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Fingerstyle near the bridge- help?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by chanson, Sep 24, 2018.

  1. chanson

    chanson Supporting Member

    So, I play close to 50/50 pick/fingers. I sort of just started to really get back into playing after a several year hiatus and am having to relearn some things. I've always felt most comfortable fingering about right where a P pickup would be. Maybe a hair behind it. I don't play super hard but I've always liked playing pretty "loose" where my attack is more of a strike than a pluck, if that makes sense. It generally sounds great to me but on faster tempos it ends up sounding pretty muddy with so much clank, especially on the E string.

    I've noticed a lot of fingerstyle bassists I am into typically play very close to the bridge to get a really growly tone. I've never really been able to figure out the right balance of how to get it to work playing in this region. My tone just ends up sounding really dull and quiet. Am I not digging in hard enough? Should I be playing hard and tight or with a more loose attack? Are action or string tension factors in this? For the life of me I can't figure it out.
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2018
  2. Element Zero

    Element Zero Supporting Member

    Dec 14, 2016
    Lots of factors. Type of bass, string tension, eq... I myself play more or less in the same area. Maybe a smidge more toward the bridge pickup. When I need that super aggressive growl I’ll just move my hand over the bridge pickup, boost a bit of lows mids and highs. I find it easier to play in this area with lighter tension strings. That way it doesn’t require as much force to get the strings to move. Physics shows that the string will just simply vibrate less when plucking more towards the bridge.

    Maybe try playing in that tighter area for a few weeks to build up your hand strength or try some different strings.
    eddie16 likes this.
  3. Stumbo

    Stumbo Wherever you go, there you are. Commercial User

    Feb 11, 2008
    the Cali Intergalctic Mind Space
    Song Surgeon slow downer software- full 4 hour demo
    Try cutting lows a bit and boosting mids.
    jamro217 likes this.
  4. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    My guess is the opposite. Try turning up the amp and playing with a softer touch. Also, make sure that your plucking motion is parallel to the strings rather than pushing the strings down toward the bass body, which could be why you're getting "clank" when playing closer to the neck. With the amp turned up you really only need to brush your plucking finger across the top of the string, rather than "strike" or "pluck" it.
  5. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Think of the entire length of the string, from the neck to the bridge, as your "tonal palette" to get different sounds from the bass. For example, if you watch video of Jaco Pastorius play an expressive solo like "Continuum," you'll see that his plucking hand is constantly in motion.

    When you play a fretted note, you are shortening the vibrating length of the string, so if you want to maintain a consistent tone as you move higher up the neck, you should pluck closer to the bridge. A good exercise for this is to practice scales on one string. As you go up the scale, slightly move your plucking hand with each note, so that you are always plucking in the same "sweet spot" proportional to the vibrating length of the string.

    @Lobster11 also has some excellent advice. :)
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2018
    Lobster11 likes this.
  6. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    I feel the same... and this is what I think...

    I play pretty hard. I think in order to play close to the bridge one needs to play VERY softly, and pump up the volume considerably. For me that would take a lot of discipline, and would be real challenge to my comfort zone. That ain't happening :). I don't have enough motivation to put in the effort as the rewards don't seem great enough. I'd rather learn to tap.
  7. chanson

    chanson Supporting Member

    Does anyone know of any instructional videos online that deal with this subject? I've tried searching YouTube but due to the words assoscisted with what I'm searching for, endless vague videos come up.
  8. eddie16

    eddie16 Supporting Member

    Jan 11, 2005
    KC, MO
    If this is a two-pickup bass, it could also be a pickup height issue. If the bridge pickup is too close to the strings, it could give you that muddy tone you mentioned. You could try lowering it a bit and see if things improve. For a P bass, I personally didn't like the sound of playing by the bridge on a P bass (which I fixed by converting to a PJ).
  9. eddie16

    eddie16 Supporting Member

    Jan 11, 2005
    KC, MO
    Scott's Bass Lessons (Scott Devine) Youtube channel has a video about hand placement, but I can't find that specific one at the moment.
    chanson likes this.
  10. chanson

    chanson Supporting Member

    I skimmed through that video last night before bed, it seemed to be more about just the concept of playing on different sections of the string, not much detail about the actual plucking itself. I could have missed it though, I'll rewatch it today.
  11. eddie16

    eddie16 Supporting Member

    Jan 11, 2005
    KC, MO
    You're probably right, more about the tones vs techniques.
  12. chanson

    chanson Supporting Member

    Would raising the height of the bridge pickup be advised?
  13. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK

    Stuff already said by others that I would concur with, and a few additions:

    1. Lighten your touch and let the amp do the donkey work.
    2. Use tips not pads as this will give better definition to your attack.
    3. Stroke rather than pluck. So play 'through' the stroke, by which I mean your finger is moving before it hits the string and continues smoothly on after the note is struck.
    4. Learn to control dynamics by changing your finger speed, as well as by plucking deeper with more finger - notice how each affects the attack of the note differently.
    5. If you don't already, try to adopt a floating thumb - don't anchor it on the pickup, or at least reduce the pressure.
    6. Get your left and right hands in sync - make sure the string is properly stopped in time to pluck.

    If you find yourself playing hard just to get output or fuller tone then maybe, yes. See 1 above.

    As always, this is just my opinion and YMMV but there it is...
    Lobster11 likes this.
  14. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    FWIW, I found that teaching myself #5 was really helpful for accomplishing #1. I find that when I anchor my thumb solidly, I seem to automatically use the extra (and unnecessary) leverage to dig in harder. When I use the floating thumb, I naturally tend to pluck more softly. Plus, the floating thumb makes it easy to slide your plucking hand toward the bridge or toward the neck without changing your plucking motion.
    SteveCS likes this.
  15. TNCreature

    TNCreature Jinkies!

    Jan 25, 2010
    Philadelphia Burbs
    So much good info here.
  16. chanson

    chanson Supporting Member

    I'll definitely be trying these out. If anyone does happen to find any video resources for this topic, please link them here!
  17. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
  18. Using the same string, more strengh is needed to "move" that string near the bridge. That's a fact.
    Maybe you can try a lighter set of strings to get a looser feel like right now playing at the neck.
  19. When I want that effect. I make sure that the plucking finger gets off the string instantly! If it lingers even a brief moment - it'll put some mute on the string and you lose the sound you're looking for.

    Another way I get a sharper - almost 'tinny' effect is by twisting the string to release it from both my thumb and pretty much the side of my index finger. It's kinda like tweaking your sister's nose and telling her you have it in your hand. Kinda.....

    I shy away from picks for what you're looking for. I only use a pick on my basses to get into a Euro-Pop sound. Think of Bert Kaempfert's orchestra and how the bass 'pops' and has almost a double-pop from the pick and a lot of reverb.

    NOTE: this video will likely bring some of us older guys to powerful melancholic memories!


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