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How can I use a mute and stay in tune?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by DeepSouth, Mar 11, 2009.

  1. DeepSouth


    Aug 6, 2008
    About a year ago I switched over to playing with a pick from fingers. I tried palm muting but it hurts my wrist so I have been trying to use mutes to clean up my sound. The problem is that the mutes mess up my tuning and intonation.

    My last attempt I bought a Bass-Mute from Ellio Martina Guitars thinking they might work better than random bits of foam. The Ellio mute has a small mute for each string and pushes the string from the side to mute it.

    Should I set the mute to get the sound I want then re-tune the bass and adjust the intonation?

    I do have another idea but haven't tried it yet. Take a soft sponge and cut a slot for each string. The idea would be to have the sponge sort of wrap around the string but not "push" the string knocking it out of tune.

    I played guitar for 15 years before picking up a bass and never had problems with ringing strings :rolleyes: Whats up with that.
  2. 73jbass

    73jbass Supporting Member

    Apr 17, 2004
    Watch "Standing in the Shadows of Motown",and you'll see a few shots of Bob Babbit with a piece of sponge under the strings right against the bridge.Looks awful,but works great.The easiest thing to do is use flatwound strings.
  3. mikezimmerman

    mikezimmerman Supporting Member

    Apr 29, 2001
    Omaha, Nebraska
    What exactly is it that you're trying to achieve with the mute? Simply cleaning up the sound by eliminating extra ringing strings requires something rather different--with a lot less muting pressure and effect--than palm muting or the Bass Mute are doing. Many people use an elastic hair tie around the neck just below the nut, so it keeps the open strings from ringing but has no effect on the fretted strings.


    PS: If you having intonation problems with either the Bass-Mute or a simple foam mute, you're using too much pressure.
  4. 62bass


    Apr 3, 2005
    I use a piece of foam cut to about 1" wide and just enough in height to just touch the strings right up against the bridge. The trick is to get just enough muting to take out the annoying upper harmonics without deadening the sound. You have to play around with it until you get it right. I don't have any trouble with intonation. Too much muting will throw the intonation off as you seem to have found out.

    Foam muting is an old trick the first electric bass players used in the recording studio. It's not exclusively a James Jamerson or Motown innovation. The early Fender basses had a built in foam mute but I and many other much more accomplished players before me found it was too much muting and needed to be modified.

    These days many guys after the Motown sound think that cramming half a pillowcase full of foam under the strings is the way to get that sound. It isn't.
    JLS likes this.
  5. DeepSouth


    Aug 6, 2008
    Thx for the reply's guys.

    I will try again will less pressure on the Bass-Mute. I play with flats on a p-bass thru a ampeg with 1 15" speaker. So yea, I'm going for that motown sound :bassist:
  6. I can tell you EXACTLY what mute gave that sound - because I have a '63 P. Glued to the underside of the bridge cover there was a dense strip of foam similar to weatherstripping foam. It pressed gently on all four strings about 1/2" above the saddles. The pressure of that foam is exactly the mute sound that you hear in recordings of that era. Bob Babbit WAS the bass guy in the Funk Bros., so his foam mute under the strings is how Motown did it on a bass with no bridge cover. He's one of the originals, so if you want Motown, you should do it his way.

    I still have the original strip of foam from under my bridge cover, and it's in good shape. Must have been mighty darn qood quality material.

    And this doesn't affect intonation a bit. DON'T obsess about this, just stuff some foam in there until you get the degree of muting you want, then PLAY the darn thing!!
    JLS likes this.
  7. LeftHandedFrog


    Dec 29, 2008
    I ll say practice your thumb muting!!! No need to adjust foam pressure , position or whatever you use. If your wrist hurts , adjust your arm and bass position so it doesnt. It took me some month but it really opened my playing (playing with thumb plus two fingers now) and you have much more liberty with the sound , you can mute or play open as much as you want in the same piece. You can even leave low notes open and mute the upper strings... I mean it is a really cool technique to have so forget about the foam and get into it!
  8. Man, I WANT this!!!!!

    Are we talking the white or black weatherstripping foam? How wide & thick? And how much 'force'? What might be a good & repeatable 'gauge' is how much dent do the strings make in the foam or how much foam is over the strings.

  9. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    The mute is not supposed to alter intonation in any way. If it does then it presses too hard.
    Any kind of soft material can achieve the proper effect. I generally use the same cloth as to wipe my strings.
    No mount of palm or thumb muting will give you the same freedom and feeling as a proper mute.
  10. RH434


    Aug 25, 2008
    Boiling Springs, PA
    +1 to both of these. Reading this made me think of the old video where Wooten and his brother were dueling on stage. Without a mute, you wouldn't be able to hear a note the way they're both banging away. Like the style or not, the black mute is barely noticeable on Vic's bass.

    I've been wanting to try this for fun. Thanks for the reminder. ;)
  11. basslinejam


    Mar 21, 2005
    New York City

    not a replacement for the foam sound but I can't imagine not having this technique in my arsenal. Thumb plucking muted eight notes through a 2x15 is very very fun.

    The foam I use knocks the intonation off on the higher frets (12th and up), but what the hell are you doing up there anyway!! :)
  12. It's black, and I'll see about getting a photo tonight and posting it...I can also measure width and you'll see the string dents. That ought to help.
  13. Thanks Pilgrim!
  14. SanDiegoHarry

    SanDiegoHarry Banned Supporting Member

    Aug 11, 2008
    San Diego, CA
    I use my left hand fingers as mutes all the time and rarely palm mute at all - Were I to do the full-on muting sound for a song(s), I'd do what Babbit does - little sponge under the strings by the bridge.
  15. sissy kathy

    sissy kathy Back to Bass-ics Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2014
    Arbutus, MD
    You must have a hard time focusing that camera. :cigar:
  16. sissy kathy likes this.
  17. Badwater


    Jan 12, 2017
    When done with light touch mute stays in tune. And the whole purpose is to get a unique sound and make the bass stand out just far enough to not blend in with everything else in the song. Mute is very useful playing with many instruments using the same frequency range.

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