foam muting: over or under the strings?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by bon viesta, Jul 28, 2021.

  1. foam overtop the strings

    19 vote(s)
  2. foam tucked under the strings

    68 vote(s)
  1. bon viesta

    bon viesta

    Dec 10, 2020
    in general, there are two ways to put some sponge on your strings and deaden them. you have the old fender way, foam over the strings, used by anyone who didn’t take off their ashtray bridge cover in the 60s and 70s. and you have the more widely used “diy” sort of way, under the strings, which is usually done by those who don’t have ashtray covers on their bass, and don’t want to tape stuff on top of their bass either.

    in my experience, over the strings sounds better to me. i have ashtray covers on my jazz bass, and the foam is harder to tame and have mute evenly when it’s under the strings, and it sounds worse when i play finger style that way. james jameson and carol kay and all those old school people also used their ashtray cover mutes.
  2. Agreed. In a studio session the engineer had the drummer sit on the floor and hold the foam against the top of the bass strings to get the perfect muted sound. Comparing various takes of top and bottom foam, top foam did sound better.

    Can anyone explain why that is?
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  3. bon viesta

    bon viesta

    Dec 10, 2020
    maybe because under the strings interferes with the relationship between the bridge and the strings? while over the strings reinforces their connection.
    Groove Doctor likes this.
  4. NoiseNinja

    NoiseNinja Experimental-psychedelic-ambient-noise-drone Inactive

    Feb 23, 2011
    The magic of coincident and inconsistent logically flawed conclusions?

    That doesn't prove anything, first of all better is subjective, and secondly, even if it wasn't you couldn't conclude anything out of it since this was just the case with 1 bass, hardly a statistically valid number for a conclusive test result, but even if it was I doubt anything was done to ensure that the pressure on the strings was the exact same from the foam placed under the strings as the foam placed on top held by that drummer, not to speak about making sure to test if the same result was obtained or not using different sizes and types of foam.

    It's about as valid a conclusion as if concluding that bass sounds better when it rains outside from the fact that it rained outside while the best take, according to the personal preferences of the engineer, was recorded, and that the sun shone while the worst take, according to the personal preferences of the engineer, was recorded.
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2021
  5. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    May 24, 2006
    I’ve experimented extensively with it over the years and I’m a definite top mute believer.

    I think unless you’ve got the thickness of your foam wedge cut exactly right it tends to overly deaden when wedged under the strings. And there’s a significant difference between muting and deadening a note.

    FWIW, most traditional electric bass string mutes were glued to the bridge cover on classic basses that had them. And I’m thinking if someone as notoriously thrifty as Leo Fender decided to take the extra manufacturing step of putting it there - as opposed to just including a wedge of foam or rubber in the case - there had to be an audible difference for him to have done so.

    Note: I also prefer to use a medium soft felt pad as opposed to foam for a mute on most basses I’ve owned. Soft glove leather glued to foam or felt also works well on some basses. YMMV.
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2021
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  6. bon viesta

    bon viesta

    Dec 10, 2020
    what you say is somewhat true, but at the same time i’m guessing the variable of “sounding better” comes from whether or not the muting seems to be more preferable or not on each take. the independent variable was the muting, and the control variable was the song he was playing. if his process of determining what muting technique to use is ineffective and inaccurate, how would he ever figure it out? sorry if that all sounds stuck up, but i just think his experiment was alright in terms of finding which muting technique works better for him.
  7. NoiseNinja

    NoiseNinja Experimental-psychedelic-ambient-noise-drone Inactive

    Feb 23, 2011
    Utterly absurd!


    Just because you can't conclude anything in general terms from the result of a specific experiment doesn't mean that you can't know the specific result of that specific experiment, just that you can't use it to conclude anything in general terms from it, outside of the specific result of that specific experiment.

    If adding a drop of red dye to a glass of water makes the water turn red, then you can conclude that the water turned red from you doing that, even if you can't conclude that adding a drop of whatever random liquid will make it turn red too, doesn't mean that your logically flawed conclusion somehow magically turned you blind preventing you from seeing the water turn red.

    If I once ate a piece of chocolate cake and got a stomach ache a valid conclusion is not that you should stay away from chocolate cake because it makes your stomach ache, that is simply not how logic, or even just common sense, works, however that doesn't mean that I didn't eat that piece of cake or that I didn't get a stomach ache, or even that there isn't still a possibility that it might perhaps even very well had been that specific piece of cake that gave me that stomach ache.

    I am not doubting that he heard what he heard, and I am not even saying that his conclusion necessarily is wrong, top mounted foam might very well be the best options for muting strings, what I am saying however is that, while it very well might be the actual result of that specific experiment, with that specific bass and that specific piece of foam, and under those specific conditions (recording technique and gear, type and size of foam, amount of pressure applied to the foam piece e.t.c), he can't make a valid general conclusion from the specific example he mentions as it proves absolutely nothing in more general terms.
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2021
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  8. beatmachine pro

    beatmachine pro Inactive

    Jun 13, 2021
    the foam goes under the strings
    ,..i refuse to experiment, and am belligerently opinionated on this matter
    marchone, aus_bass, bmusic and 4 others like this.
  9. getbent


    Aug 20, 2010
    Chicago, IL
    I've been using glued-in dense foam under the ashtray cover, over the strings, on my Jazz bass (plus Rotosound Steve Harris signature flatwounds) for at least a decade and I LOVE IT. I can plug in direct and it sounds exactly like I want to sound. I found it harder to get consistent muting across all 4 strings, and for it to stay in place, when placing a chunk of foam under the strings. Granted, I'm not looking for a wide variety of sounds, so it's not a problem for me for the mute to be always screwed on. YMMV.
  10. bon viesta

    bon viesta

    Dec 10, 2020
    yeah i get it! absolutely. he can’t say that top muted strings are better than bottom muted strings objectively, or that bottom muted strings will always have inferior qualities compared to top muted strings which have been proved to do yadadadada. i was just saying his experiment works well for his needs, and it got him the answer he was satisfied with accepting and therefore putting into practice and using, and his experiment isn’t deeply inaccurate or anything. i think a little bit of misunderstanding happened between the both of us :D you are correct that his experiment cannot be used for any other grand conclusion other than “this specific situation caused this specific sound to be more pleasant to my ears”
  11. Splash7

    Splash7 The Determined Bass Player

    Sep 18, 2019
    I use foam over and under my bass strings. If it goes under, I trim the thickness down so as not to put too much pressure under the strings. I have two basses with the foam on top of the strings, a Hofner Club and an Orangewood short scale acoustic/electric. I trim the foam both horizontally and vertically on those and cut slots for each individual string. I use the foam insulation strips that you can buy at the hardware stores for putting around a window AC.
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2021
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  12. NoiseNinja

    NoiseNinja Experimental-psychedelic-ambient-noise-drone Inactive

    Feb 23, 2011
    That is all fine, but the way he concluded his post with:
    To me suggests that he assumes his experience points at a more general tendency, which is why I answered as I did in my initial reply to it.
    bon viesta likes this.
  13. beatmachine pro

    beatmachine pro Inactive

    Jun 13, 2021
    im so sad,...i had
    the perfect peice of foam
    whered it go?
    what happend to my tone?
    bon viesta likes this.
  14. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol

    Any piece of soft matter placed against the strings near the bridge get the desired tone. It's a matter of adjusting the pressure. Any position is good to me.
    jd56hawk, 707GK, Dabndug and 2 others like this.
  15. ThomasTronics

    ThomasTronics Supporting Member

    Nov 21, 2011
    Go over. More consistent and easily fixed and placed.

    Carol kaye goes overtop.
    Bob Babbit goes underneath.

    Different ways but if you're going to keep it easy and consistent. Over top in my own experimentation has been easier and i can adjust and sound better.

    Your first line of in my in over to sound better. Go with your ears.
    bon viesta likes this.
  16. I'm surprised nobody has experimented with archery string silencers.
    Basically Bob likes this.
  17. Ukiah Bass

    Ukiah Bass Supporting Member

    May 10, 2006
    I've experimented with many muting techniques. Many types of foam and fabric. Over. Under. Even used tissue paper woven over and under at the same time. All different sounds. All different ways of affecting overtones and sustain. Depends what sound you are after. I no longer use mutes.
    RocknRay likes this.
  18. sardocs


    Mar 31, 2013
    pender harbour bc
    I have a short-scale custom fretless with a felt mute that the strings pass thru. It really does get a nice dull thump. IMG_1490.jpg IMG_1492.jpg
    Groove Doctor and getbent like this.
  19. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Supporting Member

    May 26, 2009
    Los Angeles, CA
    Carol Kaye suggests under-string mutes for finger plucking, and over-string mutes for picking with a plec. However, I have used both ways with fingers and a pick, and I don't find any difference between them.

    On the bass I learned on, the mutes were built-in Mustang style foam mutes, and I used them always. 1977 Music Man Stingray. So I grew up muting, and quite heavily. I still do, when a bass has mutes. But I have so many basses, and so few of them have mutes, that I just play around the lack of mutes on most of my basses.

    On my former #1, a P Bass made of various Fender parts, I used to use compressed foam ear plugs sliced down to the best sounding length, wedged in between my saddles and the intonation adjustment screws on a classic style Fender bridge. "Best sounding length" was a matter of trial and error. Some strings needed a whole ear plug, smashed down, wedged in, then allowed to expand. Others needed just about a 1/8 inch cross section of an ear plug.

    Since replacing that P Bass with American Vintage '58 P and an AV '64 J, I have been using the stock mutes, stuck to the bottom of the bridge covers. This allows more control over the placement, but less control over the muting intensity...and intonation tends to be harder to nail down.

    On my '75 Musicmaster Bass, I gaff taped felt furniture pads on top of the strings years ago. Who knows if they are even touching the strings any more.

    I wish my G&Ls had mutes. Seems Leo Fender abandoned his long-held belief that basses should have mutes, right when he started G&L.
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2021
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  20. SLO Surfer

    SLO Surfer

    Jun 3, 2009
    Los Osos, CA
    I love the ease of using a Nordy Mute to quickly go between foam mute and no mute, so over the strings?