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Dead zones or bad technique?

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Steve Killingsworth, Sep 27, 2004.

  1. This might belong in the setup and repair forum but I thought it might be just as, or even more, applicable here.

    I am spending more time exploring higher up--say about the second position up to an occasional foray into the hallowed thumb area. The problem is that the higher I go, the deader things sound. I am not certain if the problem is my relatively stiff Engelhardt S-9 or my relatively stiff technique. The bass actually as a fairly defined tone in the lower positions, but the tone and resonance faded out quickly as I climb.

    I think part of the trouble may be in my left hand because I don't finger the notes as cleanly as in the lower regions.

    Ideas, thoughts, suggestions?
  2. mister_k


    Jul 27, 2004
    Los Angeles
    I play an ES-9 and for the first year of owning it I believed the thumb position areas to be totally useless. However, after trying some different strings (Helicore Pizz at this time) and a bridge upgrade, I am happy to report that those positions have opened up immensely for bow and pizz. You probably just need to put some work into her. But it never hurt anybody to improve their technique either.

    Hope that helps.
  3. I had an extensive set up performed when I bought her two years ago--including a high quality adjustable bridge. This past spring I replaced the coathanger wire with a stainless cable. Each change made a very noticable difference in the sound.

    As to strings, I currently play Obligatos--the current set is only about 2 months old. I have occasionally used some Spirocore Orchs but prefer the warmer tone of the Obs. I've never tried any helicores. Some of my guitar/mandolin/fiddle/banjo playing associates are constantly trying new brands of strings but considering the cost of bass strings, I am a little less inquisitive.
  4. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    A few thoughts:

    If your strings are really high (you mentioned stiff) you're going to get a little less pizz play as you go up the neck. Not by second position but definitely by the time you get up over the body. Some of this could be strength, but also -- high action will give you a less acute angle of string-to-fingerboard and the string will act differently.

    If you don't play this part of the bass much, then you aren't going to have the touch developed for that part of the bass. The strings are shorter and thicker proportionately, so spending some time working on your sound there may help.

    It's a plywood bass.

    Practice things like: Play the first Ab on the G string, then on the D string, then on the A and finally on the E string. Compare and contrast tone and try to get more of what is missing on the lower strings by adjusting your touch. Also keep in mind that the note is going to sound different no matter what you do.
  5. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Another thought: Is this a newer bass? If so, you might just need to beat on it more regularly to wake the thing up.
  6. mister_k


    Jul 27, 2004
    Los Angeles
    How are the Obligatos sounding on the Engle?

    I've played them but only on a Hybrid (thanks, Marcus) and a nice carved instrument. I like the feel and the bow response, but I'm wary with my ply girl.
  7. Matt Ides

    Matt Ides

    May 12, 2004
    Minneapolis, MN
    how does it sound-feel when another bassists plays in the upper register?
  8. Not very. My G is a little over 1/4" and E is about 3/8." Is it possible that they might be too low? I know I may be losing a little volume but would that affect the tone?

    I think this is a lot of the of the trouble. My teacher has pushed me to venture out there more often--definitely outside my comfort zone.

    Good exercise. I will implement some of this. And in response to the second question the bass is a little over 2 years old and is played 5-7 hours -including arco- per week (more if several gigs).

    I love 'em. The spiros were clearer but I really like the mellow tone of the obs.

    To be perfectly honest, I have never heard it played there. I play mostly bluegrass and have heard it played many many times at festivals but nobody has ever journeyed that high. In fact, I am the only bluegrasser around here that I have ever heard go above the C on the G string.

    I have been doing quite a bit of shopping for the last several months and have spent quite a bit of time playing carved and hybrids. I think I often compare my engel's sound with what I hear on shopping trips and it comes up wanting. I may be expecting too much from it.
  9. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    The strings don't seem terribly high or low. Middle on the high side of middle you might say. I don't see where this is an issue.

    Do you have an ebony fingerboard? That would make a huge difference as well.
  10. Now that was a quick response. Yes, my fingerboard is ebony.
  11. Steve, does your teacher share the same opinion of the dead sound up there? I mean, have you tried to record yourself to find out how bad the problem is?
    The player´s position is definitely not the best place for listening to upper register. It may be partly about your own hearing.

  12. We haven't gotten together on this yet. Owing to our schedules we meet for a 3-4 hour lesson every 2-3 months. However, I email him with questions on a regular basis. It may not be an arrangement everyone could live with but it works well for both of us.

    I agree that I am in a very poor position to hear what I am playing and I haven't really thought about that yet. I may try to record myself playing the same piece in each position and compare them.
  13. Scot

    Scot Supporting Member

    Mar 20, 2004
    Pacifica, CA, USA
    How do the other basses you've been trying out sound in that area? I've been trying to find a bass for a few months now and have, consequently, played a few. It's very educational to find out which problems are with my bass and which are with my technique. The funny thing is some of the problems I figured were with my technique disappeared on another bass while some of the problems I figured were with my bass remained on other basses.

  14. :hyper: :hyper: :hyper: :hyper:

    There is a phenomenal practice video by an equally phenomenal, world-renowned string bass soloist, Jeff Bradetich. I met him three years ago at a workshop for bass players of all levels and ages in Seattle and have seen him annually since then, having taken a few master classes with him (I play a solo, he critiques my overall playing). Having also seeing him perform, I highly recommend that you get it.

    In it, he demonstrates excercises for technique building for players of any skill. I think if you use it you will find it will improve the value of your practice time.

    The main thing I love about Jeff's technique is that it is natural. I know that if you neglect to use a relaxed hand position, notes can begin to sound out of tune (such as in fast walking jazz). Whenever he explained technique in the workshop, he always described that it should be natural and works best that way.

    His video has also been mentioned on this forum as it was the first link I found using google to look his video up. Here is a link to buying it that I found.


    Anyway, I'm ranting. But here is my opinion on your situation: learn vibrado if you want a livelier sound in the upper register and learn good technique as best as you can. The bass is the most beautiful sounding of all orchestral instruments in the upper register + thumb position to thumb harmonics (of course in my opinion, but I think most people overlook it because, as you mentioned, no one hears it that often.)

    Technique will set you free, not constrain you.

  15. Good question. I am going to a couple of luthier shops in a few weeks for some more trial runs. I am going to spend more time than usual playing in the mid range.

    With regards to Baskin Robbins comments, I strongly agree about relaxation. As I type this, I have just gotten home from 3 hours of intense practice with my primary group. I really concentrated on keeping the left hand relaxed and what a difference that makes! Ever once and a while I would lose concentration and feel the hand begin to tighten up. I knew it was time to relax and let things flow again.
  16. Not sure this will be helpful, but it might be interesting. .

    I used to worry that I had a dull, unattractive sound in the higher positions on the lower strings. Then a couple of years ago I got a bass on which it is much easier to get better tone up there, so I relaxed and learned to spend more on that part of the fingerboard. Lo and behold, after a year or so, I realized I can get a much better sound out of that zone on just about any bass, compared to what could do before. This has been true both bowed and pizzed.

    Exactly how this was achieved, to be honest, I am not quite sure - I mean, at the simplest level it is still just a-scrapin' the bow and a-pluckin' the fingers. Somehow, though, the better bass seems to have opened the door for me to where that better sound is hiding in the bass, and now that my hands have found it, they have begun to learn how to coax it out of less cooperative instruments as well. The subtleties of tone production are mysterious indeed.