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Pickup with Gut Strings

Discussion in 'Amps, Mics & Pickups [DB]' started by Troy Robey, May 21, 2012.


  1. Troy Robey

    Troy Robey

    Jun 29, 2008
    Denver, CO
    Hi all... I've been re-reading throught the gut strings threads, but thought I'd post this question here. Forgive me if there is already a thread for this...

    I use a gut G&D (Gamut Lyons, med) and Spiro mittels E&A on my Kay. I am happy with my unamplified tone and when I use a mic, but when I have to use my pickup (Underwood) the gut strings sound thin and scratchy in comparison to the steel strings. Has this generally been the experience with other gut string players? Have you had better luck with a different pickup or am I just dealing with the trade-offs in tone of having to use a pickup? Generally the Spirocores and Underwood have been a fine, reliable pairing for playing at higher volumes, but I am finding myself being distracted by the tone of the guts through the pickup. I use a pre-amp eq to to try and trim the highs and warm up the tone a little, but this only goes so far.

    Any informed perspectives would be appreciated. Thanks!
     
  2. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    Chicago
    Try using one element of the PU on the E side. I had the same gut setup as you do and it sounded really good with a Stat-B pickup.
     
  3. If that doesn't work, consider a Revolution Solo. I run the same setup as you are, with the exception of Lambert synthetic D&G, and like my sound. I can't stand the Underwood quack.
     
  4. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    Chicago
    Hmmm. Interesting. I've found guts generally amplify really well. I've tried them on both my basses, one with a Realist and one with a BassMax, and they sound great on both. I'm partial to the Realist but I think there you'll just need to experiment. There's lots of good choices out there.
     
  5. DC Bass

    DC Bass Supporting Member

    Mar 28, 2010
    Washington DC
    I agree with Marc on this- except for the Realist part- as I have never used one- and this is with all gut- no steel in the equation.
    Bassmax (which is kinda like "half of an Underwood" if you're not familiar) in the treble side wing- then just about any amp will do- even amps that typically suck for upright! lol!

    Scary easy! :hyper:

    BTW: The trick with the Underwood that Eric is talking about is an "oldie, but a GOODIE"! It's a little weird to leave that one element hanging though-I like to isolate it some how so it doesn't "flap around in the breeze"! :D

    Best of luck!

    Joe
     
  6. DC Bass

    DC Bass Supporting Member

    Mar 28, 2010
    Washington DC
    Hey Troy,

    What amp are you using, and what size speakers?

    That might shed some light...

    Joe

    EDIT- Just read your profile- I'm a little baffled! You should be set! I've found the Lyon's to be scratchy only under the bow- otherwise they are pretty dang...uh...what's the opposite of scratchy?

    Itchy? lol!

    Sorry! Couldn't resist...
     
  7. Troy Robey

    Troy Robey

    Jun 29, 2008
    Denver, CO
    Thanks guys for you input. Well, first off I'll give Eric's suggestion a try (cause its the cheapest one!). I seem to remember trying the one element on the Underwood years ago, but it was a different bass and different strings.

    But I think you guys are confirming for me what I've been in denial about; time for some new stuff! The Underwood is the only pickup I've ever owned - bought it back in 1991 (in Chicago in fact, at A440). So... I'm overdue to check out some other options. I've used a number of different pickups on loaner basses over the years, but it would be good to try a few new options on my bass.

    Joe, the amp I currently use is an SWR Natural Blonde with two 8" speakers and a horn. I usually turn the horn off to take the edge off the highs. Its an ok amp - too many bells and whistles and heavy, but it's held up surprisingly well with lots of road use and wear and tear.

    Yeah, the scratchiness I'm referring to is with the bow. I've spent a lot of time trying to get my arco together with the gut strings and getting the tone as close as possible crossing between the gut and steel strings. But when I'm running through the pickup, I avoid using the bow as much as I can. And the pizz tone is just... well, wimpy. When I'm unamplified the gut strings can overpower the steel strings a bit, but through the pickup it's the other way around.

    I appreciate your guys' feedback. I'm coming off a weekend of gigs in which I played acoustically, with a mic, and plugged in, and the comparison reinforced for me that I've got to do something differently. So... I'll see what I can do... Thanks!
     
  8. I find SWR to be not very suitable for piezo pickups. Just my opinion. I think you can do a lot better for double bass. Also, the Underwood needs to be buffered (run through a preamp) as the piezo output impedance is not matched to the input impedance on most amps, resulting in a less than satisfactory sound.
     
  9. Troy Robey

    Troy Robey

    Jun 29, 2008
    Denver, CO
    Thanks Marty. Yeah, I go through a Fishman preamp eq when I'm using the pickup. You may be right that the amp is part of the issue too. There are times when I'm running a direct line from the preamp through a good PA and the tone of the gut strings through the monitors can sound better than it does through the amp.

    Wow... new pickup, new amp... when does it end! I should also mention I've been thinking about a new bass!
     
  10. DC Bass

    DC Bass Supporting Member

    Mar 28, 2010
    Washington DC
    Troy-

    It is really, REALLY tough to get a clean sound from plain gut strings arco- but here are a few tips:

    1- Gamut Pistoys- Do some reading first, but there is a night and day difference between the Pistoy design and any other plain gut string- they're almost "magic".

    2- Black bow hair- Not sure of WHY this works, or if I am delusional about it (others report it too, so I am not the only one! :))

    3- Oak rosin.

    These three things have made a WORLD of difference for me, with the greatest gains coming with the Pistoys. Try a medium or heavier G first and change NOTHING else- I think you'll be pretty pleasantly surprised! The Pistoys aint cheap- but neither is replacing your pickup and amp! ;)

    That all said- I HATED going back and forth between steel and gut on the same bass arco- the response of the two different media was maddening for me! That was the factor that drove me to an all gut setup on my Shen.

    Joe
     
  11. Troy Robey

    Troy Robey

    Jun 29, 2008
    Denver, CO
    Thanks for the tips Joe. I'm able to manage a pretty satisfying tone with bowing the guts and steel string combination when I'm unamplified, or when I'm just using a mic. It's the sound through the pickup that is the challenge for me.

    I've tended to take the 'do the best with what I've got' approach when it comes to gear and that has worked fairly well for me. But, I think I'll fool around with some different pickups and see what I can come up with.
     
  12. If the pickup sound is thin and scratchy (bowed I assume), you need either a more damped bridge wing pickup or (better) get a pickup that is closer to the top and more away from the strings. It will also sound a bit less direct (more away from the source) but will result in a better bowing sound and darker pizz sound.

    Try a Realist, Shadow SH-965NFX or similar bridge foot pickups. You can also try a SoundClip, because you can try different positions on the bridge (closer to the strings or top), but it is expensive and not easy to manage. If you don't need too much amplification you might want to try a contact microphone on the top like the Ehrlund.
    If you have an adjustable bridge you might be able to install a First Circle. By turning it a bit the sound can drastically change, so don't restrict yourself to the position mentioned in the manual.

    The sound of a bridge wing pickup changes with pressure. The gut might have less tension than the steels and the Underwood might react to the changed bridge wing distance with a different pressure. Try using some paper or wooden shims in the bridge wing to enhance the pressure a bit (try above and below). If it sounds less good than before, remove some small amount of wood from the bridge wing to reduce the pressure on the Underwood.
     
  13. salcott

    salcott Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2007
    NYC, Inwood.
    Full Circle, just about any bass amp but SWR.
     
  14. Troy Robey

    Troy Robey

    Jun 29, 2008
    Denver, CO
    Thanks for the suggestions... I'm going to be on the road for part of this summer and I'll have my own bass with me (as opposed to rentals/loaners), so I'm hoping I'll be able to hit some different stores and maybe borrow some pickups from some different players so I can try some options before committing to buy.

    Yeah, it's a pizz and arco thing both. The Underwood was fine for me when I was using all spirocores, but since I switched to the gut strings its not cutting it anymore. I really love the guts and plan on keeping them, I just need to figure out a new pickup. I'm overdue to try some different ones... it'll be fun. I'll try and keep ya'll posted. Thanks!
     
  15. Troy Robey

    Troy Robey

    Jun 29, 2008
    Denver, CO
    Ha, ha.. another SWR hater. I know it's not the greatest amp in the world. I've used much better, believe me, but its all I've got at the moment. Its biggest asset is it's been reliable. I've dropped it more times than I can remember and used it on 100's and 100's of gigs and it's kept on ticking. My problem is I use stuff until it dies... my strings stay on for years, my rosin lasts until it's gone, my bow gets rehaired, well, I'll get it rehaired at some point! You get the picture. But it's good to try new stuff too...
     
  16. Maybe your amped sound idea is too close to your Spiro experience. The guts are much darker amplified. The nasal bowing of the guts will become darker when the pickup is closer to the top, but the pizz will get darker too.

    Trying is a good idea. You might want to check out the Realist Wood or the Shadow NFX instead of the standard copper Realist since it presses a disk into your top. The Full Circle will sound better (for your problem) upside down if mounting this way is possible.
    You might want to try a SoundClip to find out where on the bridge the bowed vs. pizzed sounds best. It might give you a hint which kind of constantly mounted pickup would be good to try next.
     
  17. Troy Robey

    Troy Robey

    Jun 29, 2008
    Denver, CO
    ... I must say, somewhat smugly, that the initial suggestion (and by far the simplest and cheapest) by Eric is working for me. At least tonight it did. I played a bar gig with a folk/country band and just used one element of the Underwood pickup on the E side of the bridge and the gut strings were much more even with the steel strings in tone and volume. I didn't play arco much, but it'll be fine for now.

    I say I'm smug just because I'm happy to have a simple solution that works with the stuff I've already got, though I do appreciate everyone's suggestions for different pickups. I'll still experiment with some at some point in the near future... I'm just glad to not have to be in a hurry to shell out a bunch of extra $$ right now.

    I'll try it out again tomorrow night in a different room with a different band and see how it goes...

    Thanks again!
     
  18. As long as the volume of all four strings are picked up equally well, go for it.

    I have a 5-string that looses volume on the higher strings if use only one element of the bridge wing pickup, so I need both. But I have a thick bridge and top and a 5-string, maybe even the soundpost position (a bit close to the bridge when I tried it) might influence it.

    You only can try. Good that the simple solution works for you.
     
  19. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    Chicago
    That's great, Troy! I discovered this for myself playing a concert with the great jazz saxophonist, Sam Rivers. We were in the middle of a tune and all of a sudden my bass sounded so much more open, full, and resonant. Very confusing at first. At some point I looked down and saw that one of my Underwood elements had slipped out of its position and was hanging there. That was it for me, I never used it again.
     
  20. Troy Robey

    Troy Robey

    Jun 29, 2008
    Denver, CO
    Nice serendipity story with Sam Rivers. Wow, what a great way to remember that discovery!

    I will be telling folks that it was the great jazz bassist Eric Hochberg who gave me the suggestion!
     

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