To palm mute, or not to Palm mute

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by PwX-Steve, Nov 13, 2000.

  1. Hey guys/girls,
    was reading a tab a few seconds ago and i noticed in about 2-3 tabs (yes bass tabs) to palm mute the notes like you would with guitar. i was wondering if this is possible because palm muting is really only possible with some sort of gain/overdrive and i have tryed it before and all the sound i get is a tapping noise like you would tap a pencil on a table :). if n-e one could help me out it would be cool

    thanks :)
  2. No, in fact you don't need overdrive at all. Generally it's a technique that works best with a pick - just place your the side of your palm LIGHTLY very close to the ends of the strings to achieve the effect. Perhaps you are either pressing to hard or are not close enough to the end of the string and are dampening it too much.

    For great examples of this technique, check out Sting's early work with the Police - he used the technique extensively (Message in a Bottle, Driven to Tears, etc.).

  3. ok i will give it a try thank you heaps :)
  4. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I would disagree on both counts. I use palm muting extensively without a pick and have had many comments about how good it sounds. You can use it and pluck with your thumb to get a close approximation of double bass or even closer to the "baby bass" sound on a lot of Afro Cuban records.

    I saw the Police live in the UK a few times around the release of "Message in the Bottle" (it was No1 in the UK charts at the time) and he never used a pick - he used fingerstyle all the way thruugh - I was a few feet away! A lot of the time he uses a technique that I have adopted, where you use your thumb as an integral part of the technique as well as two or more fingers. So the thumb is playing the lower strings and the fingers, the higher strings.
  5. theJello


    Apr 12, 2000
    Bruce's technique is also used by Gary Willis to get a really cool muted effect.

    I personly have never been able to get used to this.
    In my quest to find something better (for me) I developed a technique. Well, I shouldnt say that I developed it. Im sure somebody else is doing also. Anyways, it achieves the same effect that Bruce mentioned.
    I extend my right hand pinky to lay right in front of the bridge on the string that I am playing and pluck with just the index finger. Its a little tricky when you are skipping strings but overall it feels really natural to me.
  6. I too use muting WITHOUT a pick as well, but it is definitely a different tone than with fingers or thumb. Yes it is also a very useful tone but doesn't have quite the same attack as pick. I'm not saying one is better than the other - just different - and I use both approaches. I really don't know why using a pick is so offensive to you Bruce. :)

    I didn't mean to imply you could only palm mute with a pick, but it is probably more common to do so. The technique does have a lot in common with the way guitar players do it and its use in that manner is most likely influenced by that.

    Regarding the Sting issue, I just had another listen to "Message in a Bottle" alongside two of my colleagues (who are both very gifted musicians) and we all are convinced that he's using a pick on it. Maybe he didn't use one when you saw him play it live, but were you there in the studio when he recorded it? At the very least there has to be some fingernail in there (but I'm pretty sure it's a pick). Besides, I'm sure I've seen pictures and videos of Sting using a pick some of the time in the early Police days. I'll try to come up with some photos. Having said this, I am still open to the possibilty that he never used a pick ever and that I am imagining the whole thing! :) It doesn't seem that far fetched since he is also a guitar player.
  7. Hey here to see a picture of Sting using a pick :) :

    Or are my eyes playing tricks on me (the one with the red P bass)? :)

    Also, if yoy have the Miller Freeman "The Bass Book" (the BP mag book), page 47 has a shot of him picking his Ibanez.
  8. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I was really just disagreeing with the statement that it "works best" with a pick - I think you can do either just as well and that using your fingers/thumb is actually more versatile and variable in many ways.

    I've no doubt that Sting has used a plectrum at various times, and he has said in interviews that he has alternated between fingerstyle and pick; but at the time I saw the Police, as I said "Message in Bottle" was a very familiar sound on the radio and he got the same sound by playing fingerstyle when I saw them live.

    Also - I am not sure about the photographs - they are too low resolution to tell. Sting often holds his hand in a way that looks as if he is holding a pick, but he is actually using his thumb and fingers held close together to pluck. There is a photo in the January 2000 edition of Bass Player magazine (p38) which is clear enough to see that although his hand is in a shape that looks like he is holding a pick - there is no pick there! He often holds his thumb at an angle to get a bit of thumbnail so that he can get a pick-like sound which is one of the reasons why I believe it is actually more versatile to use the thumb/fingers combination rather than a pick, which for me just gets in the way and limits you.
  9. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    There seem to be thousands of photos of Sting on the web, but as I mentioned it is very difficult to tell in some if he was using a pick or not. Like this one :


    You can't actually see the pick and it could be that he is playing like this :


    where it is clearer that he is playing with thunb/fingers.

    Not that I really want to get into an argument about this, as I have never really seen Sting as a role model for bass playing technique, although I thought the Police gigs were some of the best I attended.
  10. :) Just having a bit of fun Bruce. :) I agree, it's not worth worrying about.