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Acoustic bass

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by sloppysubs, Jan 10, 2006.

  1. sloppysubs


    Nov 24, 2002
    Swansboro, NC
    Steve and Michael
    I was considering buying an acoustic bass. I was wondering if either of you had done any amount of (long term/in depth) expirementing with the acoustic bass.
    Also, if I am not mistaken, Michael, that is your 5-string Larrivee acoustic bass on "I Left America", right? If so, what tunning is that and how did you apply your electric bass technique to it?
  2. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    I own a Rick Turner Renaissance 5 string fretless, which is an incredible bass. It's what Rick describes as 'amplicoustic', in that it's not at all designed to be played unamplified, but the sound is generated the same way it would be on an acoustic instrument - a piezo pickup in the bridge responding to the resonance of a hollow bodied instrument.

    The sound is amazing, and for the right kind of project, it's perfect. I used it a few weeks ago on a session, and the producer was wanting to sample the low notes on it to keep for future projects that need 'that sound' - I gave him my number instead. :)

    As for 'real' acoustic bass guitars, good ones are lovely, bad ones are worse than useless. Michael's Larivee sounds amazing (I Left America is an incredible piece of music, made all the more emotive by the sound of the bass) - I think it's an area where it pays to do your research and be prepared to spend some money... I've played quite a few cheaper acoustic bass guitars that sounded OK unplugged, but incredibly unbalanced when plugged in - getting the pressure right in the bridge seems to be a key feature of getting the volume balanced across the strings, and is harder to adjust given that you don't have individual saddles to work with...

    Good luck finding your bass - it's a great feeling when you do! :)

  3. sloppysubs


    Nov 24, 2002
    Swansboro, NC
    Thanks Steve!

    That's awsome you gave the dude your number. If I was in your posistion, I would've done the same thing.:smug:

    Anyway, thanks for the advice. If I may ask, have you ever played and Taylor bassess? I played one a while back and loved it. However, I never plugged it in, so I am not real sure how it would sound that way.

    Thanks again.
  4. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    I have played a Taylor acoustic bass - I loved the acoustic sound. From what I remember of the electronics in the one I tried, it didn't have any controls on the bass itself, which was meant that I couldn't fix the sound if the PA was rubbish...

    There seem to be two schools of thought with acoustic guitars (which are mirrored in the acoustic bass world) - the guitar is either a really high end acoustic with a supposedly transparent pickup and no controls, or the guitar is a bit of a shoebox with lots of electronic control over the sound - I'd put the Yamaha APX series into this second camp, and they tend to sound great plugged in, and like crap acoustically.

    I've played a few acoustic nights where the guys with the Taylors and Martins were really shocked at how bad their high-dollar guitars sounded alongside the Yamahas, purely because the Yamahas are designed to work with crappy PAs - you can get rid of all that nasty false high end that a lot of small powered PA speakers add to guitar signals.

    The ideal is clearly a great sounding acoustic instrument with an intelligently designed pickup and preamp...

  5. maxvalentino

    maxvalentino Endorsing Artist Godin Guitars/ Thomastik-Infeld

    If I might offer some advice (not wishing to hijack this thread or anything)......

    My main basses are all ABGs or "semi-ABGs", and I have been somewhat of a champion of these basses and their use. Michael even kindly referred to me as "the prepared acoustic bass guitar dude" in the notes to his latest CD...shucks, thanks.

    I play are wide variety of gigs with these basses (namely fretted and fretless Godins....tho' I am (finally) pulling the trigger and ordering a Turner/Renaissance 5 string): rock, blues, funk...of course solo bass/looping and even in my new "regular" gig as house bassist for Buck Owens..which entails playing with a variety of different artists besides Buck..some of them quite "heavyweight" ..in a variety of styles. I have not had a problem in using an ABG for this (and rec'd a number of compliments in doing so).

    Yet, I start out from the frame of mind that these are not just hollowed out electric bass guitars, nor are they the horizontal equivalent of a vertical bass. They are unique instruments in their own right; with their own unique voice, as well as their own unique quirks and anomalies.

    Yes, many of the techniques for playing can be carried over from electric BG or even URB, and quite a few from the world of acoustic gtr styles, yet mostly, the adapatation of application of these are unique to the world of ABGs.

    This goes from strings thru amplification. ABGs are just different. A lot of manufacturers market do not recognize this and both make and market their ABGs as simply oversized acoustic gtrs.

    Steve hit on something in noting how important a good preamp is...both onboard and outboard. Most ABGs use piezos. Just as is the case with magnetics, a great deal of piezo systems are just made cheaply. Then they are installed improperly...and what you have is a big problem. A well designed piezo PU/preamp has greater phase stability and coherence, a wider dynamic and frequency range, and when buffered correctly, is much quieter than a magnetic system. But, at the same time, they sound much different than mags, too, as their sytem of transducing is ..well...different.

    OK...onto the point. Acoustic instruments have a certain "je nais se quoi" which electrics do not. And, in fairness, the inverse is also true. Acoustics are more difficult to play ( I remember it being said that one must "wrangle" tone from an acoustic instrument, not simply "dial it in"), and one's tone, one's sound, is much more in one's hands than with traditional electric instruments. Yet, with this comes a certain pathos which draws a listener in when acoustic instruments are played. And so there is certain "reward" for one's labor.

    In terms of amplification ABGs require a lot which is different from EBs. Due to the unusually quick transients and extended dynamic range, most tube amps and preamps don't work so well with ABGs (note: I said "most"...I have for instance a UA 610 which sounds great with an ABG....) Most typical bass amps don't sound all that good as they usuallly are designed to make up for deficiencies in magnetic/solid body systems.
    Piezos are incredibly susecptible to phase problems whem plugging into gear with impedence balance issues (most commercial bass amps, stomp boxes etc). And the resluts of that are noticeable. I don't like using my DL4, for instance with piezos...

    And then there is feedback. I have played/owned ABGs by Taylor (recently sold it...great sound but it is a huge instrument and looked rather silly with my rather slim frame!) Martin, Ovation, Guild, Washburn, Dean, ...oh there is a list. None are loud enough to really be played sans amp (regardless of what all the Tacoma owners say....). This is just plain physics. All of those are prone to feedback when amped significantly (and quite hard to tame as well!)

    I believe Michael's Larivee does not have a PU, and requires it to be mic'd (which is a whole different level difficult-but-doable).

    Which then brings us to those "other" ABGs: namely, in this group I put Turner/Renaissance, Rob Allen and Godin. Thin,well-carfted, hollow or chambered bodies with no soundholes (feedback ressistant) and well concieved, cutting edge pickup/electronics technology. I find these to be the perfect match: "electro-acoustics". Acoustic sound plugged in...much like the Yamaha gtrs Steve mentioned. Ironically, to me, these also make the perfect instrument for "solo bass" work...altho, it is quite obvious that Steve, Michael and others do very well with those solid-body thingys they play!
    With the right setup....for bass I strongly recommend an active 18v preamp (you will appreciate the noticable headroom which helps to allieviate the cold, "quakiness" piezos are known for when hit with a hard signal...) have all that is desirable (as mentioned) about acoustic instruments, without the more "undesireable" elements like size and feedback issues.

    FWIW: I am playing Godin Basses (four and five, fretted and fretless...soon to be moved to Renaissance)strung with TI Acousticores thru D-TAR preamps (MamaBear, Solstice and Equinox) into a pair of Acoustic Image Amps and cabs. Looping is handled by a Gibson EDP and/or Lexicon JamMan (custom upgraded), and my sole effect is a Demeter Analog Spring reverb. With this set up I play 3-5 nights a week for venues holding up to 2000 people. And those people, and the musicians I play with, all seem to like the unique sound of the Acoustic Bass Guitar.

  6. sloppysubs


    Nov 24, 2002
    Swansboro, NC
    Thank you Max. Very insightful stuff. You and Steve both have brought up great points about ABG's.

    I actually looked at some Turner/Renisance bassess and they are absolutely incredible looking. Next chance I get, I will play one.

    Again, thank you for the advice and knowledge.
  7. Rick Turner

    Rick Turner Commercial User

    Jul 14, 2004
    I design and build electric basses and pickups under the Turner, Renaissance, and Electroline brand names.
    Keith, where are you located? I may be able to refer you to a dealer.

    FYI, we've been using high-headroom 18 volt preamps in our basses since day #1. The difference is dramatic when it comes down to dynamic range. Also we tilt our saddles back about 8 degrees which gives much better contact between saddle and pickup, also helping tone and even string output.
    We are now seeing other manufacturers jump on the 18 volt band wagon. It's about time!
  8. sloppysubs


    Nov 24, 2002
    Swansboro, NC
    Hey Rick,
    Currently I am in Wheelersburg, OH. The closest thing I am to is... well nothing at all. However, I might be moving to Atlanta in May. Still don't know yet. Thank you for your help. Uh, Columbus and Cincinatti are about 2 or so hours away.
  9. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    There’s some excellent advice here! I’ll just chime in to say that like any other bass, it’s important to find the acoustic that’s right for you. My Larrivee is a beauty, but it certainly wouldn’t be right for everyone. I would like to mention that I think Rick Turner is a real genius and the electro-acoustic concept he’s working with is brilliant -- absolutely gorgeous instruments. Oh, and the tuning for “I Left America” is F#C#G#AC#.