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ABGs - some experiences thoughts and questions.

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Axstar, Jul 11, 2019.

  1. Axstar


    Jul 8, 2016
    East of Eden.
    I've been looking at acoustic bass guitars lately. As such I've tried a few recently, and have some questions!

    My interest lies in getting a bass that sounds a bit like an upright, but is a lot smaller than a real upright. It would be used sparingly in my collection!

    With this in mind I tried a Fender CB-60SCE and liked the small body of it, but it didn't have a lot of output. I tried a bigger Ibanez acoustic bass and it had no volume, which was surprising as the body was substantially bigger than the Fender. I tried a massive Tanglewood fretless acoustic bass and it had no volume. I tried a Dean acoustic bass and it had a big deep body... and no volume.

    I also tried a mini Guild acoustic bass, no bigger than a Jumbo acoustic guitar, and it had a lot more output, tone and general snap. How does that work?

    Most of the above basses had horribly high action. They all had phosphor bronze strings. These strings seem to be stiff and don't vibrate much for the energy you put into them.

    I would like a wee acoustic bass that sounds like an upright. With this in mind, is it worth getting the Fender (one of the cheaper options, and small enough to play comfortably), defretting it, finishing the fretboard, sticking on tapes or TI Jazz flats and always having to plug it in to gig with?

    I'm guessing that in the main too much conventional acoustic guitar tech was scaled up to make ABGs, rather than builders taking a new approach to making them work?
    GrapeBass likes this.
  2. jd56hawk


    Sep 12, 2011
    The Garden State
    You are talking about something in the $400 or less range, right?
    Well, it's not necessary to go with a fretless, just a set of D'Addario black tapewounds.
    You're going to want to plug in, too. If plugging in is a problem, playing outside for instance, just find a battery-operated Roland Micro Cube.
    No matter how loud an unamped acoustic bass might sound, you're going to lose the nuances of tone you can get plugged in. Just plug in a P bass and fool around with the tone knob to see what I mean, not to mention the settings on your amp.
    If you're playing with a friend or two in an acoustic setting, no amps, you can always try using one of those stone picks and really plucking the hell out of your strings if you can manage to talk your friends into using feathers instead of picks...that might work, or you can sit right in front of the crowd and have the guitarists sit 30 feet behind you, that might work, too, but other than that, you need an amp. You know, just like the acoustic basses used on MTV Unplugged.

    This is a Dean Exotica, an oder model with the Aphex system...Big Bottom Sound and Aural Exciter. Phase shift, too, which really helps.
    Show me another acoustic bass with Aphex system and I'll try it out, but...
    Only acoustic bass for me, and I've tried quite a few. In fact, if the another one pops up in the right color, I just might buy it.
    Guild, Warwick, Fender, Ibanez, etc, sorry, not for me.
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2019
    B-Mac likes this.
  3. mikeoso

    mikeoso Acoustic Curmudgeon

    Feb 14, 2014
    eastern Iowa
    In general, you'll get more volume out of a bigger body, but build quality is also a determinant...a huge badly built bass wont put out as much as a smaller well made one. The Martin in thd middle is smaller than the other two, but not greatly weaker.
    Tapes will definitely move toward a more UB sound.
    kesslari, elkkid2, chadds and 3 others like this.
  4. Marcus Willett

    Marcus Willett Supporting Member

    Feb 8, 2005
    Palm Bay, FL
    Endorsing Artist: Bag End - Dean Markley - Thunderfunk
    I use an ABG fairly often with a classic rock/unplugged type duo. A few observations, all IMO of course so feel free to accept or reject as you wish...

    1) it's not going to sound like an upright, period. You can get a similar "vibe" by tweaking both the setup and your technique, but you will only ever be able to get "in the ballpark"

    2) it will never be loud enough without being plugged in. Don't even bother chasing that rabbit, it won't happen.

    3) phosphor bronze strings suck. Get some nice flats (TIs are a great choice)

    4) a bit of foam by the bridge can go a long way towards getting the "thump"

    5) EQ goes a long way too. I actually use a modified NE1 with mine and with it and the above, it gets a pretty good tone. I regularly get compliments on it. Again, not an upright but in the ballpark.
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2019
    design, OtherLisa, Manticore and 11 others like this.
  5. ahadl2500

    ahadl2500 Supporting Member

    Nov 28, 2003
    Greenwood, IN
    Which are you after more... an ABG or upright tone? If you are after upright tone, you will be better served by something like a Kala U-Bass (really is amazing how close they get considering). If you want an ABG, get one and swap the strings, but do not expect to nail the tone you are after. You can get closer than the ABG is stock, but never all that close IMO.

    The bass itself will play some role in getting you closer to that tone as well. My Emerald Balor bass sounds quite a bit different than my old Michael Kelly Dragonfly. They are also designed significantly differently with different preamps/pickups (point being some basses may get you closer than others).
    onestring, murmur70 and abarson like this.
  6. mikeoso

    mikeoso Acoustic Curmudgeon

    Feb 14, 2014
    eastern Iowa
    The sad truth is that the really good ones cost a lot, or are out of production, or both. However, if you plan on plugging in, there are good ones available affordably.
    Haroldo likes this.
  7. dmt


    Apr 19, 2003
    Orbiting Sol
    Why not get the Guild then?

    Beyond that, you can buy fretless ABGs. My fretless Epi El Capitan captures a mini upright vibe for me, though I don’t believe you’ll find another one of those factory fretless.

    The phosphor bronze strings are good for fretted, but they’d eat up a fretless fingerboard. The high action compared to an electric, as with an acoustic guitar compared to an electric guitar, gives you more volume, so either that’s what you’re seeing or they just had rough setups (I couldn’t say more without numbers).

    Smaller acoustics can sometimes be louder than bigger ones due to factors like body design (cutaways, for example, seem to take away some bass), bracing design, setup and, I’d imagine, thickness of wood, finish, and other factors. Generally, bigger is louder, but not always.

    For playing onstage, except in the most intimate of settings, you’re probably going to want to amp a fretless ABG.

    Good luck! I think you should try a fretless one and see if it’s for you. If you want full volume from a fretless without amping, I think you’ll need an upright (maybe a cello? — just an idea). But you don’t want to carry an upright (and maybe have to learn to play one), so you’ll have to sacrifice volume or amp something. In other words, there’s some compromises involved, so you’ll have to see what’s the best compromise for you
    Atshen likes this.
  8. GrapeBass


    Jun 10, 2004
    Graphic designer: Yorkville Sound
    I was on a quest to 'approach' the sound quality of an upright and have come close but not really. The use of tapewounds definitely helped and having a fretless AGB also brings you closer but the physicality (string length, tension etc.) is completely different. Bottom line is the types of strings you use and it being fretless!

    My current project has put me in a position that it demands an 'acoustic/fretless' sound more so than any other band I've played with. I initially brought out my de-fretted Jasmine/Takemine and was told immediately that this is what we were looking for... then issues occurred with the electronics (since fixed) and I searched for a replacement... I found a cheap Aria (FEB-FL / FN) online and ordered it. After replacing the strings with La Bella Tapewounds, replacing the low saddle (reseating the p/up) and a set up it was ready to roll (a good luthier is priceless). It's obviously cheap but works well. Below is a video my wife took.

    Oh, I've since had been lucky enough to score a Stagg EUB (I hadn't played upright since high school, 35-years ago LOL). I can play about 75% of our repertoire with it, sounds amazing (after some set up issues to LOL) and is a helluva lot easier to transport than a real upright.
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2019
  9. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    :laugh: doesn't everybody?

    Marcus Willett , has your back OP: his take is spot on!
    00 images2b3.
  10. JTE

    JTE Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    The Guild you played has a solid top,bthe others were all plywood. Also, Guild has been making acoustic guitars since 1954, and an acoustic bass guitar since about '69. They know how acoustic guitars work. All the others in your sample are coming from the "unplugged" world where the appearance of an acoustic guitar is the only real intent.

    There is a reason an upright bass is so big- that's how you get a solid low end and volume. Just like a bass amp, you have to move air. Flat top guitars are air pumps, and they need a fairly high saddle to drive a top that's flexible enough to react to the string and pump sir while solid enough to stay together and not come apart.

    With bicycles we say "Cheap, light, and strong, choose two". With ABGs it's cheap, small, sounds good. And sounds good but not great (unamplified) is likely the best one can expect if your goal is a big day uptight type of sound.

    Having said that, I now own two ABGs. One is an Epiphone El Segundo round shoulder dreadnaught with a 32" scale. It's pretty comfortable, but rather more quiet than I'd like. Sounds pretty good with the Shadow preamp/puckup. The other is a Dean Exotica fretless that's huge, and 34" scale. It's not much louder but and it's clumsy to play due to the size, but it's fretless do I much prefer it as intonation is easier to control. Both have nylon tape wound strings.

    The bronze strings that are ubiquitous on ABGs are there to emulate the sound of a flat top acoustic, and they tend to cut through better, at least when new. But, they're not going to get you to an upright sound. Tapewound strings get closer to the sound, but have less tension so they don't drive the top as much, resulting in less acoustic output. It's another trade-off.

    I suggest deciding what you really want and need in an ABG and which compromises you're willing to make.
  11. jd56hawk


    Sep 12, 2011
    The Garden State
    I'll mention this, only because it's louder unplugged than most, but again, you'd lose a little volume if you put on the proper strings.

    As for being five times louder?
    Please, it's clearly not as loud as the Dean sitting in the stand!
  12. Haroldo

    Haroldo Supporting Member

    Aug 31, 2005
    North Shore, MA
    Are you always going to amplify? If so, I'd consider Rick Turner's Renaissance Amplicoustic Basses. Not cheap, but gorgeous sounding.

    porterbass likes this.
  13. Rabidhamster


    Jan 15, 2014
    A used cello with different strings and setup sounds a lot like a small upright.

    Phosphor bronze strings on bass are utterly useless trash.
  14. redwingxix


    Oct 21, 2015
    I got a Fender Kingman that I thought would be useful for acoustic gigs, but it is really only useful for playing on the back deck by yourself. It's also nothing I'd use over any of my other basses if an amp was involved. I need to put it in the classifieds since I never take it out of the case anymore.
  15. scuzzy


    Feb 15, 2006
    Troy, MO
    spvmhc, juancaminos and GrapeBass like this.
  16. MD


    Nov 7, 2000
    Marin Co. CA.
    :roflmao::roflmao::roflmao:..... :roflmao::roflmao:..... :roflmao::roflmao::roflmao::roflmao:.....


    Axstar and Atshen like this.
  17. Swingin

    Swingin Supporting Member

    Apr 29, 2018
    Perhaps, but it’s tuned in 5ths. I’m not sure how convenient that would be unless he put a lot of time into learning new patterns.
  18. GrapeBass


    Jun 10, 2004
    Graphic designer: Yorkville Sound
    I would think if you'd change to proper strings and tune in 4ths it might work. Reality may not allow this, I dunno.
  19. MD


    Nov 7, 2000
    Marin Co. CA.
    Forgot who, may D'Addario, makes a fourth tuning for cello - EADG I think.
  20. GrapeBass


    Jun 10, 2004
    Graphic designer: Yorkville Sound
    but we need the same octave as upright, not one above :-/


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