Cliff Engel's Institute Of Bass

Stuart Hamm - January 2007

Stuart Hamm
Through his innovative work as a solo artist and his contributions as a sideman to Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, Stuart Hamm has firmly established himself as one of the most influential electric bassists of the past half-century. Extending the non-traditional function of the electric bass previously revolutionized by Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke in the 1970's, Hamm helped to reshape the contemporary concept of the bass guitar as an unaccompanied instrument with the utilization of polyphonic, two-handed tapping, slapping and popping techniques, chords, and harmonics. Although Hamm certainly wasn't the first bass player to debut during the 1980's and employ an unorthodox approach to playing the electric bass, he was undoubtedly at the forefront of his generation who effectively fused the application of these unconventional techniques.

As one of today's leading bassists, Hamm has released four critically-acclaimed studio recordings. On Radio Free Albemuth (1988), Kings Of Sleep (1989), The Urge (1991), and Outbound (2000), Hamm showcased his unique style of playing the bass as a lead instrument both within a solo environment and various ensemble formats on a genre-spanning spectrum of repertoire that merged rock, jazz, fusion, classical, country, and urban sounds.

Live Stu X 2, the fifth solo project produced by Hamm and his first as a solo artist in nearly seven years, was released in January 2007 and features a diverse compilation of classic tracks recorded by Hamm during his set on the first leg of the Bx3 tour in Philadelphia last April as well as a few previously unrecorded pieces that were captured in San Francisco before a live audience in 2004.

In addition to his barrier-breaking solo sessions, Hamm has been hailed for his recording and touring stints with guitar icons Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. His long-time associations with Vai and Satriani garnered Hamm award-winning recognition on a global scale, and as a result, Hamm has received an extensive list of accolades such as being voted "Best Jazz Bassist" and "Best Rock Bassist" multiple times in magazine polls conducted by several major print publications.

Besides his projects with Satriani and Vai, other studio-related productions that have spotlighted Hamm's trademark style and technical facility include his three collaborations as a member of the trio dubbed GHS with guitarist Frank Gambale of Chick Corea's Elektric Band and former Journey drummer Steve Smith.

For the past two decades, Hamm has toured as one of the world's premier bass clinicians. He has also demonstrated his signature techniques and methodologies to avid students through his best-selling instructional videos, Slap, Pop & Tap For The Bass and Deeper Inside The Bass, and a book of transcriptions, Stuart Hamm - The Bass Book, which contains a collection of Hamm's greatest hits from his first three solo releases.

Based on the highly successful G3 tours he was a part of in the 1990's which featured guitarists Satriani, Vai, and Eric Johnson, Hamm founded the Bx3 tour in April 2006 that has subsequently taken him along with fellow bass pioneers Billy Sheehan and Jeff Berlin from the United States to Asia. With Sheehan, the most revered bassist in the history of rock music, and Berlin, the legendary jazz bassist and founder of the Players School of Music, Hamm is prepared to embark on a 6-week Bx3 tour which is scheduled to take the distinguished threesome of unparalleled technical virtuosity across the United States from Anaheim to Boston.

In this interview, Hamm talks about Live Stu X 2, playing alongside Jeff Berlin and Billy Sheehan on the Bx3 tour, influences, collaborating with Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, using tapping techniques, practicing, gear, and much more!

What have you been up to since your last solo recording, Outbound, was released in 2000?

I've been keeping busy being a dad. That's my primary job. Music is great, but my family is the number one priority. My daughter, Charlotte, is seven years old, and between all of the soccer practices and violin lessons, I can barely keep up!

I also had the opportunity to play the best steady gig here in San Francisco at a place called Teatro ZinZanni. It combined the atmosphere of the Cirque du Soleil with a dinner theater. I've achieved a lot of different things in my career, but if you had ever told me that I would one day play a duet with singer Joan Baez on an Aretha Franklin song in a circus tent, I would have told you that you're crazy! The music was definitely interesting. I did a lot of fretless playing, and I actually composed quite a bit of music for the show which was cool. It was a great gig in that I was playing five nights a week and had a steady paycheck, but the downside was that the gig caused me to lose my creative edge because there is a certain comfort zone that those types of gigs create. That gig finally ended for me in early 2006 because the show wanted to go with an upright bassist. Even though not having a steady paycheck is missed, I really needed to start something new in order to give myself a kick in the butt from a musical perspective.

I've completed quite a few side projects over the past few years such as recordings with GHS, my trio with Frank Gambale and Steve Smith. I've also led a number of solo clinics around the world at places including Italy, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Beijing. I teach locally as well.

I've actually remained very active as a player. I just haven't released anything new as a solo artist. I play some fun gigs on my fretless bass with great musicians in a couple jazz trios. We play standards and original compositions. I also play with a jazz big band. Of course, this certainly isn't my forte or really what I'm known for doing, but I love playing all different styles of music because these experiences help generate fresh ideas.

Can you tell us about your new live recording, Live Stu X 2?

Live Stu X 2 was just released in January, 2007. It consists of 11 tracks which were recorded live with two completely different bands. The first seven tracks were recorded in Philadelphia at World Cafe Live on April 20, 2006 as part of my set during the first leg of the Bx3 tour. The remaining tracks were recorded at Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco on May 10, 2004. The pieces from the San Francisco gig were played by a very eclectic band and sound vastly different than anything I've ever released. They are tunes that I wrote and had been playing for several years prior during clinics as solo bass arrangements, but I had always heard these pieces in my head as full-blown band performances. I think both sets of contrasting compositions compliment each other nicely.

It's definitely a live-sounding recording. There are so many more variables to deal with on a live recording than in a controlled studio environment such as microphone bleeds and so forth. Plus, everyone on this recording is really going for it. The project has a real energy to it because no one is holding back from the fear of making a mistake. As with any live recording, there are going to be a few clams here and there along with some various pops and hisses. With today's technology, we could have went in there and fixed everything during post production, but I didn't want the recording to sound sterile and lose its overall vibe since you can really suck the life out of a live recording if you probe too deeply. We did fix a couple big mistakes that occurred and added some keys to a couple tracks to fill out the sound because we didn't have a keyboard player on the road with us, but that's it. I'm extremely pleased with the playing and the production. I think it really sounds great.

Live Stu X 2 can be purchased directly from my website, You can also receive a copy from me at live gigs, and it will probably be available from a couple online retailers such as in the near future.

How did the Bx3 tour with Jeff Berlin and Billy Sheehan come together?

I was part of the first G3 tour with Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Eric Johnson. It was so much fun, and it received such an enormous response from everyone. I thought that a bass version would be extremely cool. Fans were already chatting about a Bx3 tour years ago so I've been talking with various bassists about putting this together for a long time. The most difficult task in terms of getting a Bx3 tour started has always been scheduling and setting aside the proper amount of time when we could all get on the road and do it. After my steady gig at Teatro ZinZanni finally ended, I decided that it was time to run the idea up the flagpole to see if anyone would salute it.

Bx3 - Jeff Berlin, Stuart Hamm & Billy Sheehan I've known Jeff and Billy for years. I'm the biggest Jeff Berlin fan in the universe. He was playing all over Boston back in the late 1970's when I was attending Berklee so I've seen him play countless times. Billy and I have done G3 tours together in the past when Billy was playing with Steve Vai's band, and I was touring with Joe Satriani so I was absolutely convinced that Billy had to be involved.

Even though we have known each other for years, we've never been around one another for an extended period of time before our first shows together last April. We didn't know if we would even get along with each other until we were all stuck together in a van for six hours. I didn't want a G3 thing where we have this weird competitive vibe between us, and I wasn't sure how well the music would mesh.

After we committed to launch the initial tour, the biggest challenge for me was putting together a band that could back all three of our sets. We just didn't have the budget to take three separate bands out on the road so I had to find some musicians that could play all of the different styles of music. I could find guys that could swing and play Jeff's songs without any problem, and I could also find musicians who could rock with Billy. However, finding musicians that could do both was nearly impossible. Thankfully, I found John Mader, who is a fantastic drummer and plays with the Family Stone Experiment, from the Bay Area to do our shows along with guitarist Jude Gold who played guitar on my last solo recording, Outbound. Those guys have played absolutely great, and I can't thank them enough.

How have the gigs been going?

We played several gigs throughout the United States and Asia in 2006, and it was a blast! The whole experience has really turned out great. Those guys are such icons in their respective fields, and I really can't say enough good things about them. We just have a ton of fun hanging out, and we all share stories with each other. Plus, I get lessons from Jeff and Billy between gigs!

Jeff, Billy, and I play three completely different styles of music with vastly different bass tones and extremely different concepts of how we approach playing bass. Jeff goes out there and really swings his ass off and plays one incredible solo after another. The material he plays is just amazing. After Jeff finishes his set, I go do my thing, and then Billy comes out and rocks the house down.

We put the first tour together back in April with very little notice, and it really wasn't properly advertised as it should have been. We sure did generate a lot of buzz though with those first few shows, and now the sponsors are really starting to come aboard. We did record some of the shows, and we might release a Bx3 recording at some point in the future. Also, we'll be booking more tours in the future as our schedules permit.

Which of your tracks do you typically play during a Bx3 show?

During my set, I really try to mix things up with a variety of selections from all of my solo recordings. I generally play tracks such as "Flow My Tears," "Radio Free Albemuth," "Moonlight Sonata," and "Country Music" which all appeared on my first solo project, Radio Free Albemuth. From Kings Of Sleep, I'll perform "Black Ice" and "Terminal Beach." I'll also play "Lonestar" from The Urge, "Outbound" which is the title track from my most recent studio recording Outbound, "Katahdin" from my second recording with GHS called The Light Beyond, and "The Abbey Road Medley." One of the encore pieces that all three of us play on is "Castro Hustle" which can also be heard on Outbound.

Will there be an extended Bx3 tour in the future?

Absolutely! We are kicking off the next tour at the NAMM show on January 18. We'll be playing straight through the end of February which will take us across the entire United States from Anaheim to Boston. I'm hoping we'll be able to get in at least one or two more additional tours by the end of the year and possibly go to Europe as well.

Bx3 - Jeff Berlin, Stuart Hamm & Billy Sheehan I really see a lot of potential with Bx3. This thing is only in its infancy. It's really just a matter of getting all of our schedules coordinated. I've personally invested so much time and money in this project to make it happen. You have no idea! I spent the last 15 years touring as a sideman so I've never needed to pay attention to any numbers. The last time I took a band out on the road was to promote The Urge in 1991 so it has been a long time since I've dealt with everything that needs to be done in order to make a tour like this come together. Initially, I was doing everything when it came to getting this entire project off the ground, but now we have a manager so things are running smoother. It has been a lot of hard work, but it has also been very rewarding to see all of this come to fruition. Hopefully we'll be able to eventually turn a profit on this project.

Given that it has been nearly 7 years since you released Outbound, do you have any plans to release a new studio project?

First, I'd like to release a DVD that features performances of my most well-known solo pieces which also includes an instructional-style analysis of the techniques and so forth that went into writing and performing those compositions. I have some great footage from clinics over the past couple years, and I just need to find the people to put it together and make it happen.

When I now listen back to the material I released years ago, I can hear how I was affected, to a certain degree, by the music I was hearing and playing for so many years with Satriani. In quite a few of my older songs, I'm just playing eighth notes behind guitar solos, and that isn't what I do the best.

For the next solo project, I'd like to showcase what I can do in a group setting with lighter instrumentation as compared to my previous recordings. Besides bass, I'd like to have some percussion, saxophone, and maybe even a string quartet. I've done a few gigs in the Bay Area with similar instrumentation, and it has worked great. During recent concerts with my band, I'll start out by playing a couple solo pieces, and then a saxophonist will join me for a duet. We expand the duet to a trio by adding percussion, followed by a guitarist joining us to round out a quartet, and then finally we'll add keyboards to complete a full-blown band. The tunes are written. We just need to record them, shop the project around, and see what happens.

If we can get a good quality recording at some point during a tour, I'd like to see Bx3 release a live project as well.

Can you tell us about your earliest experiences as a musician?

I was fortunate to have been raised within a very musical environment where I was constantly exposed to many different styles of music. I was born in 1960 in New Orleans. My father worked as a musicologist, and he was the president of the American Musicology Society. My mother worked as a voice instructor and an opera singer while my brothers introduced me to all kinds of music from Miles Davis to Pink Floyd and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

When I was four years old, my family moved to Champaign, Illinois. There was actually quite an electronic music scene going on in Champaign at that time because John Cage, who was a good friend of my father's, was teaching there. Cage is recognized for his contributions in experimental music and prepared compositions. I remember helping my dad prepare Cage's piano by sticking golf tees and other objects between the piano strings so I was exposed to a lot of very avant-garde music at a young age.

One day at a local tennis court which was less than a block from my house, there was a band playing. The bassist was playing a sparkling red bass that was plugged into a naugahyde-covered amp which had all kinds of chrome portholes in it. I just thought that was so cool and decided I wanted to play bass.

When I was an 11 year-old, pudgy, red-headed flute player, my hero was actually Danny Bonaduce from the Partridge Family because he was also a chubby, red-haired kid who happened to play bass.

I asked for a bass that Christmas which would have been in 1973, and it was the only present I ever searched around the house for and actually found in my parent's closet so I knew I was getting it for Christmas. It was a red Alvarez bass which was kind of a Les Paul copy with Spider Man stickers on it along with a big silver surfer sticker on the headstock which in some weird way seemed to foretell of my Satriani days. I also received a book called Mel Bay's Easy Bass Method which I worked through. I picked things up fairly quickly because I already had some musical training in playing piano, flute, and oboe. I started reading big band charts in the junior high school jazz band. In fact, the junior high school was so big that they had "A" and "B-level" jazz bands in order to help you prepare for the high school jazz band.

In 1975, I was a freshman at Champaign Central High School. We had a state champion jazz band, and I was playing both electric bass and acoustic upright. We played charts in all sorts of styles and odd time signatures. My high school jazz band competed in the big Illinois state band competition. A band leader from another school came up to me after we played our set and told me that he was really impressed by my playing and that I should keep pursuing bass. Having an instructor on that level, who I didn't know, approach me like that meant something very special. The following year, I made the all-state jazz band on upright bass, and then my family moved to Vermont because my father began teaching in the music department at Dartmouth College. I went from a high school of several thousand students in Illinois to a graduating class of maybe 60. In fact, the town where we lived in Vermont was so small that I had to go to high school in New Hampshire, and unfortunately, they didn't have much of a band program. At that time with my jazz band background, I thought Maynard Ferguson's music was the coolest thing around.

Which bassists have had the most profound influence on your playing?

My first serious influences on bass were Chris Squire and John Entwistle. I was a big Yes fan and also a big fan of The Who because the bass parts were more melodic and upfront than most of the other bass lines in music recorded during the 1970's. After hearing Stanley Clarke, I remember writing "I'm going to be the fastest bass player alive" a thousand times on a piece of paper. I also recall sitting in my dorm room during my freshman year at Berklee and voting for Stanley Clarke as the "Best Jazz Bass Player" and John Entwistle as the "Best Rock Bass Player" in the Guitar Player magazine poll. Years later, I was very fortunate to become the first person to win both those awards in consecutive years.

Then, November 8, 1978 became the day that my life changed forever. I had a ticket to see some band called Weather Report featuring Jaco Pastorius on bass. I still thought Maynard Ferguson was cool and had never really heard about Weather Report or Jaco. This was the same tour they recorded 8:30 on just a couple months later. Jaco was so amazingly incredible that night. I still get chills thinking about that gig today. After the show, I went home, pulled the frets out of my bass, and put my hair in dreadlocks. I saw what Jaco did on bass, and I wanted to see if I could take it a bit further so that is when I started tapping piano pieces on bass. I also saw Jeff Berlin play a lot during my time in Boston. He was playing all around town in clubs with guys like Mike Stern, and he became a really big influence.

Eventually, I reached a point where I deliberately stopped listening to everyone for a number of years because I wanted to try developing my own thing. I didn't want to see how Stanley Jordan or Billy Sheehan tapped because I didn't want to do exactly what they were doing. Now, I want to get as many lessons from Billy that I can while on a Bx3 tour so he can show me all of the things he does!

How did your relationships with Steve Vai and Joe Satriani begin?

I met Steve during the first semester of our freshman year at Berklee. I saw him play the national anthem at a party, and I talked to him afterwards. We put together a band called Axis, and I played on his audition tapes for Frank Zappa. Steve moved to California to play with Zappa while I went on the road with an Elvis Presley impersonator for about a year and a half and played at the Holiday Inn hotel in Morgantown, West Virginia for $300 a week. Eventually, I moved back to Boston, and I worked at a McDonalds across the street from Fenway Park while gigging around town at night. Steve called and asked me to move to California because he wanted me to play on a recording he wanted to do. I moved into Steve's place, slept on his couch, and we recorded Flex-able. After that, I did a tour with a band called David & David which was a popular MTV band at the time, and they had a big radio hit called "Welcome To The Boomtown." I can remember us playing at The Roxy in L.A. in 1987 and seeing a young Sean Penn, Madonna, and Jack Nicholson in the audience.

Some of the guys from Relativity Records, who had signed Steve to a deal, came to a couple of my solo gigs that I was doing during that time and asked me if I could do a solo recording for hardly any money. Of course, I said yes, and that is how I recorded Radio Free Albemuth. On that recording, there is a song called "Flow My Tears" which was written with a Miles Davis, muted trumpet kind of melody in mind. Mark Isham, who was a fantastic trumpet player and is today a famous film scorer, was going to play on that track. He wanted to record his trumpet part in his own home studio with his own engineer so he could get his particular tone, but he asked for $50 to pay his engineer to record his part. That was very reasonable, but the problem was that not only did I not have $50 in the recording budget to reallocate for a secondary recording engineer, but I didn't even have $50 to my name! I called Relatively Records and told them that I needed someone to record the melody to "Flow My Tears," but my budget was gone. That is when they told me about some guitar player they had just signed who was a friend of Steve's, and his name was Joe Satriani. Relativity Records said I could play a track on Joe's new recording, and Joe would then play a track on mine. I gathered all my material and flew to the studio. When I arrived, Joe was in the middle of recording Surfing With The Alien. In exchange for Joe's playing, the plan was to have me play fretless bass on one of Joe's tunes called "Always With Me, Always With You." However, we spent the entire day recording Joe's playing on my tunes, and we ran out of time to record my bass part on Joe's track. I flew back home, and the rest is history.

How did you discover and develop your two-handed tapping technique?

When I first started using tapping techniques, I didn't learn them so I could play really fast pentatonic licks. I began studying piano when I was very young, and I think performing as a soloist is one of the highest levels of musicianship you can achieve as an instrumentalist. It's just you and your instrument. I could listen to soloists interpret music all day and not get tired of it. I wanted to transfer the sounds I was hearing on piano to bass, but I just couldn't do that through traditional technique.

There were a couple specific pieces I was playing on the piano that I wanted to play on bass such as George Gershwin's "Prelude No. 2," and that really got me started. As I figured out pieces like this, I just used everything I could think of including tapping with my right hand thumb in order to play difficult passages. Some of the early arrangements I worked on took months to work up to a level where I really felt comfortable playing them because first you have to figure out all of the notes, fingerings, and transitions that are required of the lines. Then, you have to practice everything slowly until you are able to assimilate the material into your vocabulary in a consistent fashion so it sounds smooth and musical. Sometimes classical pieces work perfectly as bass arrangements, and sometimes they just aren't doable. It just takes some experimentation to learn what works and what doesn't, but the journey is rewarding. Whichever techniques the passages called for in order to play them, I integrated into my performance.

I've arranged and recorded quite a few piano repertoire pieces for bass including Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" and Debussy's "Dr. Gradus Ad Parnassum" which were both featured on my first recording, Radio Free Albemuth, along with Bach's "Prelude In C" which is found on Kings Of Sleep. Another fun piano piece that I arranged for solo bass which people often associate with me is the Peanuts cartoon theme, "Linus And Lucy," by Vince Guaraldi. It is part of the live medley, "Quahogs Anyone?," on The Urge.

The technique just facilitates the performance of the music that you hear in your head. It shouldn't matter which techniques I need to use in order to I get those sounds on bass as long as I'm able to create the music and generate an emotion from the listener. Tapping is just a tool that enables me to get those piano-like tones and play what I hear.

In your own studies, what do you devote the most time to practicing?

I have a series of warm-up exercises that I go through in order to loosen and strengthen my hands. Jeff Berlin and I once got into a huge discussion regarding the use of a metronome, and even though I disagree with his perspective, I respect him immensely as an instructor and a player. He is obviously doing something right, and I'd seriously love to attend his "One Week Intensive" that he does at the Player's School at some point in the future just to really see where he is coming from with some of his concepts. I do like to practice with a metronome because I feel that it helps me track my progress. I'll practice scales in quarter notes, eighth notes, and eventually sixteenth notes. I'll play them painfully slow.

What really helps me the most when practicing is slowing down the material immensely. I really try to convey this point to all of my students because everyone wants to play everything as fast as possible. However, when you play lines excruciatingly slow, you are forced to think about each of the individual notes you are playing along with the tone, attack, decay, sustain, and release that is being produced. When you play things fast, you don't have the opportunity to pay much specific attention to any one of these components because no single note is held for any kind of duration that would allow you to analyze it in this fashion. Plus, playing things very slowly also helps measure what you are truly playing versus what you are doing just by muscle memory. Take it slow, and don't allow yourself to become frustrated with the learning process because in the end, the results will be worth the extra effort.

Let's say that I have a particular exercise that I'll start practicing at 100 bpm. Instead of continuously increasing the tempo as practically everyone does, I'll start at 100 bpm, and then I'll go through the following sequence - increase the exercise to 110 bpm, slow it down to 90 bpm, speed it up to 120 bpm, decrease to 80 bpm, increase to 130 bpm, slow it down to 70 bpm, and so forth in this fashion. It's so much harder to play things at a slow tempo than it is to play at a fast tempo, and once you can play things perfectly at a slow tempo, you'll feel so much more in control when playing the same material at a fast tempo.

You'd be amazed to see the number of people at my clinics who ask me about advanced tapping and slapping techniques but can't even play a G major scale in half notes and make every note sound really nice at a slow tempo.

With the tapping techniques, there is a certain degree of strength and coordination that I feel I need to reach in order to get beyond the techniques and attain a level where I can create music and let it flow with ease without having to think too much about the specific techniques that I'm using. I have several scalar exercises that I'll practice in a very methodical fashion to strengthen my fingers and reach a particular performance level.

I'm really enjoying the chord tone approach techniques that Jeff showed me during our first Bx3 tour in April which he learned from renowned jazz instructor Charlie Banacos because they have really been kicking my butt. Those exercises have kept me busy for months since I needed to apply them to all of the primary scales and keys. They have forced me to practice, to look at bass from another perspective, and to expand my musical horizons. I could practice that kind of material all day long, and I try to practice a little reading in bass and treble clefs each day as well. Practicing is like meditation for me because it clears my mind.

If you ever find yourself stuck in a rut or frustrated with your playing, how do you get beyond that point?

I think everyone experiences a rut with their playing to a certain degree or the feeling of hitting a wall every now and then. It's a part of the learning process and becoming a better musician. I just simply take a break. If I'm having problems with a particular exercise, I'll just put it away for a short time while I practice other things and then come back to it at a later date so it feels fresh. Work on other challenges because there are so many different things you can practice. You can also put your bass down, and go do something that is totally unrelated to music. Practicing is a never-ending, ongoing process.

Do you stress any concepts in particular to students during clinics and private lessons?

Generally, people attend my clinics because they want to learn the techniques I use to perform my music since that is such a big part of what I do, but I also really stress the significance of being able to play solid grooves. That is what playing bass within a band is all about. You have to be able to play with other musicians. That is what you get paid to do. All of the flashy advanced techniques are fun to try, but they won't necessarily help you in getting gigs because most paying gigs simply don't require that you know how to slap or tap. In fact, I've submitted my resume for certain gigs in the past and have been passed over due to actually being overqualified for the gig. The perception has been that since I can play a two-handed tapping version of "Moonlight Sonata" or that I utilize other advanced techniques such as slapping, chords, and harmonics in my own music that I must not be interested in laying down a simple bass groove which just simply isn't the case. With that said, I do spend a good amount of time demonstrating tapping and slapping techniques within the context of my songs during clinics and lessons because that is what people pay me to show them.

If I'm showing someone how to build a solo, I'll ask that person to play three choruses of a simple 12-bar blues to demonstrate what they can do which generally turns into a wankfest. After finishing the solo, I'll ask them to tell me what they were thinking about while they were playing. They will usually say that they weren't thinking of anything in particular, or maybe they'll mention some scales they used. I will then instruct them to do the following over three choruses of the same 12-bar blues. Play the first chorus with the mindset that you are sad because your girlfriend left you. During the second chorus, play like you are angry about your girlfriend dumping you. Finally, in the third chorus, play like you are happy because your girlfriend left you. Rather than just stringing together a bunch of licks or playing scales really fast, this approach to soloing will help outline more of a storyline, and you can actually see the light go on in a student's eyes once a person makes this connection.

What advice could you offer to someone who wants to eventually play at your level?

There are two things that you absolutely have to do. First, practice your ass off, and second, play live gigs as much as you can. A good teacher will point you in the right direction, and then you really have to learn it for yourself.

In terms of application, get out and play with as many different people and in as many different musical styles as possible. Don't limit yourself to just playing jazz or blues. Learn how to play rock, country, and other styles. Just get out and have fun. Don't sit in your basement and practice forever until you think you've reached a certain level because you'll deny yourself the enjoyment of music and playing in front of an audience. Plus, playing with others will help you in networking with other playing musicians and getting your name out there so more musicians will call on you for more gigs in the future. Start a cover band. Do something, but don't just sit and wait for something to happen. Make it happen!

How do you typically record your bass parts?

For my solo material, I'll try to record all of the bass tracks myself on a 16-track digital recorder, and then I'll send those tracks to whoever else needs to record their parts on it. The way I record my bass depends on the song and the tone I need to get. Sometimes I record direct. Sometimes I'll place a microphone in front of an amp, and sometimes I'll even blend a direct signal with that from an amp.

What gear are you using?

My primary instruments are still my signature model, Fender Urge basses. I have around two dozen basses, but I switch between about eight of them on an active basis. I have a couple fretless basses, a 5-string, and a few fretted 4-string basses that I use regularly. Each of them has a slightly different setup so I'll choose which one to play depending on the gig I'm doing and the kind of tone I need to produce. Soon, Fender will be reissuing the Urge II bass that will feature some additional colors.

I'm back to using Hartke amplification. I really love the Hartke gear, but someone I knew at Peavey approached me about checking out some Peavey amps because they wanted to get into more high-end bass amps. I liked the low end as well as the low mids that the Peavey amps produced. I was going to design a bass amp for Peavey, but then the guy who signed me got moved to another department, and my amp design seemed to get lost in the process. Also, the Peavey Pro Bass series, which I had been using, was discontinued in 2006, and I just can't get my sound with any of the other Peavey amps.

I hadn't talked to Larry Hartke in ages, and then one day I came across a Hartke advertisement in a magazine that had Larry's cell phone number listed and said to call him because he wanted to talk to every player on the planet so that's exactly what I did. He sent me some of their latest gear to check out, and I absolutely loved the products. I'm now using an HA3500 amplifier with two XL series 4x10 cabinets.

For strings, I've been using GHS Boomers since the 1980's. I also use Evidence Audio instrument cables. They don't color the tone of your signal chain at all unlike most other typical cables, and the difference in tone is amazing. When I play live, I run through a DigiTech BNX3 floorboard because I like the sound of its octavider, reverb, delay, and synth bass effects that I use on some of my tunes.

Do you have any hobbies you enjoy that aren't music-related?

I read a lot, and I collect old science fiction books by a few authors I really like. My brother turned me onto the writing of Gene Wolfe. He writes very dense and complicated material that really makes you think. I've always been into sports. I'm a huge soccer fan, and I love watching it. My family lived in Bologna, Italy for a year when I was eight years old because my dad was teaching there, and I love the Italian soccer league. I used to play golf when I had the time. Before I became a dad, I was also a big Raiders fan and ticket holder. I still follow the Raiders and the Red Sox from my Berklee days, but now I have so many different things going on since my daughter keeps me jumping between everything she's involved in. It's non-stop. There just aren't enough hours in a day! Every year, I do a Christmas recording with my daughter. For this past holiday, I put together a solo bass rendition of "Eidelweiss" that she sings and plays violin on. I'm just trying to be a good dad, maintain a good attitude, and have fun!

Selected Discography

Stuart Hamm
Solo Recordings
Live Stu X 2 - Live From Philadelphia And San Francisco
The Urge
Kings Of Sleep
Radio Free Albemuth

With GHS Featuring Frank Gambale & Steve Smith:
The Light Beyond
Show Me What You Can Do

With Joe Satriani:
Live In San Francisco (Double DVD/CD)
Crystal Planet
G3 - Live In Concert (DVD/CD)
Time Machine
Flying In A Blue Dream
Dreaming #11

With Steve Vai:
Passion And Warfare

Stu Hamm 2 - Deeper Inside The Bass
Stuart Hamm - Slap, Pop & Tap For The Bass

Stuart Hamm: Bass Transcriptions - Outbound & Beyond
Stuart Hamm: The Bass Book


Fender Stu Hamm Urge 4 & 5-String Basses

Hartke HA3500 Amplifier
Hartke 410XL Series Speaker Cabinets

GHS Bass Boomers Strings (.045-.105)

DigiTech BNX3

Evidence Audio

Cliff Engel's Institute Of Bass

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