Play U•BASS Q&A w/ Magnus Sjöquist – Kala Brand Music Co.

Play U•BASS Q&A w/ Magnus Sjöquist – Kala Brand Music Co.

A versatile bassist and teaching artist from Sweden, Magnus Sjöquist was one of the earliest and most spirited adopters of the U•BASS®. Just a couple years after its first introduction, Magnus created Play U•BASS: a personal blog dedicated to his observations, experimentation, and playing experiences with the instrument. We chatted with him again this Spring to hear more about his original U•BASS story and his new single “Reflections:”

Could you catch everyone up on your background as a musician?

My musical journey started pretty early on. My mom sang in choirs, played piano, church organ, and my dad sang so music was around me from the start. My musical interests were always encouraged by my parents and I’m super happy for their support throughout the years!

I guess there were two parallel paths on my musical journey. I went to music school where I took trumpet lessons and played in orchestras until I was 19. 

Parallel to this, I started to explore rock, playing guitar and bass with a classmate of mine, first in his parent’s basement and then their garage!

My love for rock, blues, and improvised music took. I also had drums at home, but I started playing bass with a local rock band and decided to focus primarily on bass. 

When did you decide that teaching music was an additional skill set that suited you well?

After high school, I started working at the Saab factory in my hometown. After two years there, my thirst for more musical knowledge led me to apply for, and eventually go to, two different folkhogskolor (post-high school music schools) with a focus on music theory, bass lessons, and ensemble playing.

Most students wanted to learn even more and I was among the students that wanted to go to music university. I got enrolled at Örebro University and after four years I got my Master of Fine Arts in Music Education degree. 

Do you remember when you first heard of the U•BASS®?

I do! I was always hungry for news about all things bass. One day I got the latest issue of Bass Player magazine and read a review about this thing called a U•BASS.

This was very intriguing and my parents happened to be on a trip to Hawaii at the time. Hawaii = ukulele! I contacted a music store in Honolulu and my parents brought back a Solid Spruce Top Fretless U•BASS.

I still remember when the music store called me when I was at a gig to make sure that it was a fretless U•BASS I wanted. It was 10 am in Honolulu and 10 pm here in Sweden! 

What were your first impressions when you first played this instrument?

I pulled it out of the case minutes after it was delivered by my parents. Although I was a little bit skeptical at first, it quickly turned into sheer joy. I found it was easy to play and the sound was super BIG and warm!

What led you to create playubass.com?

In 2010, I attended a music camp in Nashville, TN. This was super inspiring. When I got back to Sweden, I wanted to combine my passion for music, bass, and now the U•BASS. I started blogging about it in 2012 and have shared lessons, tests, tips and tricks, reviews, and more ever since. 

How many visitors and members have your site had over the years?

I have had over 100,000 visitors to my blog since it started. I’m super happy with that especially since I haven’t been doing any marketing at all!

How many different U•BASS do you think you’ve played?

Hmm…that’s a bit hard to answer…

Since I have been fortunate to attend the NAMM show in Anaheim I have tried most of the different models available. 

Must be at least 30+ different ones!

You do a lot of experimentation and reviews for the U•BASS. What has been your favorite U•BASS and string combination to date?

It depends on what kind of music I will play.

When I want to emulate an upright I gravitate to the original Road Toad Pahoehoe Strings. If I want a bit more tension, but still an upright-ish sound, the Kala/Galli Flat Wound Strings are nice too. 

For the Solid Body U•BASS my favorites are the Kala Round Wound Strings but I also use Kala/Galli flat wounds!

I did use the Aquila Thunder Reds for a long time too. It’s great how the options for different strings have increased throughout the years. When I started, it was Pahoehoe that ruled the U•BASS world when it came down to strings.

How do you approach the U•BASS differently from an electric bass guitar or an upright bass?

The great thing with U•BASS is that my previous experiences from 35+ years of playing can be used right away.

Of course, I have to adapt to the super short scale length and the different feel, especially if I’m playing the Pahoehoe or other Polyurethane style strings. 

I understood, early on, that the dynamics of my playing has to change to fit this new instrument. 

Tell us a bit about where you currently teach music.

Besides video lessons on my blog/website, I’m teaching high school students in Sweden. 

I teach bass (and quite a bit of U•BASS too), ensemble playing in different styles, and music production.

I’ve been at the same school for more than 20 years now. I’m fortunate to have great colleagues and fantastic students! 

I also give online one-on-one lessons from time to time. 

We loved your new piece, “Reflections.” How do you go about composing with bass as the primary instrument?

I love the tone I get from the round wound strings on a solid body U•BASS. 

About five years ago I got the idea to tune the 5-string Solid Body U•BASS a fourth higher. After some prototyping, the High C String Set was finally released!

This gives me access to a higher register and makes it easier to play chords and melodies.

“Reflections” is based on a chord progression I came up with. It has an eight-bar long sequence that loops throughout the song. I recorded one take of melodic improvisation to that progression. My initial goal was to mix and match these melodic ideas and come up with a composed melody. After revisiting the improv, I decided to leave it as is. So what you hear is that improvised first take!

What should we watch out for from you in the future?

I have just released a couple of video lessons together with Ariane Cap. These are for beginning U•BASS players. A great way to get started.

To complement this I also suggest checking out my lesson pack: “Learn To Play the U•BASS – Basic Techniques”.

I’m working on more lesson packs and hope to release new packs later this year!

When it comes to new music I have some ongoing projects and will continue to release more music with my different U•BASS! On my Spotify Artist Page, you can find playlists that feature music I play U•BASS on and other things I played on and/or produced here.

What is something you wish everyone knew or understood about the U•BASS®?

The U•BASS is a great beginner’s bass instrument to pick up. Easy on the hands. Because of the short-scale, the lowest notes are easily within reach and it’s a fantastic complement to other basses because it has a distinct voice of its own. 

The U•BASS is also, of course, ultra travel-friendly and its many sounds will fit lots of different musical genres.

You can keep up with Magnus’ U•BASS® adventures on his blog, playubass.com. You can also follow him on Facebook, Instagram, Bandcamp, and his personal website.