Rockabilly electric bass technique?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by PennyroyalWe, Jun 28, 2020.

  1. PennyroyalWe


    Sep 2, 2018
    I’m making a short 50’s inspired doo wop/rockabilly album, and I don’t have an upright so I’m only using electric bass. Is there a “best way” for emulating the rockabilly slap? Are there any quintessential Rockabilly electric bass recordings? So far I’ve been using my Grote Hofner club bass clone, and I think it’s working pretty well for getting a tone close to an upright. I also have a fretless telebass to use, but the sustain seemed too long for that old miced upright sound.
  2. PennyroyalWe


    Sep 2, 2018
  3. PleromicPastry

    PleromicPastry Inactive

    Jun 17, 2020
    I've had my bass a little more than a week but from my research it seems as though nylon tapewounds add to that upright double bass sound. I'm getting a set today, not only because I love that sound but also because the D'addario's are silky/smooth and are supposedly very finger friendly.
    PennyroyalWe likes this.
  4. 2saddleslab

    2saddleslab Supporting Member

    May 30, 2003
    Whatever the bass, use a foam mute under the strings near the bridge and adjust the tone knob down to taste.
    PennyroyalWe and PleromicPastry like this.
  5. Bass


    Nov 10, 2003
    I'm not sure if it's possible to emulate the slap sound.

    On an upright the click sound comes from the strings striking the fingerboard. Sometimes a piezo pickup is mounted to the fingerboard, and the signal is sent through a different channel than the bridge pickup. The sound is woody as the fingerboard is made of wood.

    Slap on an electric bass the click sound is the strings striking the frets if I'm not mistaken. Maybe this is OK, just different. I suppose you could try it on a fretless electric bass.
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2020
    AGCurry and PennyroyalWe like this.
  6. PennyroyalWe


    Sep 2, 2018
    The biggest issue I’ve run into trying to replicate the slap against the fretboard is that it causes a big harsh peak in the signal. So while it did give the click sound, it was really loud and distorted compared to the notes, and ruined the take :/ I’m starting to think maybe I’ll just record the bass played normal, then make a separate track recording the string slaps, and overlay them. Idk, it might work.
  7. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    This might work, but your music will sound like you used a bass guitar and added slaps.
  8. PennyroyalWe


    Sep 2, 2018
    Yeah, I tried a take with the p bass and it was too obviously electric. I’m thinking whatever I do I’ll probably add some plugins to give the whole recording that warm and fuzzy “old recording” sound plus a little slapback, Im hoping that will smith out the rough edges a bit. Luckily the Hofner copy has been getting a nice woody, thunky tone when I play it plucking up on the neck, so to the undiscerning listener it may sound like an upright. If that doesn’t work, well, maybe I just don’t get to have the classic rockabilly slap bass.
  9. factory presets

    factory presets

    Mar 3, 2020
    Closest I could come up with is a double thump, single pop triplet. And ghost the upstroke slap. You're not going to fool anyone. But if you get a rocking feel, I don't think they'll care.

    It might take a bit of work to make it flow. But if you nail it I expect you'd have a useful tool on the belt. Possibly a signature move. I've never heard of anyone else doing it.

    Also, if double slaps don't come naturally, you could try a single slap and double pop. And ghost that first pop. Once you get the basics, there's how to slap upright tutorials on YouTube you could adapt to the technique for a bit of variety.

    Edit. I'm a dummy. Slap with the right thumb. Then all the left hand fingers. And finish with a pop on the octave. So much easier.
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2020
    PennyroyalWe likes this.
  10. rllefebv


    Oct 17, 2000
    Newberg, Oregon
    Where in Oregon? I have an upright in storage that I'd happily lend you for however long you needed to record. It is just sitting in the dark gathering dust...

    As for using the electric, definitely a sponge under the strings near the bridge for the decay... as for the slap, a guy could get creative and fashion a wooden block to fit between the neck and pickup that sat slightly prouder than the upper frets. You'd still be able to fret down low and get the wooden "slap"... set your pickup lower into the body to avoid hitting the strings on it.

    FWIW, I play in an old time string band. A set of shoulder injuries (as well as logistics) caused me to gradually wean out the upright. In the past two years, I have built two "Cigar Box" basses that nail the sound and DIY vibe... both are pretty basic and get the job done:



    They both sound great and take hard plucking really well. I don't "slap" really, but a heavy right hand yields a very pleasing wood sound. The round bodied bass has a "too short" nut that will pop the A string if I get TOO aggressive with it, but that's rare. The square box is just all around great D:

  11. PennyroyalWe


    Sep 2, 2018
    I’m in Eugene.
    Those are super cool, I’ve got a box guitar I fashioned years ago but hadn’t thought of making a box upright-ish bass. Is that a mic stand its using as an endpin?
  12. Abington


    Dec 25, 2007
    BC, Canada
    I'd try to play with a pick and use palm muting to get the notes to have a staccato woody kind of tone. Then I would use ghost notes to emulate the percussive slap sound - I'd copy the signal, high pass one and low pass the other. Throw some compression and slap back on the high passed signal. Just off the top of my head, but sounds fun.
  13. WestyBassBob


    Mar 2, 2020
    Just came across this thread. Love the DIY upright basses.

    I’m no expert but from what I’ve gathered in talkbass a very good way to emulate the upright sound is to use non tape wound strings on a short scale. I bet if you had a hollow body it would be even better. That’s probably why the rockabillies like short scale hollow bodies so much.
  14. GooGooMuck91


    Aug 16, 2022
    I think a delay pedal set to a slight slapback gets a fairly good rockabilly tone on most basses. The question is whether you want authentic rockabilly sound, or if you just want to invoke the spirit of rockabilly. Unfortunately without a very specific setup, or an actual upright, I think it’s pretty impossible to get the exact right tone. I think someone’s comment about using a fretless is right on the money. They’re way harder to play accurately, but if you can pull it off, there’s much more potential for that woody clack because you’re not slapping a bunch of metal frets.