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Zander Zon

In February 2010, two years after recording and posting his first performance on YouTube, Zander Zon issued his debut production as a solo bassist. Featuring cinematic melodies, expressive soundscapes, and classical to contemporary influences, Sonorous contains a selection of 10 compositions for unaccompanied bass guitar. Before the release of his first solo project, Zon captured the attention of bass enthusiasts around the world and built a massive online audience which resulted from a series of popular solo bass videos on YouTube. On those videos, Zon performed original pieces along with a variety of arrangements spanning from Johann Pachelbel's "Canon In D Major" to Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven." Besides showcasing his music through videos that he regularly uploads to his YouTube channel, Zon plays frequently throughout the London area at events ranging from house concerts to legendary venues such as the Troubadour club.

In this interview, Zon discusses his background, Sonorous, altered tunings, composing for solo bass, and more.

When did bass guitar become your principle instrument?

Zander Zon I started playing the bass guitar back in 1999, when I was 17. Before that, I had taken cello lessons for 10 years which I feel very fortunate about. A lot of what I gained from playing the cello, such as hand dexterity, carried over to the bass. I also think that the classical training helped develop my ear. I've never taken bass guitar lessons though, and I first learned how to play by jamming along with my favorite rock bands.

Which bassists have had the most influence on your playing?

Michael Manring and Victor Wooten definitely have had the most influence on me. I was so captivated when I heard how they were able to produce such a full sound with a 4-string bass. I also thought everything about their playing was so musical. To me, fancy playing was never at the forefront with these guys. I felt their techniques were always just tools to help construct music for solo bass.

Can you tell us about, Sonorous, your first project as a solo artist?

My idea for this first project was simply to create melodic music on my 4-string bass with each piece having its own individual identity. The album is dedicated to my father who passed away at the end of 2008 so I think there is a level of sadness in some of the compositions. I also really wanted to try to write music that has a strong emotional impact on people so I hope Sonorous succeeds in that area.

I recorded the album at my home in London using a Smart Research DI Deluxe System, an Apogee Duet, Logic Express, and my MacBook. I wanted all the compositions to sound as good as possible so I wasn't that strict about editing or recording everything in real time. "She Danced" and "Sencilla" contain additional layers with up to four different bass parts while the other eight tracks are composed of single bass parts. It took about a month to record everything and another couple months for mixing, mastering, and finishing the entire package.

Where can people purchase Sonorous?

The main web sites are iTunes, Amazon, and CDBaby.

What kind of gear do you use?

My bass is a VB4 from Zon Guitars strung with D'Addario piccolo strings which are very light-gauged strings that allow me to tune the instrument over a huge pitch range. Joe Zon makes absolutely phenomenal instruments, and I feel really lucky to be able to play one of his basses. My effects pedal is a Boss GT-10 which has lots of great options.

Zander Zon How did you get started with altered tunings?

I got started with altered tunings just by experimenting. When I first put piccolo strings on my bass, I kept my bass tuned in fourths, but instead of E-A-D-G an octave higher than standard tuning which is just about the highest tuning you can achieve with piccolo strings, I kept my bass at B-E-A-D. Not only did this tuning produce a nice baritone-type sound, but it also provided me with a lot of room to adjust the open strings in either direction. The first real altered tuning piece I composed was "Epic Love." For that piece, all I did was move my third string up a whole step. If my bass was initially tuned B-E-A-D, "Epic Love" would be tuned B-F#-A-D. I was amazed by how much a simple change opened up new possibilities. Apart from experimenting with tunings, I sometimes have a goal in mind. For example, with my composition "Meditation In E," I wanted to have a deep drone to support the higher register melodies I was playing so my fourth string was tuned to a standard E.

Are there particular altered tunings you tend to favor more than others?

Not really, but I do like it when the notes of my open strings are all in the same key the piece of music is in so I can really use them effectively.

When composing music for unaccompanied bass, do you start with an idea or do you experiment until you find something that you like?

If I don't have an idea, I'll experiment until I find something interesting. That's how I started out. Recently, as I listen to other solo artists and analyze solo music, I'll have some ideas and work to find an altered tuning that can help me achieve those goals. I used a different tuning for each piece on Sonorous, but some of my compositions or arrangements have the same tuning.

How do you decide which songs to tackle and which tunings to use when you are arranging a composition for solo bass?

I arrange music that I think has a great melody and also that I think is feasible on my bass. For example, if a song has key changes, I've found it's harder to arrange because I'd eventually have to move away from using open strings as root notes of the chords. I actually tend to stay in standard fourths but usually somewhere from B-E-A-D up to E-A-D-G. I've recently been learning a lot about how to take advantage of standard fourths and have used those intervals with several arrangements such as Pachelbel's "Canon" and "Hallelujah."

Have you ever considered transcribing your solo compositions or arrangements?

Yes, I have. Stuart Clayton has recently transcribed my composition "I, Resolute" for Bassline Publishing's Solo Arrangements For Electric Bass book, and that's made me very interested in the whole process. I'm just so busy these days, and I don't know when I'd fit it all in.

Can you discuss the role of the internet and how YouTube has contributed to your success as a solo bassist?

Zander Zon YouTube has been simply incredible for me, and I feel really lucky that I've been able to build such a following. I uploaded "Epic Love" in early 2008, and the attention that video received really encouraged me to continue composing and arranging new music. I feel so fortunate to live in a day and age when I can put a video of my playing on the internet and share it with people from all over the world. It's just amazing.

Now that you have finished Sonorous, what's next?

I think I would like to start playing live more often. I have a busy job so I'll have to see how that fits in. I also would like to learn how to play fretless bass, and I have been thinking of getting my hands on an acoustic bass to try out some ideas based around percussion. And of course, I'm also thinking about ideas for my next album!

Selected Discography

Solo Recordings


For more information on Zander Zon, visit: Zander Zon's YouTube Channel or Zander Zon At CDBaby.

© 2010 The IIB