"The Curse of the Sloppy B" -- A Classic Problem

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by BLU Dragon, Jun 22, 2002.

  1. First, let me clarify. I am NOT collecting stories about prostitutes with extremely poor personal hygiene. While this might make for an interesting discussion, it probably falls outside of the purview of this board. Besides, let's not forget that this is a PG-rated board, gang.

    O.K. Now that we've gotten that out of the way....

    The problem that I find myself dealing with is one that many of you have probably run into before -- a five string with no clarity or definition on the low B string. While I have played bass for about a quarter of a century, I had never messed around with a five string before, until recently. However, since I've started getting back into playing quite a bit again, I decided to try a few new things, including giving a five-string a whirl. So, I bought a cheap one to try it out to see if I might like it. I had gotten myself all excited about all the new tonal possibilities that would become available to me with that extra third of an octave or so in range. However, now that I have one, I find that the new tonal colors that are now available to me consist only of varying shades of mud.

    It is my understanding that this is generally considered to be a speaker cabinet problem, rather than an instrument problem, correct? Remember, the bass is by no means an expensive, hand-made instrument. It's a Robert DeLeo "Diamond Series" model, by Schecter. The main criteria that I was looking for was that it have a P/J pickup configuration, which is pretty hard to find in a fiver, as it turns out. My options were pretty much limited to a Mike Lull (at about three grand), having the Fender Custom Shop build one to my specs (also big bucks), or the Schecter. When I found the Schecter on e-Bay for $250 (a closeout), that made the decision for me. I understand that some bass manufacturers use various strategies to firm up the sound of the B string, such as the "fanned fret approach" of the Dingwall basses, which allows you to have a longer string scale length for the lower-pitched strings. The Schecter, on the other hand, is a traditional, 34" scale bass. So, maybe the solution is to just get a better five string. If you think the problem is primarily the bass, then let me know. (I do understand that this means I'm posting on the wrong thread.)

    However, you should also know that I play through 15" JBL's. From what I have been reading on this board, it seems to be the general opinion that it is the speaker cabinet that is usually the primary cause of murkyness in the lower register. I have been completely satisfied with the JBL's for more than two decades. But, then again, I've never played a five string through 'em, before, either. (My main axe is a '66 Jazz.) So, perhaps, I need to consider another possible solution: Add some 10's to the speaker array. The main problem with this is that I'm still totally jazzed about the sound I get when I'm crankin' through those mighty 15's. Every time I hear that sound, it reminds me of why I became a bass player in the first place. (It's hard to put a price on that, man.) So, I don't have a problem with the basic sound I'm getting from the cabinets; I just want to be able to hear notes instead of mush when I play on the B string. So, is there a way to keep the thunder of the 15's while getting more definition on the B string? I also know a lot of you use a 1x15 and a 2x10. Would adding a 210 cab along with one of the 15's give me what I'm looking for? Would a 212 be better? (Either in addition to one of the 15's or possibly by itself as a replacement for the two JBL 15 cabs. I've heard people say that 12's give you "the best of both worlds," meaning the tightness of tens with that low end "whump" of 15's.) Would I need to biamp to get the most out of this type of system? (There's a built-in crossover in my Rane comp/limiter, so that wouldn't be much of a problem.) I know that a lot of people like one brand of 210 over another. Some feel that you get plenty of low end out of a 210 (certain ones at least). There was a recent thread on this. But does "lots of low end" mean that you really get that low end rumble that I've come to expect from the 15's?

    Is there an interim solution that I can try using electronics? I have a Rane PE15, which is a five-band parametric eq. Could I just roll off the frequency response at about 30 or 40 hz. and "clean up" the B string by doing that? I realize that the Low B is at 31 hz., but I also understand that, even if I cut the fundamental down a few db's, you would still hear the pitch due to the psychoacoustic tendency of the human ear to imagine the sound even when it's not there (as long as the other harmonics remain intact). Would this get me by for awhile, at least until I can make other arrangements? Or would it compromise that "big boom" sound I'm going for with the 15" speakers, if I were to cut the lowest register enough to tighten up the sound of the B string?

    Thank you in advance for your help.

    p.s. This problem seems to occur no matter which amp I use. However, both of the bass heads (a Yamaha B100 and an SVT III) and the preamp/power amp rig all feed through the JBL's. I also have two combos, both SWR. The Bassic Black has a 15" and the Workingman's 10 has a single 10". Both also have tweeters, which I keep turned off because -- well, because tweeters are an abomination on a bass amp! (Just MHO, of course -- please note my signature line.) ;) The B string definitely sounds mushy through the Bassic Black, as well. So, it seems that the 15" speakers are the common link (and the bass, of course). I don't remember if I've played it through the Workingman's 10, but I just assume it won't sound very good because pretty much everything sounds like crap through that amp. (I bought it for size and convenience, not for monster tone.)
  2. bassmanjones


    Feb 23, 2002
    Boston, MA
    IMO, when there's a B string problem 99% of the time it's a bass problem. And generally, it's a problem that happens on cheaper basses. More than likely it isn't your amp.
  3. change your strings to a higher tension string... possibly Ernie Ball slinkies... thats what i have on mine. and my bass is 34" scale. and the ernie balls have a fairly high tension i think and it made the b sound a whole lot better that it did w/factory strings!
  4. Cool. I never would have thought of that. Thanks, guys. :cool:
  5. Matt Morgan

    Matt Morgan Fellow Conspirator Supporting Member

    Oct 21, 2001
    Plano, TX
    I'm sure some will respond differently but I've found that a 35" scale instrument makes a big difference in the performance of the B string. The higher string tension provides a much more solid feel, better response and better tone to me anyway. Just my two cents.
  6. Well, I have considered getting one of those fanned fret replacement necks for it. (I assume they make 'em for a five string.) But, since it seems pretty much unanimous that this is a bass problem and not a speaker cabinet problem, I guess that we are now officially *off topic*. I could repost over on the "Basses" section. Or, maybe we can get a nice moderator-type person to just move the whole thing over -- replies and all?

    Thanks to all for your suggestions. :)
  7. (Maybe this is too obvious a question to ask, but I think I'll do so anyway.) So, some of you are playing your five string axes through 15" cabs, without a muddiness problem, right? Did you have to do anything different with your sound to get it to sound clear?
  8. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Supporting Member

    It might just be a string problem. Experiment with different types of strings. When my used Fender RB5 arrived (34" scale), the strings were dead... no huge surprise there, but when I installed a fresh set my B-string was still dead. I was very worried that I had a dud bass, but I tried yet another set of strings (Labella Hard Rockin' Steels, the kind that Roscoe Beck uses) and all five strings sound fantastic. It's very important to remember that sometimes you get a dud string out of the box, especially B and E.

    Also note that it could be an intonation problem... intonation is especially critical for lower strings. If your bass isn't already properly set up and intonated, have that done ASAP.
  9. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Supporting Member

    Oh... I've been using 10" exclusively since before I began on 5-string; no experience with a fiver through 15".
  10. i play my 5 through a 12" speaker and it works good (only 15-25 watts though goign to have to check that out)

    playing a 5er through jsut 15s would definately make it sound muddy... try adding a 2x10 cab on top with highs going to that and then a 15 for the lows... should help clear things up...

    that or EQ a good portion of your low frequencies out of the mix and put in some high mid/highs in to kindof clear it up.

    on my head for my 12 this is the way the eq is set...Low 5.5 low mids 3 high mids 1 highs 1.5

    that scale is 0-10 on a knob... hope this info helps ya clear up the sound...
  11. These are some very good points, Fuzzbass. I haven't changed the factory strings, so far. They still sounded pretty "fresh" when I got it. They're starting to lose a little bit of that "newness," now. And, I assumed that the intonation would be set correctly for the strings when it left the factory. But, perhaps that's not the case. I wouldn't know how to set the intonation on my own, I always thought you needed a strobe tuner for that. I only change my own strings when I'm buying the exact same type and gauge of strings as I had before. I always have the music store install the strings and check my intonation with a strobe tuner every time I change to a different set of strings.
  12. gfab333


    Mar 22, 2000
    Honolulu, Hawaii
    Do I understand your post correctly? are your JBLs 20 years old?

    I used to play through D140s and then, I think, it was E140s during the period 1975-1989. I also used those Acoustic-style 18" folded horns. The JBLs performed and sounded great at the time, given the playing styles, the desired tone, and the basses of that time period.

    The desired tone today is somewhat different than that of yester-year. Many people want a quick, responsive, dynamic, punchiness sound in their speaker performance. By quick, I'm refering to fast speaker cone excursions, as opposed to slow ones; this translates to a punchy tone as opposed to a smooth round deep tone. This quick punchy speaker performance generally gives rise to a clear punchy B (although, as earlier mentioned, a cheap bass or an underpowerwed amp can also be the culprit for muddiness). The old 15" JBLs can't provide this kind of performance IMHO. They're not a quick as today's speakers, and were noted for a deep rounded bottom. Speaker technology has come a long way since the 70s-80s.

    Try a combination of newer cabs (2-10s & 1X15, 4-10s, 8-10s, etc.) with your Ampeg or other high powered amp, and I'm sure that you'll hear a difference. Also, just for comparisons sake, take your bass and do an A/B comparison with a friend's Lakland, Sadowsky, MTD, Modulus, Musicman, Alembic, etc. five string. These basses are known to have a good sounding B string. you can then determine if your bass's B string is the problem.
  13. Yes, sir, that would be correct. I gigged pretty heavily with 'em for about 13 years, then got out of music for about a decade. They're old enough to buy beer.

    I'm sure that there have been big developments in speaker technology. For example, I understand that there is now some work being done with Neodymium as a magnet material to dramatically reduce the weight of the speakers. However, the JBL's were considered to have a pretty impressive transient response in their day. The E 140's were used in the big JBL concert systems when they came out, and are still being sold today. (They're the exact same speakers, I believe.) From what I understand, a lot of the cabinets being sold today have speaker components made by companies such as Celestion which, as far as I know, are still being made with the same technology that was being used decades ago. Are you sure that these JBL's wouldn't still compare favorably to a modern speaker by some other manufacturer?

    Are you saying that you feel that it will be impossible to get a good, clear B string tone from them, due to their size, age, design, or some another factor?
  14. Good to hear from you again, PBG. I'm starting to feel pretty good about this. Sounds like I might get out of this little problem without it costing a small fortune, for once. I think I'm going to try a set of Slinky's and have the bridge strobe tuned at the music store when I get them.

    Then, we'll see what happens. I still might consider doing some other mods to the bass (such as a fanned-fret replacement neck). I got the bass so cheap, I don't mind tinkering around with it a bit. Like I said, this is just sort of my first, experimental foray into the world of five strings.
  15. gfab333


    Mar 22, 2000
    Honolulu, Hawaii
    I wouldn't say impossible, but maybe a little more difficult.

    Your absolutely right, JBLs were impressive in their day. I personally thought they were the best 15" bass speakers in the world back in the 1970s. Athough speakers from the old days vs. present day look pretty much the same, and I'm no expert, my ears and my experience with playing through a variety of old and new cabs tell me that improvements have been been made in speaker technology in the areas of cones, magnet structure, speaker transient response, etc. One way to put it, is that there is no 2-10 cab from 1975 that can put out like the Edens, SWR, EAs, etc. of today. Again, I'm no expert, I'm just sharing what I hear, and my other experiences with you.

    My only humble suggestion to figure this out would be to try your bass out at full volume on a gig with one of these newer cabs, if you can manage to borrow one. Or perhaps play through someone elses rig at a jam session. You could then eliminate the question about the speakers being the problem.

    I'll tell you what sold me on new 10s vs. old 15s. Back 13 years ago when I was running two separate 15" cabs bi-amped with a 10 + horn JBL cab, I scoffed at the thought of using a cab which was loaded only with 10s. I used to think that 10s are for wimps and 15s are for real bassplayers. My GK800 really kicked a lot of low end butt through those two 15s. One night I went to a jam session, and the house bass bassman was running two new Eden 2-10Ts with a Demeter preamp and a 500+ watt power amp. the 130 B string that I had on my Peavey TL-5 came to life with incredible dynamic punch and clarity. Don't get me wrong, my 15s sounded great to me, but I achieved another level of B string punchiness and clarity when I tried this guy's rig out. Ah-hah! I figured it must be these new 10" cabs + lots of power = clean punchy B.

    Ofcourse, this is all comes down to personal preferences. Best wishes to you on your quest.
  16. Just a minute ago, I went down and fired up the five string, and checked the tuning and intonation with my Boss foot pedal tuner (a TU-2 or something like that?)

    Checking the intonation roughly by ear, first, and then by the tuner, the strings all seem to be pretty much in tune with themselves on the open string, the first octave harmonic (over the 12th fret), and the second octave harmonic (over the 5th fret). So, while I'm sure this would not be as accurate as using a $300 Conn or Peterson strobe tuner, I don't think there's an intonation problem with the axe.

    I will still look into trying a different set of strings and maybe some other stuff (like a different bridge, perhaps, although the bridge on it looks pretty substantial).

    Thanks for all the help! :)
  17. O.K. I think I've figured out what the problem is. I was talking with a TalkBasser by email about the axe, trying to troubleshoot the problem. As I described the bass in detail to him, I told him a little fact about the bass that I had neglected to mention on this thread, and realized that this would explain the problem I was having. None of you would have ever guessed what was wrong because, in my foolishness, I forgot to mention the most important factor to consider. Bottom line: It's a problem with the bass. So, you wanna know what the problem is? O.K. Here we go:

    As I mentioned, I got the bass very, very cheaply on eBay ($250). The reason it was going for such a price is that Schecter had decided to switch the PUPS on the Robert DeLeo model to EMG's from the hot-rodded Duncan designed PUPS on the earlier model. They also had a limitted number of these basses get manufactured with the pickups slightly offset from center. So, they unloaded a whole bunch of these things at a closeout price -- with the ones with the off-center PUPS mixed in with the ones that were O.K. There were several floating around eBay for a few weeks. Well, I wanted the earlier model, cause I like hot Duncan PUPS, especially on a P-bass and, as I mentioned, it was extremely hard to find a five string with a PJ pickup configuration. I bought the last of the five strings with this pickup configuration. At the time, I was aware of the problem with some of these basses (I had heard about this problem on TalkBass, in fact) and knew this was one of the "blem" basses when I bought it. The dealer offered to let me return it if I wasn't satisfied.

    I assumed that this would not cause a problem. After all, I remember a really cool Kaye bass that I used to play in the High School band that had a six coil guitar pickup in it. I figured that, since the distance from the pickup coil to the strings was greater than the distance between the coils, the exact placement of the pickup coils was unimportant. I just figured the PUP basically threw out kind of a hemispherical pickup pattern and the strings were actually getting picked up by a combination of all the pickup coils. So, I assumed that this would be no problem. If it was a problem, I figured I was covered since I could either return the bass, have a guitar tech move the pickups (I was buying the bass cheaply, after all) or, if it turned out that I just hated playing a five string, I could probably sell it for what I had put into it, considering that a new one cost more than twice as much.

    Well, when I got the bass, I noticed that all five strings came across at pretty much the same volume, so I figured that my theory about pickups had been confirmed and there would be no problem. I promptly put it out of my mind and never thought another thing about it. However, when I was playing around with it today (checking intonation and such) I noticed that the problem with the B string sounded for all the world like some type of a phase shift effect. I thought, "Boy, that's a really odd sound." Then, while I was talking to my TalkBass friend on email about the bass, it all fell into place. The B string is out of phase. That's why it sounds muddy. Since the pickups are offset slightly toward the treble side, the pickup coils are probably lined up with the next string in line, rather than with the one they are designed to pickup. (i.e. The E string is being picked up by the B string coil, the A is picked up by the E string coil, etc...) Except for the B string. There probably is no pickup coil directly under that string. The vibrations of the B string are getting picked up, magnetically (and loud enough to hear it at the same level as the other strings), but it's being picked up by a coil that is set off to one side by a fraction of an inch. The coil is physically out of phase with the string. So, the reason it sounds out of phase is very simple -- it IS out of phase.

    Unfortunately, this does not lend itself to a simple solution. :( But, at least now I know what's going on.

    Thanks for all the help. :)
  18. Get a replacement pickup with a bar magnet in it. Bartolini make such a pickup. The bar will pick up the sound no matter how tilted the pickup is.
  19. I am curious as to how this bass sounds over all. I am wondering if the P pickup is week. It looks to be symetrical and I heard about the B string being out of the magnetic field of the pickup. Wich seems to be the problem here. Is there a pikup swap that would fix it. Is it a problem on the newer basses? I have been loking for a bass in that configuration and thought I would have to settle on building a warmoth wich I am not confident in. This looks like it may be a good bass to go with.
  20. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Total Hyper-Elite Member Gold Supporting Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    No, this is patently false. The "floppiness" of a B string is a function of the scale length, the tension of the string, and the construction of the string. For any given make of B string, it will have the same tension on any bass of the same scale. The biggest source of variation in the feel or "floppiness" of a string is the construction of the string. For instance, I have a Pedulla ThunderBolt 5 fretless that has a very floppy B string. That's because it has TI Jazz flats on it, which have a nylon intermediate winding. This makes the string more flexible and "floppy" than, say, a stainless steel flatwound, many of which feel like a piece of re-bar turned down on a lathe to the proper guage.

    That said, the resulting tone of the string is further affected by the construction of the bass (wood type, electronics, pickups, etc.) and the quality of the amplifier. As far as the sound, it's my opinion that the amp/cabs play a much greater role in the sound of a B string than the bass itself. Let's face it, not many 110's are going to sound anything like an Eden D-410XLT, regardless of the bass. I'd much rather have a mediocre bass and a high-quality amp than vice-versa.

    No sir, I disagree.