Playing electric bass in an acoustic band

Discussion in 'Bassists [BG]' started by yankeeredneck, Nov 23, 2021 at 6:07 PM.

  1. yankeeredneck


    My new band is all acoustic, it’s drums, lead guitar (he plays a Gibson J-45), the vocalist who most often plays rhythm on a Martin 12 string but also plays banjo on a few songs and we are looking into getting a good keyboard to incorporate more piano on his end since many/most venues no longer have a house piano, and me on bass. I play an AVRI 75 style Jazz Bass, it’s from 1999 and it’s all stock and I play through an Ampeg SB-12 Portaflex, usually with a dbx 160A compressor.

    I really like what we are doing together but something I have been struggling with is how to be loud and out there enough that my bass is always present, without overpowering the acoustic instruments, being as up front as the rhythm guitar is. Neither of the guitarists use pickups, they mic their guitars.

    I play double bass (actually, it’s my primary instrument, I came to the electric bass about a decade after I became a bassist) and I’ve found that using that instead does work quite well on an aesthetic level but we also think that the double bass brings us too far into the old time or even bluegrass direction and we are definitely oriented in a more folk rock direction.

  2. 5andFretless

    5andFretless Supporting Member

    Dec 18, 2007
    Long Island Ny
    You aren't really playing in an acoustic ensemble. I understand the guitar is an acoustic mic'd, but you have a drummer and I assume are considering an electric piano. My suggestions below probably won't apply.

    I play with an acoustic guitar and only the vocals are amplified, besides me. I'm using a Tony Franklin fretless with flats, only the P pickup selected. It is going through a compressor that is barely engaged into a Fender Rumble 500. The horn is off and everything else is on the notch except the treble, which is off. I'm running a Boss WL-50 so I walk out into the listening area to adjust my level and the vocals on the first song.

    We do lots of older John Denver, George Harrison, James Taylor type stuff. I keep it very simple with lots of whole notes, simple cord movements, etc. I leave a lot of acoustic space for the guitar and our vocals.
  3. I’ve backed up lots of acoustic acts and I would put my amp very close to me and mix myself in so it sounds good where I am and D.I. to the board with just enough signal to mix in to the stage sound a bit.
    The drummer will set the volume as always so if he can fit in the mix it shouldn’t be difficult for you.
    Sushi Box FX and Spearsy like this.
  4. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    E.Q. Back off the treble. Everyone needs their own sonic space.
  5. Jason Hollar

    Jason Hollar Jazz & Cocktails Supporting Member

    Apr 17, 2005
    Central Pa
    Why not both?

    Use your upright for the Trad tunes set and appropriate venues.

    Use your Fender when it’s a louder, bigger space, or if the load in and/or weather is questionable.
  6. WillyW

    WillyW l’art pour l’art, fonction de baise

    Dec 10, 2019
    I’m so sick of drummers using acoustic drums in electric bands!

    serve the song and the music, and y’all will be fine.
  7. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    No reason why you can't take a modern approach to the upright bass. At the same time, if volume levels dictate an amplified bass, it's your choice how to make that work.

    I've played "acoustic" gigs, where it was practically impossible to see the band through the forest of mic stands.
  8. Killing Floor

    Killing Floor Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2020
    Austin, TX
    Sounds like a cool band. I agree with @buldog5151bass that dropping your high end will help. Mix/amp just loud enough to be heard because you're in a different range. How loud are the drums? I'm assuming it's a kit, that's not intended to be a dumb question (but I guess it is). Is the drummer playing sticks? Brushes? Light touch? That would be my barometer.
    HolmeBass likes this.
  9. CallMeAl


    Dec 2, 2016
    Ithaca Ny
    I’ve played a good bit of bluegrass and other acoustic-leaning country and folk type outfits on electric bass.

    A few things like drop the treble or scoop out the mids are helpful. But my #1 go-to trick: pluck up towards the end of the fretboard where it meets the body. Always seems to round out the sound, blends nicely to support without overpowering
  10. BarfanyShart


    Sep 19, 2019
    DC Metro
    Flats, and back of the treble. Acoustic guitars with bronze strings have a lot of shimmeriness, attenuation and string noise - and you don't want to be up there competing with any of that.
  11. If there are drums, you are stuck playing to his level.

    For pure acoustic I roll of some treble on the bass, but also roll off the low end in the PA, and just use a tiny bit in the PA for presence and pitch definition, basically carry the room with my amp with a very little bit of support from the PA.

    But with drums it’s going to depend on how they are handled. If the kit is mic’ed up and in the PA it’s more like a quiet electric gig in my opinion.
    DavidEdenAria likes this.
  12. yankeeredneck



    Thanks, John Denver, James Taylor, early Dylan is where we are trying to go musically. As for electric piano, I don’t mean something like a Wurlitzer or a synth setup, I mean a keyboard that plays recorded samples from a real piano, and that’s because it’s uncommon to find a bar or concert venue these days that actually has a piano, at least in the vicinity of Boston and Providence and places in between. My EQ settings are generally bass right in the middle, mids all of the way up and treble almost all of the way down, 4 times out of 5 only on the neck pickup, other times on both with tone rolled down quite a way, I never play just the bridge with this band. I’ve found that this leverages the strengths of the Jazz Bass the best, without getting that sort of squawking sound (á la Jaco, Marcus Miller) which is great but more appropriate for jazz and jazz fusion.

    I’ve considered subbing out my Jazz Bass entirely, I also have a Gibson EB-2, which is like an EB-0 but with the body of an ES-335 instead of an SG. It was my dad’s and his bands style was very much early British Invasion influenced, he always used tapewound strings on his bass for instance. I wonder if that might be a better fit, sort of a closer approximation of the double bass.

    Just to be clear regarding our drummer, he plays a 3 piece set with mahogany shells and real skin heads, and bongos. His drumming is pretty foundational, he’s from a jazz background and isn’t really trying to rock out.
    DavidEdenAria, SteveC, Ostie and 3 others like this.
  13. Woo Fonk

    Woo Fonk

    Jul 4, 2021
    I play with a (mostly) acoustic band. Acoustic guitars, some electric guitars, drums & percussion, mandolins, banjos, uilleann pipes, tin-whistles. My P Bass with LaBella flats always fits right in the mix, no complaints..
  14. yankeeredneck



    Thanks, for the gigs we have been playing we have not been micing the drums, or my amp. We have a Shure 330 for either guitar/banjo and an Electro Voice V2 for the vocals, into a UA 4-710d preamp and then into the venue PA or a Fender PA amp that I have.
    HolmeBass likes this.
  15. Ampslut

    Ampslut Supporting Member

    May 15, 2017
    I would go with flats and a foam mute.
  16. Listen to some Peter, Paul, and Mary, or Kingston Trio before scrapping the DB.

    If that doesn’t scratch you itch, just keeping your timbre out of the guitar and or vocalist’s register as much as possible will help a lot.

    If you have a dB meter, measure your DB, then set your EB within the same parameters.
    DavidEdenAria and HolmeBass like this.
  17. I wouldn’t mic your amp, use the DI. The idea here, rolling off the lows in the bass signal in the PA, is just to provide a little presence, clarity, and crispness to help combat the boominess in the room. It should be very quiet in the PA, 90% or more, and definitely all the low end, comes from your amp, which is set just loud enough to blend on stage with the drums.

    If the boominess is still too much you will also have to roll the low end out of your amp some. But not so much that it’s all mids, that won’t support the band well.
  18. yankeeredneck


    I do use flags, La Bella Beatle Bass strings usually. As for a foam mute, you mean literally shoving a piece of foam between the pickup and the bridge like James Jamerson, or are you referring to something different?
    HolmeBass likes this.
  19. GWGuitar


    Jul 25, 2021
    Listen to the album “Sundown” by Gordon Lightfoot. It’s a lesson in bass supporting acoustic. It’s incredible how active and melodic the bass is, yet unobtrusive. It drives the arrangements so subtly, you don’t realize it.
  20. Listen to the original of Summer Breeze. Electric bass with acoustic instruments. Sounds awesome.
    DavidEdenAria, HolmeBass and GWGuitar like this.
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