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Underwood Pickup Club

Discussion in 'Amps, Mics & Pickups [DB]' started by pdbass, Oct 23, 2008.

  1. pdbass


    Jan 2, 2007
    I used this pickup for years. Some people compare it to making your bass sound like a giant fretless, but it never lacks for fundamental. Also, everyone in the band hears every note you play. I like to use it through an amp just a taste to compliment my acoustic sound and it's like buttah!

    After using a Realist for a minute, a Bass Max for a second, and having my FC crap out on me, I pulled out the Underwood to help me get by, maybe while I had my FC fixed. WOW. I forgot how much I liked this pickup. It can be a horrible sound if you don't match impedance, but when properly EQ'd it's beautiful. After playing on it again, I realized that I had forgotten how quick it is with reproducing a sound. I'm playing a little lighter, and my notes are jumping off the bass, with a bit more expressiveness! With the Realist, it seemed as though I was working alot to get a good sound through the amplifier. The bottom was always there, but the high mids weren't. The Underwood seems to produce a great tone for me, quickly, and when paired with my acoustic sound gives me tone, allows me to play with more "chops" than other pickups, and growls much more when I want it to. With a large, loud band, I can turn up and be heard alongside the drums, note-for-note. With a small group, I can have the amp barely up, making a sound that will give me a little "bump" in the mix so that all of my notes are heard. I forgot how great this pickup is, and quite frankly I'm digging how DIFFERENTLY I play with it!

    I thought I would try to find out how many of us out there use the Underwood, and like it. I respect the opinion of every Realist, Bass Max, Fishman, Barbera, Revolution, et. all user out there. I understand why you don't use the the Underwood, but I'd like to hear from those that DO. What do you like about it? Do you use one element, or both? (I use both--cord on the 'G' string side) How long have you used it? Do you blend it with another pickup or mic? Preamp? Eq? Show some love to the Underwood Pickup, talkbass!
    LHbassist, dfp and Winoman like this.
  2. Jeremy Allen

    Jeremy Allen Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2002
    Bloomington, IN
    Sure, the ol' Underwood has its charms. I've never gotten rid of mine; there have been periods where it was my one and only pickup (E-string-side element only), and times when I've slapped it on for a particular effect (both elements, wire on the G side). I got it out last Friday to use at a function in a huge room where hundreds of people were milling about talking while we played trio; trying to get a sound in that kind of mix is dang hard, and either a Realist or a microphone is next to useless. The Underwood was perfect and gave me an amplifiable sound that kept me from going crazy all night.

    As far as I can tell, whether or not you like the pickup depends on what kind of sound you go for and get. Me, I love to play unamplified and I love the big loud thump/decay of a bass. The Underwood does nothing for you as far as that sound is concerned; it slices out the main portion of the note and gives you just the vibration of the string, and no matter how hard you pull you can't get the *doommmmmm* into the Underwood--all it gives you is *mwahhhhhhh* or *zinggggggg*. This works for a lot of people, and it works for me every now and again. But I remember when the Realist first came out and what a shocking epiphany it was--"Holy Sh!!!!t! You can hear the thump of the note! It sounds like a microphone, like your bass but just louder!"
    Of course, we now know that the Realist sounds nothing like "your bass but just louder," and the quest goes on. And sometimes the "tip of the iceberg" portion of your sound that the Underwood picks up (while the body of it, nine times as massive, lurks below the surface) is just the right thing for your band, or room, or ears.

    (Along those lines, I find that the signal from the Underwood makes much more sense as a blended ingredient to use with a microphone than does the signal from a Realist--it gives you that element that is lacking in the signal reproduced by the microphone, which depending on where you place it is as biased toward the body sound/thump as the Underwood is to the string vibration/zing. But of course the Full Circle is better than either the Realist or the Underwood for blending with a mic, or for using on its own, IMHO.)
  3. i have been using the underwood for years-it's always the fallback pickup when the others disappoint. although lately i have just given in and made it my main pickup. i ran it thru a presonus acousti-q tonight and was surprised at how amazing it sounded. the presonus also "evened out" the output. before, when i would change from pizz to slap the volume difference would be big but it was much more even thru that thing. also, the string balance is much more even too. usually the G is quietest and the E is crazy loud but thru this it was way more even. I have played that underwood thru many many preamps, di boxes, etc. and i have to say that presonus does it the most justice.

    i use just one side of it-on the E side. mine is actually chopped. i fit it VERY loose in the wing-just barely enough to hold it in there. i used to fit it tighter and the sound was bad. i want to try a 2 element underwood again (have to start looking for a used one...) now that i know this. the problem i always had with using both was no sustain and bad string balance but i may have been fitting the elements way too tightly.
    does it help to have the wire on the G side?
  4. tito mangialajo

    tito mangialajo

    Feb 1, 2006
    I'm still using Underwood: for a couple of years a tried FWF, Realist, Rev Solo, but since one year I came back ti Underwood. at the end I think that with my bass and the strings I use (velvet garbo) is the best.
    now I use a ESB microbassII as a pre (10Mohm impedance) through an old gkmb200 and the sound is far better than in past without pre directly to gk.
    great pu, imho.
  5. Roger Davis

    Roger Davis

    May 24, 2006
    I first used an Underwood in '94, with a GK 150MBS. Then with a Fishman Pro EQ to buffer the impedance. I probably would still be using this rig were it not for the GK running out of steam in some of the larger venues - and good ole Talkbass, of course, which encouraged me to consider other 'better', 'my bass only louder' etc options.

    After having discarded a whole drawer full of other pickups I still use an Underwood, both wings, via the Pro EQ, through an AI Clarus and out through a whole selection of EA speakers according to the venue. I am looking into blending in a mic but that will depend on the room and PA facilities.

    In short, I am a committed Underwood user.
  6. Eric Swanson

    Eric Swanson

    Oct 8, 2007
    Boston, MA
    Got my Underwood in '78 or '79 and have beat it like a red-headed stepchild.

    Recently sent it back to the good folks at Underwood, wondering if they could fix it (I had Frankensteined the cable onto the pickup jack cable in a sweaty, on-the-gig DIY moment.

    They sent me a new pickup, just last week, at no charge. Told me that they would keep my ancient relic for an "in-house museum", if they ever put one together. What would the exhibit be labeled, "Half-baked fixes by the mentally challenged," perhaps?

    The pickup has the clear disadvantage of dampening the acoustic sound. If I am playing acoustically, I pull it off. Other than that, I like the known quality of it...I can always get the EQ the way I want, with no fuss...

    The devil you know, etc...I am not saying its better, I am just saying that I like the sound and I'm used to it.

    Much gratitude, again, to the Underwood folks.
    Winoman likes this.
  7. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Underwood user since 1978. I sometimes use an Upton RevSolo II. In concert I'll shock-mount an SM-57 between the bridge legs. Lotsa times I use the NoAmp -- thank you again, Mr. Few. But if there's a device the Underwood is the go-to device.

    I think of the sound as less of a "mwaahh" than a "skittr-prrrangg-crak-fock!" but that probably reflects my playing more than the pickup.

    You know the refrain, folks: It's the ear, not the gear. Nobody in the hall is listening to your pickup.
  8. Greg Clinkingbeard

    Greg Clinkingbeard

    Apr 4, 2005
    Kansas City area
    Setup and repair/KRUTZ Strings
    I need one right now for a dark, dark sounding bass.
  9. I've been using the Underwood since about 1979. The SAME one! For my 1888 Joseph Bohmann five string DB, it's the only PU that comes close to bringing a great deal of the instruments personality to my listeners. This is because of the wide spread of the two transducers, enabling the responses from the open G, right down to the low B.
    You can hear, hopefully, what i'm talking about by giving a listen to my contributions on out TBDB sampler under the Recordings forum heading. The Dick Hindman Trio cuts were, unfortunately, recorded direct to the board, as was the fashion of that day. What could have been tragic for the bass, only became annoying.

    UNDERWOOD, that'll be $4,550.:eek:
  10. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    I, too, got my Underwood in the late 70's after starting out with the old screw-pressure mounted Polytone (pretty awful) and then a Barkus Berry that stuck to putty underneath the bridge wing (remember those? I've still got some putty on my bridge).

    With the Underwood, I experimented a lot to tone down that mid-rangy sound quality that made every bass sound the same to my ear. Sometime in the mid-eighties I was playing a concert (with the great Sam Rivers!) and in the middle of a tune my bass sound changed for the way better, much fuller, warmer and more natural sounding. I had no idea what had happened, was a bit concerned, but really digging it. At some point I looked down at the bridge and saw the G side element hanging there out of its slot. I never put it back in.

    I paired the Underwood with a Pro Platinum EQ in the late 90's with good results. Tried out a Realist briefly and couldn't stand it's limited frequency response, although it sounded great arco. Paired it with the Underwood with some success.

    I borrowed an old Schertler two element p/u around 2000 and really liked it. Similar to the one element Underwood sound but a bit more refined and better arco than the super scratchy Underwood. I then bought the one element Stat-B system and haven't gone back to the Underwood.

    Kudos to Underwood! It was a 20+ year workhorse for me and served my music well.
    Winoman likes this.
  11. Eric Swanson

    Eric Swanson

    Oct 8, 2007
    Boston, MA
    Okay, if I'm not the only one using antique gear, I'll embarrass myself further. Why not? I always use Underwood through a late '70's vintage MXR 10-band equalizer...there, I said it!

    I have tried various proprietary pickups, pre-amps, amps, whathaveyou, but I keep coming back to this old war horse combo. Maybe its because I am a visual guy and I like to see the MXR sliders form the sound's "shape." Maybe its because the MXR just distorts in all the right ways to complement the Underwood. I don't know.

    I have played this combo through Ampeg, Polytone, Walter Woods, GK, Peavey. and Eden amps, and it always works out. Sorry, I don't have any sound clips posted. Maybe soon...The sound is pretty Bb, really. I little warmer, with a little more sustain than the acoustic animal.

    Sam, I like, "skittr-prrrangg-crak-fock." I don't know what you mean, but I like the creative language, a lot. :)

    I like the way the Underwood adds just a little mass to the bridge, sort of like a heavier bridge does on an EB. Helps sustain a bit, and always makes the amplified sound, especially the arco sound groovy to my ear. Of course, that stinks when playing acoustically, so it has to come out of the bridge when it matters, but that never really bugged me.

    I don't know. Lack of imagination, maybe, or some kind of strange, anachronistic conservatism. A former teacher used this setup, I copied it, and haven't found anything yet that I could justify spending more money on and going through the fussing phase, all over again.
    riimodar likes this.
  12. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    Wow, that mxr of yours really must work wonders!
  13. Eric Swanson

    Eric Swanson

    Oct 8, 2007
    Boston, MA
    Oh man, I nearly forgot about that Polytone abomination. What a practice mute! What did that thing weigh?! The little holes on the bridge legs from the points. And the sound! (shiver)

    And the first Barcus Berry! Egads! :)

    Maybe I have stuck with the Underwood out of some kind of refugee loyalty; still shell-shocked from what came before... :) :meh:
  14. Wilbyman


    Sep 10, 2003
    Parkersburg, WV
    I was just thinking about the charms of the Underwood.

    To me, the Underwood is to DB what the Fender Rhodes is to pianists. It is kind of gnarly but sounds beautiful in the right hands. I agree with everything Paul said about the way it makes him play the bass.

    The Spiro/Underwood/Woods thing evolved in a very exciting period for DB players, when they went looking for a better amplified sound. I know that everything I do is informed by that period and that DB sound.

    To me, the Underwood is part of the tradition and I am very proud to use one. But sometimes I use a Realist or a RSII. :D
  15. I used a RevSolo for a little while at first, but I've been "borrowing" my teacher's old Underwood for almost a year now.

  16. That's exactly the sound I'm trying to get out of my bass!!! At last I know what to do! :D
    Winoman likes this.
  17. Gearhead43


    Nov 25, 2007
    I love my Underwood!

    The Underwood (one side only) and gut strings has been the most used setup for Rockabilly since the revival in the early 80s. It works very well for loud amplified double bass, and picks up the slap sounds very well too. It is also amazingly feedback resistant.

    Is it the "my bass only louder" sound? Hell no! But it is a good sound, with a little carefull EQing of course. It still sounds like a double bass though, just with more "balls".

    Something about that pickup just works SO well with gut strings too. No other pickup I have tried has that amount of "punch".

    I think that it's way cool how long ago this pickup was developed and how long they last, it just shows that "newer" is not always "better".

    Oh yeah, and another reason to like the Underwood:


    Belinda Underwood!! :eek:
    Winoman likes this.
  18. Jeremy Allen

    Jeremy Allen Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2002
    Bloomington, IN
    I've noticed this, too. Gut strings (or even Velvets) with just one of the Underwood elements is a great sound...I think the Underwood sounds much better with gut strings anyway (as do most pickups). Some weird edge in the amplified sound commonly heard with metal strings is just not there.

    Of course, lots of steel string players get a great sound with the Underwood through technique and set-up and intention, like Paul Warburton. Just listen to his clip of "My One And Only Love!" Who'd argue with that sound?
    Winoman likes this.
  19. Thanks Jeremy, especially coming from you!
    Yeah, on the out chorus at the end I was out there by myself and that can be scary in terms of sound reproduction.
    I put my 12" Polytone on a KMD stand and put the amp right in back of the bass. The bass acts like a sort of baffle for the sound coming out, then spreading the sound around the bass so that the other players AND listeners are hearing a nice combination of the acoustic sound beefed up a bit by the amp. Very little gain is needed.
    Thanks for listening man.
    Winoman likes this.
  20. Greg Clinkingbeard

    Greg Clinkingbeard

    Apr 4, 2005
    Kansas City area
    Setup and repair/KRUTZ Strings
    I've been using a Realist for the last six months and although it's great at extremely low volume it doesn't work well on anything over a duo where I barely need an amp, if at all. Curiously, the Realist slights my E string. It's all lower mids with little clarity.

    So I added an Underwood and have been switching back and forth with the Realist. Only the E side of the Underwood is used to prevent phasing issues. I am honestly getting the most natural sound out of any pickup I've ever used, with clarity and a very solid fundamental. Every note is clear and as an added bonus, the harmonics really pop.

    Before a weekend quartet gig, I asked my piano player (who is also a bassist) whether he preferred the Realist or Underwood. He chose the Underwood without question and I was loving it all night.

    Friday night a sax player told me he loved the sound of my bass, saying it was almost like he was inside of it hearing all that warmth and detail. I also am playing better than ever because I can hear myself without working so hard. It's helped my intonation.

    Sure, the lowly Underwood gets very little love anymore but it's still a good sounding pickup. The fit is critical and it seems to be better using only one element. Also, I'm running it with an older Clarus (10meg input) and Acme B1 (usually) with darkinsh strings. I roll off some mids and highs. I doubt I'd like it with a brighter amp and spirocores. The Realist came off today. :hyper:

    No, it's not perfect. It has just a bit of piezo quack and isn't as nuanced as the Realist (low volume only) or a good mic. However, on the gig everyone can hear a very solid fundamental to the note and it sounds great in the mix. I don't get paid to sound good in the practice room.;)

    Give Don Underwood some love.:D