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NEW SOUNDS : damping the strings

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by jtauban, Sep 18, 2004.

  1. jtauban


    Oct 28, 2003
    I read in an article that some bass players in the 60s 70s used to damp (/mute) the strings (sometimes even with spounges) to do some recordings. It was the first time I came accross this information, so I took the bass and experimented with a spounge. The thing is I got this wonderful sound, like an old recording of a double bass, but it changed the tuning. And the green spounge doesn't really match the sunburst finish on my thunderbird. I'm really not a pro, so I thought I'd get some help and more info from those of you who use this technique.
    What material do you use?
    Where / how do you place it?
    Do you keep the strings muted always?
    Do you use this technique live as well?
    Enough questions, i'll go back to my spounge/bass
  2. Whafrodamus


    Oct 29, 2003
    Andover, MA
    There are special mutes for basses that can be drilled on (like on stringrays or jazz basses of the early days), there's also www.bassmute.com which has a glue on one. People also use scrunchies, socks, etc. Be creative.
  3. Joe P

    Joe P

    Jul 15, 2004
    Milwaukee, WI
    We're talking about two distinctly different kinds of muting here. muting down by the bridge is an old technique, and some basses come with (or used to anyway) a mute built-in from the factory - the Rick.. is it 4001 model?... has an adjustable one built right into the bridge. I can't think of an example now, but there are several old country or standard tunes where this is really noticeable - as for as I can tell, I think they usually used a pick for this sound; it's really middy, with a woodblock-like clack at the beginning of each note (I think it sounds horrendous!). It's a distinctive sound that I don't much care for, especially when you're stuck using it for a whole song - I think it's best to learn to palm-mute for the occasional times when it might work.

    A very valuable kind of mechanical muting, though, is the 'scrunchy'-type mute. In this case the strings are muted down near the NUT - in this way strings are only muted when you are NOT fretting them! For normal playing it can really clean-up extreanious open string noise, but a rather amazing value is that it allows you to TAP down a note without plucking the string; then when you take your finger back off the string, the mute comes into effect, and stops the string vibration.

    Our band does Digging in the Dirt by Peter Gabriel. In this case I couldn't play it without the mute because I'm tapping the low-part with my right hand, and tapping a couple little high parts with my left (I just barely pull-off this song, bytheway, but I'm working on it and getting better).

    This tapping-with-scruncy (actually I use a little folded peice of velvet slid up under the strings) is not just useful for fancy two-handed tap playing like this though. I've been finding more use for this when I want a note to have a distinct 'off/on' sort of sound - more like an organ. Sometimes I do a big spread-fingered mute with my left hand, and then reach up and play by hammering with my right because of this distinct sound.

  4. That is a VERY neat idea to help minimize string noise! Roughly how large is the felt - in terms of width up/down the neck. Maybe half a fret?
  5. James Hart

    James Hart

    Feb 1, 2002
    Endorsing Artist: see profile
    I'm getting one of those for my fretless 6 (I think). I'll mount it proper, but it does come with sticky foam
  6. Joe P

    Joe P

    Jul 15, 2004
    Milwaukee, WI
    It way-minimizes open string droning, I'll tell ya.

    Now remember: most (and I mean many) bassists use a 'scrunchy' - you know; those elastic loops that ladies use in their hair. I've been using this piece of velvet though.

    This velvet strip is just about as wide as the space between the nut and first fret when it's folded in half - fuzzy side out. it's thin enough that is doesn't throw the bass out of tune - as it would if I quadrupled it - in fact I can still play the first fret, but an open string is pretty much a worthless 'thud' (the open-string note DOES actually sound though, It's just very muted).

    I think the right scrunchy would be better, but I guess I just don't know how to go about going to a ladies accessory store, and explaining what I need to the fashion consultant.

    I saw Mr. Wooten on a video, using a tiny little band only about the diameter of a pencil right up by the nut - that must just barely damp, because my big'ol rag doesn't even mute perfectly. If a song I'm playing is all up the neck a few frets, then I can put this thing way up to just behind the lowest fret I need - then it mutes'em good - you could do a Pete Townsend windmill on the thing and it wouldn't play. I think that's also one of the big advantages of the scrunchy: you can just scoot it up and down the neck to where you need it, or up behind the nut, and it's out of the picture.

    Keep in mind that I only use this for maybe five songs or something, but I want to work more on my tapping, and find a few more songs that would benefit from the extra tightness (like lately I've been using it on Going to Mexico by Steve Miller). If I got one of those little pinky-sized dougnuts, then I think I'd use it on most songs for just a tad of clean-up.

    Watch out for bubble gum on your shoes going in and out of the teeny-bopper store for your scrunchy.

  7. jtauban


    Oct 28, 2003
    Thanks for the tip about the 'nut mute'. It clean things up! But I don't tap much, barely slap (yet) and I guess i'm really more after a boomy, low , deep sound.

    I used to record the bass direct and then apply EQ (major high cut) and lots of compression to get this sound, but the recordings i've done the last few days with a bounch of spounges, velvet strips and such stuck under the strings near the bridge don't need any processing. The sound is really cool, the bass is sooo easy to mix!
    But I'm left with a major problem: the muting messes up with intonation, and it's so hard to be in tune ! Anyone has an idea how to fix that?
    Well i'll keep experimenting...
    thanks again