Ubass a bass ukulele because that's what it is. An ukulele that plays bass notes. disagree? change the strings to baritone string and now it's a baritone uke. Same instrument different strings.

Jon Moody
01-01-2012, 09:16 AM
The "bass" mentioned in bass uke (and others mentioned) is an explanation of the register in which the instrument is tuned over the role it plays. So, a bass uke is the lowest tuned ukulele, much like a bass trombone, bass clarinet and bass saxophone are the lowest tuned of their respective instrument families.

Conversely, you have piccolo trumpets and piccolo bass guitars, which have a higher register than normal but are still in the trumpet and bass guitar families. It's all about register.

01-01-2012, 10:00 AM
The uke player from UOGB was definitely kidding around. :) Good argument Bad Monkey.

01-01-2012, 10:01 AM
The subject heading is "What's makes a U-Bass a bass uke?"

In looking at Kala's web site they call the instrument a "u-bass". Not once do you see "ukulele bass". Although it is easy for one's mind to make that association which is working great for their marketing efforts. With that in mind I believe the answer is "it's not a uke, it's a u-bass". That's my take on what the artist intended, fundamentally speaking.

In the violin family we have the violin, viola, cello and double bass. A full size (4/4) double bass is 6 feet tall, has a vibrating string length (bridge to nut) over 42 inches (107 cm), and plays an octave below the bass clef. All these other string bass variations, including the u-bass, play the same pitches as the full size double bass. As a listener then we hear different tonal qualities brought about by the physics of the string and body dimensions and material characteristics.

Another perspective is the construction of the body. The appearance of the acoustic u-bass is similar to the baritone ukulele, perhaps the internal construction is similar too. Looking at a picture of the Beaver Creek Travel Bass it appears to me to be more similar to an acoustic guitar.

Hey Skidmore, for what it's worth, I've got an acoustic spruce u-bass. The tuners are not plastic, maybe something changed in production over the last couple of years?

01-01-2012, 10:22 AM
Thanks Bigchiz. Yeah, my friends tuner was plastic and it broke the first time he tried to tune the Ubass. He was sent a replacement right away and it's fine. I imagine those strings
don't break very easily? I broke my E string the first time I tried to tune my bass.

01-01-2012, 10:44 AM
That's interesting to know about the tuner. Got my u-bass in October 2011, maybe his is older. Another change I've read about is the access panel on the back for replacing the strings. Some builds have screws, mine has magnets holding on the access panel.

is a link where players say over and over to have no more than three wraps of the string around the tuning post.

is a link to a video of the the u-bass being restrung. At about 2:20 in the video he explains why it's important to restring the bass.

01-01-2012, 12:13 PM
These are the videos we always seem to miss in the excitement of tuning a new instrument. I'll check them out after I watch The Doctor Who Christmas special. Thanks!

01-01-2012, 09:42 PM
Given how my collection of instruments is like.. I would like to chime into this discussion.
I have my fair share of unconventional "crossover" instruments...

For instance, I have Risa steel string electric "ukuleles".
Are they ukuleles? Or are they short-scaled electric guitars with fewer strings?

I have an Epiphone Mandobird electric mandolin tuned and setup as a uke. Is that a ukulele? Or is it a mandolin tuned like a uke? Or is it a short-scaled electric guitar with fewer strings made like a mandolin but tuned like a uke?

I've also owned the Ashbory bass.. I've got a Samick Corsair short-scale bass which is nearly the same size as the Ubass.
I have yet to own a Ubass, but I've played it on several occasions in stores, so I'm familiar with how it is.

I also have an Ozark Tenor Guitar tuned like a baritone ukulele, with acoustic guitar steel strings.

In my opinion, what "instrument" it is classed as, really boils down to how the company has marketed and produced the instruments.
My Risa steel string electric ukuleles are "ukuleles" in my view, because the maker is a ukulele company that designed it with ukulele players in mind.
The dimensions such as scale length, neck width, string distance, are that of a ukulele. Therefore it is a ukulele, and not a guitar.

My Epiphone Mandobird is an electric Mandolin.
It was marketed so, and is built with a narrow mandolin neck and is intended for mandolin players.
I do play it like a uke, but it isn't the ideal.. the thin neck suits mandolin playing better.

The Ashbory is not a uke.
It was never marketed as a uke and never intended for ukulele players. It was intended to be a short-scale, portable simulator of an upright bass.

The Beaver Creek Bass is not a uke either, despite its similarities in size.
It is modeled after an acoustic bass, and is not marketed specifically to the ukulele audience.

My Samick short-scaled bass is not a uke either, it is built exactly like an electric bass guitar by a company that has a whole range of bass guitars.
They have a set of the same "series", full size, 3/4 size.. my Mini Corsair is their "1/2" size.

The Ubass, in my opinion, is a uke.
The name "Ubass" clearly implies its heritage in ukuleles, the company is a ukulele manufacturer and going even further, the body is literally a baritone uke body.
The neck, body and dimensions are identical to a uke, and thus it was made specifically with ukulele players in mind.

The Beaver Creek and Samick are comfortable for ukulele players by being small, and similar to a uke.
But by nature, they are not "ukes".

I find this to be the best way to classify instruments.
The manufacturer's intentions in design and marketing.

However, whether an instrument is classified as a "uke" or not should not matter!
If you can play it and have fun, that's all there is to it!
I really don't see how being stubbornly traditional with the definition of uke is productive in any way. I like the fact that I'm a ukulele player who has ventured into the realm of electric guitars and bass guitars through the ukulele. It makes you a multi-instrumentalist.

01-02-2012, 01:19 AM
Thanks Kissing! How do you find the Ashbory bass?

01-02-2012, 01:42 AM
I don't have it anymore, because I sold it a few months ago.

Overall, I liked it.
It's a cute little thing.

But I think at the time, I was not ready for a fretless instrument. Especially a short-scaled fretless instrument. It was challenging, and a bit frustrating as a first bass-guitar-tuned instrument.

So I sold it, used the money to save up for a fretted bass (my Epiphone Viola Bass), which helped me develop as a bass player more.

Now that I'm a bit more confident with bass playing, I really would not mind getting an Ashbory again and learning to play it. It should be a lot of fun.

So overall - a lot of fun for someone who's already a bit familiar with bass playing, but perhaps not the best choice as a first bass instrument.

On the technical side, it amplifies quite well. It has active (battery-powered) electronics. You have to have a screwdriver to change the battery, which is a little inconvenient.

You have to be careful so that the strings don't "stick" to the headstock at the tuners, and sometimes if the string is slightly "floating" at the nut, the open-string sound is quite weak. I have read on the net that people have strapped a rubber band or a capo at the headstock to hold the strings down.

So it's not without its minor design flaws. Takes a bit of getting used to and some tolerance for imperfection.

Personally, I think the Ubass is a more refined instrument. If I was looking for a similar instrument of better quality, I'd save up for a solid-body Ubass, either fretted or non-fretted.

However, the Ashbory is a lot more affordable. The Ubasses are a bit overpriced in comparison in my view.

If there was such a thing as a fretted Ashbory bass that has fixed its nut/open strings problem AND was affordable, it would be ace.

01-02-2012, 02:09 AM
Thanks! I'm still pretty new to the bass, so it's probably not for me yet. I'll have to look at the hardbody UBass again.

01-02-2012, 03:01 AM
If you're looking for a small bass, here is another option:


Very, very affordable. I got my Samick Corsair from them. They've sold out of the Samicks, but they have another one there which should be of the same quality (I think they have the OEM version).
It is built like an electric bass guitar, but shorter.. similar in size to a baritone uke.

But for the price, it is totally worth it.

01-02-2012, 04:59 AM
Has anybody tried to use the aquila bass uke strings on an electrified baritone uke? I'm wondering if this would work?

Jon Moody
01-02-2012, 07:39 AM
A full size (4/4) double bass is 6 feet tall, has a vibrating string length (bridge to nut) over 42 inches (107 cm), and plays an octave below the bass clef. All these other string bass variations, including the u-bass, play the same pitches as the full size double bass. As a listener then we hear different tonal qualities brought about by the physics of the string and body dimensions and material characteristics.

It's worth noting that while there are full sized (4/4) double basses out there in use, the vast majority of what people see are 3/4 sized double basses. The full sized are gigantic and pretty unwieldy.

01-02-2012, 08:30 AM
Hey CB56: That crossed my mind earlier today, too.

01-02-2012, 12:59 PM
Aquila bass strings can work on a regular Baritone tuners/saddles/bridges?

01-02-2012, 06:20 PM
It's worth noting that while there are full sized (4/4) double basses out there in use, the vast majority of what people see are 3/4 sized double basses. The full sized are gigantic and pretty unwieldy.

Very true. In fact 4/4 basses are quite rare. Most large double basses are actually considered 7/8.

- Steve

01-02-2012, 06:21 PM
Aquila bass strings can work on a regular Baritone tuners/saddles/bridges?

I don't think so. They are designed for the U-Bass and similar instruments (i.e. Ashbory and Road Toad basses).

- Steve

01-02-2012, 06:26 PM
The original posters question is clouded by the new solid body U-basses. I consider my U-Bass a "bass ukulele" and I bought it specifically to use at my ukulele club jams and when I cannot play my double bass with the The Barnkickers in which my daughter and I both play ukulele. The solid body U-Basses employ the same basic technology and design, but because they looks like a miniature electric basses (and not ukuleles) they holds no interest for me. It's really a matter of perception, but it's an important factor for my needs.

- Steve