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How do I get the most sound out of my bass?

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Sam Dingle, Apr 15, 2017.

  1. Sam Dingle

    Sam Dingle Supporting Member

    Aug 16, 2011
    New Orleans
    I've been seeing a lot of videos online of Neal Miner ( ) and have decided go make it a goal to work on getting the most sound out of my bass. I know this can go into the string form, or the set up form but can we talk about all the factors here?

    Right now I'm using spirocore mediums on a 1957 carved german bass. the action is as high as i am comfortable playing. What techniques can i use to get the most sound out of it? Do you recommend a string change (maybe you think Evah mediums would be better, or gut D/G). All opinions are welcome. I wanna focus on:

    Strings/setup (bass subjective)
    Right and left hand technique (playing with perfect intonation helps a lot with volume I'm finding)
    longfinger likes this.
  2. Jason Hollar

    Jason Hollar Supporting Member

    Apr 17, 2005
    Pittsburgh area
    Having been thumping on an upright for 20 years or so, I'm finally consistently finding that sweet spot. There's not just one sweet spot, but the one I'm working on produces the most fundamental and volume with the least amount of effort. (Nothing new here - but it's an amazing revelation when you experience it).

    Interestingly, I've also found that sweet spot on a beautiful Fender I bought from some cat in NOLA ;)
    Groove Doctor and bskts247 like this.
  3. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Most of this stuff is in my video series, but some is not that easy to find, so...

    Strings: The biggest acoustic sound I ever heard in my life was when Dennis Irwin borrowed my bass for a concert he was a part of here at the university. The bass was strung with Spirocore reds. He jacked them up, but they were basically half dead spiros; so no, I would look no further on the string front.

    Right Hand Technique: I'm big on arm weight and using the big muscles, but the other factor that goes into a big sound is the concept of velocity. The motion of striking the string is a lot like cracking a whip. Everybody I know who gets a big sound moves through the string with great velocity. Part of what this means is that there will be a considerable thunk when the striking finger hits the adjacent string; this is always the case with rest strokes, but when there is great velocity there is little to no perceptible delay between the sound of the vibrating string being struck and the thunk of the finger popping the adjacent string. If the finger isn't moving fast enough, that sound will be perceived as two sounds, or as one "unfocused" sound rather than a single definitive, authoritative event.

    Left Hand: Again, I believe in arm weight and getting a good stop. In many lessons, especially with less experienced jazz players, we'll often stop and show how the sound can be made better with a deeper stop than what the student is using. In general, there are two ways to achieve this: with force, and with mechanics.

    Think of force as the amount of downward pressure pressing the finger into the string and the string into the board. Think of mechanics as the efficiency of the mechanism of pressing down the string. Many teachers teach students to always play with curved fingers; this is mechanically efficient because it places the tip of the finger on the string, and there is less padding under the tip of the fingers to dissipate the force of the stop. Many jazz players also like a note to growl a bit, and this sound is easily produced by using the pads of the fingers to press down the string. However, using the pads - while it can be a really beautiful rich sound full of grain and color - is mechanically inefficient, so more force is required to produce a clean stop when using the pads.

    Synchronicity: @John Goldsby talks about this a lot - the two hands have to work together in perfect timing. If the left hand is a little late with the stop or the intonation, it mutes the resonance of the note. I'll let John flesh this out further when he has time. he has a lot of great things to say on this issue.

    Intonation: an in-tune note offers an immediate clarity to the sound that can't really be gotten any other way. It also allows the bass to vibrate sympathetically with the other instruments that are playing.
    Phil Rowan, dhm, tbplayer59 and 8 others like this.
  4. Remember the Ray Brown tip: the plucking hand and stopping hand must exert equal force at all times.
  5. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    The loudest sound I have heard was Peter Kowald and early William Parker. One thing is to not have the strings too high, just high enough for them to fully vibrate and for you to dig in.
    Playing at the end of the fingerboard helps.
    Arco practice helps you understand the resonance and builds cleaner intonation. Another great tip is to not lean on the open strings you are not playing with your right hand, the sympathetic vibrations will boost the sound.

    Having ebony or composite adjusters or no adjusters as well as getting rid of all extraneous items - pick ups, quivers and all that stuff helps.
    Having a good carved bass and sprios really helps. You want to get the top moving, the vibrating top will help with each successive pitch once you get it moving. What the other say about arm weight is true as well both hands being of equal strength. The left is at more of a disadvantage so focus there first. Pull from the shoulder, do not squeeze.
    bskts247 likes this.
  6. Sam Dingle

    Sam Dingle Supporting Member

    Aug 16, 2011
    New Orleans
    Maybe just end the thread here. With all of this being fresh in my mind I picked up my bass and:

    Focused on the weight of my right arm pulling through all the strings/made sure my left hand was in time and had perfect technique

    Bass sounded huge. Still interested in hearing what John has to say.
    Groove Doctor and Sam Sherry like this.
  7. lurk


    Dec 2, 2009
    Intonation is the best amplifier even when playing amplified.
  8. Up and Away

    Up and Away

    May 16, 2015
  9. John Goldsby

    John Goldsby Supporting Member

    Mar 4, 2003
    Bassist @ WDR Big Band Cologne, Regular Contributor to Bass Player Magazine
    bskts247, You are your own best teacher . . . you found it! So, I would say just keep doing watcha' doing . . .

    A couple of comments in general: IMO, the big sound comes from the speed at which the right hand finger travels through the string. I often refer to the movement as "striking through the string." You need to get the string vibrating fast, and then get off of the string fast so you don't mute the vibration — even if you're playing quietly, you can have the "big sound." Even if I'm playing slowly (a ballad), my right-hand attack is still fast, and I get on and off the string (through the string) quickly.

    The fast right-hand attack, combined with the precise coordination with the left hand stopping the note, brings out the maximum tone (and volume when you need it) from the bass. This coordination also makes your rhythm very precise. If I want a louder sound, I use more of the r.h. finger; for a softer sound I'll use less finger. In both instances, the attack and release are still fast and precise. The big tone is also created with the help of a solid left hand.

    I hear a lot about "using the weight of the arm," "starting with the shoulder," and other big muscle movements. To me, those muscles do play a role, because they are (hopefully) attached to your forearm, wrist and fingers. But, I think players get hung up on thinking that they have to muscle the sound out of the bass, when the physics of the movement require a fast, precise attack and release — get on and off the string . . . fast. I make that motion mostly with my wrist and fingers.

    The tempo also plays a role. For example, I think of the right hand movement like dribbling a basketball:

    If I play a medium walking line, it's like dribbling a basketball and letting the rebound come up to my waist . . . then my right hand makes a snapping motion with the wrist, and quickly—in a millisecond—reverses the direction of the ball back to the floor. If I'm dribbling at a faster tempo, it's the same motion, only the ball is much closer to the floor, and moving at a faster tempo. I'm not pushing the ball down with big muscles, I'm just letting my forearm and wrist snap the ball back in the opposite direction . . . bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce . . .

    I hope that helps a bit . . .
  10. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Oooooh yeah. Tremendous post, Chris. People could run with this for a long, long time.
    Oooooh yeah. A lot of this is about intention. I played for years relying on the amp, not realizing that I was missing the top two gears of what I could pull out of my bass. Once I started to start I really got started!

    The thing, BS, is to go out and do it. When you can safely play without the amp, do that. That Big Sound is gonna bring you joy every time, man -- go get it!
    Scott Lynch and Chris Fitzgerald like this.
  11. Jim Dombrowski

    Jim Dombrowski Supporting Member

    Jan 16, 2002
    Colorado Springs, CO
    A note of caution - work into this slowly. I strained a finger a trying to pull a bigger sound, and it is still hurting after several months of therapy and meds.
  12. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I would consider using some gut our gut-like strings, not permanently but only for the experience of it. There's something invaluable about pulling out a big sound with gut that changed my RH playing and gave me a huge sound. Then you can go back to other strings after a while.

    You can try pulling gut real hard but the physical feedback you get is immediate. I get this sense of pulling the string back like a bow as much as possible before it releases as it flops of the finger. To me, it's not about strength at all but relaxation.
    Jeff Bonny, tww001 and lurk like this.
  13. John Goldsby

    John Goldsby Supporting Member

    Mar 4, 2003
    Bassist @ WDR Big Band Cologne, Regular Contributor to Bass Player Magazine
    True, that!
    Sam Sherry likes this.
  14. Steve Boisen

    Steve Boisen Your first second choice™ Supporting Member

    Dec 3, 2003
    Tampa Bay, FL
    Write that down somewhere!

    - Steve
    bskts247 and A. Munk like this.
  15. Lot's of great info here folks. It's always great to get a reminder. These are the kind of things my teacher showed me in my first few lessons many years ago, but I kind of forget about them as time goes on. Always great to review the basics.

    For me, the concept of "striking through the string" and "pulling it like a bow and releasing" are actually quite opposite. The strike through is what gives the big sound, legato hum and rhythmic precision.
  16. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Ultimately, as I think @John Goldsby alluded to, there are many different ways to use your right hand to get a good tone, but the different physical methods create slightly different tones that can be appropriate in different musical contexts. Of course, John, being Mr. Versatile knows all about these.

    I notice that I tend to use my right hand more like John Clayton and Christoph Luty instructed me, which is also more how Chris Fitzgerald tends to do it, but, if I'm looking for LOUD, I drop back to Lynn Seaton's "The Wave" and use all 4 fingers from my right hand. Somehow, it just works easily for me. They're all important to explore and try to emulate, IMO. Good tone is good tone.
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  17. Michael Karn

    Michael Karn

    Apr 16, 2014
    I think that volume and being able to play acoustically/ampless with a drummer is incredibly overrated, and that's coming from someone that used to do that. Just get a quality sound that you can project that (most importantly to me) you have control of. That's what great about Neal to me, he always gets his sound up down, high and low, soft or loud, and it's always a good full sound that's perfectly in tune. And I've not only been listening to him for over 20 years but also played tenor with him, so I've got the perspective from both sides
  18. Michael Karn

    Michael Karn

    Apr 16, 2014
    One more thing, equiptment has nothing to do with it. Steel or gut, carved or plywood, the sound is first and foremost between your ears, so first work on that then figure out what you have to do physically to make that happen. I'm able to get what I recognize as my sound just as well with Zyex lights with medium lowish action as I ever did with guts at medium high action. If I had a dollar for every time people haven't noticed I switched or just assumed I never did, I'd have....some dollars
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2017
  19. Sam Dingle

    Sam Dingle Supporting Member

    Aug 16, 2011
    New Orleans

    So there's a difference in being loud and projecting? That's something else to add to the list of things to think about. You think it's more important to have a great sound than to play loud and acoustic?
  20. Michael Glynn

    Michael Glynn

    Feb 25, 2004
    Would you rather be loud and acoustic with a bad sound, or less loud and less acoustic with a great sound? I know what my answer is.

    I can't answer for Mr. Karn, but I think so. A good clear sound that cuts through the mix is more important than pure volume. All the things that people have mentioned like intonation, velocity/speed of striking the string (which gives a strong and clear attack), a strong left hand that works in perfect conjunction with the right hand--these things all improve clarity and audibility more than simply producing a higher sound pressure level. I've heard plenty of people who are loud--both acoustically and amplified--but if their sound is muddy, or the time feel is too loose it just makes everything less clear.
    jallenbass and Michael Karn like this.