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A little ABG adventure, and some conclusions.

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by BassManJim, Jun 16, 2005.

  1. Lately I’ve been thinking that it might be time to add a new tone to the ol’ arsenal. So one the many things that I’ve had intermittent GAS for is an acoustic bass guitar. But I’ve never played one, just read the reviews. :meh:

    So today I spent an hour at the local l music store and tried three, both unplugged and plugged in. :hyper:

    First up was a used 4 string Olympia by Tacoma. The store wanted $350.00 including a chipboard case. I tried this one first because it has had some of the best user comments as far as projection and tone. This thing is pretty big! Looks cool with its unique sound hole placement, and the neck feels pretty good, really similar to an acoustic guitar neck IMO. Because of its physical size it would take some getting used to as far as actual playing goes. The tone was pretty brassy, though this may have been due to the phosphor bronze strings. But it did seem to project fairly well. Unplugged I don’t think it could keep up in an acoustic group that has any real volume, plugged in it sounded, well, electric. I can get similar tones out of a Fender with round wounds. But then again, maybe some serious EQ experimenting would overcome this problem. Fit and finish were everything that you would expect from an instrument in this price range, and then some. Overall it seemed like an excellent instrument for the money. :cool:

    Next up was a new Michael Kelly Dragonfly 4 string. This one would have been $529.00 + tax with a gig bag thrown in. Not as big as the Tacoma but still fairly good sized (especially to a die hard “slab” player like myself), and consequently the projection suffered some compared to the Olympia. So IMO it wouldn’t be able to hold its own without amplification. Of course when it’s plugged in it losses a great deal of the acoustic timbre that makes the ABG idea attractive in the first place. Fit and finish on this one was almost perfect, no faults anywhere. However, this thing is far too ornate to suit me, between the quilt and the inlays, :eek: ummm…….. Ok I’ll pass.

    The only other acoustic-like instrument on the wall was a new Washburn AB-40 a really nice looking, natural finish semi-acoustic bass. $699.00 + tax, with a Washburn case, it was the most expensive or the three. Unplugged the projection was barely better than a solid body, enough volume for unplugged practice, but that’s about it. Plugged in there was really no acoustic timbre at all but this could be remedied, probably, with EQ. Fit and finish were on a par with the price but IMO nothing really exceptional.

    I know and have dealt with the guys at this store before so I know that there’s about 15-20% “wiggle” room for negotiation on any of their instruments. ;)

    So after all that I left empty –handed. Why? None of the three did it for me. Period. The tone was not what I was expecting, nor was the projection, or feel. Overall I was somewhat disappointed. They left my ABG GAS gauge on “empty” :eyebrow:

    I really don’t know exactly what I was expecting from these instruments, so I cannot definitively quantify what was missing for me, in the playing experience. I just know, now, that the ABG is not for me. :bawl:

    All in all I can see where someone would get a lot of use from one. Especially if the “looks’ factor is important. If the audience are expecting acoustic instruments, and don’t like the idea of an electric instrument being on stage, then this would be the way to go, but you would still need an amp IMHO.

    What I will say, is that the Olympia was by far the superior instrument. If I were to buy an ABG the Olympia would most definitely be the one. I know, I didn’t play Fender, or Ibanez, or any of the other brands, but IMO they would have to go a long, long way to exceed the performance of the Olympia.

    So there you have it. An ABG recommendation from a non-ABG (now) guy. :cool:

    Above all, no offense to any of you acoustic players. The above is just my humble opinion, based on my own tastes and experiences. :D

    Now, what about sixers?...........................hmmmmm

  2. BartmanPDX

    BartmanPDX Supporting Member

    I wasn't blown away by the Olympia, either. And I also got to play a Michael Kelly Dragonfly that didn't quite do it for me, as well.

    The mistake I made was to play the Tacoma Thunderchief -- the solid-topped American-made ABG that the Olympia is a cheaper knockoff version of. After playing the Tacoma, I had GAS. Big Time. The Tacoma had a big, warm room-filling sound that left me positively slack-jawed after having only played cheaper ABGs at that point.

    I also played a Martin, which was quite nice, but I liked the Tacoma better -- I thought it "sang" more (more projection, in a more authoritative way), though the neck feel and construction of the Martin were top notch (as on the Tacoma).

    The surprise was when I played a Michael Kelly Solid AB model -- with solid top and sides. It was MUCH better than the Dragonfly, and came close to the Tacoma, for a lot less money. Pretty good neck feel, though the frets were a little rough.

    In the end, I decided I'd hold out for a 5-string Tacoma Thunderchief, and my wonderful wife ordered one for me for Father's Day :D , but it's back-ordered and wont arrive until the first or second week of July. :(

    If you're looking for an interesting experience in the plugged-in department, I'd try a Godin A4 or A5 -- the neck feel was super fast like a Jazz bass, and the Baggs pickup system sounded terrific plugged in -- a different tonal set from a typical electric bass, but REALLY addicitive. SInce I was looking for something to play unplugged almost exclusively, I reluctantly ruled it out. Unplugged, it's not much louder than a regular electric bass, but plugged in, it's grin city. :bassist:
  3. I didn't have the opportunity to play a "real" Tacoma... or a Martin. But then we're getting into a whole new pricw range, that I don't think I'd be willing to pay at this point. :)

    As for the Kelly AB model If I get a chance I'll try one, maybe that will get the GAS flowing again :D

    Yeah I've heard a lot of good things about the Godins..... trust me they occassionaly make an appearance on the ol' GAS list too!

    BTW.... your wife is awsome! :D
    (bummer on the back order though)

  4. Has anybody EVER played an ABG that could keep up(while unplugged)w/ANYthing? Bearing in mind a double bass, w/much greater physical volume, is easily drowned out by 1 1/2 ham-handed guitarists or one stick-wielding drummer, how can anyone expect an ABG to do anything beyond bedroom practice(mind you, a worthwhile task)unplugged? I don't mean to be overly critical, but I would be shocked if I heard one that did project enough to cut it w/more than one wimpy(no offense to wimps; I'm one myself :rolleyes: )guitarist, let alone any kind of group setting.
  5. BartmanPDX

    BartmanPDX Supporting Member

    I think the Tacoma could very much keep up with at least one acoustic guitar; it was loud as heck in the store -- almost embarrassingly so. However, it might not be able to keep up with two aggressive acoustic guitarists, and if you throw a drummer in the mix, forget it. I've yet to meet a drummer who didn't "get excited" at some point and start to drown out anyone else who's not plugged in. :D

    Plugged in tone was pretty darn good, but I've heard horror stories of terrible feedback in live situations. The Tacoma model with the Fishman Prefix Plus preamp has a notch filter that's supposed to help a lot, but . . . I can't say for sure.

    I'm a stay-at-home dad with a toddler with major medical problems, and I won't be gigging for a few years at least, so I don't need to keep up with a drummer or multiple guitarists . . . :bag:

    Tacomas turn up used on ebay frequently, and I've seen them go for around $600-700 fairly often -- not that much more than a brand new Kelly (I think the Solid AB goes for around $500-600 for the 4-string).

    Try the Godin if you can; if nothing else, it's really fun to play. THe B string on the A5 was really nice; I think it was 35" scale. :smug:

    And yes, my wife is AWESOME. Not only is she the primary breadwinner (Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford) vs. me (H.S. teacher), but she sprung for the Tacoma despite the fact that I'd already ordered a Lakland DJ5 w/ J-retro!!! :bassist: :bassist: :D :D :D
  6. I love my drummer, but when I bring out the doghouse & he won't pull the brushes out of his bag, I just :rolleyes:
    A good friend has a Tacoma, but he echoes(no pun- intended or otherwise)the feedback issues.
    I just when from stay-at-home-dad of 2, to 3, so I hear you there. Sorry to hear about anything medical that impedes music-making. Hope it gets better.
  7. Philbiker

    Philbiker Pat's the best!

    Dec 28, 2000
    Northern Virginia, USA

    Thanks for sharing. Do yourself a favor. Absolutely DO NOT play the USA made solid top and back Tacoma Thunderchief.
  8. lpdeluxe

    lpdeluxe Still rockin'

    Nov 22, 2004
    Deep E Texas
    The lesson is that ABGs aren't really. I have an Ibanez 5-string and it sounds fine plugged in, but nothing unplugged. But I bought it for the looks -- when I play with folkies it doesn't look as out of place as one of my solid bodies.

    It'd be nice if there were an inexpensive ABG that worked, but I haven't seen one. :(
  9. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota
    I had the itch for an ABG for a while and gave up. It just isn't going to happen. Physics are against us. It will never be loud enough unplugged - and isn't that the reason for an acoustic?

    Basses - regardless of the gig or venue - will have to be judiciously amplified. When I want that "unplugged/acoustic" sound, I tend to use my fretless with just enough amp to keep up.
  10. Philbiker

    Philbiker Pat's the best!

    Dec 28, 2000
    Northern Virginia, USA
    That was my mantra also until I played my Tacoma Thunderchief. I bought it the next day after playing it.
  11. tombowlus

    tombowlus If it sounds good, it is good Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 3, 2003
    Fremont, Ohio
    Editor-in-Chief, Bass Gear Magazine
    I went through an ABG search some time ago, and my initial leading contenders were the larger bodied Guild and the Martin. I was trying to decide between the two when I played an Epiphone El Capitan. Much to my surprise, I preferred the El Cap over both the Guild and the Martin for volume and tone. The Martin had the best feel, but the Epi beat the Guild in this department as well. Some time later, I played another El Cap, and darn if it didn't play and sound like doo doo! :confused: I figured it must have been a bad one, and moved on. When I saw and played my third El Capitan, and it also failed to float my boat, I began to think that I must have been hallucinating when I played the first one (back in my home town - which is now my current abode). Several months later, I was visiting my parents, stopped by the store that had the first El Cap, and it was still there. I played it, and once again, I was in love! It seems that there is a decent amount of variation, instrument to instrument, in the El Capitans, and this one must be a very, very good one. So, I bought it.

    I have been very happy with the El Cap. If I play with a pick (which I don't like to do), I can keep up enough to be heard (but not enough to be quite on equal footing) with two acoustic guitars around a campfire. For casual jamming, it's loud enough to be only mildly frustrating. For more serious acoustic gigs, I can amplify it (I have a Phil Jones Briefcase for those campfire gigs, too). To be honest, I am very impressed with how "acoustic" sounding the El Cap is using it's XLR out and into the PA. Our sound guy always thought that my El Capitan sounded better than our guitar players' more expensive 6 and 12 stringers.

    Still, I did play the Olympia once, and it definitely made me want to check out a Tacoma. There's always room for improvement. But I guess the moral of my story is that if you get the chance to play a couple of El Capitans, and you find a good one, they can be a good bang for the buck ABG.

  12. How you going to string that? Low B or high C? I have an Ovation strung with a high C that works really nicely. I found the low B just didn't project at all (even to me, sitting playing it!) and I'm into chords, so the C was a more natural choice.

    Can I recommend TI Acousticore strings while we're here? Light guage but wonderful tone. If you're looking for the "dog-house" sound then flats or tapewound flats may be more what you're after, but otherwise give the TI Acousticores a spin.

  13. msquared


    Sep 19, 2004
    Kansas City
    That was it. I put LaBella black tapewounds on mine and it sounds way better.

    ...as long as it's not plugged in, anyway.

    The Tacoma it ain't, but I've been very happy with mine for hanging out in the living room and playing. Hard to beat for the price. When my kids get old enough to understand that daddy's guitars are off limits I think I'm going to spring for a Tacoma fretless five.
  14. BartmanPDX

    BartmanPDX Supporting Member

    I've been planning to give the TI acousticores a try; I've read good things about them. THe Thunderchief comes tuned BEADG, and the low B is a little weak, but I often play higher up on the neck, and then it sounds great. I wanted an ABG that mirrored my soon-to-arrive Lakland DJ5 because I'm about to make "the change" -- going to 5 strings after 17 years of playing 4-bangers. :D

    And yes, BassManJim, Philbiker is right. By all means DO NOT try a Tacoma Thunderchief unless you're willing to pony up for one new or used. It will suck the joy right out of lesser ABGs. I wanted no part of an Olympia after playing the Tacoma. Had I not played the Tacoma, I probably would have been satisfied sitting at home playing the Olympia. Had I bought the Olympia after playing the Tacoma, I'd constantly be thinking of how I could get my hands on a Tacoma, and I would unfairly be comparing the Olympia (which is a great bargain -- particularly used!) to the Tacoma. It's kind of like driving a Mercedes -- don't do it if you're on a Kia budget. :(
  15. Ah yes......... my life :D

    Seriously though I will have to try the Thunderchief, just to find out for myself.

    But, my situation doesn't really require an acoustic sound all that often. Up until now I've been borrowing a friends upright on those rare occassions when an acoustic tone is a must. But my upright skills are not what they should be, and I don't have the real desire at this point to seriously study the instrument. :meh: and it is a real pain in the butt to transport to and from the gig. :help:

    I guess I was thinking that an ABG might be a compromise. I realy don't require a "pure" upright tone.The one thing I didn't have the chance to try, and will try as soon as I have a chance, is a fretless ABG. That might get me closer to what I'm looking for tonally.

  16. BartmanPDX

    BartmanPDX Supporting Member

    I think there might be a fretless Tacoma on ebay right now. Worth a look anyway:
    Fretless Tacoma on ebay

    If you don't like it, you could resell it, and probably not lose much on the deal aside from shipping. :D

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