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Defining a "good sounding" bass

Discussion in 'Bluegrass [DB]' started by martinc, Feb 25, 2008.


  1. Lets throw this thing wide open.
    There are lots of opinions about what makes a "good sounding" bass but how do we reach that conclusion?
    Is it from a sound we hear in our heads? If so, where did that sound come from? Recordings? Other basses you have heard?
    Is it about volume? Is it about tone?
    Over my many years in bluegrass I have heard bass players say what a great sounding bass they, or someone else has. Many times I have been left shaking my head in disbelief because to me it sounded pretty bad to my ears. Then again I have commented about the sound a bass as being good and I get no reaction from any one else. Is it all subjective? Or is there a standard we need work from..other than pride of ownership?
    My benchmark for testing a bass is usually hitting the C on the A string and then the B flat on the A and the low F on the E string. If it still resonates and projects well on these notes then to me, the bass is set up properly with the right strings and the soundpost in the correct place. However ..what about tone? Bob Gollihur says life is too short for bad tone. How is good tone defined especially on a plywood bass?
    I would be interested in hearing everyone's thoughts on this to see if there is a consensus.
    Thanks.
     
  2. I think Bluegrassers tend to react more to the propulsion and volume a bass has and less to "tone" per se. Loud basses get a big response because they push the band along and provide a nice cushion to play on. Take a great Italian bass to a bluegrass jam and you might find people scratching their heads wondering what's so great about this old bass? Bluegrass and Oldtime recordings were generally made with Kay's, King's , Engelhardt's and American Standards....that's the sound. I believe this is changing and I am seeing more fine basses with a more growly sustaining sound in the music. Eric Thoren comes to mind as does that hotshot in Union Station. It's a modern sound. It depends what you're ideal sound is....
     
  3. Personally, I consider myself a string player--not a percussionist. With that in mind, I want tone, growl, and a musical sound; not just a time-keeping thud.
     
  4. Jake deVilliers

    Jake deVilliers Commercial User

    May 24, 2006
    Crescent Beach, BC
    Owner of The Bass Spa, String Repairman at Long & McQuade Vancouver
    Some folks seem to like that big, boofy sound but I'm not one of them.

    I like to hear a more complex jazz-type tone; definitely with some attack and maybe some growl, too.

    I've heard Eric on a so-so old Kay and he was just terrific. I actually liked the sound better than the one he gets with his orchestral bass. That one is a little indistinct and reverby for pizz, at least on the 'Big Twang' CD.
     
  5. Lesfunk

    Lesfunk Supporting Member

    Sadowsky
     
  6. Cathead

    Cathead

    Dec 13, 2002
    Premier, WV
    Well, most of the bluegrass shows I have been to are real skimpy on the bottom end like they are afraid someone will hear the bass. That's why I like to take an amp with me when I play. As far as the sound goes I like a lot of bottom, but I like that subtle growl that goes along with it. I think you could come closer to the sound I like with a mic, but I just don't trust the sound man.....haha. You never know what it's sounding like out front. But that growl really does it for me.
     
  7. I think some of what determines what a "good sounding" bass is what sort of musical situation you are playing in. I love the sound of a jazz bass with some growl and midrange punch, but I'm also a sucker for Roy Huskey's full, warm, rhythmic sound. All depends on what you like to hear. "Good sound" is different things to different people.
     
  8. Gufenov

    Gufenov

    Jun 8, 2003
    IMHO, URB in bluegrass is rapidly fading away. More and more groups are using bass guitars or electric uprights, and even those that use URBs typically run them through amplifiers. I've seen so many shows where I could close my eyes and couldn't tell if it was a URB or a fender squire bass guitar off of ebay. Doesn't much matter if you're playing the best URB out there if you amplify the heck out of it and play with your fingertips like you would a BG.
     
  9. Cliff: A few years ago I saw a well known band where the bass player was using a Framus plywood. It sounded great through the pickup/PA....very much like an amplified "good sounding" bass through the P but on its own it had no sound at all other than a dull thud.
    My question was aimed more at the parking lot than the stage....but a good point for sure. EUB's seem to be in style as much as anything else. Its as if an EUB is not quite "cheating" in the way a bass guitar would be looked at.
     
  10. Gufenov

    Gufenov

    Jun 8, 2003
    It's kind of the same thing with an Acoustic Bass Guitar. I'd much rather see a Michael Kelly or a Martin ABG than a bright red Ibanez, although I'm not sure you could tell the difference by sound alone.

    What sounds good to me is hearing the "wood" in the tone, if that makes any sense. When that wood top vibrates, it creates a sound that's hard to match with a solid bodied instrument. Many pickups on various instruments pick up the string vibration while losing the sound of the wood. That's about as unscientific an explanation as I can come up with!
     
  11. "good sound" is very subjective. i have found i am way more critical of my sound than other musicians are. just the other night we were doing a quick sound check before our gig. i usually run a direct line from my amp to the pa and if my volume is too high inthe pa it will distort the speakers. i usually cant hear it from where i stand so i asked the mandolin player to check it. he said "yeah just a little" so i turned my channel down a bit. after the first set i went to turn my amp off and realized i forgot to turn it on at all.:rollno: you could still hear the bass although i was working pretty hard to get the volume i needed. turned the amp on the second set and had a lot more bottom with lots less work. if it sounds good to you then it sounds good because no one else is really listening although they will let you know if it sounds really bad.
     
  12. Tim Skaggs

    Tim Skaggs

    Sep 28, 2002
    Now, this is a good post; something to discuss from all angles. As I told a buddy of mine who is crazy about 60's Fender tube amplifiers, the only reason you think they sound good is because it duplicates a sound that is (or was) popular.

    Good bass tone is what a large number of people like. The way they show they like it is by making a band or a song popular by purchase, download, play request, etc. In other words, there are reasons why the band / song is popular; arrangement, lyrics, chord progression & TONE. It's not something non-musicians even know they like.

    Think about your favorite little bass solo or lick in the middle of a song, then ask yourself if you would like it if the lick remained exactly the same, but the tone was drastically different. Difficult to imagine, but you get the idea how tone comes in to play. Tone is always a difficult to discuss / describe, but it's still fun & challenging. Almost like another subject; you know it when you hear it!
     
  13. neslofalo

    neslofalo

    Mar 3, 2008
    this is interesting!
     
  14. LeslieD

    LeslieD

    Jul 25, 2006
    Pennsylvania
    Jason Sypher wrote: "I think Bluegrassers tend to react more to the propulsion and volume a bass has and less to "tone" per se. Loud basses get a big response because they push the band along and provide a nice cushion to play on. Take a great Italian bass to a bluegrass jam and you might find people scratching their heads wondering what's so great about this old bass? Bluegrass and Oldtime recordings were generally made with Kay's, King's , Engelhardt's and American Standards....that's the sound."

    I couldn't agree more. I asked my bluegrass band to pick which bass they wanted me to play--my nicer Eastman bass with richer tones and subtle nuances, or my 1970s Eberle student bass with an extremely bright punchy sound. My bandmates hated the Eastman, and loved the sharp succinct sound of the plywood Eberle. They like that the Eberle quickly "spits" the sound out (sorry for the disgusting discription). My other "nicer" bass seems to be contemplating the taste of every note before sending the sound outward.

    I have friends with Kings and Kays, and while those basses are great for bluegrass, they marvel at the comparative brightness and punchiness of my Eberle. A friend--who has a Kay that was in for repairs--borrowed my Eberle. After that, her band was trying to figure out how she could use it for all of their gigs. But while my bright orange student bass SOUNDS good for bluegrass, it's just not the right look...not that that really matters.
     
  15. LeslieD wrote:" .....my 1970s Eberle student bass with an extremely bright punchy sound."

    Leslie: What gives the Eberle that "bright, punchy sound"? Tell us about your set up, strings etc. Maybe it will help others who are looking for that same type of sound.
    Thanks!
    Martin.
     

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