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Acoustic Basses - Functional or Fairytale?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Cthulhu, Jan 22, 2006.

  1. Cthulhu


    Sep 24, 2005
    Madison, WI
    While listening to my wife play acoustic guitar, I started to ponder the functionality of the acoustic basses that I occasionally see at music stores. From everything that I've read, the common wisdom is that most acoustic basses (for the purposes of this article I'm not considering upright double basses) would be overpowered by your average dreadnought guitar in an acoustic setting. Specifically, looking at this article on Cumpiano's site doesn't give me much confidence.

    The idea of a resonator bass seems cool. After all, the resonator cone should amplify the tone. Interesting that the sound samples at National and Folk of the Wood from the Johnson and Regal resonator basses emphasize playing higher up the neck rather than the lower tones on the E and A strings.

    So... Let's say that playing with electric amplification wasn't an option. Are there any acoustic basses (other than the stand-up double bass) that actually cut the mustard in a combo with an acoustic guitar player?

    Sorry for the long post! Just trying to see if there are any options...
  2. main_sale


    Apr 26, 2004
    Cape Cod
    The loudest one I found in an admittedly incomplete search was a Martin B-1. It works acoustically, but only just. I hear that Tacoma's are also somewhat loud acoustically.
  3. bad_andy


    Sep 21, 2005
    Omaha, NE
    As far as having an acoustic bass instrument for unplugged situations, YMMV, but my Olympia (a large bodied chinese made laminated ABG licensed from the Tacoma Thunderchief design) has worked in some situations. Doing low volume rehersals with only a guitar player has worked for me, so if you are interested in playing with your wife at home, go for it. Just make sure you get something large bodied like the Thunderchief (or get her to play softly). Jamming in the corner at a party works for people within a few feet. You can dig in with your fingers, but IMHO the best way to make an axe like this work unplugged is to use a pick. I have some hardened felt picks that sound really punchy with mine.

    I own and use an ABG on professional gigs and the main reason I like mine is that it blends well with steel string guitar, tonally speaking. It's the same timbre just an octave low. In gig situations, everyone's amplified, so volume is not an issue. I (and the people who pay me) prefer my upright for some styles of music, but having the ABG as an option (or even a backup at folk/blues/acoustic rock gigs) is really handy. For some shows where the upright isn't de rigeur, it's nice to not have to worry about taking it up and down from a 2nd story condo if I don't want to hassle with it.

    The other reason I've enjoyed mine is having something that I can pick up at a moment's notice and just play when inspiration or the mood strikes. I've read lots of comments from other Oympia and Thunderchief owners that say the same thing. Spontaneous practice and songwriting might be the best reason to go ahead and get one.
  4. Planet Boulder

    Planet Boulder Hey, this is a private residence...man

    Nov 10, 2001
    6,482 feet above sea level
    I once had impure thoughts. Oh, and I pluck my ear hair.
    I bought an Olympia for casual camping jams at bluegrass fests and it has served me well. In fact, I could be heard quite nicely while jamming with a mando player, a banjo player and a guitarist in an unplugged jam outdoors.

    I'll also use it for some "tune-up" acoustic practices with band members at my house, but that's about it.
  5. Ripper


    Aug 16, 2005
    just got a Michael Kelly Dragonfly 5 string fretless

    I haven't tried to play with a guitarist yet, but it seems like it would have enough power to be heard.
  6. Not a fan. They are expensive, not too big of a selection, the solid top ones are REALLY expensive, the laminates don't sound good enough for the money. As with anything you buy, ask yourself what else you could buy with the money and how hard the money was to come across.

    I returned my micheal kelly dragonfly. Although it was gorgeous, it didn't sound any better than an old Sammick I had gotten for 50 dollars. They really aren't that loud and you are very limited, in my experience with it, if you really want one, go big and expensive, a taylor or something. If you're on a budget, go with an electric and small combo, it will sound better, be louder and be almost as portable. More selection that way too.
  7. Mojo-Man

    Mojo-Man Supporting Member

    Feb 11, 2003
    I''ve been searching for a functional ABG for some time?
    Have tried all the talked about brands here on TB.
    Have come to conclusion that to get one that works, you will pay big money.
    $4000.00 to 6000.00 to have built.
    Don't know if this is worth investment??
  8. lamborghini98

    lamborghini98 The Aristocrats

    May 1, 2005
    NYC; Portland, OR
    I once saw Yes live and Chris Squire played an ABG... didn't work out too well, imo. Personally I don't think that they're too functional, but have one nevertheless. Oh, and I never use it...

    The one have is quite loud but still gets beaten out buy an acoustic guitar any day, so its hard to jam with. The only reason I bought it was so that I wouldn't have to bring an amp with me everywhere I went, but it was too big and heavy anyways.
  9. BartmanPDX

    BartmanPDX Supporting Member

    If you want to play with a single acoustic guitarist, for just a few people, a Tacoma will work just fine unplugged. It's also a great thing for jamming while watching TV or working out new ideas without having to plug in. It has an amazing tone unplugged, but it's not even quite as loud as my Guild acoustic guitar. Aside from the Tacoma and possibly the Olympia, no other ABG I've played can even keep up with a single acoustic guitarist -- it's a physics thing.

    If you want to perform in coffee-house-size venues or with more than one aggressive acoustic guitar player, or perform for more than a handful of people, they won't work unless amplified, at least with a small combo amp.

    As soon as you plug in, the great resonance of a Tacoma becomes the potential of a feedback beast. It can be tamed somewhat, but it's often a hassle. I love mine, but I probably wouldn't take it to any kind of gig larger than a backyard acoustic jam session.

    If you want to play for a larger group, look for a semi-acoustic or a hollowbody. They won't sound as loud unplugged, but at least you'll avoid the howling feedback that a Tacoma can produce, and my Godin sounds almost better than my Tacoma when both are plugged in.
  10. bass-shy


    Jan 11, 2005
    I have a Martin Alternative X ABG that is loud enough for unplugged jams. I know it won't keep up with a drummer but I play with a couple guitar players and I don't get buried. A few weeks ago, I took it to a local shop to test out some cabinets. The employees were amazed at it's unplugged volume. They compared it to a Crafter ABG that was in the store and it wasn't a third as loud. As with any ABG, the mid-register notes are the loudest, and maybe the aluminum top has something to do with it. Anyway, for a little less than a grand I have an ABG that is practical in the real world. I have it strung with flatwounds and tuned a whole step down. It sounds good to me. Good luck with the search.
  11. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    The Tacoma/Olympias are the loudest I've heard. If you play with a pick, you might get some extra volume.

    The resonator sounds like a bad idea. It might contribute some extra volume, but I don't know whether it'd contribute any *bass*, you know?
  12. richnota

    richnota Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 11, 2005
    Santa Cruz
    Like any EAB, my Tacoma thunderchief fretless is limited by physics--there's a reason Acoustic upright basses are big--but its sound is quite wonderful. When I play with a group of acoustic guitarists I still bring a tiny Roland amp.

    But what I love about the instrument is playing it unplugged in quiet settings.

    There's something gorgeous about the sound coming right from the instrument instead of an amp. While it may seem obvious to any acoustic guitarist, us electric bass players rarely experience the sensation of sound directly radiating from our instruments.

    It may be too subtle an aesthetic for some, but its worth giving one a try.
  13. Cthulhu


    Sep 24, 2005
    Madison, WI
    The scenario that Bartman describes (coffee shop) is exactly what I have in mind. Not that I'm going to start hanging-out at open mic night, but that sort of projection is exactly it. From what everyone has posted thus far, it sounds like there is nothing out there that could hang with an acoustic guitar due to pure limitations of design vs. physics.

    Again, I was hoping that the resonator bass would be a great idea, but I'm a bit sceptical since the only sound clips I've heard of them demonstrates playing well up the neck. No open E or A strings at all. Seems a bit suspicious...

    Anyone ever try one of the Ernie Ball Earthwoods? Weren't they supposed to be pretty loud for an acoustic?
  14. klocwerk


    May 19, 2005
    Somerville, MA
    from what I've heard, they're the loudest ABG's out there.
    I saw the Violent Femmes and he was playing one, it had an awesome almost-upright tone, and he ripped some nice solos on it.

    looks like they stopped making them in '85 though, so you might have trouble finding one.
  15. BartmanPDX

    BartmanPDX Supporting Member

    Yep. They're by far the loudest, due to the large body size.

    Good luck finding one, though. Not many were made, and fewer still come up for sale.

    Another option is a guitarron (mexican instrument). They're pretty darn big, and should put out a lot of volume. They're pretty different from an ABG, though, and I haven't the foggiest idea which makers to recommend.

    Good luck!
  16. I just recently bought a cheap ABG. I was at the store and was playing a few of the basses there when I picked up the ABG and found I really liked the sound/tone from the cheapo.

    Volume is an issue - when I'm playing with a friend and his guitar, I have to belt out some volume from the ABG and I end up getting a slight buzz and click when the strings hit the frets. If not for that, the ABG could've held its own for volume. But even so I don't think it could hold up very well in a coffee shop scenario, unless it was a small quiet venue.

    But anyway I really like the tone of the ABG and can envision using it with an amp and/or recording, it came with a 4 band EQ and piezo transducer pickup. I'm thinking of putting flatwounds on it.
  17. sargebaker

    sargebaker Commercial User

    May 2, 2004
    Montreal QC CA
    owner/builder, ISLAND Instrument Mfg.
    IME (cheapies, Ibanez, Alvarez) Total Fairytale.
  18. Cthulhu


    Sep 24, 2005
    Madison, WI
    I've seen the pics of the alternative-X Interesting concept. Anyone know how the "lows" sound on those?
  19. bass-shy


    Jan 11, 2005
    I've owned one for about a year. The "open E" is alright with the stock nickel roundwounds but switching to flats makes a huge difference. Big, full and tight. It is surprising how such a small body can produce such a deep tone. As with any ABG, the volume increases as you move up the neck. Plugged in, this bass is a monster. Again, with flatwounds, it sounds absolutely evil through my rig. If I were ever to play in a metal band, this would be my first choice. My suggestion would be to try one and see if it will work for you. I don't think that this design is right for everyone, but it certainly does the trick for me. Let me know if you have any more questions.
  20. UtBDan


    Oct 29, 2004

    use Quicktime to watch the vid.

    That's me playing bass nad my guitarist playing guitar. And that's me playing a little hard (I didn't know how hard I should play it, first time we played acousticly together, honest), not so much that I'm straining myself at all, but so much that you know

    the Tacoma Thunderchief can stand up to any acoustic guitar. lol