Chapter 1 Introduction
The viola da gamba was developed at the end of the 15th century as a parallel instrument to the vihuela, an early ‘guitar’-like instrument. The viola da gamba was fretted, just like the vihuela, and was probably played by players who were used to the lute and other plucked instruments. The gamba was used in polyphonic music, although already in the first decades of the 16th century virtuoso players used the gamba for the hip style of the era, the diminution of song parts, a practice of improvised music. It is impossible to describe THE viola da gamba, as its shape and tuning altered from generation to generation and from country to country. It usually would have 5-6 strings, tuned in fourths and mostly with a third in the middle, just like the lute.
The viola da gamba was a very popular and widely used instrument in the 16th and 17th centuries, while the important solo music was composed towards the end of the 17th century well into the 18th century. Players would often write their own music, and would improvise on bass lines or chord schemes next to playing dances, and polyphonic pieces that would often require considerable technical skill.
Playing chords on the gamba appeared in composed music in the second half of the 17th century, apart from odd examples in England around 1600 in the music for the lyra viol, a small gamba that was often tuning in open chords and on which rich chord laden textures were played. In late viol music (the terms viola da gamba, gambe, viole, viol, viola bastarda, lyra viol, fiool de gambe, were all used to indicate the same 6 string bowed instrument) chords could be as complicated as in contemporary jazz, and were used in most genres.
At the introduction of larger ensembles, or orchestras, the gamba lost its practical use for musicians, due to its softer tone (less volume compared to the cello). While the instrument lingered on in the hands of some last virtuosos, it was lost for mainstream music. At the end of the 19th century some attempts were done to build gambas in the wake of the upcoming conscious approach of history as a source of inspiration.
Only in the post World War II period a new generation of musicians created a “modern” way of studying and playing early music. They were very close to the musicians playing the newly composed music, performing in a like mental attitude. Composers (like Mauricio Kagel, Louis Andriessen, Luciano Berio) would start using these early instrument again in some of their pieces, although the early instruments never made it into the mainstream, apart from the recorder, that is by far the most widely used ‘early’ instrument in new music.
Although some music has been written for the viola da gamba in our days, these pieces usually don’t get published, and aren’t widely played. Many pieces draw upon playing techniques already used in the 18th century, or are composed in non-specific musical textures.
A good number of contemporary gamba players, being interested in new music, are facing the problems of volume, range and usability of the lower strings in higher registers. So far, a modernized viola da gamba, acoustic, and using modern strings hasn’t been successful.
The introduction of an electric gamba for personal use took place in the USA and in the Netherlands, where players ordered electric instruments that could be used with contemporary instruments.
With the introduction of a commercially produced electric gamba a milestone is reached, and players, composers and novices will now be able to develop new techniques, new textures and entirely new approaches to the instrument. Jazz bass players can now extend their possibilities, jazz guitar players can now learn bowing techniques, and gamba players can start playing with modern orchestras, jazz ensembles, rock bands, world music ensembles and small chamber music groups.
The Ruby gamba has been set up to sound as “acoustical” as possible, although it can very well be used with sound processors. This acoustic sound enables players to naturally blend into ensembles of acoustic instruments, without having to play forced in order to be audible. The extreme usability of the instrument in all registers allows for advanced playing in all ranges, from bass to extremely high flageolets.
The techniques required to master this instrument are typically a mixture of techniques, like gamba technique always has been…
Chapter 2 How to use your Ruby Gamba
In this chapter you will find directions for using and handling the Ruby Gamba, and some directions for playing techniques.
- The different parts of the Ruby Gamba and how to handle them with care.
- Stringing the Ruby Gamba
- How to deal with moveable frets, and how to replace or insert frets.
- The bridge and transducers.
- Position of the instrument relative to the player.
- Left hand techniques.
- Advanced techniques.
1) The different parts of the Ruby Gamba and how to handle them with care.
The Tuning heads don’t need extra care. The frets don’t need extra care. The strings need to be replaced at least once every 3-4 years… even if they still are well-tuned, the sound will get duller after a while. Matter of taste and sound judgement. The tail piece takes no extra care.
2) Stringing the Ruby Gamba
The Ruby Gamba has been designed to be used with rope steel strings by Karl Weidler, Nuremberg Artist Strings, 68 cm. Stringing the instrument can best be done in a particular order: 1-7; 2-6; 3-5; 4 (for reasons of tension you might reverse-wind the 4th (c) string.
3) How to deal with moveable frets, and how to replace or insert frets.
The frets are made of thin tie wraps. The size is equal over the whole neck. You may want to color them at the 7th, 12th and 19th fret. Take a felt pen with permanent red ink and color the tie wrap at the inside. We use shrink wrap around the fret at the backside of the neck to prevent them from sliding.
If you are able to handle the Ruby gamba with the necessary care, you will find that practically no maintenance is needed. The fingerboard can be cleaned with a cloth and some water. If by any mishap or bad luck you might damage the black finnish: you can use a polish liquid and softly rub the surface, chack for exact details with: Kees Jan Goorissen.
5) The bridge
It cannot be overestimated how important the bridge is for the sound of an instrument: it is of paramount importance to find the right shape, thickness and height to come to the optimal sound. We have tried to achieve this while maintaining the classical shape. This gamba is built as close to its historical predecessors as possible, while placing it firmly in the 21st century. The bridge is made of rock maple or beech, to have a choice of different sounds. It is stained and oiled and placed on top of the transducers. We have chosen to use two transducers, so that the full range of vibrations is picked up for amplification.
6) Position of the instrument relative to the player.
Gamba players are used to sit down with their instrument, and to move the instrument as needed . Sitting is comfortable for early music; on the Ruby gamba however you are able to play in high registers with great ease, and jumping up and down with the left hand and therefore it would be much more convenient to move the body where you need it. This means that we have decided to mount the Ruby Gamba on a stand, which allows you to place the instrument exactly as you like it to be, and then fix this position. When you move while playing the instrument remains in place, thus giving a strong reference to your relative position. Shifting position requires reference, something provided by the body of an acoustic instrument, but not on a “spine” like the Ruby Gamba. We have decided to let you play standing, or perhaps on a high stool, although you may have problems with the seventh string while bowing (when using the underhand gamba technique).
7) Left hand techniques.
This is a subject open to endless discussion and we will tackle only a few of the issues involved. You might want to seek assistance of a tutor when dealing with these complicated matters.
When playing on a long neck like that of the Ruby Gamba, it may help to either very strictly learn positions of the left hand, per fret (semi tone), or to devide the instruments in areas in which you have relative freedom. This may be useful when playing lots of chords, as, different from the cello, you will move your hand, and place it much like a guitar player. There is one orientation vertically (going up and down on the fret board) and one horizontally (going from high to low strings and vice versa). Therefore you will have to change the position of the left hand from one with the fingers next to each other one half tone apart, to a “spider” grip with each finger on a different string (or lifted up of course).
Shifting position requires much practice, because the brain has to learn each little step by doing it over and over again. Practicing scales, chords, intervals, jumps up and down, moving from scale to chord etc. will be of great help.
If you don’t read music, memorize what tone is where on the finger board, and memorize chords in different keys.
Contemporary classical music
The Ruby Gamba gives you a tremendous range of possibilities that are useful for contemporary classical music. Repertoire is being composed, but there is a wide range of pieces that could be adapted to the Ruby Gamba, especially music from the 1960s that doesn’t require specific instrumental techniques, or pieces for cello, guitar or viola that could be adapted. Always ask the composer or publisher for permission (!). The left hand techniques involved will vary greatly, but have to start from a well trained and well organized awareness of the fingerboard. It may be very useful to start practicing scales and large grips with the left thumb included, so that complex multitone structures can be played.
Jazz technique will require great awareness of chords and chord lay outs, as well as special scales, like the whole and half tone scale, or the whole tone scale. As jazz basically is an improvised art form it is very much up to the player what to make of it, and so you will have to develop your own specialties, starting from basic techniques. Vibrato, pulling up strings, sliding, flageolets, and multiphonics, all these techniques will work very well, and can be well controlled. Using signal processing will enhance your possibilities even more, as you can start using looping techniques and subtle (or extreme) distortion.
World music, the contemporary term for every music not being Standard Western Stuff, is a too wide to even begin discussing. Here however, you can use the great feature of inserting microtone frets. These will allow you to play in non-western tunings. (ask Jean Baptiste Collinet about them). The frets are low so that you can very well play glissandi, to provide for graces in for instance Indian classical music. For the purpose of fret inserts we advise to use blue frets. We will offer fret material for sale.
Bowing the Ruby Gamba is possible in a number of ways.
- Downhand classical gamba technique: This technique is used ever since people started bowing. The variations of holding the bow are considerable, and a biginning guitar player using the Ruby Gamba might even hold it look a spoon the way monkeys do };-] but essentially it is a way of laying the bow on the string, and start rubbing. The bow will ‘stick’ to the string. This gives upportunity to bow smoothly, and very vocal.
- Upperhand classical cello technique: This technique is adapted by cello players from the violin, that inherited its playing technique from the fiddle and viola da braccio (arm viola). The bow is in the air, and is placed on the strings until it is lifted. Gives upportunity to vary articulation, and jumping of the bow.
- Upper/down hand shortbow techniques (Ruby development): The Upper hand technique is used on all violin type instruments, including the cello and the double bass, when played the French way. Advantage is a good choice in different jumping techniques and quick transition between bowing and plucking. The downhand technique is used in India, the Arabic countries, and was used with instruments “on the knee” in the middle ages, and the evolving instruments in Renaissance and Baroque periods. Advantage is very good contact with the hair of the bow, and thus the string, and very precise control of tone quality.The mixing technique is like this: reverse the bow so that the tip points to the right. Hold the bow 5cm from the frog like a cello bow, then turn the bow around so that the tip points to the left, and the hair is down. Presuure to the hiar is given with little finger and ring finger.
Plucking can be done in many different ways:
- Double Bass technique: essentially an upright position and pluck with index and middle finger. Chords from high to low, double fingering possible.
- Electric bass technique: move the instrument away from you to the left, so that you have more distance from the head, while the bridge remains close to you. You pluck with index and middle finger(s) but the hand position is 90 from the strings. Can be combined with guitar technique, and plectrum technique.
- Guitar technique: pluck with thumb and 2 or three fingers, good for polyphonic plying. More difficult than when used with a guitar, because of the curved bridge.
- Viol technique; essentially thumb and perhaps index finger. Chords played with thumb, low to high.
- Plectrum (pick) technique: either a stiff plectrum, or a thin one, or even a feather (medieval technique): very clear tone, good for fast playing, chords, rhythms etc.
- If you want to use finger picks, use soft ones, you might damage the strings.
- An interesting technique is up/down plucking with the index finger, thus giving a mellow sound (down) and a clear sound (up), so that one would get clear articulations as in vocals and stops.
- Tapping: you beat with a finger on the string (works best with low strings, because of their mass). Good for combination with either bowing or plucking, or double plucking.
10) Advanced techniques.
Advanced techniques would be to use DSP inserts, with delay, reverb, wah, and zillions of other forms of processing the signal. If you are new to DSP (Digital Signal Processing) please go to a specialized shop and ask the people there to enlighten you. You can use the Ruby Gamba to directly play into a computer (when using a a/d d/a convertor) and process the sound in a dedicated program, like Ableton Live, Logic or MainStage. Not all processing works well with bowing, as the bowing signal is very complicated.
As companies constantly move on in inventing new applications and equipment this set up advice can only be very preliminary.
Amps: Use premium quality full range amps, NOT guitar amps (they don’t work well with the Ruby Gamba). We have tried AER, HEVOS, LEM, YAMAHA and it usually sounds well. Please go in a silent room and bow. The Ruby Gamba can sound VERY transparent, well defined, and clear for over 5 octaves. Check weak spots in the sound, and try different volume levels. In amps More is more.
DSP: Only use premium quality pedals or rack equipment (Boss, Lexicon). Us them either as inserts in a mixing console, or between the output and the console/ amplifier. Yamaha, LEM, Boss GT8, Boss RC-50, Lexicon