Do yourself a favor..Don't practice bass without an amp!

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by dave120, Dec 7, 2005.

  1. dave120


    Jun 27, 2005
    Central Florida
    At least that's been my experience. I've been playing bass for a while now, over a year, and I had noticed lately that I was at sort of a wall with my practicing. I never felt like I was getting any better or faster as far as playing technique goes.

    I'm off at school and I don't have an amp here, mainly because my amps are too big to have here and it would annoy the neighbors. I hadn't wanted to spend the ~$100 or so to buy a small bass amp so I just practiced without an amp except on the weekend when I go home and have band practice and such. I'm finding that to be a bit of a mistake.

    When you practice without an amp, at least in my experience, I tend to pluck it a lot harder in order to hear what I'm doing. And that also means my left hand always was using more pressure than was necessary also. These things will seriously cripple your speed and sound also because I was always using really hard attack which loses a lot of finesse on making your tone.

    So I plugged into my brother's (also my roomate) guitar amp the other day to check and make sure I got output from my pickups after gutting my bass and installing new components, and actually getting sound when I play made me go back in there a lot of the times I want to practice so I could hear what I was doing. Since I've been doing that I noticed a serious improvement in my speed and technique when I'm not fighting to hear the notes anymore. I always wondered why I had a crappy tone when trying to play anything besides hard rock (which is what my band is, so I never saw a problem with my playing for that stuff because it needs a harder attack). This also explains why my picking technique was a lot better than my fingerstyle because you can hear a pick much better without an amp.

    It was trying to play some insanely fast John Paul Jones basslines after seeing a Led Zeppelin tribute band the other night that made me realize I was really slow with my fingerstyle that guy is so underrated! I'm going to be buying a small bass amp really soon...

    Anybody else had similar un-amplified experiences?
  2. Chili


    Mar 8, 2005
    i never have, i got my first amp with my guitar, but i can see where ur coming from, like when ur playing with ur band and ur amp is turned down to low and u can barely here ur self so u dig in more and it really effects how u play, exeptt if its song that needs alot of ruff playing
  3. BassChuck


    Nov 15, 2005
    I've been playing over 30 years and I tend to agree with this idea. One point FOR practicing with an amp is that without it, you can get some sloppy technique and sounds that you don't want can creep into your playing that will be revealed to you at some unfortunate time when you DO have an amp.

    OTOH, turning off the sound during TV football games and running scales can have its advantages too.
  4. the same goes for low volume, or bad/alternate eq (not treble, super muddy). when i got a quality amp and turned up the volume (not cranked, just so I could actually hear and feel the amp with a kit an electric guitar) my technique improved greatly in a few days. I had been playing on crappy 6" guitar amps and played at lower volumes because of low beginners confidence (you "/sound/" better if you cant hear your self. got a good amp/cab, guitarist cranked it up --- sounded ugly! I had crap technique! in a few days, no string noise, and could keep beat and flow much better!

    On the unapmed/dry part -- no way, get an acoustic, aside from the pitfalls mentioned above, you'll wreck your attack, and your fingers (i just about tore mine off a few times with unamped bass/guitar -- did not heal for weeks). you can play unamped, but play it like its amped, dont try to project the sound.
  5. I am on the road a lot with work and I have figured out how to plug into my laptop, and I take the bass on the road with me now whenever I am away for more than a couple of days.

    I tried some of the amp modellers but the latency on the cheap sound card in the laptop was bad - I now just use the laptop input direct and it works well. Make sure you get a good set of headphones - I bought a DJ monitor set and can now hear the bass tone properly (get ones that have a range down to 20Hz or so). I have found I can use the bass in both active and passive mode and it works, but I have had to fiddle with mic input and mic gain.

    I have also made myself a headphone amp for guitar and that also works really well with decent headphones, and gives you some tone controls too. There is a circuit on:

    which is really good.

    I would also look at multi-effects pedals or modelling amp pedals like the Bass PODxt series or the Boss pedal. These have headphone outputs and sound great with a decent set of headphones and also come in handy on stage!! Best thing about these is that you will sound vaguely close to the same in your phones as you do on stage.

    The key for me was investing in good headphones with a good low frequency extension. Something like Sennheiser will set you back up to US$150 for a great pair, but my Sony ones cost about US$50 and are perfect.

  6. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    ONE(1) year = "..a while now"?

    I guesstimate 50% of my practice time is with no amp.
    The ONLY downside I have experienced is when it's the ONLY method of adjustment period of playing at loud volumes is then needed(takes about a week).
    IMO & FME-
    If you can make an unamplified elec bass sound good/sing...amplified is a piece of cake.
    Just one man's opinion.
  7. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    BTW, that is called "plateau-ing".
    Like anything else, there will be certain points in one's developement where "progress" seems to stall or noticeable improvements become minute(if even noticeable at all).
  8. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    Assuming you've got a relatively quiet practise area and that you're aware of the need to not play too hard, I think there's a lot to be said for practising without an amp from time to time. I find it helps me on getting the notes sounding clearly not relying on electronics to make up for deficiencies in my technique.

    However, I'd also concur with JimK that it won't do for all the time - you need to practise playing through amps as well as practising playing bass. I've also got an electro-acoustic that I use for a lot of my unplugged practise.

  9. James Hart

    James Hart

    Feb 1, 2002
    Endorsing Artist: see profile
    I'll third the occational 'unplugged' practice. The amp is an other instrument in itself and you need to learn to make sound through it... but you also need to learn to make the bass make good tones alone too.
  10. dave120


    Jun 27, 2005
    Central Florida
    Well, one year is a lot longer than I've stayed with some hobbies... :) That and my practice routine is probably more than most. It's more like almost 2 years actually, even though that's nothing compared to a lot of people on here...but anyways...

    My problem was I was playing unplugged 90+% of the time besides the few hours one day a week for band practice. The problem with that is, with the whole band playing the small sound problems often get drowned out and you don't hear them anyways.

    I have noticed that I do play much better even unplugged now than I used to once I became aware of some of those things. Muting open strings after playing them especially, since unplugged they don't make hardly any sound after the initial note but when plugged int hey ring out for a long time. I wasn't completely unable to do that since I do play with a band and it's necessary, I just didn't do it as much as I should have.

    I just wondered if anyone else had similar experiences with this is all.
  11. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    If you're playing with a band, you definitely need to spend some time working with an amp outside of band practise. Like James said, the amp is an "instrument" so you do need to become familiar with how it works.

    It's also true that a good part of improving is being able to hear what you're doing and working out how you can improve it. Again, a band practise isn't a good place for this; if you really want to make the most of this, record yourself and then listen back with a critical ear when you're not having to worry about playing bass at the same time, amplified or otherwise!

  12. Joe Garage

    Joe Garage

    Mar 13, 2005
    I know what you mean; my technique has improved a lot after I started to rehearse with my amp.
    Luckily my bass amp has a headphones input so I have been able to rehearse all night without bothering the neighbours. Unfortunately most of today bass amps don’t have a headphones input.
  13. Scot

    Scot Supporting Member

    Mar 20, 2004
    Pacifica, CA, USA
    I'm throwing in with the crowd that practices occassionally without an amp. I used to practive unplugged in the bathroom. I like the sound and having the mirror to observe technique is helpful.
  14. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    Sitting or standing?
  15. anonymous278347457

    anonymous278347457 Guest

    Feb 12, 2005
    i dont really play harder when i dont have an amp since my house is quiet.
    but i have noticed that i play far better when im with the rest of my band. maybe its becuase my amp is turned up a lot. or maybe its just the adrenaline.
  16. haha, ive done both!

    I agree with most of what has been said here. I have tile walls in my kitchen, so slapping and tapping in there unplugged is actually a pretty nice treat, but when practicing in front of the tv, i 'trust' muscle memory to not alter my technique too much when going through routine drills and scales and the like. I think a cheap amp and a nice pair of headphones with a long chord would help your situation tremendously.
  17. Ray-man

    Ray-man Guest

    Sep 10, 2005
    For those of you with active electronics, I routinely plug an earbud with a quarter-inch adapter into my StingRay, and the battery provides just enough signal to be able to hear it (and the tone I'm producing). Sometimes I even woodshed tunes this way with a boombox.
  18. Scot

    Scot Supporting Member

    Mar 20, 2004
    Pacifica, CA, USA
    :D Numbers 1 & 2.
  19. I have wireless headphones that I can use with my little Peavey practice amp and I have wireless for my bass, so I can practice out in the backyard or wander around the house if I want.

    I also have a line-out from my computer going to the amp so I can play with drum tracks, Band-in-a-Box, Guitar Pro, etc.
  20. or maybe you just don't hear the mistakes? i used to think i could do really tight 3 finger plucking in time with a black metal blastbeat, and it sounded fine with the band. but if i was to do it solo, anyone could hear it was all over the place. just a thought... :cool: