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Question to all heavy handed fingerstyle players

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Gwardar, May 17, 2011.

  1. Gwardar

    Gwardar Supporting Member

    May 24, 2009
    Hi Guys,

    I'm trying to play some stuff that has very fast picking and I can only play fingerstyle. To get the timing right I need to dig really hard, just simply can't play it lightly, doesn't work for me.

    So fret buzz/noise is basically guaranteed. My question is - how do you set up you bass for heavy fingerstyle, so the noise is not an issue. In some cases it could sound like a feature rather than a problem (eg. Steve Harris licks).

    In particular:

    1. String gauge - heavy are less likely to bounce of frets, but IMHO don't sound as good as the light gauge when they do

    2. Action - low vs high - same as above.

    3. Pickups - which one you use - neck or bridge or both?.

    4. Any special EQ settings. I realise this is highly dependant on the type of gear, but there may be some pointers (e.g. scoop the mids or bump the bass etc).

    Have you got a favourite bass for this style?

    Thanks in advance

  2. Luckie


    Jan 1, 2010
    Northfield MN
    If you don't want to sound heavy- handed, raise the action and use high tension strings.
    Gear wise, lowering the bass frequencies a little will keep your attacks from sounding too huge, which can happen with strong attack IME.
    Whatever sounds good to you really.
  3. Gwardar

    Gwardar Supporting Member

    May 24, 2009
    I tried to raise the action and use heavier gauge hex core strings. Still get the clank, so I'm now trying to incorporate the clank into the sound. I was cutting the highs a bit on the EQ and it sorta worked but of course everything gets muddier.

    I can sometimes see players going really, really heavy with a pick - they would have similar problem. How do they set up their basses?
  4. svp


    Mar 12, 2007
    You may check the neck to see if it needs a little relief, then adjust your action a little higher. Could be the neck needs to have the frets crowned (a few of the frets are to high compared to the rest). a top notch fret job can cure alot of problems.
  5. Freez


    Nov 8, 2008
    I'm very heavy handed, and my band loves it. It's almost like having an extra precusssionist in the band! This is the (heavy) hand God dealt you; I say embrace it, own it, and don't be afraid to show it. Smack the ____ out of that thing and let it sing! :bassist:
    comatosedragon likes this.
  6. Gwardar

    Gwardar Supporting Member

    May 24, 2009
    Sure thing, embrace I will :)
    What bass and strings are you using and how do you set it up? High action, low action? Any special EQ tricks?
  7. kevteop


    Feb 12, 2008
    York, UK
    Pick closer to the bridge. You will get a more middy sound but you won't have to worry about the strings moving around too much or fret noise.
  8. lokikallas

    lokikallas Supporting Member

    Aug 15, 2010
    los angeles
    Add a little relief, raise action a bit, pluck near the bridge, and pluck across the strings instead of down towards the body. The setup changes may make it a bit tougher to play fast tho. I actually embrace the clack and pluck hard enough to bounce the string off the fretboard on purpose.
  9. Gwardar

    Gwardar Supporting Member

    May 24, 2009
    Yes, it is tougher to play indeed. I have no problems to embrace the clank, just sometimes it doesn't sound that good. I was wondering whether there are any setup or EQ tricks.

    For example I noticed that it's best to use little or no compression. For some reason the compressor emphasises the clank in a nasty way and it gets from thumpy to just a flat clank. Also neck pickup seems to add funny "clapping" noises, while bridge one doesn't.

    Another idea I had was to use slap-like setup - so pretty much opposite to what is being suggested. Basically - low action and light gauge strings. Have you tried such setup for heavy fingerstyle? It'd be good to get some opionion before messing with the setup or shopping for diferent types of strings (which as we know can get pricey :))
  10. lokikallas

    lokikallas Supporting Member

    Aug 15, 2010
    los angeles
    Steve Harris actually gets his sound partly from bouncing the strings off the fretboard. He is also known for using flatwounds. Maybe that is the sound you are looking for? Alex Webster of Cannibal Corpse is another finger banger who bounces the strings. He has a scooped low mid tone. He definitely can play fast and with good timing.
  11. ga_edwards


    Sep 8, 2000
    UK, Essex
    He also has a very light touch tho. It's mentioned briefly in the Flight 666 film as so how he can play the fast galloping lines he does for a couple of hours, night after night. Heck, just one Maiden song kills me, let alone 20 of them in a row.

    Personally, I'm of the lighter touch brigade when it comes to fast plucking. I've raised my pickups to use as a ramp so I can glide over the strings instead of through them. Maybe a change of technique is in order.

    Even so like I say though, stuff like a lot of Maiden is still difficult to play even with a light touch. I get half way through a tune like 2 Minutes, and feel my forearm tensing up!
  12. RED J

    RED J Lol

    Jan 23, 2000
    The Entwhistle "typewriter" method utilizes the clank in a very positive way. This technique really works well with low action and fast plucking at the end of the board.I incorporated it instead of fighting it and really learned to like it.It's sort of a first two fingers style of slap, IMO. Most of my playing does tend to be heavy handed, somewhere between the end of the neck and over the pickup. ( p typically)
    The Neanderthal likes this.
  13. fhm555

    fhm555 So FOS my eyes are brown Supporting Member

    Feb 16, 2011
    I run as little volume off the bass as I can get away with and on my mexi j I set it up roughly 60/40 in favor of the neck, and tone as high as I can without excessive zipper effect when sliding on the strings. Anchored over the neck pup gives me the most volume and clank, then I just move forward or back if I need less of either. Forward if the song favors the low side and back if it favors the high side. I checked to be sure and I play between the 12th fret and just ahead of the bridge depending on where I need to be to get the best fit with the rest of the band. I good hot amp with a good EQ really helps, and if you take some time to do a little tweaking when you first set up in a new room, it can pretty much be a set and forget thing.

    I usually use medium (105 E) roundwounds, as low an action as I can get away with and a good stout bridge that does not rely on string tension to maintain adjustment and won't allow the saddles to move side to side.

    Almost forgot...on the MIM I also put in a set of model j's. The preamp in my jazz plus really helps as well so I'm thinking about trying one in the mexi j.
  14. Try raising your wrist on your plucking hand. Don't rely on your gear to get the sound you want. Work on your technique. It'll pay huge dividends in the long run. JMHO. YMMV.
    comatosedragon likes this.
  15. Freez


    Nov 8, 2008
    I play a Rick 4003, Fender Jazz, G & L SB-1, and an Epiphone Viola. I would describe my action as medium low, BUT I use mostly flats, so my string tension is higher. I keep the G & L strung with rounds, but the action on that isn't high either. Backing the treble off a bit will help tame that clack if you're getting too much. My eq varies because we play a wide range of stuff (muted McCartney bassiness on one song, loud trebly Entwistle on the next). If you have tunes that absolutely require a softer touch, you might try a pick. Gives good note clarity without needing a heavy attack. And don't let anyone tell you real bassist don't use picks, they do if that's what the song calls for. I know there are bassists out there that have a whisper touch and can get good sound that way, but I'm not one of them. And remember, they didn't call Entwistle "Thunder Fingers" because he was a soft touch!
  16. JJStarKing


    May 6, 2011
    John Wetton of middle-early King Crimson was heavy handed and I loved his sound. A bit of distortion too and I love listening to him play live whenever I can.

    Great stuff live with Roxy Music!

    But back to the thread! - I sort of have the same issue but I am working on my light touch. I'm also worried that I arm wrestle the bass too much so I'm working on relaxing my arms and letting more happen in the forearm and fingers.

    PS - Anyone have a bridge recommendation? Just got back in the game with a SX SJB-57 4+1 5-String Bass. The bridge saddles can float a bit and I would prefer to find something with more mass. Caveat - Don't have a big budget... so I would like to find something under $75 for now if possible.

    SX SJB-57 4+1 5-String Bass Sunburst at HomeOld
  17. k31bassman


    Feb 4, 2010
    I believe he has had MAJOR problems in his hand(s). Pay attention to what your body (hands and wrists) is(are) telling you if you want to have a long career!
  18. stflbn


    May 10, 2007
    A passive tone rolloff, or simply rolling back treble if active bass can terminate a lot of that.

    Also going with a higher tension string and raising your action some will kill additional.

    Just last night I went from stock EB Slinkies 45w-65w-80w-100w-130w on my Big Al 5 to Dunlop 45w-65w-85w-105w-125w and was surprised how much more tension the Dunlops had than the Slinkies. Probably going to have to lower my action some to get the slight technique things back that I was getting with the Slinkies.

  19. fryBASS


    Aug 8, 2006
    New Haven, CT
    seeing videos of his playing (KC, 1970's) I always though his technique looked rough on his hands
  20. Gwardar

    Gwardar Supporting Member

    May 24, 2009
    Thanks guys,

    I lowered the tension (it was very high) and put Ken Smith strings (I think they are hex core). Feels stiffer and they are bright enough to still have a bite even if treble is rolled back.

    I'm getting there :). Also - I recorded some playing and it was terrible, had a lot of fret noise that was ugly (souded like some clapping with sticks). Turns out it came through the mic (I used a field recorder), so it wasn't what the pickups were registering, just my fingers beating the strings. When the bass is plugged in directly the fret noise isn't that bad actually.

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