It's all in the fingers? About right handed technique (mostly!)

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by WarriorJoe7, Mar 13, 2004.

  1. WarriorJoe7

    WarriorJoe7 Banned

    Mar 12, 2004
    Syracuse, NY
    Why does my fingerstyle sound like a pick?

    OK, part question and part funny story...

    This happened about 2 years ago...

    I had been playing at my church and one of the sound guys was always irritated with me because my tone was too trebly. He was always telling me to cut my treble. Of course he was an older guy, and I'm only mentioning this because it seems in my limited experience that the older generation would rather feel the bass more than hear it. I guess we didn't see eye to eye on that.

    Anyways around the same time, I was taking bass classes at the church and we had reach the end of a quarter of teaching. At the end of the quarter all the different instrument classes join together for one big jam and people rotated in and out for each instrument. We may play the same song 4 or 5 times so everyone gets a chance on their instrument that they had been taking classes for.

    So It's my turn to get up there, and me being one of the more experienced (that's not saying much) bassists I usually played last so that I wouldn't discourage the less experienced bassists. I decide I wanted to try the bass that was up there from the guy who played before me. He had sounded really good on it.

    So I get up there and hit a few notes just to get a feel for the neck and how good the setup is. The afforementioned older guy immediately looks at me and says turn that treble down and asks me why I turned it up. I in fact didn't touch a thing. And to prove it the guy who had been playing it before was still in the process of leaving the stage so I called him back over and had him play a few notes. He sounded the same as before but I still sounded way different.

    That was when it hit me that my fingers sound way different than everyone else's. I sound like I am playing with a pick (though with a pick I can go faster.) After that I started to compare myself to other bassists and found that I always sounded brighter.

    So I tried to figure out why and I came up with a few things... I think all of them are right hand related (for a right handed bassist.)

    FIrst of all, I have skinny bony long fingers... I am 6'3" and only 175 lbs. My hands are so skinny that they look like a woman's hands, only much larger. Along with the tips of my fingers not being very wide, there is not much padding on my fingertips. I am not sure exactly if this is one reason I sound brighter but it may be.

    Another reason is that I like to keep a little bit of fingernail on my fingers. Not long but like so you can see a millimeter or so of white where the fingernail is not connected to flesh. I have found when I accidentally cut my fingernails too short I lose a little bit of an edge to my sound (and I don't like it!) Even though it doesn't look like I'm playing with my fingernails (I can't tell through feel because my fingernails have no nerves in them) I must be, because it makes a slight difference when my nails are cut too short. So that one I can prove.

    I have also learned since then (and even had an inkling of an idea beforehand) that I play closer to the bridge than most. But I have learned to play at different lengths from the bridge to make the sound thicker or brighter. I have experimented and found that thick sounds good for slow and deep songs and if you want articulation for a quick fill or a quick song then go over the bridge pickup or closer to the bridge. So now I am all over the neck. My experiements went so far that I discovered if you finger pick 12 frets up from the note you are fretting (yes, actually picking over the fretboard mostly) you get a really thick ringing note that almost sounds like a ring modulator... anyone else notice that? And that if you go farther down the neck and play real close to the fretted note it sounds exactly like the same distance from the bridge but with a little less bite and string noise. So much for experimentation.

    I also notice that for the most part I have a light touch on my right hand (which I would think makes it thicker but I guess not.) I have since learned to vary my touch to change the sound.

    I also noticed that I play with my fingers more perpendicular to the strings than most... probably has something to do with having really long arms and long fingers. When I play with my fingers flatter it sounds a little thicker but not much since I dont have much meat on my bones anyways. I get more tone difference by moving closer/ farther from the neck or bridge.

    I have also noticed that now since I have tried all of this I do different things for different notes, and even the notes are treated differently based on the style of the song. This has helped me make my playing way more distinctive and interesting. I think this is what people refer to when they say articulation?

    I guess sometimes I wish my tone was thicker, but I really love the bright sound I get too. I have embraced it from the beginning. Is there any other natural technique I can do to get different sounds besides the obvious ones... (panning the pickups, eq (which I actually hate, too harsh, uneven, and unnatural), slap/pop (which makes me even brighter.) I am here to pass on what I already know and learn what I don't.

    I have been playing as a guest with a cool funk/ r&b band and usually get to play 2 or 3 songs with them every week when I want. I noticed that their regular bassist plays like some of the old school players where they have the thumbrest below the strings. They put their 4 fingers down by the thumbrest and play by stroking their thumb downwards over the strings. He has a really really thick round tone that is perfect for r&b. I however when I play, though having a good feel for the music but sound too bright IMHO for that style of music. Wondering how to thicken up my fingerstyle without eqing too much?

    I think this a real interesting subject and would like to hear your experiences too...
  2. dTune


    Feb 28, 2004
    Whew, that's a long post.. :p

    I've noticed the fingernail-issue too. Nails don't need to be long, just a little longer than usual to get that "picky" sound, especially on a little older strings. It's strange how little does the difference.

    From my cl.guitar times, i learned that the nails have a HUGE effect on how you sound. If nails weren't filed, there was this scratchy sound all the time. But luckily, with bass it's not that accurate. The biggest different issue is that classical guitar is a) aqoustic and b) all the strings aren't wounded. But this is a bit off topic, sorry, got carried away :D

    Playing with the thumb (not slapping) and playing over the fretboard gives the deepest sound, at least what i've found out. There's also a difference in playing with straight fingers (like most bassists) and bent fingers (like quitarists who play w/ fingers). The straight finger techinque gives a lot deeper sound also, and also more volume.
  3. long post, skim read the last half.. but i get the jist of what you're saying.

    i guess it makes sense.. although it does sound somewhat strange to me (i teach 40 odd students a week and haven't come across this). But, you seem pretty clued in to whats going on, so i can't really comment without meeting you in person and seeing your hands!

    all i can add is that you should definately check out palm muting if you are looking for a fatter/deeper tone. do a search here and i'm sure there'll be heaps of threads to get you started. ... i did a quick search in youtube and this was the first thing i found

    i just listened to those clips of the LP pickups in your other thread. don't be afraid to dig in a bit.. "follow through" the string with your fingers and really try to "pull" the tone out of the string. it sounds to me (although it's hard to tell without seeing your right hand) that the contact point between the string/finger is towards the tip of your finger - try get that contact point back a bit, getting as much meat in there as you can! as i said, hard to tell, but thats definately what it sounds like.

    also, the "12 frets up" thing.. i'd say that has something to do with the harmonics and overtones of the string. if you're really shooting to get that, then focus more an halving, or dividing into 4, the string length (after you've fretted). "12 frets up" doesn't sound right to me, as the string length will constantly vary depending where you fret.

    good luck, and hope it helps.
  4. Fretlessboy


    Nov 29, 2007
    St Augustine Florida
    Endorsing artist GENZ BENZ/HERCULES STANDS/XSonics
    Start with cutting your nails back. I myself keep nail clipers and a file in my gig bag. Thank will change the sound tremendously. Once you get your nails out of the equasion, start looking at where you pick your bass. If you are picking over the bridge pickup it will be pickish due to the lack of string movement vs in the neck possition. Here again without seeing you play this is a hard call. If the majority of your tip is bone the attack will be pronounced. Any chance of getting a clean video of you playing?
  5. Ten Four One

    Ten Four One

    Dec 5, 2006
    Another way to alter your technique to get a deeper tone is to play with your thumb only. You rest your fingers below the strings & play with down strokes using your thumb. You can only play about half as fast, but you get a much fatter sound since your thumb will probably be much fatter.

    If you're playing exactly midway down the string, you're doing two things. First, you're getting the maximum amount of fundamental out of the string, and second, as other people have mentioned, you're getting a lot of the first harmonic overtone one octave above the fundamental. I talk a bit about harmonics here.

    Another way tone varies from person to person is the force & direction they apply to the string - stronger attack means more overtones/more trebly, as well as more clack from potentially hitting the frets, etc. A softer attack will have more fundamental and a deeper tone.
  6. WarriorJoe7

    WarriorJoe7 Banned

    Mar 12, 2004
    Syracuse, NY
    It's funny because this was my first post ever on TB and now it is 4 years later. I actually like my trebly sound so it doesn't bother me and I have been in a variety of bands and no one has ever complained, or atleast not openly. So I am happy with it and I am aware of it also. I am just naturally bright and trebly. I don't really want to change my right hand technique much because I am happy with everything on the right hand except I wish I was faster.
  7. I'm not gonna feel guilty bumping this up again. I just gotta say that I feel completely the same way. Except no one ever really complained about my tone, but I have very similar hands to you, and sometimes I wonder why I don't get a very thick tone. But whatever, I embrace it, and I think my fingers make good for tapping.
  8. WarriorJoe7

    WarriorJoe7 Banned

    Mar 12, 2004
    Syracuse, NY
    Whoa! Holy cow... my first post ever. I ramble on and on LOL