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Tone is in your hands. How/Why?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Esquillama, Jun 14, 2007.

  1. I've been gigging for about 17 years now and I'm still struggling with
    this sentiment that your tone comes from your hands.
    I understand that the way you attack the strings, and where you
    attack them can make a difference in the tone ie; brighter near
    bridge, warmer near the neck etc. But what I don't seem to be able
    to get into my head is, how can there be such a large difference
    between how I play a fretted bass, and how another player plays it?

    Does it have something to do with the thickness of your fingers?
    Maybe it's the amount of skin you allow to touch the strings?
    I don't really know, but it's been bothering me lately and I thought
    I'd ask here to see if anyone can give me any plain language

    I tried a search but didn't really come up with much.
    I don't really come to this section of TalkBass very often so I'm
    sorry if this has already been discussed to death. Like I said, I did
    try a search first and came up empty.

    Thanks for any help.
  2. middy


    Mar 14, 2007
    I think a lot of it has to do with your timing, your feel, and how clean your technique is (a little fret rattle, or strings hitting the frets when you dig in, or either hand muting/not-muting, or harmonics from plucking, etc. can have a big effect on your tone).
  3. Think of the micromotions involved with playing the bass:

    • The exact timing and force of the depression and release of the string with the fretting hand
    • the velocity and acceleration of the plucking hand
    • position of the hand along the length of the string relative to the bridge & pickups
    • the precise angle of attack of the striking finger relative to the body

    In addition to the things you mentioned...

    Eveyone has different hands, and they move them in connection with the bass in a slightly different way - thus, different sounds.
  4. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I can't give you the scientific reason why. All I can tell you is that I have 10 basses, and they all sound like me when I play them, and they don't when someone else plays them.
  5. That's exactly what I'm talking about. In the last band I was in
    I went out to sing a Mowtown medley with a wireless in the crowd.
    While I did that, one of the guitar players would play my bass for
    the whole medley. It always sounded really good while I was out
    singing and he was playing, it never sounded like that when I was
    playing (sigh). Oh well, I guess I'll just have to learn to be happy
    with my tone from my hands.

    As a side note, I made a conscious effort to play a little differently
    to see if it effected my tone and didn't really notice much.
  6. Mystic Michael

    Mystic Michael Hip No Ties

    Apr 1, 2004
    New York, NY
    At the end of the day, I really think a lot of it is subconscious and intuitive. Mechanics aside, it's a matter of how a bassist actually conceives of the tone in his mind (assuming he has an idea of this at all, which he should), and the various little instinctive adjustments he makes in his physical approach and phrasing in order to actually bring it to fruition on his instrument.

    Personally, when I began playing some 31 years ago, I never really thought too much about exactly how to make the instrument sound the way I liked it. I just listened to a lot of pro bassists, tried to absorb the lessons their music had to offer, tried to distill the best information from all of it, and experimented with various techniques in my own playing. Then I simply played the way that sounded good and seemed natural to me...

    There are many aspects of musicianship that can be readily taught. How to develop one's own individual voice on the instrument may not be one of them. Because that's determined by virtually every musical influence one may have.

    Does that make sense? :meh:

  7. Yes it definitely makes sense. Thanks for your post MysticMichael.
    I'm probably still in the "think about playing the right note" phase
    and eventually I'll get to the "how do I want this to sound" phase.

    I appreciate that everything I play is to some extent a result of
    all the music I've been exposed to. Keith Richards said that "there's
    nothing new under the sun, everything we play is some kind of an
    interpretation of something we heard somewhere else", or something
    like that.

    Anyway, I agree that we are continually influenced as
    we listen to music, and we distill all of those influences into what
    it is that we put out when we play. I'm glad that getting a great
    tone is more of a journey than a destination, otherwise I could
    see myself getting pretty depressed at some point.

    Thanks again for your post.
  8. Mystic Michael

    Mystic Michael Hip No Ties

    Apr 1, 2004
    New York, NY
    Well, I do think that it's vitally important to develop a discriminating ear - because that's the feedback mechanism by which one can determine whether his tone is really working, or not. At least you can tell when your tone is not where you'd like it to be. Since you can tell the difference, you have the opportunity to make improvements. It's all the cats who are clueless to the fact that they sound bad who have no hope of ever getting better... :eek:

    Years ago, I attended an all-night jam party with a couple of musician friends. After playing for the first set or so, I went outside for a little break, lending my bass and rented combo amp to one of the other players who wanted to sit in. Soon as this guy started to play, I was alarmed by how harsh and abrasive his tone was - using exactly the same gear and settings as I'd been using just minutes before. He was playing way too ham-fistedly, i.e. banging strings against the frets, smothering his notes, making unnecessary string noise, etc.

    I asked one of my friends if that's the way my bass really sounded at this distance when I played it. To my relief, he replied that I sounded a lot better than that, and that the other guy just didn't know how to play. FWIW...
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