Jeff Berlin explains why playing bass is like playing kazoo

Dave Mustaine of Megadeth wins Golden God Award. Jeff Berlin performs at the Markbass booth during the NAMM Show
(Image credit: Photo by Chiaki Nozu/Getty Images & Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Yep, that was a headline we never thought we'd write. Regular readers will know that last week we looked back to the time Dave Mustaine slammed bass players live on Good Morning America. Commenting on a video of the then-Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee playing bass guitar, Mustaine said, "This is so bad, besides the bass isn't a difficult instrument to play. It's one step up from the kazoo isn't it?”

So far, so man-says-controversial-thing-on-the-internet. What happened next was the truly surprising thing: some of the world's best bass players seemed to agree with the Megadeth frontman. 

“He's right! It kind of is!” jazz fusion ace Jeff Berlin wrote under the story on the Bass Player Facebook page. “What makes things interesting are the notes that we choose to play on this kazoo.” In reply to Berlin’s comments, one follower posted: “If bass is one step up, so is pretty much every other instrument. Except jaw harp, of course.”

Berlin, for his part, replied again: “Not really! It takes a long time to learn how to produce a decent sound on a violin, brass or reed instruments before you can play a musical idea on them. Sometimes it can take a year.”

Jeff Berlin

(Image credit: Photo by Matthias Mineur)

Come on, Jeff, explain yourself! “The electric bass falls into the same category as the drums or the piano," he explains via email. "It requires no lessons to get a sound out of these instruments, while bowed stringed instruments or reed and brass instruments can take around a year of practice just to produce a decent sound.”

Bass guitar champion Stuart Hamm was also sympathetic to Mustaine's point. “Well, like a kazoo you can pick up a bass guitar and with minimal practice, you can quickly be playing some well-known bass themes that still have you driving the bus!" he said. 

"Also, in the style of music that Mr. Mustaine plays, the bass traditionally does very little but pump out the 8th notes, doubling the rhythm guitar line.”

Bassist Stu Hamm performs at The 2017 NAMM Show - Day 1 on January 19, 2017 in Anaheim, California.

(Image credit: Photo by Daniel Knighton/FilmMagic)

Not everyone agreed with Dave Mustaine, though. His comments were met with some resistance from the bass-playing public, as well as from San Fran bass phenom, Michael Manring. Regarding Mustaine's comment that the bass was one step up from the kazoo, Manring offered: "That one step is a doozy!” 

Dave Mustaine and Megadeth will welcome back guitarist Marty Friedman for a concert at Tokyo’s Budokan arena. The concert will be livestreamed on February 27th. For tickets, head over to Dreamstage.

You can find out about Jeff Berlin’s latest projects at jeffberlinmusicgroup.com. For more info on Stuart Hamm visit stuhamm.com

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Nick Wells
Writer

Nick Wells was the Editor of Bass Guitar magazine from 2009 to 2011, before making strides into the world of Artist Relations with Sheldon Dingwall and Dingwall Guitars. He's also the producer of bass-centric documentaries, Walking the Changes and Beneath the Bassline, as well as Production Manager and Artist Liaison for ScottsBassLessons. In his free time, you'll find him jumping around his bedroom to Kool & The Gang while hammering the life out of his P-Bass.