Punch Brothers: American Pickers

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Paul Kowert, who studied under Edgar Meyer at the Curtis Institute of Music, is the youngest band member at 25. Kowert played bass with Mike Marshall and teenage fiddle phenom Alex Hargreaves in Marshall’s Big Trio before joining Punch Brothers. Kowert tunes his bass in the combination fifths/fourths tuning of, from low to high, E-B-E-A, with a C-extender on the low E-string.

While Kowert has a favorite bass he plays in the studio, he has another bass he uses for roadwork with a design that is gaining favor among traveling bassists who constantly deal with the hazards of having such a large instrument to transport. “I have a Daniel Hachez bass made in Albuquerque,” he says, “and my favorite bow is a really old one, made by [Canadian bowmaker] Reid Hudson. But I actually don’t take the Hachez out on the road with me. I take another bass on the road, a spare just for travel, which is a Shen with a removable neck.” Removing the neck involves detuning the bass and releasing the strings from the tailpiece, then unscrewing the neck with a single and taking it off. Like the rest of the band, Kowert uses a pickup, a Fishman Full Circle, in tandem with his ATM35. He uses Pirastro strings.

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In the end, Thile has a credo he lives by when it comes to instruments. And judging by the vigor and intensity with which they play, the rest of the band may well share his belief.

“The thing about having a great instrument,” Thile says, “is that it should be played. It shouldn’t be babied, shouldn’t be preserved like a museum piece, it should be played. It’s not a Van Gogh, it’s not to be looked at. It’s to be played, and whatever you have to do to make it playable, that’s what you do. It bothers me when people worry about hurting their instruments by using them for what they were made for. If something is in playable condition you should play the ever-lovin’ hell out of it.”

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