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Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by KSB - Ken Smith, Mar 12, 2008.

  1. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    I am starting the Thread to discuss the various colors of sounds one might hear when comparing various Schools of Basses. Not all Basses sound the same but often we hear that expression 'that French sound', German sound, English sound, Italian 'olive oil' sound, Yankee sound, etc.

    While some Bass players might have less experience with large numbers of various old Basses to compare, still I wonder what most of you think. Do you hear the 'origin' within the sound most of the time or not?

    Even between Plywoods we have opinions about sound as well as Asian/Chinese Basses and German/Czech shop Basses depending on age, model and possibly maker. Although the latter list or origins are the most common, I would like to discuss the oldies if possible but welcome any and all thoughts as well.

    Also, listening to a Bass while playing it or within a few feet of someone else playing, may not sound the same in comparison from a distance of 20-40 feet or more.

    What's your take on this?
  2. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    No, I don't. Please can you explain how you can hear the origin of a bass within the sound? If the soundpost is moved out an inch or so, can you still tell the origin of the bass, even though the sound is completely different??

    Do you think that what you are hearing is real, psychoacoustics or wishful thinking? And how do you know?
  3. You should have a blind listening test. Seriously, Ken, you're actually in the rare position of physically having all the basses on hand to do so. Have someone play the same piece on a random selection of five or six of your basses from all different nations, and someone else to listen without being able to see the bass in question and try to judge whether or not they can identify its origin. If you're ever really bored, you could give it a shot.
  4. Arduy


    Jan 19, 2008
    Hello Mr.Smith. These are my thoughts, if I've understood the questions asked. The thread you have started is a complex and very interesting subject to face.
    What I know is what I've learned hearing some instruments live (mine too) but most of them amplified, and by reading some interesting books concerning the double bass. I'm no real expert.
    If by "schools of basses" we mean schools of bass making, there are essentially three main groups: Italian, French, and German (and Czech-Bohemian).
    Generally speaking, as a result of the different construction methods and solutions that they have, we can hear three different sounding instruments.
    If we embrace Mr.Traeger's teachings, sound depends on how much liberty we give to the instrument to freely vibrate in all it's parts.
    Anything that impedes the instrument to vibrate properly will only damper it's sound. I'm thinking about heavy tuning machines, anything that is stuck between the bridges wings, wide string spacing at the nut and the bridge, thick necks and fingerboards, rigid steel endpins, plywood, laminate versus carved, and other important instrument design characteristics that are typical to each school of bass making. Strings and the bass player are important too.
    Due to their construction characteristics I could "expect" a French double bass sound quite "bright" compared to an Italian one (much "darker" sound), but I don't know if I could be able to make a quick and precise distinction between the two one after another. I would need to train with a lot of double basses and that for me is impossible.
    As for hearing them from a fair distance I think that the sound perceived depends first of all on our physiological hearing ability (we tend not to hear certain frequencies very well: extreme highs and lows); some high scratchy sounds may be heard playing the bass with arco (first lessons...) but maybe persons quite a distance away may not even notice them too much.
    It is also true that a very low note cannot be heard but it can be "felt" in some way (if it's powerful enough), and every fondamental note that we hear does have all it's intrinsic harmonics that colors it (even if we don't really hear these harmonic notes).
  5. RCWilliams

    RCWilliams Supporting Member Commercial User

    Apr 23, 2007
    Merriam Kansas (Kansas City)
    owner RC Williams Co. LLC
    I have long thought it would be interesting to try and do fft analasys of the different sound groupings. it would seem if one can hear the difference and be able to do so in a double blind trial, it should be able to be charictorised by graffing if the equipment is sensative enough the sample large enough and the analasys thorough enough.

    unfortunatly I don't have time enough or money enough, nor are my ears good enough, or experienced enough. oh well.
  6. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    Given that this thread pertains to exactly what I do for a living and have done for the past 30 years or so, I'd like to add a few thoughts. Let's start with psychoacoustics. Matthew Tucker asked, "Do you think that what you are hearing is real, psychoacoustics or wishful thinking? And how do you know?" If one hears something that it is not "real" or does not have an objective basis, it is not "psychoacoustics." Psychoacoustics is a discipline and does not refer to subjective perceptions. Here is the opening of an invited chapter on Pysychoacoustics written by myself and two colleagues that will soon appear in the Encyclopedia of Neuroscience:

    Psychoacoustics is the area of auditory research in which
    behavioral methods are used to discern and describe how,
    and how well, listeners perceive sounds. Combining
    information obtained from such experiments with corresponding
    information obtained from physiological
    and anatomical experiments has resulted in several
    important descriptions, explanations, and quantitative
    models of auditory function.

    Psychoacoustics is a sub-specialty of psychophysics. Psychophysics seeks to understand the relation between physical stimuli and how they are processed and coded by sensory systems.

    Now, the various posts here refer to at least three types of experiments and these should not be mixed up. The first concerns objective measures of the ability of listeners to discriminate physical differences between auditory stimuli. In this case, the question is whether listeners can discriminate the differences in the sound of two basses. If done as suggested by BRIDGE or RCWilliams, you will find that human listeners will easily discern differences because even playing the SAME bass twice will provide a wealth of auditory cues.

    What is really needed is not such a discrimination experiment, but an experiment that seeks to determine whether listeners can CLASSIFY the sound of different basses across a number of suitably randomly differing passages, etc. If one wanted to do such an experiment, it might be best accomplished by a number of methods including constructing similarity matrices and applying multidimensional scaling to learn what are the underlying factors that drive listeners' decisions.

    Yet another type of experiment gets closer to the question Ken Smith originally asked and that is whether listeners can IDENTIFY the sounds of different classes of basses. It would be interesting to learn what are the temporal and spectral properties of the sounds of different classes of basses that lead one to call one class "French" or "Italian" or whatever. I suspect there is far less consistency across listeners than one might think.

    In any case, it's important to keep in mind the distinction between what listeners CAN do and what listeners DO do. That is, although listeners CAN make distinctions under laboratory conditions, it does not mean that those distinctions are meaningful in real-world conditions nor does it mean that those very same distinctions drive PREFERENCES for different sounds (basses).

    This thread might develop into folks posting subjective terms describing their own impressions of the sounds of different basses. While we can all pretty much agree on general terms such as "bright" (more high-frequency overtones) and "deep" (more low-frequency partials), once things go much beyond that, the imprecision of such subjective terms and the fact that different people use them to refer to different aspects of sounds will, I am afraid, not allow us to learn much about how people classify and identify the sound of double basses from different "schools" of makers.
  7. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    Actually, we are least sensitive to the frequency extremes. In addition, even when presented well above "threshold" levels, those sounds produce the least subjective loudness.

    The fundamental of the low E is about 41 Hz. We certainly can hear that as well as feel it if it is intense enough. The "timbre" that we hear is, as you say, a result of the harmonics. We certainly do really hear them. If we didn't, we wouldn't hear that timbre. What we do not usually "hear," and I take it this is what you meant, is the harmonics as separate resolved sources of sound.
  8. RCWilliams

    RCWilliams Supporting Member Commercial User

    Apr 23, 2007
    Merriam Kansas (Kansas City)
    owner RC Williams Co. LLC
  9. Arduy


    Jan 19, 2008
    Hello to all. Sorry for my crappy English. Mr.drurb, maybe I didn't explain myself well: you said: "we are least sensitive to the frequency extremes", and that is what I intended; about the low frequencies I was thinking of very low frequencies 5-10 Hz (that has nothing to do about what a double bass can do). Now, why do you say that psychoacoustics is not refered to perception of sound when it's very definition is exactly the study of subjective human perceptions of sounds? There could be really a lot to talk about on this interesting subject. I'm no pro, but what I have learned from school makes me think about this matter and say a few things about it. Refering to double basses' sounds, it would be very difficult to distinguish them solely on what you hear coming out of them because the same bass stringed or played by different people will not sound the same to our ears. The experiment would turn out to be very complex. From what I know, different sounds come from different double bass construction characteristics (physical construction) that will give an instrument it's peculiar sound but, then again, I'm not competent enough to say things on my own.
  10. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Can of worms here is an understatement..lol :eek::eek::eek:

    Ok, first off, this is un-amped without pickups installed on the Bass or bridge. Second, mostly from the players perspective and then from the player listening to another person playing the Bass.

    When I use different endpins on the same bass, the 'color' of the sound doesn't change at all. Only the amount of sound or the spectrum of color range with more or a lesser degree of suppression.

    Basses in need of repair will sound different before and after but the color of sound is constant to my ear.

    Also, only 3-schools of making? I see Italian, French and German being 3 OF the Schools but not the only 3. English is definitely its own school from what I have seen and heard. I have owned several of them and there is noting like an English Bass. Italian on the other hand usually have a warm silky sound of varying degrees. I have owned 3 old Yankee Basses (Batchelder, Prescott and Gemunder) and have played several others. These are made slightly differently that European Basses and usually with locally grown timbers. These basses often sound similar color wise as well.

    There are exceptions but basses made to a particular school of making most often have a similar 'flavor' to the sound.

    I don't know anything about psychoacoustics and need help to even spell the word. What I do know is what I can hear is what I can hear. Perception to me is actuality and reality, not Lab results.

    Now, can we get back and discuss what if any differences we hear and feel between various Schools of Basses?

    For me, English Basses sound great but slightly woodier then silky 'olive oil' Italian Basses. In a room, the color might get lost bouncing off the walls but up close I can hear them better. German and French Basses sound different as well. Most often the Varnish is different as well as the archings and graduations. This plays a big factor in the sound.

    Like I said in the opening Thread, I don't expect too many people here have played 'numbers' of Basses from each of the Schools BUT from what you have experienced, let's talk about it.

    Sometimes when older Basses are repaired, modified or re-graduated (which I have owned and witnessed all examples mentioned), the initial color and sound can be altered. Still, with a German Bass re-worked to Italian graduations you still have the German model Bass with German type wood. The same goes for re-worked French Basses. Often with old Basses, the internal thicknesses are no longer original either and have long since been altered. When a Bass has lived for 50-100 years in an altered state, any corrections possible will take time to restore it's intended sound if at all possible. Many Basses have been re-graduated too thin in many areas and correcting this means adding new wood. The inherent color of sound while still within the Bass will be in an altered state than if the Bass had been left as-is its entire life to date.

    Judging Basses is difficult because of all the variables involved. Still, I can usually feel the differences in most cases between the various schools mentioned on older developed Basses regardless of how original they may remain.
  11. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    You are referring to the physical aspects of the stimuli that underlie the basis for a discrimination. You may be surprised to learn that two waveforms can have identical power spectra and yet be discriminated quite easily! Sometimes the information is in the phase spectrum. Suffice it to say, it is quite a bit more complicated than I suspect folks here are willing to delve into.
  12. Mike Arnopol

    Mike Arnopol Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 4, 2005
    Owner of MAS Soundworks
    I think generalizations can be made. That being said, every time I come up with some absolute statement, I'll play the one bass that blows that theory out of the water. I'll make some general statements about a few categories af basses.

    My favorite. Dark but focused sound. Easy to get the string started, but can be pushed far dynamically without choking. Not a lot of spread under the ear but as you move away they seem to get louder and louder. Dark, but more brilliance than say, the English basses. But nowhere as bright as German or French.

    Similar to Italian. To me, a little more low end spread than Italian. Carries well like the Italian. Less overtones than Italian. Response not quite as easy as the Italian, but good. Dynamic range similar to Italians. Can have a little more low end "rumble" under the ear.

    French ( 2 schools---very different)
    Probably my least favorite. Thick tops. Bright sound. Midrangey. Stiffer response---more difficult to get a note started. Not as loud under the ear as German. Carries well, but with much less low end than the Italian or English. Can be pushed very far dynamically.
    Very different than Mirecourt. Thinner tops usually graduated to an even 6 mm across the entire top. This even type of graduation yields a strong fundamental with much less overtones. Due to typically wider tables the response is good, but not as easy as the Italians. Not as much harmonic complexity as the Italians. Reasonably big under the ear and projects well.

    Brighter, but not as nasally as Mirecourt. Easy response but not as much dynamic range as Italian or English. Loud under the ear but does not project as well.

    Than you get others like Viennese and Tyrolian which can be varying degrees between German and Italian.

    Now I know that I'm making BIG generalizations. I know that there are Italian and English basses that sound small and thin and Germans that sound huge, focused and dark. I've played a John Lott that sounded more Italian than an Italian bass.I'm just saying that through my playing experience that when someone mentions a type of bass the impressions that immediately come to mind.
  13. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    I agree. To answer your question, I was referring to the fact that psychoacoustics does not refer to subjective perceptions in the way implied by Matthew Tucker. I don't mean to get on his case at all. The fact is that some people mistakenly refer to "psychoacoustics" as some class of perceptions that have no objective basis. The discipline of psychoacoustics is, as I said, to understand the relations between perceptions and the abilities of the auditory system to the physical stimuli.
  14. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    Ken, your post makes very clear the difficulties I was discussing. Your use of the different adjectives to describe sounds is very idiosyncratic. That's not a knock on you at all. The point is it would be for anyone. For example you imply that changing the endpin changes the sound (which will certainly alter the spectrum) but not the color. Others would certainly include such changes as changes in color. My statements were not restricted to laboratory settings. I'm not suggesting that we don't all have fun and discuss how we hear different basses. I was just pointing out that it may not yield much to bite into.
  15. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Good point above and thanks to all who have posted.

    On the Endpin I want to keep it short and on topic. I do NOT hear a 'color change' with endpins. Just more or less of what that particular Bass has to offer.;)

    On the colors, I have one Bass that has been known in the area for over 20 years by some having come over to USA after WWII. This is The Gilkes. The sound of this Bass has always been known as a clear, cutting type sound and not a low end soft cushion type. When I bought it 4 years ago it was in need of a major restoration. The Linings inside were worn and would not hold well to the Top and Back. The sound was always leaking but the color was there. When it was opened for restoration we found that the graduations were way way over the top approaching 2x the normal thicknesses. The plates at the edges from 8-9mm in spots and the center unmeasurable with the magnetic gauge. The Bass was taken down carefully both Top and Back to about 120% thickness of a normal Bass of its class and a far cry from its original 200% graduations. This is the only known and documented Double Bass by this famous Violin/Cello maker so it is obvious he knew how to make a good instrument, just not the thinner graduations normally used in proportion to a Cello or Violin. Now the Bass is louder and deeper but has its same color. Just more of it!:bassist:

    On the School's sound listed above, thank you for listing it. I agree with this in general but on the low end spread, some of the greater Italian Basses I have played were like Organs. This is not your average Italian Bass but when made to kill, it can.:help:

    Are we having fun yet?:hyper:
  16. Italian: Dark Chocolate, Burgundy, Profound, Endlessness, Intuitive
    English: Earthy, Intellectual, Fine
    German: Potatoes Au Gratin, Beef Stew, Satisfying, Unsophisticated
    French: Intelligent but Self-Conscious, Restless
    American: Expansive, Self-Satisfied/Satisfying, Powerful, Visceral
    Eastern European: Bold, Foolish

    not colors but a fun exercise
  17. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    Australian: Vast, Earthy, Complex, with a lingering aftershot of Vodka, Cream, Coriander, Prawns and Oysters

    Its a bit like wine tasting, isn't it? Some people will claim to discern lots in a wine, even provenence, and some people will just drink up and enjoy. In the end, if you think you have that talent, enjoy it ... and delight in the exceptions.

    Drurb I'm not saying you are wrong but my understanding of the term Psychoacoustics was based only on what the venerable wiki said;

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Psychoacoustics is the study of subjective human perception of sounds. Alternatively it can be described as the study of the psychological correlates of the physical parameters of acoustics.

    and this thesis http://www.music.miami.edu/programs/Mue/mue2003/research/mescobar/thesis/web/Psychoacoustics.htm
    “Psychoacoustics explains the subjective response to everything we hear. It is the ultimate arbitrator in acoustical concerns because it is only our response to sound that fundamentally matters."

    You wrote
    Maybe I'm misunderstanding your angle but seems that subjectivity is an important element in the field for at least a few other thinkers and scientists.

    What I meant, in laymens terms, is that different people may describe the same sound in different ways. They may even hear them differently. They may even think they can hear sounds that may not be there. But if they believe they can, there is no way nor reason to refute that, except through rigorous science, which as we know when applied to musical instruments is notoriously difficult due to the number of variables, and the importance of subjectivity in musical appreciation.

    Anyway I'll get off your territory :|
  18. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    You beat me to the analogy. A wine expert can write a thousand-word rapture about a given wine, but until you have the sensory experience of drinking it, you have no idea what it will taste like.
    On the other hand, a child can distinguish between a cat and a dog without being able to say why. For that matter, who can, really? It comes down to pattern recognition.

    Having said all that, I've heard bassists cite the "nasal" sound of French basses. Sometimes, I think I can hear it, but I've also heard French basses with no such sound. So, for me, there's no pattern that I can discern.
  19. It would be fairly simple to feed a microphone into a spectrum analyzer and get a definite idea of the audio signature for a given instrument. Although you could not measure tactile attributes; easy of playing and such, you could baseline the audio characteristics.

    The measured data could be used to compare with other instruments of a group to determine what RF characteristics are responsible for creating the “personal” impressions described to a class of basses.

    I image that a more complex tone has higher energy potentials across the lower part of the spectrum and distinctive nodes and harmonic points relative to the fundamental. A bright bass would have attenuation in the lower range.

    Sound like a high school science experiment.
  20. from your original post, i'm unclear what you're looking to learn. are you seeking some objective way of measuring the differences in the sound? some subjective vocabulary to describe things, like wine and stereophiles? it all really comes down to sound generated by differing design and construction approaches ... again, not unlike wine making or designing speakers. Ribbons? Electrostatics?


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