Breaking in a Bass

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by LeonD, Mar 30, 2001.

  1. LeonD

    LeonD Supporting Member

    One thing I rarely hear about with regards to basses is how playing and time change the sound of the instruments. Three things recently happened that caused me to think about this.

    1. On a PRS forum, members were talking about how the sound of their guitars (in this case, they had solid Brazilian rosewood necks) had changed over time. At first, it didn't sound like anything special but over time, the sound "opened up" and became exceptional.

    2. While bass shopping recently, I compared the sound of new MusicMan Stingrays to mine which is 9 years old. The old one had a sound that the new one couldn't match. It was both warmer and tighter.

    3. Also while shopping, I tried a used MTD. In the past, I've played about half a dozen new MTDs and I didn't think any were particularly special. This used one sounded much better than any on the new ones I've played. This got me wondering if MTDs (if not all basses) need a "break in" time.

    Has anyone else notice a bass improving substantially over time?

  2. I have noticed that with my ESP, it has recently started to sound so much better. I actually don't mind playing it so much anymore. At this point, i can't say that my Spector has changed cause i haven't had it long, not that i'm dissapointed, i still love the instruement and like it more than my ESP. :)
  3. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    The "opening up," "warmer," and "tighter," only happens, IMO, if you have a bass with high quality pickups, good cable, and a decent amp to let those qualitites come through.

    Finish is one aspect that I know of. What happens precisely to it over time, I don't know in luthier terms, but vintage instruments lose value big time, if they have been refinished. Vintage nuts talk about basses being "ruined" by refinishes and the wood being "closed up."

    As for wood, a decent tone wood opens up as it loses some moisture content, and the vibrations generated by the energy transferred by the strings/bridge/neck open it up.

    It's not sentimental, they actually do sound warmer and tighter over time, like the difference in my pre-CBS Precis and `70's Rick that I've owned since dirt was created. The Precis especially, has developed a tone that can't be bought or manufactured.

    Although I've never owned any, there's one thing that can be a positive and a negative about synthetics, (e.g., luthite, et al) - they should sound the same 20 years down the road as they did in the showroom, if all other components remain intact.
  4. RAM


    May 10, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    Interesting question!

    With breaking in of an instrument, I'm not really certain as to what goes on. I do know that there are a lot of factors, some of which are real, and others are merely perceived...take them as you will and add or subtract as you wish...I'm not an expert in this area...

    1. Wood changes over time. The changes may be very subtle, but over the years, these changes may make a noticeable difference on tone.

    2. The oils from your hands MAY permeate the wood. Obviously this is not as much of a factor if your bass is sealed. But, even if only the fingerboard is not sealed, oils from your hand can have a dampening effect on the sound. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Take your MM, for example. You said that it sounds better than the one in the store...that may be affected by the oils in your hands.

    3. Some of the tonal differences may also be may have liked your bass when you bought it, and even gotten used to the way it feels and sounds. But, if your instrument was new, would it sound and feel the same as the new MM you saw in the store? Or would those differences you're noticing now have been that way all along?

    I'm sure there are hundreds of other reasons that instruments feel differently or sound differently, and being "broken in" is one explanation. Perhaps some other TB'ers can shed some light on this...
  5. Luis Fabara

    Luis Fabara

    Aug 13, 2000
    Ecuador (South America)
    Audio Pro - Ecuador
    Acording to my research, this "vintage" tone is the effect of ALL the materials being vibrated trough the years at certain frequencies.
    This vibrations make the wood modify its grain/pores to hold tighter and thus the sound opens.

    Now..this varies depending on the wood, and yes, the moisture factor has its effect on the tone too.
    About luthite? Since it is a porous material, it can also be broken in. It is very flexible and I think it will also have that effect after the years. What I dont know if it will be positive or negative.

    There is also an alternative called "Instant Vingate" wich consists of vibrating the wood for long periods of time.. and then making the instrument out of it.
  6. Nails


    Jun 4, 2000
    Austin, Tejas
    Maybe this is why we see famous players keep the same bass. Sting is the first example that jumps to mind, everytime I see him playing bass it's that old Fender.

    On the guitar side, my brother recently got a Gibson J150, and Gibson used "violin finish" on it (it has a technical name that I can't remember, but it's the same finish used on violins). Over time it actually sinks deeper into the wood causing the sound to change. Pretty good idea if you ask me, if only I liked natural finished basses more.
  7. LeonD

    LeonD Supporting Member

    I think one thing to keep in mind is that age alone doesn't do it. The instrument needs to have been played for all those years.

    While I've never heard it personally, I've been told that a bass from the '60s that has never been played will sound similar to a brand new bass (assuming it's made the same way with similar materials).

  8. Tuomas


    Mar 14, 2000
    Helsinki, Finland
    I usually try to avoid buying new basses just because they haven't been broken in. Sometimes the sound can go worse too. And with Fenders, I just love the worn feeling. Like me jazz has those supersmooth fingerboard edges that matches my hands perfectly and those marks on the body that tell about playing.

    And I also believe that a ebony fretboards start sounding better after a few years of playing.
  9. Wxp4759cb


    Nov 23, 2000
    Kansas City, MO
    How long does it take for this breaking in to occur?
  10. I'm going against the flow on this one, but here goes. There is no way to compare a brand new original early-60s P with a broken-in one unless you have a time machine. But even if you could compare, I'm not sure I can buy into the idea that aging/vibrating makes a solid-body electric bass sound better, because the simplest explanation (I like simple ones) is that good basses are good basses. Old URB players testify that they have witnessed this change first-hand in their instruments, but even if true, a) the wood in question is much, much thinner, b) it's varnished on only one side instead of being totally sealed on all surfaces under sealer, primer, color, and clear coats--or sometimes even under heavy plastic. Let's assume a person can really remember what an axe sounded like 50 years ago and so can make a comparison. If it takes 50 or more years to hear the change in sound in wood 1/4" thick that's sealed on only one side, affected by aging of exposed wood and/or the powerful vibrations generated by the sustained bowing of super-tense 40-plus-inch scale strings, how long would it take to get the same changes in a plank that's 1 1/2" thick, sealed all around where the air can't get to it, and subjected only to the relatively weak vibrations caused by plucking 34-inch scale strings?
  11. I've got an old 1982 Ibanez Roadster Bass with the original humbucker in it now it's not an expensive bass in fact you probably can't even get $50 bucks for it but to me it seems to sound better than most newer high priced basses and the feel is also a million times better because the finger board's edges are all rounded off. According to what I have been told this particular bass was awfull in sound when it was first produced but people actually comment on the smooth tone it now produces so maybe basses do get better with age especially if they are made well like this one is and played to death like this one, all I can say is imagine some of these $3-5000 basses down the line if there tone improves they will be like gold to get hold of.