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turn up the amp or pluck harder

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by uethanian, Sep 19, 2008.

  1. uethanian


    Mar 11, 2007
    so there's been a sort of dilemma in my life, and thats whether its better to 'turn up and pluck light' or 'turn down and pluck harder.'

    my bass teacher is a supporter of plucking harder. he encourages it both on bass guitar and upright. he believes that plucking the bass guitar harder gives a more organic or natural sound, letting the instrument resonate and getting the most tone from the wood.

    the director of the jazz band i'm in also likes harder plucks, but thats more for upright, which is understandable (gotta get the growl, buzz, and thump going).

    i used to be a very light player when i first started. i could play fast, and accurately, but i wasn't happy with the sound i got. now, i try to play with a medium stroke, enough to get the body resonating but not enough to get messy.

    so i read on TB all the time about plucking lighter, and it seems like players are very divided on the issue. what do yall think?
  2. GianGian


    May 16, 2008
    I pluck real hard...works fine for me. I think you should do what feels and sounds better for you.
  3. DaveF


    Dec 22, 2007
    New Westminster, BC
    Just don't pluck harder than feels comfortable - Plucking too hard is a good way to make sure you have to find a new hobby when you turn 40.

    My philosophy is "Let the amp do the work"
  4. Mystic Michael

    Mystic Michael Hip No Ties

    Apr 1, 2004
    New York, NY
    Well, you're going to get divided opinion about the matter in this thread as well... :meh:

    Personally, I'm of the "lighter touch, turn up the amp" philosophy. While I can understand playing with a much heavier hand on upright bass (it being an acoustic instrument), it doesn't make nearly as much sense to me for an electric bass, which has rather different acoustic dynamics (i.e. you don't have to wrestle with the instrument to generate good tone).

    As you know, there are numerous advantages to lighter touch, including less physical fatigue, the ability to play with more dexterity and quickness, and the capacity of greater dynamics. So let the amp do the bulk of the work - leaving you free to play with greater ease and relaxation... :meh:

  5. heyHermano


    Jul 1, 2008
    Seems like 'tone' is the word of the day. IMO you need to do whatever it is you have to in order to get the tone you're seeking. I definitely prefer to play lightly as often as possible, but sometimes more drastic measures are a must (always staying within limits of solid tempo). This may mean developing a new technique for situations where you have to hit hard, BUT I would definitely start with Tweaking EQ and volume, or moving to different spots closer to the bridge or neck. Thoughts?
  6. uethanian


    Mar 11, 2007
    well i think the point my bass teacher brings in is one of harmonic content. a bowed instrument sounds richer when its played with a solid stroke as opposed to a weak one. wouldn't it make sense that the bass guitar has higher harmonic content when plucked harder? thats not something an amplifier is going to bring to the table.
  7. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Dig in when you're supposed to dig in, and play lightly when you're supposed to play lightly.
  8. Digging in is for tone...

    that's how I get my strings to GROWL!!!!

    when I need volume...I turn up...
    BTW...my sound man HATES when I turn up...oh well...;)
  9. leanne


    May 29, 2002
    Rochester, NY
    I can only speak from my own experience, but for me, the day that I turned up and played lighter was the single most important change I ever made in my playing.
  10. Mystic Michael

    Mystic Michael Hip No Ties

    Apr 1, 2004
    New York, NY
    Possibly. On the other hand, the amplifier is going to bring to the table certain advantages that an upright bass - sans amplification - cannot bring. Such as the ability to greatly amplify the significant harmonic content and resonances of the instrument - even when played with a light touch - that would simply be inaudible with an acoustic instrument. Thus making hard plucking largely unnecessary - especially considering the positive trade-offs of light touch, low action already enumerated: greater ease of playing, less physical fatigue, greater speed and dexterity, etc.

    From what I've observed, there seems to be two distinct schools of thought on this: one of which conceives of the electric bass as sort of an upright bass with pickups, focusing mostly on the acoustic properties of it; the other of which fully embraces the electric/electronic aspects of the instrument, in addition to its acoustic properties. To me, it makes no sense to neglect the essential properties of the instrument for the sake of some outdated notion of traditionalist purity, thus denying oneself the opportunity to fully make use of its advantages... :meh:

  11. Guest043

    Guest043 Guest

    Apr 8, 2008
    pluck appropriately.

    notice i used a very subjective term. play how you play, then turn up your amp untill your loud enough.
  12. kesslari

    kesslari Groovin' with the Big Dogs Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2007
    Santa Cruz Mtns, California
    Lark in the Morning Instructional Videos; Audix Microphones
    Gary Willis is of the "pluck lightly, let the amp work hard".
    He's pretty emphatic on this point, suggesting that you turn up your amp to the point where you HAVE to play very lightly.

    His point is that when you pluck hard, the string vibration immediately starts a rapid drop in amplitude - there's a bigger differnece between the big amplitude of that hard pluck and the level of vibration where the string wants to settle. So you get a big attack but a faster decay.
    By turning the amp up loud and plucking softly, you get more apparent sustain and fatter tone because you don't have that more rapid decay.
    What he does definitely works for him...

    I'm in the middle - I'm mostly a light-medium touch guy, but I dig in when I want a particular tone (the Marcus-type tone), and I'm experimenting with pllucking ultra lightly to see where that leads me.
  13. I mean, It all depends on how you want to sound like
    If you're looking for a Geddy tone, you definetely want to cut amp volume and go diesel with the fingers and mids.
    if you want to sound like Rocco Prestia (Tower of Power) you want to let the amp do the work, so you can keep a constant, endurable 16th note groove going
    its all in the music!
  14. nortonrider


    Nov 20, 2007
  15. jaywa


    May 5, 2008
    Iowa City, IA
    Yep. I've had people come up to me and say they can't believe the tone I get considering how little my fingers move when plucking. Actually, the tone I get is BECAUSE I'm using a light to medium light touch and not pulling the strings beyond their natural orbit (which contributes to the "clanky" sound you hear from a lot of beginners who are plucking the strings too hard). I've watched video of myself and it literally looks like my fingers are barely moving at all. It's the same principle as when you see one drummer just bashing away on a kit and they sound like garbage, then the old pro comes up, plays with half the motion and volume and those same drums just sing. The only time I dig in more is when I'm going back towards the bridge for more attack, and that's usually just on a portion of the song, not my standard technique.

    The one caution I would give, though, is don't go so light on your touch that you don't have any room to "come down" dynamically. Especially if compression is involved in your sound at all.
  16. Fliko


    Aug 9, 2008
    True that, if you're plucking hard to get volume out of your bass your ruining the dynamic qualities you could be having by plucking softer and getting the volume you need, and then plucking harder when you wish for such dynamics.
  17. LowBSix

    LowBSix Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 25, 2008
    818 ~ 805 ~ L.A.
    Endorsing Artist: GHS Strings
    Play with dynamic range and allow the instrument to work well.
    If you like a clean full piano string sound, turn it up and play with clean even technique and less clacking. If you don't mind the clacking, dig in and snap that puppy... develop your own style and enjoy playing...IMHO
  18. HaVIC5


    Aug 22, 2003
    Brooklyn, NYC
    If I want a "thump" with all the nice acoustic clanking that comes with it, I'll play my upright bass, simple as that. If I want a clean, wide tone, I'll play my electric with a light touch. Two different sounds on two different instruments. To me, when an upright player sets his action real low and plays really fast it sound all electric-y and like an imitation fretless BG. When an BG player sets his action real high and thumps on some flatwounds it sounds like an imitation upright bass. Why not just play the real thing in both cases? Thats how I'll think of my playing anyway.

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