Legendary session bassist Leland Sklar reflected on his playing technique and the somewhat unconventional approach to muting strings.
With bass guitar, it’s not just about notes that you play but also about the notes and noise that you don’t want to get in the mix. This is why every skilled bassist uses both fretting and picking hands in muting the strings that shouldn’t be ringing out.
But as Leland said in a recent appearance in a podcast episode at the famous Sunset Sound Studios, he does it a little differently.
“I have a kind of a weird way of muting,” Sklar said (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs). “A lot of guys do this palm thing when they’re playing. If I think something really needs to be muted, I tend to just put a couple of little pieces of sponge under my strings or between my strings and do that.”
Nonetheless, being an incredibly skilled bass player, Sklar still uses the expected conventional elements in the process of muting. However, it’s just one of the things that he doesn’t pay so much attention to.
“But with my left hand, even though I don’t think about that much,” he continued. “When I’m playing, I have a thing that I do where I play a note, and I lift — I kind of do the muting with my left hand as I’m playing, rather than the right hand, where a lot of guys use the side of their hand or something like that.”
“It’s hard for me to describe it because it’s something I do, or I’ve done it since I started playing. But as I’m playing, I’m always lifting off if I feel that I want that note to end — not so much muting it totally, but muting it for a length of time. It’s either touching the strings with my right hand or lifting my fingers with my left hand.”
“But I’m not one of these guys that has a lot of techniques for palm muting and things like that.”
At the same time, he still prefers to have that little sponge or foam thing with him at all times. He explained:
“One of the things I like to carry with me is a whole bunch of little blocks of sponge or foam. If I want my old bass to sound like a P-Bass with flat wounds on it, I just take a piece of foam, and I put it between the G and the D string down at the bridge, and then I put another piece between the A and the E string.”
“And all of a sudden, my lively active bass sounds like an old flat-wound P-Bass on it. So I carry that around, and I carry different densities because those will create different sonics with it.”
During the same interview, Sklar also discussed the strings that he uses and explained that he doesn’t change his strings that often. When the question “do you ever change your strings” came up, the bassist replied:
“It really depends — if I feel it needs to be changed. I don’t have a schedule. Usually, at the most, maybe once a year.”
“I’m not a big fan of brand-new strings,” he said. “I use round wounds on almost everything I’ve got. I use GHS Super Steels — kind of a medium-light gauge, which is 40, 58, 80, and 102. And then a 120-something for the fifth string.”
Instead, Sklar says that he likes when they’re a little “settled in,” so to speak:
“But I like them when they’ve kind of settled in, and it’s really not until harmonics are starting to get affected that I’ll maybe look at putting a new set of strings on.”
Of course, bassists replace strings far less often compared to guitar players. However, considering the fact that Sklar is one of the most active bassists out there, his string-changing habits are below average. He continued:
“On Frankenstein — that’s my main studio bass and everything — if I’m having a really busy year, I might end up changing it twice, but odds are maybe once.”
“And sometimes I’ve got a couple of basses where there’s a few years on them, but they can tend to oxidize with time, and that isn’t, to me, cool. They just start to feel a little sh*tty even if [they’re] steel ones, so maybe once a year.”