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How poor is arco on a laminate?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by someguy0105, Mar 6, 2008.

  1. I have seen all the posts saying that if you want to play arco don't play a laminate. None of these have ever said how bad the arco sound really is.
    And what about the projection difference between the laminates, hybrids, and carved?

    If someone would post comparison sound clips of laminate arco an carved arco it would be much appreciated.
  2. drurb

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

    Apr 17, 2004
    While the greater complexity of tone typically resulting from a carved top may certainly be more apparent when playing arco, I, for one, appreciate and desire those complexities for pizz. as well. On the other hand, as pointed out many times in these threads, there are certain genres of music for which the pizz. sound of a laminate may be preferred and some players just seem to prefer a good laminate for pizz. across many genres. The preferences seem to be more consistent for arco such that, for that type of playing, a carved top is almost universally preferred. IMO, laminates just cannot "sing" anything like a carved top under arco playing and tend to have a more constrained sound. This is not to say that a really good player cannot produce beautiful music playing arco on a laminate! It is just that it would sound that much better on a carved top. For a student or a less-than-pro arco player, the carved top makes it that much easier to get the note going. As damonsmith has pointed out here before, once you get the carved top vibrating, it just takes less energy to keep it singing.

    Appreciating the differences via sound clips may not be a simple matter. Which laminate bass and which carved bass would you like to hear? Quality and tonal balance vary so much that any single pairwise comparison is bound to engender calls of "foul play" from the masses here. In addition, the sound clips should be recorded under near-identical acoustic conditions.

    With all the caveats aside, IMO, what I consider to be the superiority of tone of a carved top played arco would be apparent if one compared a decent carved-top bass ($5k-$6k ought to do it) with just about any laminate I've encountered. Perhaps one of our laminate and carved-top owners will make such a recording.
  3. salcott

    salcott Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2007
    NYC, Inwood.
    My new LaScala has been found to be more than acceptable played arco by all who have heard and played it. It projects well and doesn't stick out in a section. I'm under no illusions about how it would fare against a fine vintage instrument, but to my ears, it sounds better and plays easier than a lot of the cheaper carved basses out there.
  4. drurb

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

    Apr 17, 2004
    I'm not surprised at all that your lami LaScala plays and sounds better than "cheaper" carved instruments. Your comparison is between a very fine lami and marginal carved instruments. To quote an earlier post of mine:

    Do not, however, be fooled. There are entry level carved basses that, from many standpoints, are far less desirable than a quality ply! Think of ply, hybrid, and carved as three overlapping distributions (bell-curves, if you will), with the mean value of "quality" being lowest for the plys, intermediate for the hybrids, and highest for the carved ones.

    I would also not be surprised if you found that a good quality carved bass bested your LaScala for arco. That is, I would not be surprised if it did not require a "fine vintage instrument" for you to prefer the arco sound of a carved bass.
  5. I think a laminated bass can sound fine, especially if its well set up. IMO, the difference between a good laminated bass and a cheap carved bass is minimal, at best. If a laminated bass is all you need because of either cost or durability, I say go for it. Just get some good parts and a nice set up job; you won't regret it. A lot of people are just negative about them because there are so many bad plywood basses out there; they don't have to be like that. :crying:
  6. drurb

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

    Apr 17, 2004
    ...and some really cheap carved basses can be quite inferior to a really nice lami.
  7. moopants


    Oct 21, 2006
    Lake Charles, LA
    I go from a lami to a nice carved bass most days of the week. The lami is a strunal, but I forgot what the carved bass is. The carved bass sounds better pizz and arco to me. It's smoother to play and it sounds darker. The lami bass just sounds... "cheap" compared to the carved bass. The pizz tone isn't as clear. The notes don't sound as clear as the the carved bass. The arco tone is definitely worse than the carved bass. I can really notice when I play the G string open. Both basses have spiros.

    Carved basses just sound better, but of course, it depends on the maker of the bass and how they're made. I'm sure those New Standards probably sound a lot better than some carved basses. You just have to make sure you're getting the best tone for your money.

    Keep in mind that there are many people that are satisfied with laminated basses. Many guys buy laminated basses purposely, even if they can afford a carved bass.
  8. salcott

    salcott Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2007
    NYC, Inwood.
    "Keep in mind that there are many people that are satisfied with laminated basses. Many guys buy laminated basses purposely, even if they can afford a carved bass".[/QUOTE]

    I'm one of those people-I've put my old bass up for sale because I got tired of being on the subway at 1AM with a $20,000+ instrument. The LaScala is more than adequate for the work I do, and is becoming just as pleasurable to play the more I get to know it.
  9. Can anyone comment on the volume differences, if any? I saw once that carved tend to just be clearer and louder.

    So if I plan to focus on mainly pizz with some arco, would it worth it to save up enough for a hybrid over a lami?
  10. drurb

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

    Apr 17, 2004
    Well, it's not nearly so simple. The differences in sound aren't captured well by basic terms such as "loud" and "clear." For example, the "front-end" boom of many laminate basses is greater than some fine carved basses but the latter tend to have longer sustain. So, which is louder? It depends on the time-window you're considering. Then there is the phenomenon of "projection" and all that that means. I have a suggestion. A listen is worth 1000 posts. Find the nearest bass shop or someone who has both types of basses. Listen to a good player play both types of basses (preferably a number of exemplars of each) in person. Doing so will answer many of your questions and you won't have to rely on the perceptions and descriptions of others. Listening in person will also be far more revealing than any set of sound clips that could be posted here.
  11. True I suppose.
  12. This is spot on, Volume and tone are completely dependent on technique more than the bass I would say, well at least volume for sure. I can play twice as loud as most of my section mates because I know how to play at the bridge with a slow bow, They all play carved basses, I play a hybrid. Also a small carved might be quieter than a large ply, the size and style of the body is very important. my bass is pretty huge for a 3/4, with high shoulders, it "projects" well.
  13. drurb

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

    Apr 17, 2004
    That there is a huge interaction between the player and the instrument cannot be denied. Still, I believe there are certain constants in terms of how good exemplars of carved and lami basses will sound. Because of just the type of consideration you mentioned, I suggested that the OP keep the player constant as he tries to hear and learn about the differences.
  14. droo


    Nov 1, 2004
    Oxfordshire, UK
    Surely strings are just as important a factor in getting a good arco/pizz sound as material, size and shape of body?
    I'm sure part of the reason my smallish 50s hybrid bass sounds a bit dodgy in a classical setting is that it is set up specifically for pizz playing - especially to get a nice strong bright G-string tone for jazz soloing.
    This string sounds awful when I try and bow it, but conversely I have played quality carved basses with good arco strings which sound dull when pizz'ing in that region.

    (I'm a newb whichever way you look at it compared to most of the DB guys on TB but this is just my experience.)
  15. drurb

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

    Apr 17, 2004
    Certainly all the factors mentioned are important. There are many, e.g., player, strings, setup (i.e., string height, fingerboard dressing, soundpost position, tailpiece, tailpiece hanger material, etc.), bow, rosin and on and on. These all influence the differences that will be heard across two basses but there are still fundamental differences that can be ascribed to carved vs. lami basses. To use an extreme example, a Ferrari will handle better than a Hyundai. Yes, there are other factors, such as the driver, the tires, the fuel... ;)
  16. D McCartney

    D McCartney crosswind downwind bass

    Aug 1, 2005
    Tacoma WA
    Indeed, the LaScala is available in fully carved. There is little doubt that it would have a more complex sound.
  17. jtlownds


    Oct 3, 2004
    LaBelle, FL
    Slam Stewart made a fine living playing arco on a Kay.
  18. ...but he had to sing along with it to make it sound better:spit::D
  19. shwashwa


    Aug 30, 2003
  20. drurb

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

    Apr 17, 2004

    Well, I'm glad SOMEONE mentioned this. Still, it doesn't change the basic differences between the arco sounds of carved and lami basses. Man, I should have asked Slam about this the night we chatted back in 1975. Too late now!

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