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Testing a Bass Acoustically

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by flexo, Aug 17, 2005.

  1. flexo


    May 3, 2005
    Perth, Australia

    I'm just wondering how you would test a bass acoustically. What would one look for when playing it unplugged?

    The reason i ask is because i have an OLP MM2 which really resonates when i play it. The vibrations really flow through the body. Is this a sign of a good bass body?
  2. lowphatbass

    lowphatbass ****

    Feb 25, 2005
    west coast
    Personally I can tell alot about a bass playing it unplugged. All important factors like string spacing, neck profile, weight and overall feel can be easily sorted out by playing a bass dry. Other factors like overall quality and the bass' general vibe can also be determined in most cases.
    While a dry run doesn't allow me to sniff out a winner, it almost always sniffs the losers!
  3. Dr. Bobo

    Dr. Bobo

    Aug 17, 2005
    I find that if a bass doesn't sound good acoustically it usually hard to make it sound good though an amp. If it does sound good acoustically, it's generally very easy to make it sound good through an amp. I love the look on the face of salesmen when I tell them I don't want to hear a bass through an amp while I try it in a store.
  4. alansan


    Mar 12, 2004
    Dublin, Ireland
    I agree, this was one of the first things I noticed after I bought my first quality bass, an EBMM SR5. But I would add that if a bass has dead strings it rarely sounds good unplugged imo.
  5. KJung

    KJung Supporting Member

  6. Groover


    Jun 28, 2005
    Ohio, USA
    I harldy ever plug in a bass when I'm goofing around in guitar stores. I only plug in when after I've met my match unplugged.
  7. toad


    Jun 26, 2002
    I have to admit I never really understood this. If it's true that a bass that sounds bad unplugged sounds bad amped and a bass that sounds good unplugged sounds good amped, why not just plug it into your favorite amp and see what it sounds like they way everyone is going to hear it? It's not like you can't test out the feel of it while it's plugged in either.
  8. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    Sure, I test basses unplugged... but not so much for tone. This is because I've encountered many cases where I didn't like the acoustic tone of a bass, but liked it very much when I plugged it in.

    Heck, my Sadowsky is like that to a small degree: to my ears it's a little thin (compared to my Fender) when played unplugged, but it's wonderful through my amp.
  9. This is of course the rankest of opinion, but I tend to think checking out a bass unplugged is meaningless *by itself*. You never play it in any meaningful situation without plugging in, so why not just plug it in, as was said above? If you like what comes out the jack, that's what matters. Who cares how good something may sound unplugged if it doesn't sound good plugged? (And yes, I've encountered both instruments that were nice acoustically--at least compared with similar instruments--but uninspiring plugged in, as well as instruments that didn't sound like much unplugged but sounded killer plugged in.) All the things like comfort, action, weight, etc. can be tested just as well plugged in as unplugged. Anyway, my own bias is that all solidbody basses, without exception, sound boring unplugged. I have never heard a sound coming to me through the air from an unplugged solidbody that is even close to something I would want to amplify or listen to.

    This is NOT to say that the acoustic properties of the bass don't play a role in tone. They absolutely do. However, the situation with a solidbody EBG is different from that with a good URB, say, or classical guitar. With a fully acoustic instrument, the sound unplugged is, in a sense, complete in itself. It needs no amplification to become the best of what it is; all the tone is already there, and it only needs amplification to be louder. That is, a good classical is already fully functional tonally without amplification. Even a great solidbody EBG, IMO, is not: it does not have a fully functional tone without electronics. You could not just put a Neumann mike on it in the studio and get a sound you like. (Well, at least the majority of us couldn't. Maybe someone somewhere does that.) Whatever PUs you put on your EBG, you are not just making the acoustic tone louder. You are *creating* the tone with the combination of the PU's characteristics and the physical properties of the bass.

    I do, however, think there could be a use to listening to a bass unplugged, and that would be to identify a bass that is basically solid but is being poorly served by its electronics. If a bass seems to have some good sonic ingredients that would go towards a good tone if combined with better electronics, that's a sign that maybe it's worth picking up and swapping out the PUs/electronics.
  10. Scottie Johnson

    Scottie Johnson

    Sep 8, 2004
    It's a matter of taking away certain variables. If it sounds good unplugged, but crap plugged in, it's the pickups or amp, not the bass.

    There are cases where wonderful pickups can save a bad bass. Same with amps.

    However, you don't what to try and get something out of a bass that isn't there to begin with. That is the point of trying a bass acoustically.
  11. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    I would imagine that your final decision really needs to made after to listening to the bass in the conditions in which you will play it. If you play unplugged at a gig, by all means test the bass unplugged. :D Until a bass is set up correctly to your tastes with a fresh pair of strings, through your rig or a similiar one, you won't really know what it will sound or play like.
  12. HotRoded


    Jun 6, 2003
  13. Nedmundo

    Nedmundo Supporting Member

    Jan 7, 2005
    I think a bass's acoustic tone matters. As some have observed, it can weed out some clunkers. One way to test an instrument's acoustic tone is to place your ear against the upper horn while playing. This can reveal uneven output of the strings, among other problems that might be caused by poor construction or woods. I had an Ibanez SRX 500 whose D and G strings sounded incredibly weak through an amp, and when I tried this the same problem was readily apparent.

    I also think an especially resonant instrument will tend to have a punchier, more "woody" tone through an amp with all else being equal, but it might not be a huge difference, and electronics can compensate to some degree.

    My two P-basses demonstrate this. They are a '94 MIJ with rosewood fretboard and a 2004 MIA with maple board. They sound very different acoustically. The '94 has a more resonant, woody, deeper tone, probably partly due to the rosewood board. These differences are audible when played through an amp, but because pickups don't "hear" all apects of an instrument's acoustic tone, the gap narrows considerably. So yes, the '94 sounds slightly deeper and woodier (more vintage), but it isn't as dramatic a difference as I hear acoustically. And the gap narrowed even further when I installed a Seymour Duncan Hot for P-bass in the 2004.