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Thumb picking to simulate a standup bass?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by CrawlingEye, Apr 16, 2001.

  1. CrawlingEye

    CrawlingEye Member

    Mar 20, 2001
    Easton, Pennsylvania
    I read a small portion of the article in bassplayer magazine. It sayed something about using your thumb to simulate a standup bass. I tried to follow along, but it didn't sound loud the way I was trying, so I tried to do it like you would when you play slap but just by using the thumb... It didn't exactly go over too well... can anyone help?
  2. Angus

    Angus Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    It won't sound like a double bass, but this is what they mean:

    You're basically plucking the string downward with your thumb. Very little attack is needed. Its going to be much quieter. Just simply press through the string with the flesh of your thumb. There should be no fret buzz or string noise. And its a downward movement, so when playing the E you're going towards the A. Pretty simple, but the only way to sound like a double bass is to play one.
  3. Angus, close but no see-gar. ;)

    The idea is to lose some of the high-end of the note that is inherent in an electric bass. You're trying to get the "thud" of an upright. To achieve this, you want to actually palm mute the string at the bridge, then pluck with your thumb. Of course, there is one disadvantage, which you've discovered: It's not as loud as the regular plucking or picking. So, you just have to compensate by turning up for the thumb-muted parts, and turn back down for the plucked.

    This technique works pretty well, I use it to approximate the Ampeg Baby Bass tone for the latin music I play. It's not EXACTLY like the real thing, but it's enough to get me by until my EUB finally does show up.
  4. Angus

    Angus Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    Like i said to you on IM Gard, i just said that because im picky. Sure, its closer than nothing, but it just doesn't have the depth of an upright...for my tastes. But that's just me!
  5. Angus, I agree completely, NOTHING replaces the fullness of a string that's 41"+ long. That's why I'm getting a really good EUB :D. But, when all else fails, you can "fake" it passably with the thumb mute trick.
  6. bootyquake


    Mar 29, 2001
    Washington, DC
    Hey Gard, I totally understand your need to simulate Baby Bass tone.

    I don't have a Baby yet, and it seems that my Pedulla Buzz just has too much sustain to really kick out the tumbao. So what i do on the less "Latin Jazz" numbers is a thumb-palm mute technique to get all the thud without the high end or the sustain.

    I also play with a small "Salsa Jazz" septet, and the electric sound is fine, mostly because it's supposed to be a more modern feel. But when it comes to big band, classic salsa like Tito Rojas, Joe Arroyo, Tito Puente or whoever, you can't replace the swinging sound of those 41".

    Are there any forums on "Salsa Bass for Gringos?" There should be. I could use the help.
  7. JohnL


    Sep 20, 2000
    Grayson, GA
    Ok guys & gals, try this (it worked for me):

    Cut a piece of soft sponge and put it under the strings next to the bridge. Cut it so the sponge just contacts the strings. You may need to experiment to get the right amount of "thudness" for your taste. Next, have your engineer or sound guy give you just a smidge (that's southern for a little bit) reverb/delay, or use your own fx unit, to simulate the resonance and echo from a large wood-bodied upright. Pluck as described above with your thumb, close to the neck or even above the fingerboard. It's not the real thing, but you can get surprising results with a little experimentation. I did this to get an upright sound on a track in the studio, and we had a little time to experiment; obviously it wouldn't be feasible for you to call "time out" on your live set to rearrange your main bass.
  8. Get yourself some flatwound strings and slightly mute the strings with your plucking hand by resting it ever-so-lightly about an inch off of the bridge. If that fails, get yourself a double-bass.
  9. CrawlingEye

    CrawlingEye Member

    Mar 20, 2001
    Easton, Pennsylvania
    Wouldn't styrofoam (sp?) work better?

    I heard the old Fender's have the piece of plastic on under the g for that reason, and they came with a piece of styrofoam to put under the bridge so the'd get the standup bass sound.
  10. JohnL


    Sep 20, 2000
    Grayson, GA
    In my case, it wasn't what would work better (styrofoam very well may), it was a case of having an unused piece of Sonex laying in the control room!
  11. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Supporting Member

    No, styrofoam would not work better. Fender P basses used to have a foam rubber mute at the bridge.

    I remember the story of some guy who used a disposable diaper under the strings near the bridge.:p
  12. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    Actually the "fullness" that you speak of comes from the sound emanating from the body of the double bass's. I agree with you that you can "fake" it by reducing the sustain of the notes and using your thumb which gives you an overall "fatter" sound, a sound, BTW, that is good for other stuff besides Jazz especially when you don't reduce the sustain.

  13. Ah yes, Tony Levin's "Super Nappy Wonder Bass"!!! :D

    When doing Peter Gabriel's "So" recording, they got to the tune "Don't Give Up" and were looking for a unique and cool tone.

    Well, Tony's daughter had just been born a few months earlier, and he and his wife had brought her over for the sessions in England. They'd heard that disposable diapers were difficult if not impossible to come by in Merrie Olde England, so they brought their own long-term supply. In doing so, they were stuffing them everywhere they could find. Including some in Tony's bass cases.

    So, back to the studio. Tony glances down into his case and sees the disposable diapers. An idea comes to him: Use the diaper as a string mute! And the rest is history...

    Oh, in England, diapers are also called "nappys", for us American English speakers, thus the "Super Nappy Wonder Bass" is explained ;).
  14. Yvon

    Yvon Supporting Member

    Nov 2, 2000
    Montreal, Canada
    speaking of don't give up....

    I looked in the album the other day, and Tony have no writing credit for that song.
    The whole song is made around that bass line.
    How come he have no credit?
    somebody else wrote the bass line?

    Maybe I could/should have start another thread....
  15. Yvon, excellent point. Tony's line IS that song. I believe he did come up with it, and IMO should have gotten some credit for it. But, alas, in the nasty unfair world of being a sideman, it happens every day. Just check out all the killer stuff that James Jamerson did back in the 60's for Motown. His lines made those tunes what they are, and he never got any writer's credit on them, heck he rarely even got mentioned as the bassist on it! :(
  16. Like Gard, I play six string in a latin band. I use the palm-muting and thumb technique for quite a few numbers in our setlist. I feel this is better than muting with foam, as you dont have to keep changing basses or fiddling about. The secret to an upright sound is to keep all notes short, after all an Ampeg Baby Bass is not noted for its sustain. I have no problem at all with loss of volume, so I dont know why you guys are having problems. BTW, I have used my acoustic upright, and my EUB, but find that the palm-mute on bass guitar is more versatile, because a lot of modern latin requires modern bass sounds that cant be gotten on an upright. In other words, you can make a modern bass sound vintage, but you cant make a vintage style bass sound modern.
  17. CrawlingEye

    CrawlingEye Member

    Mar 20, 2001
    Easton, Pennsylvania
    No, no. My question about volume was because I didn't know if I was doing it properly.
  18. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Me too, me too !! I think the palm-muting is more versatile as Marty mentions and is useful for Salsa songs, but then we have a varied set that also includes some Brazilian funk and we change the set around depending on audience reaction, so if a song that required slap on it came up, the styrofoam mute would be a bit impractical - panic would set in I think!

    Just to add to what has been said by Gard and Marty - I think it also helps if you play lower strings higher up the neck. So I will be playing these lines at around the 12th fret on the B and E strings on my bass. This adds to the "upright" bass sound - whereas if you play the thinner strings closer to the nut, it sounds much less like upright, no matter how you mute or play with your thumb.

    I think that the volume problem might be down to where you actually place your palm on the strings for muting - you have to find just the right place and I just do it automatically now, by experience, but if you go too close to the bridge, you don't get any muting and too close to the neck mutes too much so you lose too much volume. So I think the solution would be to try to get as close to the bridge as you can while still muting enough to "round " the sound and lose the top end.
  19. Bruce -

    Good additions. I also tend to fret (well, stop is the correct term on fretless, eh? :) ) notes around the 12th fret when I'm doing the thumb mute thing. And I don't seem to have much of a volume problems, as Marty mentioned. I think it's definitely a matter of getting your palm in just the right spot, which takes some experimenting. It does work well in some of the latin/salsa/meringue/ad nauseum stuff we do.

    That said, I'm getting my NS Design EUB (CR5M) this week (SUPPOSEDLY), and it will be taking the place of my electric on those tunes in the very near future. While the thumb mute is a good approximation, it is NOT a substitue for the THUMP of a string that's over 41" long! :D The good thing about how the NS sets up is that it is in playing position at all times, so even if there's a radical change in the set list, all I have to do is walk over to it and step on the A/B selector, then start playing. Don't even have to take off my electric if I don't have time!
  20. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I do agree - I've played the Czech CR4s in the Bass Centre and want one - definitely a different sound.

    I was just agreeing that palm muting is more versatile/useful than foam mutes on bass guitar and actually sounds more like the upright. Much as I like James Jamerson's playing on Motown records - it sounds nothing like upright bass.

    I like the idea of having the Steinberger on stage as well and maybe playing both at once!

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