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Let's Talk Tone - Basic right hand technique for different tonal varieties??

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by The Clap, Sep 5, 2004.

  1. The Clap

    The Clap

    Jan 5, 2004
    Scottsdale, AZ
    Well, as the title may have overarticulated, I'm interested in how you've been able to achieve different sounds from a bass with only a change in touch. Things like pickup height and action also factor in here, but I'm really struggling to get a good fingerstyle tone, and I would like some specific pointers for different tones if at all possible.

    Where do you play in relation to the bridge, how hard do you pluck, and HOW do you pluck to achieve different tones? Everything instructional that I've ever read has been vague, only alluding to the fact that right hand technique does affect a player's tone.. but that's it. Any information or current perspective based on experience would be very much appreciated, as I've tried a lot of things but never really found any new technique that I could stick to. Please help with my all too common and ever-changing quest for tone!
  2. montrell


    Mar 11, 2004
    couple of (really general) things I've noticed:

    1) when you pluck the strings *towards* the pickup, you generally get a bassier sound than if you pluck it *across* the pickup (ie like a guitar). Of course, you don't have to push exactly perpendicularly, but keep that in mind. In fact, go try it.

    2) the closer to the neck you pluck the string, the more you'll hear the fundamental frequency of the note (it sounds mellower, or rounder). If you pluck right next to the bridge, you'll hear more higher-frequency harmonics (brighter, or growlier). in addition to moving your fingers around, you can turn up the volume on each set of pickups to get more of each type of sound.

    Thats just talking about "tone", but if you factor in the way you attack/mute the notes you can get a whole variety of sounds, from really short and punchy to very sustained and creamy. (I can't believe I just used that word...it's late though, and I'm tired ;)

    As for how hard to pluck, that depends on a lot of things, like how high the action is and how loud your amp is turned up. just use your ears until you find the sound you like.

    I don't know if this has been specific enough, but ask away if it wasn't.
  3. The closer to the neck you pluck, the warmer and less defined your sound will be. the closer to the bridge you pluck, the more articulate and arguably punchy your sound will be. Plucking hard gives an aggressive sound, while plucking lightly gives more of an even sound.
  4. Yeah, you can turn up the amp really loud and then play really softly for that jazz sound. Also, experiment plucking with different fingers, especially the less-calloused fingers such as your pinky. Try plucking with the tips of your fingers like a guitar, and then try plucking with the pads of your fingers, by simply placing your finger flat on the string and then pushing down: then let your finger slide off the string, sounding the string.
  5. The Clap

    The Clap

    Jan 5, 2004
    Scottsdale, AZ
    I do a lot of reading here on TB, so I'm familiar with most of the suggestions so far, but thanks for the clarification in any case. I guess my question is, well, so good fingerstyle tone is largely the product of practice, proper technique and finger control? In that case, are there any good exercises specifically targeted to help with consistent and correct striking of the strings?
  6. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Why are you restricting it to right-hand technique? For me, your fretting hand has a big impact on tone and that's where you get things like ghost notes, mwah on fretless,vibrato etc. etc.
  7. The Clap

    The Clap

    Jan 5, 2004
    Scottsdale, AZ
    That's a good point. It's a personal thing though, as I've played the 6 string guitar for years, and my fretting hand is more than up to snuff in comparison to my striking hand. It's something I've struggled with in making the transition to bass; there seems to be so much more fretting-hand oriented instruction online that it's been all I can do to inform my right hand on technique from things on this very forum. Inevitably, I think I'll just need to find a teacher to really set my playing in the right direction, but I love online help too - so thanks!
  8. CJK84


    Jan 22, 2004
    Maria Stein, OH

    Plucking with the tips of your fingers gives a sound rich in higher-frequency overtones.

    To get a more rounded, fundamental-heavy, tone, use more of the finger's pad.

    Also, be aware that, because the index generally has less fleshy tissue at the tip than the middle digit does, it will tend to give a slightly more trebly quality to the the sound of the plucked string.

    Good luck.
  9. Sonorous


    Oct 1, 2003
    Denton, TX
    I'm curious as to why you're asking us.

    You could take your bass and amp and figure it all out within 10 minutes.

    *I pluck here and it sounds like this, but over here it sounds a little different. If I do this...*
  10. Joe P

    Joe P

    Jul 15, 2004
    Milwaukee, WI
    Wow - you really think right hand technique is that simple?

    I don't think so. There are many, many varibles that both abviously and subtly effect attack and tone. Most of us here will agree, and most bass players that don't agree don't see the value in networking with other bassists to discuss the fine points, so they won't be found darkening the door here at TB.

    Keep seeking, Mr. Clap. Start seeking Mr. Sonorous

  11. dTune


    Feb 28, 2004
    One thing not mentioned here is that there's also a difference in whether or not you keep the tip of the finger stiff when plucking the string, meaning if the last joint of your finger bends back just before it goes through the string.

    The effect is similar as the difference between a pick and fingers, only not as nearly as big. When the finger bends, you get a bassier tone, when it doesn't, it's more like with a pick. I think its because the nail hits the string, or because when it bends there's just more flesh on the string.
  12. Sonorous


    Oct 1, 2003
    Denton, TX

    Though not just the location of were you play, which is why I put the "..." (forgot the name, starts with an e). I simply started with the location of where you play because it tends to be the most obvious.

    The rest is not' difficult to comprehend and can easily be figured out in a short amount of time while paying close attention and using common sense.
  13. Matt Till

    Matt Till

    Jun 1, 2002
    Edinboro, PA

    eh, yeah... me too.
  14. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    I'm not so sure figuring your right hand sound out is a simple process but it is an individual one. No matter how many suggestions you get, there is no replacement for just messing around and finding out on your own. I suggest doing it in the context of your band. You might find a sound that you love at home and hate with a group. Think of a band as a total picture to your audience. Think of how you fit into that picture. That might even be based on your drummer's tuning, your guitar player's sound, your singer's voice, horns, etc. A great tone that doesn't fit with your playing situation will only impress bass players in the audience and maybe not even them.