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"Growl" - how would you describe it?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Mark Gollihur, Jan 31, 2017.

  1. Mark Gollihur

    Mark Gollihur Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jul 19, 2000
    Mullica Hill, NJ
    Owner/President, Gollihur Music LLC
    I've been talking to one of my customers via email, and he's asking about string gauges and tonal effects of switching gauges; we got on a tangent about "growl" and he didn't know what I was talking about. So I'm planning on taking some of that to create a new FAQ on the site, but I'm having a little difficulty putting the concept of what "growl" means (and I think it may mean slightly different things to different people) into actual words.

    I'd love to know how you would describe growl on the upright, and how you feel different setup changes affect growl - and even some of the string choices that, in your experience, are more capable of that elusive sound.
    SLO Surfer and wilsonn like this.
  2. Radio


    Jan 8, 2010
    New Haven, CT
    I'm looking forward to this. Please add "burp" to the FAQ, if you feel so inclined. From my reading and listening, I associate grind/growl with my J and burp with my P.

    OMG! I'm even more interested in this on the DB side. Sorry about the cross-pollination attempt.
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2017
  3. Bisounourse


    Jun 21, 2012
    Gent, Belgium
    I think we refer to 'burp' as 'thump'... (this is the DB side ;) ), that or you are really messing up your arco playing :D
  4. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    You're on the DB side but we all listen to Radio.

    Two answers:
    a) The intersection of Ron Carter, Dave Holland, Charnette Moffett and Stafford James
    b) The intersection of worked-in Spirocore Orchs and a well-planed ebony board with a firm left hand

    For me, "growl" is not so much about a raspy-thing as it is about a long, clear low note. If your Spiros are sustaining, not decaying, and if you're working it with your left hand to keep it going, you're growling.

    But I'm hear to learn and eager to see what other folks say.
    wilsonn and hdiddy like this.
  5. Sam Dingle

    Sam Dingle Supporting Member

    Aug 16, 2011
    I think of it as a raspy tone in the low end. I make a note that only my E string growls and thats why I like it (Evah Weich). I don't think growl happens on all 4 strings.

    the "raspy tone" can be limited with technique. you can make a growlly string not growl but can't will a non growly string to do so.
  6. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Yup, gritty, sustaining, clear lows
  7. wilsonn


    Sep 26, 2005
    New York
    To me, growl on an upright is a little like "overdrive" on the slab side. Overdrive is pushing the gain stage into distortion for a little dirt, a little fuzz. And on my bass, the growl, I think, is coming from a bit of fingerboard buzz. My bass doesn't growl on every string, mostly A and E. And too much growl can be too much.
    Calebmundy likes this.
  8. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    It's this, but especially the low G that happens from 0:23 onward:


    For me it's a note that has a "bloom" to it where the sound of the note seems to grow before it starts to decay. My intuitive understanding of why this happens is that the beginning of the note involves some buzzing of the string against the board right at the front of the note where the string is at maximum excursion, which then clears away as the string calms down. Technically, I notice that it's an easy sound to get while playing with the pads of the LH fingers and a certain angle of the RH stroke, which is reason enough for me to advocate using different parts of the finger for different tonal effects.

    And I agree wholeheartedly with everything Sam says above, as usual.
  9. wilsonn


    Sep 26, 2005
    New York
    Yes, Chris. I agree. That's it at :23, and to me that sounds like the edge of fingerboard buzz on the G. My American Standard growls like a tiger at F, F# and G and Bb, C. I can reduce the growl or eliminate with different left hand pressure and different right hand attack, or I can accentuate, depending on what the ensemble need is.
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  10. saltydude


    Aug 15, 2011
    boston CANADA
    For me "growl" is a low boomy base tone with loads of headroom that instead of typically getting lost in the mix and washing out everything else the individual notes still cut through and are prevalent.
  11. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    I've defined growl as a product of the strings interacting with the fingerboard, and is more apparent depending on your setup. Generally, the growl i am talking about is achieved when the strings are set at the right height, not too low to buzz, but not too high to eliminate the fingerboard interaction.
  12. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    ^^^^ This. Note bloom plus resonant sustain with a clear fundamental - you can milk it if you wanna.
    Sam Sherry and Chris Fitzgerald like this.
  13. Mark Gollihur

    Mark Gollihur Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jul 19, 2000
    Mullica Hill, NJ
    Owner/President, Gollihur Music LLC
    Thanks, people! Some really excellent information here, and a lot of you put the concepts into words very well.

    Here's what I've posted in the new FAQ. I've paraphrased a number of things that were said here, and some were closer to direct quotes, because the original was just perfectly worded. I am more than happy to credit you by name (for your contributions) if you would like, by way of a "thanks to..." sort of byline, please just ask. :)

    TONE: What is this 'Growl' I Keep Hearing About? - FAQ courtesy of GollihurMusic.com

    TONE: What is this 'Growl' I Keep Hearing About?

    "Growl" is usually described as a rumbling undertone to the note that makes it sound a little more guttural or aggressive; commonly heard in modern jazz, it's just a tonal color that some players find adds interest to the sound. It can mean different things to different people; in an informal survey that I put out asking experienced players how they'd describe it, I got several answers, most of which are pretty much along similar lines, but with some subtle variations.

    Most players seem to agree that it's a "blooming" tone, involving a resonant sustain that can be somewhat controlled by the player - if you "work it" with your left hand (with a vibrato movement) you can keep it going. What does "bloom" mean? Simply, that the sound or intensity of the note seems to grow before it begins to decay. Others also invoke descriptions like, "gritty, sustaining, clear lows," or a "raspy" tone in the lower range of the instrument.

    Many bassists, including myself, feel that it's partly caused by subtle interaction with the fingerboard, so low-ish action will help accommodate it -- but not so low that the strings "buzz." We assume that it occurs because lower action allows vibrating strings to very slightly "graze" the fingerboard near the finger, causing a slight overtone/distortion of the timbre. Action that is too high would eliminate the effect, clearly; there is a happy "medium" zone where you can find "growl." In my estimation, growl is sort of tangentially related to the "mwah" sound that you hear on electric fretless bass when the action is low.

    Ultimately, it's kind of one of those things that is "you'll know it when you hear it." It is, to many contemporary styles, considered "aurally appealing" – though I'd wager that someone playing pizz sections in an orchestral piece would not be trying to create growl.

    How do I get growl?

    Bringing out that special growly tone has as much, if not more, to do with technique as it does with equipment; you'll find that playing with different levels of dynamics, and using different parts of your fingers (on both hands!) will affect how "growly" your tone can be. But certainly, certain strings (and setup, as mentioned above) can help achieve it, if you're looking to get that tone.

    Lighter strings can sometimes create more "growl" as the lighter overall tension tends to lower the action as the neck "relaxes" a bit, and lighter strings vibrate more widely, which causes them to interact with the fingerboard a bit more. But keep in mind that setup and tone color of every bass is different, and some basses may be more capable of that sort of tone than others. The only way to know for certain is to try.

    Basically, everyone's journey is personal, and there's no "right" string -- or tone -- for everyone.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2017
  14. I understand this is not a detailed explanation, but just wanted to say that Pirastro calls growl as "core sound".
  15. ThudThudThud


    Jun 4, 2010
    Just popping in from the BG side.
    In my mind it's 0.39 of the following:

    Is that about right?
    Max George likes this.
  16. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Mark, that looks really good and should be a good resource for folks just dipping their toes in the water.

    I remember one of the one-off lessons I had when I was just getting started; it was with a bass player who I loved to play with as a piano player back when that was my main focus. He didn't show me the left hand aspect, but he did show me his version of the right hand stroke that makes the E string growl like a territorial dog. He wasn't a technical kind of guy, but my OCD interpretation of the motion was to put a lot of meat on the string and pluck it along the curve of the board so that the string is vibrating parallel to it. This is easy to miss on the E string, as the curve of the board tends to cause many beginners to pluck the string in such a way that produces a rattle rather than a growl - this is common when the string is vibrating into the curve of the board rather than parallel to the curve of it. When this happens, people tend to dislike the sound of the rattle, so they back off to mitigate it and then get a weaker sound as a result.

    [OCD nerd rant]
    The left hand aspect is hard to explain the physics of, but easy to demonstrate. The way I experience it, it is easiest to coax the growl out by flattening the pad out across the string at the stopping point rather than playing with the point/tip of the finger. For whatever reason, this seems to allow the string to buzz at the contact point where playing with the tip produces a clearer "bell tone" kind of sound that decays without that bloom at the front.

    It also requires a completely different sort of leverage, and this part makes intuitive sense to me. Imagine you are trying to exert x amount of force onto the surface of your leg with a pencil. You can use either the pointed end, or the eraser end. Without using much energy, you could easily puncture the skin with the pointed end. To come anywhere near that level of force with the blunt end would require a lot more energy; and this kind of energy requires a completely different technique to sustain. It's easy to see why traditional classical technique tends to espouse curved fingers with stops at the tip, because it's mechanically much more efficient. But playing with the pad gets a different sound, and to generate that kind of force consistently, a lot more large muscle group force needs to be built into the technique to get the sound but also avoid injury. It can be gotten with "sloppy" baseball bat technique, but unless the player is a young bulletproof giant, I would not advise this approach as sustainable for very long.

    [/OCD nerd rant]
    Groove Doctor, wilsonn and Tom Lane like this.
  17. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    For me it's a combination of the strings vibrating against the fingerboard where you "fret" the note (if I can use that word in an upright bass forum), and the bloom of the note after you pluck the string. You get this buzzy sound that expands before it decays. Both the fingerboard interaction, and the bloom combine to produce growl.

    I am encouraged that others find the G note on the E string has it. My instrument has that in droves on the G string.

    I find that I get growl when I pull the string really hard toward my body. It's even better if you can pull the string straight down, but that causes so much of the buzz component that it can cause rattle. So I have to be content with a side pull to make the string vibrate as much as possible without rattling.

    Now thump, I'm confused about thump. There are times when the string has less tone and more thumpy sound, but I don't like it and wonder if it's thump or just a string that isn't vibrating enough to produce tone.
  18. sevenyearsdown

    sevenyearsdown Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    Sanborn, NY
    Slightly off topic, though related to your post. Whether it's growl or just definition, I still find it a challenge to coax pleasant musical sounds out of the E string above a G note. I work on it all the time, and I'm still never happy with it.

    However there are times when I intentionally get the thing to buzz off the board, and get some funny looks.....to which I usually have to explain later, "yeah bud - I was doing that on purpose".
  19. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Obviously I'm not @Chris Fitzgerald.

    Is it that hard on everybody's bass or just yours? The first thing that came to my mind was, 'Invest in a fingerboard planing and reap the reward.' Or buy some used Spiro Mittels and see if things get easier.

    Hope this is more than no help.
  20. sevenyearsdown

    sevenyearsdown Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    Sanborn, NY
    The fingerboard is fine. I bought the bass brand new from Upton in '14.

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