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The role of acoustic bass guitar

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Ukiah Bass, Oct 16, 2017.

  1. Ukiah Bass

    Ukiah Bass Supporting Member

    May 10, 2006
    I've put a lot of energy during the past year getting to better know my acoustic bass guitar. The best discovery I made was I like the tone a LOT more when it's amplified. Lots of ways to do that -- microphone, DI, tube preamp, micing a cabinet, via headphones, etc. Gorgeous tone that is impossible to hear in a purely acoustic fashion because ABG puts out so little air.

    Very few people on TB discuss the tone of the ABG and its potential roles in music. The random threads popping up usually ask: "What ABG is LOUD and CHEAP?" Basing a perception on those questions, you'd think ABG is a throwaway instrument good for nothing but a campfire jam. Or maybe one of those "serious" practice sessions where someone grabs an ABG to plunk on while watching King of Thrones?

    Anyway, I made a video of how to record ABG, but I filed it in the "recording" section of TB and I think it the topic of tone of the acoustic bass guitar and its role in music is worthy of broader discussion.

    How are some of you using ABG in a musical way?

    Here's the video to provide an idea of ABG tone potential. Oh yeah - that was the other big insight I got: the various ways of capturing tone produce different results. But I like all of them!

  2. skwee


    Apr 2, 2010
    I use my AEB in exactly the same ways that I do my electric, but I appreciate the much lower price point when I am playing outside in potentially inclement weather, and also the flexibility of not always needing an amp in the living room.
    McG and PsyDocHill like this.
  3. Ukiah Bass

    Ukiah Bass Supporting Member

    May 10, 2006
    Here's the thing: even though I personally love the ABG and its potential, it's disappointing to try and find music where ABG is part of the signature sound. Love to get some pointers if you can. Probably one reason why hardly anyone thinks of ABG is they can't point to good role models. Time for that to change!
    matthewbrown, McG and Max Blasto like this.
  4. joninjapan


    Aug 13, 2003
    Tokyo, Japan
    interesting question...

    What an excellent post and video, thanks so much!:thumbsup:

    I have owned my Tacoma for many years and gigged with it often, but I was never happy with the sound amplified, and it had to be amplified for gigs. I used it because the sound it made acoustically was the sound I wanted... it was just hard to get that sound amplified. Finally I found my solution was not a DI problem or amp problem but the pickup. After installing a K&K Pure Bass (boy was that a challenge) the amped Tacoma sounds like the acoustic version. :hyper:Much rejoicing!:hyper:

    (btw the bass is a fretless 5 string using TI Acousticore strings)

    Then came the influence of the bass sound itself on how I play. I tend to play more "out front" on the acoustic than on electric, I noticed this in videos of our band playing the same song while using different basses. My approach to what to play and how to play, seems to be heavily influenced by the bass I am playing, not just the song... maybe I need to study that.
    Ghostinthemach, Levin and McG like this.
  5. mikeoso

    mikeoso Acoustic Curmudgeon

    Feb 14, 2014
    eastern Iowa
    Part of the problem arises from expectations. Most bass players think in terms of public performance, thus the need for more volume than abgs can produce.

    If you perform in public, you have to amp, just as acoustic guitars do, and in that case an abg is just a set of sounds coming out of the speakers...put the right electronics in and dial it right, and any abg sounds fine.

    Nowadays, I never gig...havent played for an audience or dancers in maybe five years...but I play out weekly...small groups of acoustic players, just playing for ourselves...jams. It takes an excellent abg to work in close with three Martins, and those abgs are never cheap. Those of us who hunt great abgs dont expect to be able to go unplugged onstage, but we want gear that works well in a 10 foot radius. Playing with a few others for personal pleasure is a different kind of music, but not lesser.

    It's a totally different issue. It's the difference between a Kabar knife and a claymore mine.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2017
    BassManKK, McG, PsyDocHill and 2 others like this.
  6. Chicory Blue

    Chicory Blue

    Oct 9, 2016
    I like to grab mine when I have an idea and don't want to commit to plugging in and turning on an amp just to hear it, and I also like to carry it around when I don't feel finished being musical but don't want to stay in one place.

    As for actual sincere use, I find its organic sound to be friendlier on the ears for simple things, like playing unaccompanied. It sounds nice and complex without needing effects, the chords don't muddy up as much, and the hollow body offers a generous range of percussion options, especially with a looper involved.

    J_Bass, Abe-of-Bass and McG like this.
  7. MrLenny1


    Jan 17, 2009
    Thanks for posting. You make a very good point.
  8. MD

    MD Supporting Member

    Nov 7, 2000
    Marin Co. CA.
    Signature - shmignature.... Play what ever music you like, with what ever bass you like. You'll know if the bass is cutting it or not.
    Nev375 and McG like this.
  9. I get a s***l**d of positive comments on the amped sound of my Tacoma Thunderchief. It's just a B-Band pup but I guess I've got the eq correct. Most valuable comments come from other bass players and club owners. Playing instrumental guitar jazz mostly.
    McG and Groove Doctor like this.
  10. Jim C

    Jim C Is that what you meant to play or is this jazz? Supporting Member

    Nov 29, 2008
    Bethesda, MD
    The idea that one could play an ABG acoustically, without an upright, and with an acoustic guitar player or two is very interesting.
    Tragically they are not loud enough without an amp.
    If I want the sound of a louder acoustic bass, I use an amp with a U-bass.
    If I want the tone of bass in a louder format, I may as well play my Fender.

    ABG= T!t's on a bull
    both useless to me
  11. rllefebv


    Oct 17, 2000
    Newberg, Oregon
    Paging @McG :D

    McG likes this.
  12. ABGs came in their own when the "unplugged thing" was at its heyday in the 90s. There were a few before hand, such as the Earthwood and the really big Guild (B18?) or whatever it was called. They were marginal at best acoustically, and you still need to plug in most any situations. Once you become aware of that fact, plugged in they take on a unique voice that can really be used to a great advantage. I have owned a Carvin since '99 that is fretless. It has a thin body to alleviate feedback often found in the big bodied ABGs. I gave up on phosphor bronze type strings some time ago and settled for tapes and light gauge flats. Works better for me.
    Currently I play bass ukes by Kala and Hadean. They give more of an upright sound than my ABG, and are more portable. Their strings are finicky when it comes to temperature changes, but it is worth it for the sound.
    I wish you well with your ABG. :bassist:
    McG likes this.
  13. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    I must be the odd man out in that I was thinking purely about tone and assumed I'd be amplifying any ABG before I even owned one. I never once thought it'd produce sufficient volume or presence in an ensemble setting to be used purely as an acoustic instrument.

    In my case I'm using an Epiphone El Capitan with that superb pickup and eSonic preamp Epiphone commissioned from Shadow Electronics. It seems there were two different versions of the preamp. I prefer the one that's on mine which looks like this:

    2017-05-10 12.23.20.

    That combined with the relative stiffness of an all maple J-200 body makes for a very full and rich sound. I had auditioned every ABG I could get my hands on over about a year and a half before I chose rather than settled on mine.

    I usually run it through a Yorkville BLOC40K keyboard combo - a small but remarkably full sounding little cube-type amp that doesn't draw attention to itself and has all the power needed for most situations where you'll be playing an ABG.


    I think the fuller range of a keyboard amp works better than a standard bass amp for ABGs, but maybe that's just me. EQ on the amp is left mostly flat although I'll occasionally slightly boost the mid and treble and slightly cut the bass if a room is being difficult. I prefer to do the lions share of my tone shaping with the onboard preamp.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2017
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  14. You "slightly boost the mud"? Did you put a Gibson chromebucker in the soundhole? :D
    McG and 40Hz like this.
  15. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    Yeah…I was waiting for that. Fixed now. :laugh:
    McG likes this.
  16. Charlzm

    Charlzm Supporting Member

    Mar 25, 2011
    Los Angeles, CA
    I used a borrowed Kramer ABG for my band's "unplugged" shows. I ran it through my Line 6 Bass POD XTLive by plugging into the pickup on the bass. I ran the signal clean except for a touch of chorus through my amp, which also had clean settings and flat EQ. I dialed the tube preamp back a bit to avoid crunch or overdrive and... that's that.

    I kind of liked playing it, but it did feed back from time to time. I couldn't find a spot for it in our "normal" set; I didn't want to bring it and play it just for the novelty value.
    The Kramer Ferrington
    McG likes this.
  17. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    @Ukiah Bass - very nice video with some solid information. Thanks for making that and posting it. :thumbsup:
    BassManKK and McG like this.
  18. I always think of Violent Femmes when I think of examples of ABG use...
  19. wintremute

    wintremute mediocrity at its finest Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 16, 2014
    Endorsing Artist: Langstrom Carrot Farms
    I'm with 40hz. I never thought I'd be playing it unplugged. I play it sometimes at church and people love its ringing tone. I'll be using it this Sunday.
    velalv, tfer and McG like this.
  20. Max Blasto

    Max Blasto

    Nov 29, 2010
    San Diego
    Thank you for your thoughtful and thought provoking post. And the excellent video.

    So much I could say on this subject, and probably have. You hit it on the head with the observation that most folks on this forum think that ABGs should be cheap and loud, thereby indicating that they have no idea what the instrument is for.

    As for your question, what kind of tone do I seek for ABG music? Well the answer, with all due respect, is about a 180• from what you're doing.

    Which is my only quibble with your other wise outstanding video: you point out that you use tape wound strings so that the instrument will sound like a stand up bass. But IT'S NOT A STAND UP! And therefore for me it shouldn't sound like one. I want a tone that sounds like an acoustic guitar tuned an octave lower.

    So, to answer your question more directly, bronze roundwounds, brand new for gigs or recording. I use a pick unless the song calls for finger style, but that brings up another issue: my right hand technique is much heavier than what you demonstrated on the video. A delicate finger style like means that you're not generating any energy to begin with, exacerbating the volume issues inherent in the instrument. Now, pulling too hard gets you lots of fretbuzz so mezzaforte is the trick here. Again, I find the pick works best.

    I use RMS transducers with a custom RMS preamp. I seldom use effects on my ABG save for compression, though I do use an O ring for non amplified situations.

    Again, thanks for the great video!
    McG likes this.

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