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Foam being used under strings near bridge of bass??

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by deadhead, Jul 19, 2009.

  1. I know this isn't stricly a question about a specific bass and it is more of a technique question but...

    What does foam do to the sound of a bass. I've seen a few bassits now that have used a large piece of foam underneath their strings right against the bridge and I am wondering what and why bassists are doing that. I would think that it has a sort of muting effect on the sound making it warmer/fatter/thuddier but I wanted to hear from someone who has more knowledge on it.
  2. It mutes it a bit, makes the sound die off faster. It does make it a bit thuddier. Rickenbacker 4001's/4003's actually come with a piece of foam in the bridge you can raise or lower. Some describe the sound as being more like that of a double-bass. It's a different sound, that's all.
  3. tgrant


    Nov 7, 2005
    Middletown, VA
    You are correct. It mutes the strings. The original Fender 51' P bass came with the mute under the bridge cover. That bass was intended to immulate the sound of an upright. Which has a much quicker decay on each note than your modern electric bass.
  4. Garbageman


    Mar 14, 2009
    So. Oregon
    I was wondering the same thing myself when my Son and I saw Robin Trower last week. Glenn Letsch, the bass player, had foam under his E Sring near the bridge. Wondering why and what is did. Show was great, by the way.

  5. Yea, actually I saw a Robin Trower concert just a few weeks back as well and that's the first time I noticed it. I wasn't so much of a fan of the show. I like him as a guitarist in general, but I thought his rhythm section was weak and most of the songs sounded generally the same...but to each his own. :)

    I noticed it again when I saw a few clips of Klaus Voorman (who played bass on John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band album) and I really like the bass on that album so I think I'm going to give it a try.

    It was on the Rick's?? I've never seen foam come with a Rick but I am young so that would probably explain it...still a bunch I don't know I expect.
  6. They still do come with the foam mute. But it's actually IN the bridge/tailpiece assembly.

    Ric bridge closeup

    The two screws to the sides raise and lower the foam mute pad. Fully lowered it does nothing, and that's how most bassists keep it. Raise it all the way and it completely muffles the strings. Just slightly touching the strings it can get an interesting upright-like sound. Some bassists take it out and replace it with an extra pickup.
  7. Baker69


    Mar 24, 2008
    My 1973 Precision came with a foam strip glued to the underside of the chrome bridge cover plate, which I removed not longer after I bought it. As has already been said, it is there to mute the strings slightly.
  8. I've been using using foam in this manner on every bass I've played for more years (decades?) than I can remember. As previous posters have said, Fender muted both their Precision and Jazz basses under the bridge covers at least part way into the 70s.

    I first heard about it from Carol Kaye, who stills uses a strip of felt to take out unwanted overtones in recordings. Poke around on her website and you'll find lots plenty of discussion about it. www.carolkaye.com

    If you're careful and use the right kind of felt or foam, it quickens the decay and cleans up notes, as well as eliminating the higher, troublesome overtones--without fully muting the notes or making them staccato. I find it also makes hand muting easier with both right and left hands.

    I prefer a deep, warm, old school tone that emphasizes lows and low-mids. The foam helps avoid mud and boominess.

    Bluesy Soul :cool:
    comatosedragon likes this.
  9. Yeah, one of the things that made it easy to shift to using the hipshot Ric replacement bridge was that I never used the mute pad. I like clang.
  10. BaileyMan

    BaileyMan Supporting Member

    Jan 8, 2012
    San Francisco
    Digging up quite an old thread here, but I have some questions...

    I've got some foam under my strings back near the bridge. I really love the tone, but am finding that it's affecting the intonation. It took me a few weeks to realize it and now it's bugging the heck out of me. I didn't think that placing the foam would affect intonation. Any thoughts on addressing this issue?

    Did the old Fenders with the mutes under the bridge cover rest on top of the strings? Would that affect the intonation less? I don't imagine that adjusting the intonation at the bridge would do a whole lot as the foam is now sort of acting as a bridge effectively altering the length of the string.

    Love the old 60's dead, muted, kinda thumpy, short decay tone.
  11. I had the same issue (with the foam under the bridge cover, so above the strings, as was done originally), so what I did was alter the intonation so it was slightly off without foam (saddles moved a tad towards the rear), so intonation was spot-on with the foam. But I keep the foam always installed, so that's not a real issue. The denser/harder the foam, the more intonation issues you will have, so maybe try to replace your foam with some that is less dense and/or a bit smaller (less downward pressure on the strings). I play with LaBella 1954 strings, so a piece of hard foam is needed to get the desired effect.
  12. spendidfender


    Jun 2, 2009
    I am 63 and playing bass again after many years. I used to put a piece of foam under the strings by the bridge with my 71 p bass and never though it affected the intonation enough to worry. I still do it now sometimes. Also, had a bass (Gibson EB3 ?) 40 years ago with one of those levers that would push the foam down on the strings. A slight mute. No intonation effect.
  13. pfox14


    Dec 22, 2013
    I know that James Jamerson used string mutes for all those amazing bass parts he played on Motown recordings. Personally, I don't care for the muted string sound.
  14. Old Fart

    Old Fart

    Mar 11, 2011
    My experience has been opposite. I expected the mute to affect intonation, and it doesn't. The foam I am using is light (substantially non-dense).
  15. BaileyMan

    BaileyMan Supporting Member

    Jan 8, 2012
    San Francisco
    I'll play around with the intonation today and see how that works for me. Thanks for the info!

    @Spendidfender: I didn't think it affected the intonation enough to notice until I began playing along with some songs using headphones and it was very obvious to me that the intonation was off.

    @OldFart: What kind of foam are you using?
  16. MusicBear


    Jan 22, 2010
    East coast, USA
    Many of the basses I've seen that come factory-equipped with switchable mutes seem to suffer intonation problems when the mute is engaged. Is this true for all such mutes, or are there ways to engage a mute while still keeping accurate intonation?
    • Harder or softer mute material (e.g. Rubber, foam, felt or cloth)?
    • Wider or narrower contact area against the strings?
    • Mute positioned closer or further from the bridge?
    • Mute placed directly over the bridge saddle (so the string is "pinched" between the saddle and the mute, such as under a Fender cover)?
    • Are there specific materials that should be avoided because they will corrode a bridge or damage a nitro finish?

    Any guidance here would be appreciated. :confused:
    :hyper: :bassist:
  17. smcd

    smcd Supporting Member

    Jun 28, 2009
    Boston, MA
    The foam I had on my 70's Fender basses was identical to foam pipe insulation you can find in any Home Depot.

    comatosedragon likes this.
  18. The harder, bigger, wider and further away from the bridge, the bigger the intonation issue. I keep mine just pinched on the saddles.

    As for nitro: every foam (except natural sponge) is dangerous, as they all contain flexing agents, which can (and will) interact with your nitro finish.
  19. ghostfather


    Oct 26, 2013
    I've been using the "official fender pickup mounting weatherstrip and mute foam" installed underneath of the bridge cover. It is over the strings, obviously. I had the same issues with intonation being off until I realized how critical the foam placement is.

    I found that you really have to place it over the strings just as they leave the saddle, maybe a 1/4 directly over the saddles. If it is too far off the saddles, it will mess up your intonation. I find that if you remove the pickup cover, place the weatherstrip (sticky side up) into place as described above and then install the cover on top, you are good to go.

    As far as foam under the bridge - I guess I can't help you there. Despite Babbitt doing it that way, I worry that it would affect the intonation - doesn't seem to hamper him at all though so...
  20. JIO

    JIO Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 30, 2010
    Oceana (Pacifica) CA
    musician/artist/owner - Gildaxe
    I found that what you use will give varying results. I generally prefer palm muting (which still can be incorporated using a mute/string damper) but on this J it sounds great all the time. It's very soft spongy foam just higher than the strings and doesn't create a 'plunk' really - more of a tonal colour. The (La Bella flats) string still has resonance and decay length and it doesn't even sound muted - it just sounds nice!

    Ric string mutes can be dialed from a little to a lot, but the foam piece is harder/denser material. I read once about how Tony Levin needed something for a certain sound in the studio and used a womans nylon bunched up under the strings near the bridge. Never tried this but it probably sounds good!

    The only drawback to leaving foam installed full-time is that it may degrade the finish over time. You've probably seen a vintage Fender w/that crusty black goo attached to the cover. I put a layer of shelf-lining (thin vinyl) on the bottom of the foam as a deterrent. Worth checking over time, but won't degrade as quickly as foam.


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