"Fundamental" -- What do you mean?

Discussion in 'Strings [DB]' started by bonaventura, Jan 24, 2009.

  1. I didn't see much info on this here, but the term is used a lot here and I get the impression it's used in different ways.

    We often hear the comment something like: "This string has lots of fundamental". "Spiros, Evahs, Flexocores and Original Superflexibles 92" -- whatever -- have great "fundamental".

    I'd like to hear what you all mean by that.

    Do you mean focus and clarity of tone?

    Do you mean volume?

    Or is it also a relative thing, like, it also has to do with how that particular string vibrates and resounds on your bass, thus producing clear focused notes with good volume?

    If this is a term we borrow from physics, are we using it in a different way when we talk about bass strings?
  2. No, no and no. The fundamental refers to a portion of the frequency spectrum and maybe to the psychoacoustics of hearing it.

    When a string is vibrating it produces a series of overtones or harmonics. We characterize the sound of the string by how we perceive the relative strength of the harmonics. If we hear lots of higher harmonics, like with Spirocores (particularly new ones), we characterize it as bright.

    The fundamental is the lowest harmonic which is the lowest sounding part of the string's frequency spectrum. Typically, because the ear can hear higher frequencies better than lower ones, if there are fewer higher harmonics or they are of lesser relative strength, we say the string has a strong fundamental. Evahs and gut strings have a strong fundamental because their higher harmonics are not very strong and most of the perceived sound comes from the lower portion of the frequency spectrum. Spiros, on the other hand, have strong higher harmonics jumping out all over the place which gives them that bright, very live sound. The fundamental isn't as present though because of masking by the higher perceived strength of the higher harmonics. As Spiros age, the upper harmonics lose some of their strength and the fundamental becomes more present.

  3. hmmm... thanks for the info.

    so the fundamental frequency is the lowest harmonic for a given note, right? it's the one with the longest frequency waves. you're saying that this frequency is more prominent with some strings than with others, right?

    but my other question is: Isn't how that frequency will be heard or sensed be affected by the instrument it's played on?

    a Spiro on my bass might resound more responsively than on yours -- does that make sense?

    here's a discussion that suggests that the instrument ("container") contributes to how the fundamental ("standing wave") is heard:
  4. WRBass


    Dec 10, 2006
    Houston, Tx.
    I like to think of it this way: If you play the open "A" string on your bass, the fundamental is the part of the sound you hear at a pitch (frequency) of 55hz. It's all the other sounds you hear (harmonics) that makes it sound like a bass guitar or DB.
  5. If you hear more low end "boom" with Spiros than Evahs, then that is the case. And if that's the case, it's way outside of my experience.

    Even on my back up bass where the Evahs kind of choked it, the boom was much more powerful with the Evahs. I personally prefer the sound of Spiros on it, the bass is more alive and possibly louder but the low end boom award still goes to the Evahs.

  6. yes, I agree. the Spiros sounded overall brighter, louder, and while not lacking in low end boom on my bass, the new Evahs I just put on it are overall deeper in sound. the Evahs are not as bright nor as loud.

    thanks again for the info.
  7. I have that book on the shelf but haven't gotten around to reading it yet. It looked interesting when I bought it.

  8. WRBass


    Dec 10, 2006
    Houston, Tx.
  9. debassr


    Jan 23, 2008
    You're all very welcome. I actually had to read it twice to really have it all sink in but anyone that wants to understand music in a deeper way will benefit from that book. It will make you a better musician, not just a better bass player. It's very technical at first but you'll understand why in the later chapters.

    The reason I thought of this book was because it has a very good analogy for what a fundamental is:

    "Imagine that you're sitting on a train in an outdoor station, with the engine off. It's windy, and you feel the train rock back and forth just a little bit. I does so with a regularity that you can time with a stopwatch, and you feel the train moving back and forth about twice a second. Next, the engineer starts the engine, and you feel a different kind of vibration through your seat (due to the oscillations of the motor -- pistons and crankshafts rotating at a certain speed). When the train starts moving, you experience a third sensation, the bump the wheels make every time they go over a track joint. Altogether you will feel several different kinds of vibrations, all of them likely to be at different rates, or frequencies. When the train is moving, you are no doubt aware that there is vibration. But it is very difficult, if not impossible, for you to determine how many vibrations there are and what their rates are."

    "When a sound is generated on a piano, flute, or any other instrument, it produces many modes of vibration occurring simultaneously. When you listen to a single note played on an instrument, you're actually hearing many, many pitches at once, not a single pitch. Most of us are not aware of this consciously, although some people can train themselves to hear this. The one with the slowest vibration rate -- the one lowest in pitch -- is referred to as the fundamental frequency, and the others are collectively called overtones."​

    ^^^ I've paraphrased the above passage slightly for the sake of brevity but the book is FILLED with great analogies like this.

    Hope this helped!
  10. john allemond

    john allemond Supporting Member

    Do you understand the overtone series?
  11. Yes, that's sort of like the World Series, only with overtones, right?
  12. Basically it's the part of the overall sound of a vibrating string that is the actual note you are playing. If your instrument only produced fundamental tones, it would just emit a pure sine wave, with no texture or character, which would sound pretty uninteresting in most contexts.
  13. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
  14. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    Sort of. The fundamental refers to the first harmonic of a harmonic series. It is the lowest frequency of vibration and is a physical quantity. The psychoacoustic aspect to which you are alluding is that of the hearing the pitch of the "missing fundamental" of a harmonic series. It refers to situations in which the pitch corresponds to the fundamental of a series even when the fundamental is missing or greatly attenuated.

    The ear does not "hear higher frequencies better." At low levels, the perceived loudness of mid-frequencies is greatest given equal power.

    For sure, it is relative but I disagree that the reason Evahs are characterized as having a strong fundamental is solely a result of their having a reduced response in the upper partials. In my experience, they have a strong fundamental compared to other strings because the power at the fundamental is actually greater than is produced by other strings.
  15. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    This is a comparatively mild example of the errors in this book!

    You are not actually hearing many "pitches" at once! You are hearing many frequencies at once. Yet, in the cases described, you are hearing one pitch. This is not just a matter of splitting hairs unnecessarily. It is fundamental (pun intended). In the book, Levitin tries to explain the distinctions between physics and perception and blows it many times-- this being one of them. As to conciousness, that term does not apply. In fact, anyone with anything close to normal hearing can easily distinguish the difference between a single frequency at the fundamental and a harmonic series including that fundamental. So, actually, we are essentially all quite aware of the overtones. It's how we distinguish one instrument from another. The "training" to which Levitin apparently refers is training to separate out the individual frequencies. Levitin, unfortunately, butchers the literature in his attempts to simplify it. One can simplify it without being wrong.

    I guess you all know how I feel about his book. When I read it, I was actually saddened by the number of people likely to be misled by his statements. I marked many passages that were dead wrong. His explanations of loudness, decibels, etc. are glaringly incorrect and actually inconsistent within his own text. Sorry to sound like I'm on a tirade. Levitin is no expert in acoustics and no expert in psychoacoustics and it shows. Supplying the public with misinformation is virtually unforgivable in my book.

    Just to be clear-- no slam at you debassr. As one who is apparently trying to learn about these concepts, there was probably no way for you to know that you were being misled. I agree that Levitin has a nice, chatty writing style. The problem is that what he writes is often dead wrong.
  16. Passinwind

    Passinwind I know nothing. Commercial User

    Dec 3, 2003
    Columbia River Gorge, WA.
    Owner/Designer &Toaster Tech Passinwind Electronics
    I've been posting some graphs in this thread that might have some relevance to this one. Feel free to shun, ignore, deride, etc. as necessary.
  17. zeytoun


    Dec 19, 2008
    Portland, Oregon
    When listening to music, people generally prefer to hear instruments that supply a complex mix of fundamental (pitch) and overtone frequencies (perceived pitches) (like a string instrument) over an instrument that supplies a more "pure" note, with less overtone (like a midi-synthesizer).

    I notice on the jazz side of the double bass forums, there's a lot of preference for that complexity. A lot of praise for strings with stronger overtones, lots of growl and other complexities added to the notes.

    When we start out playing bass, though, a lot of that can be confusing to our new ears. I know I'm still on the end of preferring to hear strong pure fundamentals when I play, because my ear will get confused. Any other people notice an evolution in there preference that supports or contradicts this?


    Also, when someone says "boomy" does this mean a) that the Fundamental is articulated and strong or b) that the fundamental and overtones tend to be strong in the lower end so that the sound could either be really articulated or muddy?
  18. What you said is what I meant. You said it more accurately.


Share This Page