Importance of Acoustic Instrument for Developing Tone

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by BarfanyShart, Jul 5, 2020.

  1. BarfanyShart


    Sep 19, 2019
    DC Metro
    Something that has been on my mind recently is the dogma I was raised with that the best way to develop your tone and sound quality was to play on an acoustic instrument. I heard it from all the guitar teachers and bass teachers throughout my time primarily studying classical and jazz DB. But now that I primarily play BG, I realize why so many BGers rightfully ignore this old chestnut. DB is clearly a completely different thing than BG, and i was wrong to be banging on my BG with my jazz pizz technique for all those years. ABGs are cool, but don't really produce enough volume in low frequencies to help much with tone shaping. There's just not an analogous acoustic instrument that works for what BGers would need to get something out of that kind of practice.

    That said, I do have an ABG that I string up an octave up from my BG, with similar strings and setup in order to get this kind of practice. I think it's worthwhile, especially for cleaning up articulation in fast passage and other right hand stuff.

    Thoughts? Do any other BGers see value in playing an acoustic analogue? What do you do to get that kind of benefit? Is it better to just plug your BG into a super transparent amp and headphones to get that develop of tone.
  2. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    I subscribe to the simple idea that it's best to practice what you play, which for me is electric BG. I have an ABG that I keep on a stand in the living room, but only because it's convenient to pick up at any random time when I feel inspired -- but definitely not because I think there is any other advantage beyond sheer convenience.
    mrcbass, Luigir, Planespotter and 7 others like this.
  3. Vinny_G


    Dec 1, 2011
    Having played classical guitar and piano before helped me a lot to control my attacks and have a clear and precise fingering (discipline). I think it's very useful to play an acoustic instrument to understand how the sound works.
    teh-slb and BarfanyShart like this.
  4. A boutique BG thru HiFi headphones will reveal plenty of flaws in your technique.
    gorneyg, JKos, knight of ni and 3 others like this.
  5. sean_on_bass

    sean_on_bass Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2005
    I've found that my time on the upright bass has not really made any positive effect on my electric bass tone. If anything it has possibly hindered it, and caused me to dig in more whenever i switch back to the electric. There are other aspects of my technique that were enhanced however, like my ability to stop the note and left hand shifting accuracy. I think this is just due to how an electric bass creates a sound to send to the amp, you are not micing it and you are not really capturing the acoustic tone of the instrument through magnetic pickups. With that said, you should still be paying attention to the sound coming from the amp and adjusting your technical variables to get something that sounds pleasing.
    BarfanyShart likes this.
  6. sean_on_bass

    sean_on_bass Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2005
    For another perspective, when i played alot of electric guitar i would always hear that playing acoustic helps your technique. I think it did in the sense of strengthening the left hand and teaching you to efficiently fret a note for the full note value.
    Lobster11 and BarfanyShart like this.
  7. BarfanyShart


    Sep 19, 2019
    DC Metro
    Yeah, I'm coming to the realization that DB was holding back my BG development, where I used to assume (stupidly) that all the skills transfered. I'm only now reckoning with BG on its own terms, but I'm working through a lot of hangups I've had drilled into me over years of classical study, and realizing it isn't all gospel.
  8. I was given the same when I started showing interest in electric guitars: "oh you need to master the acoustic one first, then move to electric". BS. Practice what you want to play. Feel, sensitivity, muting requirements even are all different.
  9. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    May 24, 2006
    I don’t buy the “acoustic” argument. Acoustic instruments are played differently and require a different technique.

    I think you’re much better off approaching each instrument as it’s own thing rather than assuming skills acquired on one will automatically bridge over to your next instrument.

    I started on upright bass. And while I found things like the overall concept was the same, and some things (like Simandl fingering) could be useful in certain situations on an electric bass, there wasn’t a one for one correspondence between the two.

    Fortunately, upright didn’t create any problems for me. Because I never tried to play my first electric bass as either an upright bass nor as a guitar. I just paid some attention to what other players (mostly the Motown and progrock crowd) were doing with theirs and took it from there.
  10. Ekulati

    Ekulati Supporting Member

    Jan 2, 2016
    Richmond, VA
    I think the premise MAY be true, for SOME people. But it's only an opinion. Folks who take pedagogy "seriously" have a natural propensity to think deeply about their endeavors and formulate these kinds of "truths" which become more so as they pass them to their students.

    For me, it's always important to consciously consider and tweak how you make your tone on any instrument. But I don't buy the "acoustic directly informs electric" premise.
    DrayMiles, 40Hz, Seanto and 1 other person like this.
  11. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    May 24, 2006
    Agree 100%.

    The use of the phrase “informs electric” speaks volumes of the academic pomposity behind that wording. While it may sound like something profound is being said, on even a casual closer examination it becomes obvious it’s just a piece of verbal fluff that’s not borne out in actual practice.

    In music, the devil is in the details. And anybody who plays an instrument soon realizes that “it’s just like” and “the same as” seldom holds true when it comes to technique. “Sorta” is usually closer to the mark.
    AFalseDichotomy likes this.
  12. Thegrandwazoo

    Thegrandwazoo Supporting Member

    Sep 8, 2013
    West Virginia
    I think that acoustic and electric instruments are different enough (with different enough techniques) that most of the technique aspect of them doesn't really transfer to one another for me. I don't play acoustic guitar anything like I play electric, acoustic vs electric bass guitar is a larger-still divide, and bass guitar and upright are similar in register and tuning interval alone. I think it's important as a musician to be proficient at all three if you want to play the most possible music, but I don't think playing helps much with tone on another, personally.
  13. AFalseDichotomy


    Jun 11, 2020
    I think ultimately an acoustic bass guitar is actually nothing like playing an electric, they might as well be as different as a guitar and a bass guitar. Moreover, the sound that lots of people associate with acoustic bass is the sound of piezo pickups into an amp, and not the "true" sound of an acoustic bass. I'm not sure that learning to play one would necessarily translate to the other, and the best way to improve on an instrument is still to play that particular instrument.
  14. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Inactive Suspended

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv

    Every bass, amp and genre is a little different. If you want to get a good tone, work on your bass, your amp, in your band setting. I think we all agree that the perfect bedroom tone doesn't always translate into the perfect live tone. Well, the acoustic tone is at least one step further removed from that.
  15. fermata


    Nov 10, 2015
    I agree that EBG is its own instrument and needs to be approached as such. (It's not assumed one should learn to play sax in order to get good at the clarinet, right?)

    But as someone with a long background in acoustic music, I do think playing acoustic instruments (of any sort) does teach one particularly valuable lesson: how to vary tone through technique. Or more broadly, that it is possible to vary tone through technique. (Of course, one doesn't have to play an acoustic instrument to learn this.) There's a renowned flute player, Robert Dick, who in the '70s wondered why the acoustic flute couldn't have the sonic versatility of an electric guitar or a synthesizer and developed a whole new world of possible sounds--including chords!

    I see electric players who anchor their hand in one spot and rely first and foremost on electronics (the more the better, it sometimes seems) as the sole means to vary their tone. Sure, it's an approach that electric instruments afford, but to me it's not as nuanced or musical as learning to control and vary one's tone as much as possible through technique. (I also think the electronics-first approach fuels a lot of GAS through the belief that one can buy good tone.)

    This isn't to in any way denigrate the central role electronics play for an electric instrument, just to say they shouldn't be a replacement for really getting to know an instrument deeply through technique and imagination.
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2020
    Vinny_G likes this.
  16. Tone is produced by the instrument completely differently between, for example, electric bass and acoustic bass.

    Strings work the same way, however.... so having good clear response from your strings to your ears is critical... not covered by dark electric tone or effects.

    So at the very least, get used to practicing with the treble turned up a bit so you can hear your finger noise and other mistakes that would show up on acoustic.

    That is my best advice for a bassist, since acoustic bass guitar isn't a particularly common instrument to work on regularly for most of us.

    Electric, and it's effects/amp, can cover a multitude of technique sins, though, so you want to have a revealing tone at least once in a while for your own information.

    viper4000 likes this.
  17. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    When you play the same note on different strings on an electric, there are different qualities to those notes. Some of it is acoustic - the neck behaves differently, because you're fretting/terminating the string's vibration at a different place on the neck - that affects the sustain, and to some extent, the quality of the sound. The pickup(s) position(s) also affect the sound in different ways on different strings - there's a comb filter that's different on each string, so the sound you hear is different. The strings also play a part in the sound quality.

    On an acoustic, there's a lot more acoustical stuff going on, as the instrument is more lossy - it's designed to mechanically transform some of the string's energy into sound, which affects sustain, and in general makes the thing a bit less consistent from note to note, and string to string acoustically. But, you don't have the different comb filter thing going on with an acoustic instrument. They are, although they share some similarities, two different instruments.

    Being really good at your art means you understand what your instrument will and won't do, how to get the best out of what it does and how to work around what it doesn't do. Practicing on the actual instrument you're going to play on is the best way to ingrain the right habits and learn how to make art with your chosen instrument.

    Practicing on an acoustic and playing on an electric (or the other way around) is a sure fire way to develop bad habits (things that won't work for you when you're playing in front of people) and poorer tone.
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2020
  18. Ekulati

    Ekulati Supporting Member

    Jan 2, 2016
    Richmond, VA
    LOL! YES, thanks for accusing me of"verbal fluff." I am very much a recovering academic (and had just spent time enjoying a spirited debate on the Society for Ethnomusicology email list...).

    But yeah, maybe a less fluffy way to describe what I understood OP to mean would be that his attention to tone production on DB "translates" significantly to EB.

    To which I'd suggest, yeah well, maybe sorta. Kinda.
    40Hz and Lobster11 like this.
  19. Jim Carr

    Jim Carr Dr. Jim

    Jan 21, 2006
    Denton, TX or Kailua, HI
    fEARful Kool-Aid dispensing liberal academic card-carrying union member Musicians Local 72-147
    OK, a little OT, but upright technique, shifting, fingering, etc. can be helpful on electric, not to mention fretless. The rest of my post ignores that, mostly.

    I play upright a lot, but it is amplified to be louder than a lot of guys play electric. Yes, it's psychobilly—No, don't ask.

    Tone is a big issue, including the slap, click, etc., but technique is not really. Huh? Why?

    Technique: I've been playing since 1967, and if there is something I haven't learned yet, it is either that I don't want to or can't, lol.

    Tone: Finding the right signal chain in any style is a bigger challenge on upright than on electric, believe me! Feed back is not the only reason, but it is an issue. Bringing the right signal and EQ that preserves the sound of the instrument and also works in a loud band is REALLY hard.
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2020
  20. DavC


    May 17, 2005
    Tallmadge , Ohio
    different tools for different jobs ...

    they don't naturally feel or sound the same ..

    but a variety of things can be used from one to the other ..!

    as in ; i played trumpet forever ... recorded a few trumpet tracks using a good keyboard patch that i programmed to feel/sound good to me ... using my knowledge of the acoustic instruments nuances , made my key tracks fool many previous fellow musicians into thinking i had played a real trumpet ... if such things could apply to basses or guitars .. ?!
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