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If a Bass Guitar sounds good "unplugged", then should it sound good amplified?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Lorenzop, Jan 28, 2013.

  1. Lorenzop


    Oct 23, 2012
    If a bass sounds good just played unplugged / acoustically, should it therefore sound good plugged in?

    And if it doesn't then is it a PU issue?

    Jst wonder if bottom line to tell a good guitar is if it sounds good already when played acoustic. I mean if you can feel lows, punch, sustain, etcetc acoustic then in theory it should translate ??

  2. I would say "no".
  3. lowphatbass

    lowphatbass **** Supporting Member

    Feb 25, 2005
    west coast
    Not necessarly. You can certainly tell a lot about the feel and quality of a bass guitar by playing it acoustically, but if you plan to use it plugged-in then you gotta plug it in to tell how good it is.
  4. MCS4

    MCS4 Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2012
    Fort Lauderdale, FL
    Well, you're likely to get a lot of disagreement on that issue. I believe that a bass' unplugged sound is a good indicator of how good it will sound amplified, with the understanding that this can be effected by the type of pickups installed.

    However, there are many people around these parts who don't believe that things like type of wood, type of neck attachment (bolt-on, neck-through, etc.) make much of a difference in the bass' sound, and instead say that pickups and strings have the biggest effect. I would imagine that those folks would necessarily say that the unplugged sound is not of much use.
  5. A bass guitar is a system. It does no good to look and one part of a system in isolation.
  6. lowphatbass

    lowphatbass **** Supporting Member

    Feb 25, 2005
    west coast
    A Steinberger is a good example here. They sound like plastic yuck clack acoustically yet when you plug em in you get a strong, full sound. I'm not a Steinberger guy, but if you've ever fiddled around with one you'll find this to be the case.
  7. Well most basses are at best very quiet unplugged, especially on the lows, so I'd say no.

  8. unclejane

    unclejane Guest

    Jul 23, 2008
    Yep, the old XL2 solid plastic one sounded,well, like a piece of plastic being dinked on with strings when unplugged. But it has a super strong sound plugged in.

    my Carvin Bunnies have almost no sound at all plugged in, just this placky flat noise when I pluck them. But they have a very velvety jazzy warm tone through the amp, especially the 4 string. The 6 has a very solid, clean sound but is utterly dead acoustically.

    My L2K sounds kind of like the body has a hole in it when unplugged but has a Fenderish sound when plugged in.

    So yeah my vote is no, you can't really tell unplugged. You have to plug it in to get an idea of the sound...

  9. ThirtyOver


    Dec 30, 2011
    there is always someone that will say yes. Ask them if they cut a hole through the center of their bass so they can hear what it actually sounds like before buying it? While wood, neck and technique have alot to do with sound. your electronics and how they relay what you are doing is far more important to maintaining the acoustic/electric connection.
  10. MIMike


    Jan 1, 2013
    West MI
    The general answer would be no since it could have bad pickups or electronics, but if all other things were equal, (i.e. same pickups, electronics, bridge, strings...) than it can indicate a plus in amplified sound vs. a bass that is a dud acoustically, but outfitted the same. If it's inspiring to play it unplugged because it sounds so good, then you can always improve the amplified sound with electronics upgrades.
  11. themarshall


    Jun 26, 2008
    cochrane wi
    I agree with the "bass is a system" analogy, but I also find I prefer bolt ons made of traditional materials that resonate nicely unplugged.
  12. tbplayer59


    Jan 20, 2013
    I'm in the "it has to sound good acoustically" camp. I pluck a string and expect the note to be loud and clear. If the bass has that, it will sound good plugged in. Expensive electronics can't fix a poorly constructed bass.
  13. garmenteros

    garmenteros Bass Enthusiast Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2008
    Dominican Republic
    Exactly. Electronics help some what, but construction type and other components factor in as well... How much is up for interpretation. If a bass unplugged has no sustain and sounds thin, then most likely it will plugged in unless you have electronics tailored to counter that.
  14. Mojo-Man

    Mojo-Man Supporting Member

    Feb 11, 2003

    If a bass sounds good unplugged. I means the neck and body woods resonate. Which is a good thing.
    Good, pickups, electronics, and strings will add to tone.
    It's a piece of the tone puzzle.
  15. M.R. Ogle

    M.R. Ogle Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 5, 2004
    Mount Vernon, Illinois
    Backstage Guitar Lab owner
    Yes, this.
    It really isn't even the "sound" it produces (as a solidbody, it isn't much acoustically) it's the "feel" of the attack, sustain, even-ness and resonance. It's gotta be good to start with, I'm willing to fix or swap out electronics all day long if the basic wood/construction is sound.
  16. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Supporting Member


    A pickup is not an ear, and vice versa. The ear detects all sound coming from the bass when the string is played, including buzz and rattle from loose springs or strap buttons. Most pickups sense just a very small section of the vibrating string, which of course is why soloing the bridge pickup sounds so radically different than soloing the neck pickup, even though they are only a few inches apart.

    Piezo pickups are a different horse, but they are rare (for good reason IMHO :ninja: :D).

    Can the acoustic tone of an electric instrument provide a clue as to how good it will sound through an amp? Sometimes, maybe often, but definitely not always, even when pickups are functioning normally. I've heard exceptions in high-end basses. And it can work both ways: a bass that sounds weak when unplugged can be gorgeous through an amp (the Steinberger example), and vice versa.

    Point being: in nearly all circumstances (aside from quiet home rehearsal, maybe) you're going to play the instrument through an amp. So it doesn't make sense to me to rule out a bass because of its acoustic tone alone.
  17. khutch

    khutch Praise Harp

    Aug 20, 2011
    suburban Chicago
    When you listen to the sound of an unplugged bass you hear the acoustic output of everything on the bass that is vibrating. Most importantly you hear the entire sonic output of the string, all its harmonic content. Pickups respond only to the relative motion between the string and the body of the bass at the location where they are mounted. They are completely deaf to harmonics that happen to have motional nodes right above them and partially deaf to harmonics that have motional nodes nearby. They also will not reproduce any neck or body vibrations except those that occur right where they are mounted and even those are modified by the pickup mounting details, something that none of the tone wood gurus ever discuss. So there really is no direct connection between acoustic and amplified tone unless you use a microphone to feed the amp and leave the bass unplugged. If a bass sounds good both acoustically and electrically then the builder has done a good job of making an acoustic bass and a good job of selecting and placing the pickups. A bass does not have to sound good acoustically to sound great plugged in.

  18. themarshall


    Jun 26, 2008
    cochrane wi
    Point taken; I'm simply saying the basses that I think sound best also happen to resonate well unplugged. Or to put it another way: IMHO, if several of the same bass are lined up, the one that resonates most strongly will also sound best, all things being equal.
  19. exidor


    Jul 10, 2011
  20. LeonD

    LeonD Supporting Member

    I think I'd include the strings in with the neck and body. Then I'd break it down to things that generate the vibration (neck, body and strings) and things that amplify the vibrations (pickups and electronics).

    With the neck, body and strings, I'd be looking for the "best" vibration I could get. Then I'd want my electronics and pickups to amplify that vibration.

    The electronics will contribute to the overall sound but, that which generates the sound is the primary factor. I'd want to start with the best sound generator that I could.

    One way it was explained to me early on was to think of the neck, body and strings like a vocalist and think of the electronics like a microphone.

    If you have a great vocalist and give them a crappy microphone, they'll sound crappy. Give them a great mike and they'll sound great.

    If you have a crappy vocalist and you give them a crappy mic, they'll sound crappy. If you give them a better microphone, they will sound better than with the crappy mic but they still won't sound good.