We ask some musicians to take it a step further. Listen as Steve Vai takes us into the world of a bass bow, and the people who make and play it.
The bass bow is a traditional instrument of European and Asian origins and one of the greatest natural musical instruments there is. However, even with its centuries of history and a long tradition of use among musicians, it’s very difficult to discover why bass bows continue to attract such interest from the music industry.
When Steve Vai first came to prominence, the bass bow was the first instrument that allowed him to create incredible, full-bodied sounds with ease. Not only could bass bows create stunning acoustics that seemed to stretch out in front of you despite the fact most listeners couldn’t hear it because they didn’t have headphones, Vai was able to create these kinds of soundscapes with remarkable ease thanks to a technique he learnt as a teenager: the “sound tube”.
This was a simple, inexpensive device that used tiny tubes from the old days when speakers would amplify the sound coming from the strings. These tubes allowed the sound to fill the entire room and the quality wasn’t compromised by noise or distortion. It was, for all intents and purposes, a very good sound that had never been produced using headphones before.
In 2005, when Vai started building a new violin, he was inspired by a traditional Chinese violin in a museum he saw when he was in college. The piece was made from bamboo and featured a simple bend mechanism that gave the violin a unique and intriguing sound. He set out to turn this into a functional model that could actually be used as a musical instrument with a little extra ingenuity.
The result was the BassBow, an interesting and innovative instrument by and for the guitar player.
It’s easy to picture this looking something like a traditional guitar that has been modified to use strings and a bow that looks like a giant version of a traditional Chinese instrument. But Vai instead designed the instrument from the ground up to be used with headphones and to be built within an electronics and control box for playing.
This device isn’t the first one to incorporate a “sound tube”, but it certainly won’t be the last. What makes the B2 bass bow different to other models isn’t just the unique features this instrument offers. Instead, it’s the unique way these bass bows actually use a sound tube to help create its soundscapes.
There have been numerous other bass bow designs that use
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