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Are Synths better than Basses?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Ilikechips, May 17, 2005.

  1. Ilikechips


    May 16, 2005
    I've been playing bass for about 8 months now and I was talking to my friend Dave online and we had a conversation that went like this.

    Steve: Bass is great
    Dave: haha no it isn't bass is good in synths, but the actual bass guitar is squaresville
    Steve: maybe the average bass player just isn't creative with fx
    Dave: fx is expensive and you still have a lame signal to work with hah
    Steve: so the average bass player isn't expensive
    Dave: the only way a bass player becomes relevant is when he branches into other areas. It is such a weak area.
    Steve: like when he plays the melody sometimes and things like that?
    Dave: haha if he does play the melody it's in a fairly boring song,
    I'm sure you can bust it out in limited genres, but when you go further than, "I play the bassline" other instruments can do other things...a bass can't. It has such a limited harmonic spectrum when compared with drums/cymbals, and the guitar.
    Steve: a lot of what the bass does is fill in the lower end for the guitar
    Dave: when one is using filters and things, filtering a bass is pretty limited and boring (see the new NiN), but guitars, synths, and drums have a lot of options. Which is depressing if one were a dedicated bass player
    Steve: depends on the music though
    Dave: i'd say that synths do a better bass than a real bass, in almost all genres, good mono's have a far greater range of tones and abilities. Still can't beat the bass for simple applications though. Though it's easily emulated by synths if need be.
    Steve: drums and guitar can be imitated on synths too
    Dave: a real guitar can't be emulated, and neither can live drums.
    Steve: although it would be harder to improvise on a synth
    Dave: actually it's easier, along with more options, you can change your base signl, wav which is used, filter type, envelope types (of filter and amp), all while playing the bassline.
    Steve: so you're saying practicing bass is a waste of time because I could just practice synth?
    Dave: i'd say doing only that is a waste of time.
    Dave: realize the limited applications of it (I mean really limited)>
    Steve: I dunno
    Steve: bass is in a lot more music than guitar
    Dave: there's a reason almost all of the good bass players are involved in synths and keyboards.
    Dave: maybe more music, but is that music good?
    Dave: there's nothing wrong with learning bass, but don't think it's going to take you a lot of places, because it's pretty limited
    Dave: learn guitar as well.

    Is he right? Are synthesisers more versitile? Would Flea or Lez Claypool or whoever be better off to play synths unless they are doing a really simple plain bass sound?
  2. Tash


    Feb 13, 2005
    Bel Air Maryland
    I'm thinking that your friend is a tad...misguided...at best.

    Synth is synth. Bass is bass. A synth will never be a bass.
  3. WalterBush


    Feb 27, 2005
    Yuma, Az
    Full disclosure, I'm a certified Fender technician working in a music store that carries Fender, Yamaha, and Ibanez products among others.
    Your friend is exhibiting alarming and possibly harmful tendencies towards bass. Led Zeppelin could've found other keyboardists and mandolin players, but another bass player would've ruined the band. If he thinks a synth can even come close to Geddy's tone, Jaco's articulation, or Claypool's wild musical flailing then his ears are full of guitarist's ego (that's the polite way to say it). That's not even taking into account DB, EUB, or ABG. I agree, learning other instruments can be expanding musically, but to say that bass can't take you anywhere you wanna go is just plain silly.

    P.S. Many successful hits and plenty of musical scores for TV were made with sampled guitar. They sound great, and with a careful composer it's almost impossible to tell. Ditto with drums. If harmonic range and versatility are what makes music good, we'd all be playing samplers.
  4. sfbassplayer

    sfbassplayer Supporting Member

    Oct 10, 2004
    San Francisco
    Apparently your friend didn't live part of his musical life in the 80's when synths were king and great double basses could be had for $500.

    It's all come full circle and bass is back with a vengence ... problem is, good basses of any kind are really expensive now!
  5. gilbert46


    Sep 21, 2004
    Sacramento, CA


    I bet that guy plays a fullstack, with a second guitar, on a fullstack, overdriving the begezes outa there 100watt tube heads while telling the bassist to turn down. In my limited playing I've met an alarming number of people just like this. They claim bass sucks, while screaming when anyting but the straight 8th notes on the root are being played.

    Its ok though, cause more and more of the good bands coming out are utilizing bass for completly, and the bands that dont are falling back.

    My brother (totally non musically inclined) said a bassist wont make a band great, but it will make a band groove. And people wanna groove. Thats coming from your average everyday listener.
  6. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002
    I've always found the bass to be a far more versatile instrument than the guitar. I dunno, when it comes down to it, they can both do all the same things, but the guitar, with it's tighter string spacing and smaller neck, and the typical differences in pickups and such. The bass always struck me as being able to access more interesting tonal spaces a lot easier and more pleasantly than a guitar.

    I've often thought this is one of the reasons guitarists flock to tons of FX to 'perfect' their tone. It's because innately, the guitar isn't all that versatile. Even in the hands of the most skilled players, the guitar still sounds more or less like a guitar. Sure a couple cats have come along and done some whacked out **** that blurs the line a little, but still, I think the bass is far more prone to 'fooling' people into thinking it's something else.

    I have heard bass tracks that sound like pianos, harps, guitars(both electric and acoustic) various percussion instruments, and even bowed instruments, and I'm a bass player, you'd think my ears would be more likely to say "hey! that's a bass!"

    The Guitar is a beautiful instrument, but I think the bass guitar generally surpasses it greatly in terms of tonal flexibility. Especially when you consider 6+ string basses.

    However, it's not a bassist's place to care about such things, that's not our role in a band, and that's not what people want to hear. So when it comes down to it, just play along, do your own **** on your own time ;)
  7. Adam Barkley

    Adam Barkley Mayday!

    Aug 26, 2003
    Jackson, MS
    Tell him that the water is cloudy and a storm is coming that will knock up to down and make pop tarts cook themselves before opening; he had better get his feng shui in balance if he hopes to still make the bus route. Or some other gibberish.
  8. PhilMan99


    Jul 18, 2003
    US, Maryland
    Both have their place. For simpler music (like country, a personal favorite), I'd rather hear real bass. Bass also fits better with music like jazz that has a more "human" time-feel, as opposed to the computer-driven strictness of midi-synths.

    For more modern stuff, like Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean" or Lipps Inc's "Funky-town", I'll take the synth (if computer/midi-driven, since hands on a keyboard have trouble matching "licks" on a bass fretboard).

    I quit bass back in the 80s because I preferred the synth sound. I imagined that music would get more sophisticated, with some *serious* polyphonic rock happenin'. In such a computer-driven world, I assumed the "manual" bass could not compete. To my dismay, I found the old 70s (80s?) group Devo was right - we are "de-evolving". I give you "Reality TV" as but one humble example. :meh:

    With most pop music having all the sophistication these days of a 3-stooges "short", the super-human potential of computer midi-driven synth-bass is not needed. Drunk circus-monkeys are more than adequate... :rolleyes: On the other hand, there's an argument to be made for the human-side of music. Do we WANT to be replaced by computers?

    Emboldened by the bass-playing circus-monkeys I see on MTV, VH1, BET, etc, I started playing again, figuring "at least I couldn't do worse". I realize there are bass-players playing Jazz and other genres with all the genious of an Einstein or a Socrates. Sadly, though, they are more the exception than the rule... :(
    ...but fortunate for a "hobby bass-player" like myself! :bassist:


    Jan 25, 2005
    Des Moines, IA
    "You cannot win a war of wits if you are out of ammunition"

    Obviously, your friend has some issues about the music and not aware of how a well-orchestrated piece fits together and how every instrument has it's role... Is he one of those soon to be extinct 3 chord rockers I keep hearing so much noise from?? (ha!)
  10. Sane


    Dec 4, 2004
    Melbourne Fl
    Have you ever played Billy Jean? Very fun satisfiying groove in there:) Even though its played on a "manual" bass. Synth is just that Synth... there is no articulation... no human feel. I think on the contrary that synth is the simple one. Don't give me a synth track and tell me how great it is. Theres nothing there... music is more then just sounds, no matter how complicated, its feeling. Someone like Larry Graham could say more with a open E then a 400+ note composing by X-123-34-3234-00 ... Direct Mr.Davy over to this thread... maybe it will drop his Ego down just a tad and who knows he might make it in the musical world?
  11. Show me the synth patch that sounds like my Ric and I will be convinced.
    Synths have a huge tonal palette but that doesn't justify replacing other instruments with it. Synths are limited in their tonal expression as well, convincing slides like on a fretless are near impossible and quick alternations of attack are very hard to pull off while it's very simple on a stringed instrument.

    And honestly, a synth player will never be able to put one show quite like band with real instruments. Yes, there's the keytar but then one has to give up the instant tweaking of a standing synth, reducing the tonal options to the patches loaded in.
    I've seen ELP live perfomances and while the music was very cool the show element was lacking, to put things nicely.
  12. PhilMan99


    Jul 18, 2003
    US, Maryland
    Actually, with sampling, that's pretty easy for individual notes. What the synth can't reproduce is:
    * The note-to-note relationships between sounds on your Ric. Playing a riff on one string, for example, sounds different than when you switch strings. That's beyond current synth programming unless the programmer in cakewalk (or whatever) want's to do subtle modifications to the EQ for each note.
    * The imperfections in the timing in your playing that constitute "your sound" and a "human sound". Unless random (or not so random for good players) 128th-note variations are added to the computer playback, it sounds like a glorified "player piano". Then there's the "temporal feel" for some music like Jazz where what you see on the printed page is not how you play it (swing feel).
  13. Sako


    Nov 4, 2004
    Charlotte, NC
    Absolutely. I was listening to Led Zep II & III on the way to work this morning -- John Paul Jones gave the music it's grove.

    PS - Check this out if you haven't already:
  14. Dave sounds like an ignorant tosser.

    Stop wasting your breath speaking to him and get a new "friend". ;) ;)
  15. keb


    Mar 30, 2004
    "Is a sax better than a flute?" is a question that makes just as much sense to me... :rollno:
  16. small, heavy be

    small, heavy be

    Apr 25, 2005
    i'm pretty sure 5 string bass came around to compete with the range of synths in the 80's.
    but really, who cares?
    you are probably never gonna make huge sums of money as a session bassist anyway, so the important thing is whether YOU like playing bass.
    would you have more fun playing a keyboard?
    do you have the time to play more than one thing (most decent musicians can play at least one additional instrument somewhat well).
    i personally am learning the concertina right now and when i was in high school i played all manner of percussion, and i've taken piano and guitar lessons.
    but i love playing bass the most, and that's what i'm best at because of it.
    trends come and go, and trading in your rig for a nord lead is only a good idea if YOU have more fun playing keys than you do playing bass.
    no instrument is inherently superior except to the person playing it.
  17. Rodent

    Rodent A Killer Pickup Lineā„¢ Commercial User

    Dec 20, 2004
    Upper Left Corner (Seattle)
    Player-Builder-Founder: Honey Badger Pickups & Regenerate Guitar Works
    Why is it that I only see TB noobs posting materials like this? Not all new TBers do this, for sure, as the overwhelming majority of new folks are here to creatively participate in TB community life. But nearly all of the people who start threads like this have been members for less than 60 days.


  18. +1

    I am so sick of people asking, what is better, what is harder, etc play what you want to play, play what expresses yourself and don't worry about what everyone else thinks, says, or does just be you and be happy playing YOUR instrument that is where the real music is. Music is the art of self expression and if you can express your self with a simple 4 banger or it takes some crazy expensive synth then whatever. When I play I play for myself I dont play for popularity i dont play for girls, i dont even play because i think its fun, i play because it is my calling, bass chose me and i play it because it is in me. not becasue i think it is impressive or better then a guitar or synth. I dont care what the "dave's" of the world have to say, i care what my bass "says"
  19. ras1983


    Dec 28, 2004
    Sydney, Australia
    tell your mate dave to say that to dr. dre, who has used live musicians (mike elizondo on bass) since 1997, tell that to the who, tell that to the black eyed peas, tell that to the roots and jay-z, tell that too... the list goes on. your freind is not a guitar player. guitar players are musicians and all the ones i know are decent bass players also. they, like any other musician, understand the need for balance, the role that any instrument can play, and ofcourse the PERFORMANCE that can only be experienced with live musicians.

    as far as saying the bass can be really limited, i can instantly think of several completely different sounds:
    slapping - can sound like a piano at times
    popping - completely unique

    For heaven's sake, can someone please post a link to jean baud's website for dave to see how limited a bass is.

    Don't listen to your 'mate'.

    p.s. tell your mate that many bass players are heavily involved in weightlifting and/or martial arts, and then redirect him to the "What's the best bass to hit someone over the head with?" thread

  20. Bassic83


    Jul 26, 2004
    Texas, USSA
    Knock knock knock....
    "Hey man, it's me, Dave, I got the stuff! Open the door!"
    "Who is it?"
    "It's me, Dave...open up!"
    "Uhhh....Dave's not here!"
    "No, man, it's me, Dave...I got the stuff, man, let me in!"
    "I told you, man, Dave's not here!!!"

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