A different kind of stompbox: Shadow's Stompin' Bass
(Brian Johnston | Posted 2011-07-07)
All of life is affected by rhythms, whether speaking of reoccurring hunger pangs, sleep/wake, and the most primal – beating of the heart. It is no surprise that our affinity toward rhythm in daily life found its way to the beating of drums, which then created a firm foundation for the application of melody of instruments as they coordinated with the rhythmic foundation laid out by the drums. And even when instruments are played without a drum section there is some manner of keeping time, e.g., the tapping of a foot, the tempo or cadence of the strumming hand, or the conductor and his baton.
Keeping a beat, and having music follow that beat, provides order and consistency for the ear. This does not mean that some aspect of rhythm cannot change in a song, since different styles of music do incorporate changes in meter (the pulse and rhythm of time patterns). Rather, maintaining rhythmic consistency makes music more enjoyable and logical to the brain. Something sounds out of place if a rhythm is not maintained.
The first 'stompboxes'
For the guitarist, foot tapping to maintain rhythm eventually led to stomping boxes, popularized in American folk and blues music, to add an audible rhythm accompaniment for guitars and other instruments when drums were not available – or to provide a more subdued background beat when the volume of a drummer was not required or desired. They have been and are used by a number of musicians and songwriters, including Bill Bourne, Nathan Rogers, John Butler, John Lee Hooker, Son House, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jeff Lang, and Seth Lakeman.
The small wooden boxes were nothing more than that - a hollow casing to add an accompanying ‘boom’ and dimension to music. In modern use, musicians started making these boxes more thunderous by placing a microphone inside, with the impact resonating through an amplifier. It was crude, but it worked for both small and large venues, both plugged and unplugged. Musicians soon discovered that stomping boxes were even deal for bands that had a drummer, as it added an additional bass drum and ‘kick’ to the mix without involving a second drummer or taking up more space on stage. Technology then stepped up this idea by integrating more delicate sensors or piezo transducers in the boxes for better clarity and evenness of the stomping sound.
As with all music gear, stomp boxes have evolved over the years, and the latest has been given to us by the German engineers Shadow Electronics – a company known for its pickup design and technology. The Stompin’ Bass is used by several musicians and bands, including Heather Nova and the European sensation Livingston, and is compact, folding in half to fit into its padded case. In fact, you can remove and not use the dense foam heel pad so that the only thing in use is the stomping block, although the rear extension pad does support the heel and its anti-slip surface keeps the Stompin’ Bass in place (less of a concern for bedroom players on carpet).
Very solid in construction and weight, it is made of chosen African (bubinga) rosewood with heavy non-slip rubber on the base and on top, both of which will withstand years of use. With just the right angle, the Stompin’ Bass design allows for longer play without much fatigue compared to flatter models, and its angle makes it appropriate to stomp with either toes or heel. Inside the completely magnetic shielded casing (for noise-free operation) is a patent humbucking, low impedance NanoMag pickup. What you get is no hum, hiss or microphone noise and a tight, focused percussive thrust to your music that merges extremely well with acoustic instruments.
Because it consumes very little power, a 9V battery will last for many hours and uses energy only when plugged into a jack end. From there you can connect the Stompin’ Bass into a PA, EQ board or pedal, or direct into an amplifier. I would recommend not using any echo device, or at least keep it to a minimum, since the Stompin’ Bass automatically and naturally provides a slight echo quality or ambience.
A variety of sounds
Because the Stompin' Box sound depends on how you have it hooked up, such as the use of an EQ, the material of your shoes, and how hard you stomp, you will get different percussive sounds. The timber of your instruments will determine how the Stompin’ Bass should sound so that it’s complimentary. I recommend a small bass amp to get a deeper warmer sound. Some cheaper guitar amps tend to make the device sound like a giant drumstick hitting a block of wood, which may be the sound you’re after. But to get a more bottom-heavy and rich wooden ‘clocking’ sound, turn down the treble and mids, and crank the bass.
An important point about using the Stompin’ Bass is not limited to just accompaniment. Like a metronome, it helps to improve a musician’s timing. With a metronome, the sound emanates from the background, whereas with a stomp box the sound generates from within the person and creates a momentum in acoustic work not possible without it. Because of this, a stomping box provides an intuitive rhythm that is as flexible as the person using it.
The negative of this device is that it does require an amp and some experimentation with the EQ to get the right sound relative to the music and instruments. However, that is the nature of a modern stomp box and the Shadow Stompin’ Bass does exactly what it is supposed to do and is built to last.
The bottom line
The Stompin’ Bass is ideal for ‘unplugged’ acoustic music, to provide more edge than what can be achieved by merely strumming a guitar hard or harder. It adds an extra dimension to live music with or without a drummer. It improves timing and playing syncopation. And it is a highly organic, natural sounding and dynamic percussion tool that is suitable even for the home musician, whether practicing in private or entertaining at parties. If you want to get the room moving, wait until you start using the Stompin’ Bass with a guitar – it breathes life into your playing.
The Shadow Stompin' Bass has a street price of $189.95 USD.