Acoustic bass guitar or double bass?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Tricky Fish, Dec 22, 2014.

  1. Tricky Fish

    Tricky Fish Guest

    Dec 22, 2014
    i'm a multi-instrumentalist with my roots in acoustic guitar, both classical and steel string.

    I'd like to add an acoustic bass to my home studio for looping / recording purposes, to complement my guitars, percussion and vocal setup. I prefer acoustic instruments and I'm not considering an electric bass.

    I'd prefer to get a double bass over an acoustic bass guitar because of the tone and acoustic volume. I also like the option to play bowed, although I have never done this. I haven't heard any acoustic bass guitars with good tone AND volume.

    I can play bass guitar well enough for my requirements (I'm not a virtuoso!), but have never tried a double bass.

    Given my starting point, how difficult is it to learn the basics of double bass, enough to lay down a simple bass lines? Or should I get an acoustic bass guitar despite the volume and tone limitations?
  2. Carl Hillman

    Carl Hillman

    Jan 1, 2010
    That depends on how much you practice you put into it. Just the simple goals of playing in tune and getting a good sound will require some devoted practice. Moreso if you're using the bow as well as pizzing.

    That is the significant advantage of picking up an acoustic bass guitar. (Unless it's a fretless) you're going to be in tune right off the bat and your sound will be decent. You can't say that about almost all beginner's on upright.

    Another consideration is that teaching yourself double bass opens you up to the possiblity of injuring yourself if you're not careful. If you decide to go the upright route, at least take a couple of lessons so that your mechanics are sound.
    Dogbertday and Josh Kneisel like this.
  3. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Carl's advice is dead-on IMO. Take the lessons and rent a bass for 6 months or so to decide if it's worth it to you. Everyone's goals are different. To become very good on the DB requires a love of its sound to justify the years of practice, but to play simple root-5th half-notes near the nut isn't so demanding. Try it and I expect you'll make up your mind quickly about whether the effort is worth it to you. The bow is a harsh, but very, rewarding mistress.

    Another idea is to check out the Kala U-bass. Gollihur retails them. They have a short string length but funky, I think Urathane, strings. It has to be amplified but sounds a bit like an upright with the proper tone settings. Of course, it doesn't really sound like an upright and it can't be bowed, but you can play it already, it's inexpensive, and its tone might be good enough for what you're looking for.
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2014
  4. rickwolff

    rickwolff ‘Leave the clams in, let ’em know we're human,' Supporting Member

    For what you are describing I would recommend you stick with the ACOUSTIC BASS GUITAR.

    First, I agree with Carl (above) about the difficulties of playing Double Bass (in tune with good tone). Another thing he doesn't mention is that a 'good' double bass is going to cost significantly more thatn a 'good' Acoustic bass guitar.

    As to acoustic volume, I read this a lot here on TB, but unless you are playing around a campfire you are going to either use a mic or a pickup anyway and you can do this without losing the good acoustic tone of the instrument (IMHO).

    I play both, but primarily DB. I like the ABG also but is a different instrument with its own voice. Different strings (such as tapewounds vs roundwounds) make a big difference in tone. In my case I don't try to make my ABG sound like my DB, I'm happy to have it sound like what it is, and Acoustic Bass GUITAR.

    Here is how mine sounds with the original phosphur bronze roundwounds:

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  5. Reiska


    Jan 27, 2014
    Helsinki, Finland
    Double bass is physically very demanding instrument and it doesn`t really have much to do with guitar family of instruments. It`s a giant violin. Nothing comes out easy, even the simplest line or riff, and it will hurt you bad if you`re doing it wrong. However, it can be very rewarding and there`s a danger of it ruining your life and taking all your time and money, it is very addictive.

    For me, the bow is 75% of the attraction. You can get a great deal of sound out with it, floors shaking and air moving. You bow the open E and go like, wow, did I just make THAT SOUND happen?!!!

    I highly recommend you to stay as far from double basses as possible;)

    pedrorolo likes this.
  6. rickwolff

    rickwolff ‘Leave the clams in, let ’em know we're human,' Supporting Member

    +1 Though Reiska may have his tongue in his cheek, I have to agree with him. Put another way, you can 'dabble' in bass guitar and actually produce a rather pleasing result. I have dabbled my way through hundreds of gigs on bass guitar without ever taking a lesson (something my more accomplished brethren on TB will no doubt find easy to believe). However, when I was young I studied Double Bass with several fine symphony players. The double bass, as well as her smaller unfretted siblings, is a demanding mistress. To treat her with less than the respect and attention she demands is not likely to give you satisfactory results.
    DrayMiles likes this.
  7. lowfreqgeek


    Mar 15, 2010
    Tijeras, NM
    Getting a really good, solid sound from the DB takes a lot of work. It's all about how you stop the note with your left hand, how you pluck the note, how you mute, how you hold the bass, etc. You really have to tune in to your body and tune in to how the bass responds for every given variable, not to mention the whole intonation thing. If you're adding a bow, that's a whole 'nother level of time and commitment and awareness. Definitely not an instrument for the casual dabbler. At least, not if you intend to actually sound even passably decent.

    That shouldn't discourage you from heading down the DB route - unless you're looking for instant results. It is a VERY rewarding instrument to play well.
  8. I never considered any of the above (no offense to all of the great folks replying), and in fact, never visited the DB forum here before getting my DB a couple of years ago. To top that off, my first time ever touching a DB was when I went to the shop where I purchased it.

    I had always been wanting one, but circumstances never made it possible before. Having been playing EB since I was about 6, and have played fretless EB also off and on, I knew I would adapt. And I did. The only lesson I got was from the luthier at KC Strings on the day I purchased it. He even said, "and there, you just got a bunch of free lessons and pointers"; great guy, and they have a fan here! And that was all I needed, for now.

    I also purchased the Evolving Bassist by Rufus Reid when I purchased this DB and have looked at it some, but I still cannot read music very well. I did also buy a french bow, but that may have been a waste of $$.. Time will tell. I will say though, I can see how one could injure themselves with this instrument, but I will also add that even though I have been playing EB for about 47 years and though I could never see blisters again, I actually got some new ones from DB and I did not think that was possible!

    And something else you can expect is that you will have absolutely zero endurance when you first start. I seriously, could not play more than 2 or 3 minutes at a time for the first several months. Of course by this time I was reading as much in this forum as I could about DB and was made aware of the danger of injury, so I did not push it too much. Now I can play until I don't want to play anymore.

    Just trying to add a little different perspective to the subject. Now, if your goal is to get really good, you might want to disregard everything I've said. I just play for myself because I love bass. I won't be quitting my day job anytime soon!
  9. Tricky Fish

    Tricky Fish Guest

    Dec 22, 2014
    Thanks for the great feedback. I've taken onboard your comments and have just got back from a couple of my music shops where I've had the chance to play a DB for the first time in my life, as well as play some acoustic bass guitars.

    The ABGs that I played were at the inexpensive end of the spectrum. Of the 4 ABGs that I tried, only 1 had a pleasing tone to my ears. They were all quiet. I want to play some high-end ABGs to calibrate, but I'm not sure where I'll be able to do this. I can play these bass guitars acceptably well, no real practice required to learn basic skills.

    I really enjoyed playing the DB. I love their tone, especially when you dig in hard with the right hand. I found it difficult to get a good tone on the E string. It was challenging to get the pitch accurate and I need to "fish" for the correct left hand position. My guitar technique "sort of" translates to DB, but significant time would be required to get to an acceptable level of proficiency. I didn't try a bow.

    At my life stage, I don't have time to learn the technique for DB. So I am ruling it out at this stage. Maybe later.

    I want to try a high end ABG. This is probably the way I'll go, but I need to be convinced by playing a good instrument.

    In the meantime, I will consider an octave pedal with my guitar, but this is a temporary non-acoustic solution.

    Thanks again for everyone's help.
  10. Bisounourse


    Jun 21, 2012
    Gent, Belgium
    Just a question: is it 'tone' as in intonation on the notes on the E-string, or the sound coming from the DB? Most lower-level Dbasses have problems with the sound of the E, even when played open (this is letting the string vibrate freely) it can sound lower in volume. (This is a pet peve of my neighbour, who happens to be a luthier by trade, it is also one of the first things he'll check when looking at a DB).

    But as others have said: if you don't have time to invest in a DB, don't start with the instrument, especially when you want to bow.

    And do enjoy your ABG, it is a fun instrument.
  11. Tricky Fish

    Tricky Fish Guest

    Dec 22, 2014
    The e string didn't sing like the others. It was flabby and loose: that is, the sound coming from the db. I hope that makes sense.
  12. Jay Corwin

    Jay Corwin Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    Sanborn, NY
    It sounds like you don't have the time to jump into DB. There is little to nothing of your guitar experience that will help you "figure it out" so to speak. Theory is one thing, fingering and technique are a whole different ball of wax. I second whomever suggested a Ubass or similar (several people make them now). I've played BG, ABG, Ubass, and DB. Your experience will transfer pretty well to a ubass.

    IMO you don't get much tone out of an ABG, even amplified. They always kind of sound like a bass guitar.

    The ubass needs to be amplified, but they sound really great. Not exactly DB, but not at all bass guitar either. They are very cool instruments that will get you closer to a DB feel than an ABG. There are a ton of Youtubers playing jazz lines on them that will give you a good idea what they are capable of.

    My last suggestion if you are looking at high end instruments would be to check out Rob Allen basses. I don't have any experience with them, but there have been some impressive videos floating around here of guys playing some good jazz chops on them. Maybe another member here can shed some light on those for you.

    Good luck!
  13. BazzTard

    BazzTard Inactive

    firstly, why is volume an issue if you are recording only? it's only an issue live. Most ABG have built in pickups these days, go straight into your recording interface.
    eerbrev likes this.
  14. RustyAxe


    Jul 8, 2008
    I play upright, ABG, and electric bass. All in different projects. I find I use my ABG's more than the upright these days ... easier to load in and out, and I need less room on an already tight stage. For the most part an ABG is useless acoustically. There just isn't enough volume (the size of the body) to get the deep bass sounds and be heard above other instruments. Amplified, though, they can sound great. Essentially you'd be amplifying any instrument you record, since everything MUST go through the recording preamp anyway. I have two fine ABG's; a Tacoma Thunderchief and a Guild B-50, both equipped with piezo pickups, and strung with nylon wrapped strings. With the right EQ, and a good technique I can make either sound very "upright-ish".

    I had little difficulty making the transition to upright about five years ago. Easy stuff (bluegrass, country, blues) and as my technique improved I got into jazz standards. It took a while to get a feel for the instrument, it's quite physical compared to ABG's. Posture, hand position, attack ... all different from guitar. And I love it! I'm finding though that my hands can bother me if I play too long (much longer than your standard gig), and I chalk that up to repetitive stress injuries from playing guitar (bass and six string acoustic) for 47 years and spending a 30 year career at computer keyboards.

    Which is right for YOU is hard for me to say. My gut tells me that you'd probably get to where you want to be (ie, have chops enough to record) a lot faster with an ABG.
  15. tmntfan


    Oct 6, 2011
    Victoria Canada
    if you aren't finding the tone you want on a ABG get one that plays well and experiment with strings as they will change the sound drastically.
    i have the ibanez and with the right strings sounds good.
  16. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    I think this is a key question here. Far be it from me to deter anyone from playing the DB, but for what you're doing, and for a studio scenario, i think a ABG is much more suitable.

    1.) ABGs are much smaller, so less storage space required in studio
    2.) you already know how to play it
    3.) even the most expensive are cheaper than many quality basses (especially those of equal quality to the expensive ABG)
    4.) ABGs almost always have a 1/4" out, and occasionally an xlr line out, making them easy to amplify and record. DBs, on the other hand, are much more pernicious to amplify and record ( I dislike many of the pickup options).

    All that said, an ABG will never sound like a double bass. there is a depth of tone, and a sound quality that no ABG body cavity (even in combination with a good amplifier) can produce. If DB is the sound in your head, the only solution is to get one and get a teacher.
  17. MD


    Nov 7, 2000
    Marin Co. CA.
    Head on over to the "basses" forum on the BG side. A search for "ABG" and "acoustic" will yield pages of threads for your reading enjoyment.
  18. I play DB, but for many occasions, ABG is just fine. I have a fretless Tacoma Thunderchief with tapewound LaBellas and can get a credible DB-like sound when called upon. While you still will have to learn to get the intonation right (it's a whole different world than frets), it's a very satisfying solution in most cases (particularly when you don't want to drag the doghouse). Playing with a guitar or two unplugged works, otherwise plug in. Recording is actually much easier to get a good tone than DB. It's all down to how much expense and effort you're willing to spend; the DB is a harsh mistress.
  19. Hands up I know virtually nothing about an upright but they sound amazing. My question is will a Fretless acoustic bass (amplified of course) approach the sound of a DB? Or is the kala u bass a closer match. I've seen several of the u bass. I have long fingers and the instrument loos a bit stubby to me. I don't really have the time (or space) to buy and learn a db
  20. Nothing sounds like a doublebass but a doublebass.

    I was fortunate enough to own a '72 Earthwood ABG (the best-sounding ABG ever made) and a nice older German plywood bass at the same time.

    In terms of overall volume, the Earthwood played hard with a pick and high action was on a par with the DB played pizzicato with Spirocores.

    However, in terms of depth and acoustic projection, the DB wiped the floor with the Earthwood.
    Eric Hochberg likes this.