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Underwood setup?

Discussion in 'Amps, Mics & Pickups [DB]' started by Tony F, Mar 18, 2009.

  1. Years ago I used an Underwood pickup on my old Czech ply bass in England, and was very happy with the tone and responsiveness of the bass. When that bass was destroyed I put the same pickup on my new bass, a Romanian ply that sounds pretty reasonable acoustically. The Underwood sounds so completely different (and unpleasant) that I don't know what to do!

    I've got some good contact area between the brass of the pickup and the wood of the bridge, and it fits in snug but not overly tight. The sound is very very trebly, and every little movement on the bass is amplified. Just moving my hands over non-playing strings gives me the kind of "string movement noise" I'd associate with over-mic'd acoustic guitars... You know that string-slip noise where they move their hands between chords?

    The final straw came last Thursday when we were doing a little rough recording, and I ran a line directly from the pickup into the line in (we didn't have time to set up a microphone), and before the song started you could hear me talking... the bass and pickup was acting like a microphone!

    So, do we need to start again with pickup placement and setup, or need a new pickup, or is this typical and I was just lucky with my last bass setup?


  2. Eric Swanson

    Eric Swanson

    Oct 8, 2007
    Boston, MA
    I tip I got from a former teacher was to use the Underwood with an equalizer. I happen to use an old MXR 10-band EQ that I've had forever and I've always been able to dial it in to get a nice sound.

    I have tried various parametric EQ's but haven't had as good results as with the MXR. I have also tried several other preamps and graphic EQ's and keep coming back to the MXR...

    Maybe, lowbrow that I am, I like seeing the "shape" of what I am doing. I know that more up to date, knowledgeable folks strongly prefer parametric EQ's. Or, perhaps, the MXR is crude or dirty in just the right places....

    Without the EQ, my Underwood sounds pretty harsh and raspy. Also, I would contact the good folks at Underwood and check their recommendations. I have found them to be very kind, patient, knowledgable, generous, and helpful. Hope that this helps.
  3. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    I'm a 30+ year Underwood user but I'd be the first to say that the sound of an Underwood unadorned into a recording board is a famous **** bass sound. That is just not the job it's built to do.

    Beyond that, it's hard to comment without more information.

    The change from your prior experience may be due to a difference in your amp. The Underwood is a fairly high-impedence load -- around 1M Ohms. BG amps that look for a magnetic pickup with a load in the 6-8k Ohm range don't tend to love the Underwood. And yeah, Eric, when I was a kid I used that little MXR 6-band EQ into the Ampeg B-15 for precisely that purpose.

    Or the change from your prior experience may be due to a difference in your amp. Have you tweaked your EQ? Is your preamp set too hot? Do you have the same speaker setup you used to? Did you used to put the amp on the floor and now it's on a chair, closer to your ear?

    Or it might be that there's a sweet spot on the pickup elements and you're not there. Or you might dig the sound of one element in and one dangling. (Not my thing but some like it.)

    Or it might be that your cord is microphonic. Or it might be that your top was, in fact, vibrating to your voice and the pickup was working fine.

    I dig the sound of the Underwood with my old Woods amp. The early Woods amps were R&D'd around the Underwood and they fit like hand in glove. But even then, one of the things I dig about the Underwood is that it has a medium-high "zing" which disappears under cymbals. If I were playing in a situation with no piano and no drums -- say, bluegrass or singer-songwriter music -- I'd consider a slightly darker sound, either by tweaking the amp or changing the pickup.
    Karl Kaminski and Groove Doctor like this.
  4. Excellent replies, and so quickly too!

    I admit it's going to be hard to do a real comparison without using the same amp and speaker as before. I used to use a Trace Elliot head and a 115 cab. To try and get something of the same sound I'm using a Trace Elliot pre-amp with a 7-band eq, basically the same circuitry as my old amp. There's a light on the input side that comes on when the signal is a bit too heavy, and I keep the input gain dialled back to keep the light off 99% of the time. The unit is geared towards acoustic instruments, by the way.

    I took my bass into guitar center and worked my way through most of their bass rigs (that was fun. Weird, but fun), and it was taking some pretty serious firepower to stop the thing from sounding like a duck in a box. 1000 watts of power into an Ampeg 810 is kind of overkill, I think! I was able to get a deeper tone, but still not particularly pleasant or representative of what the bass sounds like naturally.

    As for the line directly into the recording board, you're right, it's not the way to go! In this case we just needed a quick musical "thumbnail sketch" to keep a record of the arrangent we'd worked out. Strangely the bass sounded better there than through the amp!

    Just for the record, I did lend this pickup to a friend who tried it on his bass, and he was impressed with the sound, saying it was a lot like his Revolution Solo II, only more forgiving in placement.

    At least it's not giving me time to get bored...


  5. You need a high-impedance buffering preamp.
    Two guys were selling their FDeck's HPF pre on the Classifieds.
    Get one if you can!
    It also has an adjustable high-pass filter and phase reversal switch.

    A loaded piezo pickup sounds thin, brittle and harsh.
  6. thejumpcat

    thejumpcat thejumpcat

    Sep 30, 2007
    ...and just for the heck of it, try disconnecting the treble side of the Underwood from the bridge. Let it dangle. You'll definitely hear a difference and less treble.

    And those f-deck preamps are worth way more than the $50 he charges. It's a little lifesaver, the size of a pack of cigs.
  7. jonster


    Nov 12, 2008
    Underwood is the best pickup I've ever used on upright. Don Underwood is a good guy, too.

    Jon Liebman
  8. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    Just a s a point of reference, which other ones have you used (e.g., FC, Realist, K&K, Rev Solo, Planet wing, Schertler, etc.)?

    Karl Kaminski likes this.
  9. jonster


    Nov 12, 2008
    I had a Polytone many, many years ago, which I found very boomy and poor-sounding. I've never had much experience with anything else, but I know guys who have used a Fishman, which they liked. I'm not familiar with the other ones you listed, but that doesn't mean they're not good (or bad!).

    Jon Liebman
  10. Roger Davis

    Roger Davis

    May 24, 2006
    I've got a drawer that contains a Planet Wing, Realist, Rev Solo, Full Circle. I've got three basses each of which has an Underwood. Nuff said?

    I would definitely endorse some sort of buffering preamp. I use a Fishman Platinum eq but there is also the budget version, the Pro eq that does just as well.
  11. JtheJazzMan


    Apr 10, 2006
    theres definitely a sweet spot in terms of placement and pressure. unfortunately even temperature and humidity changes that so i found the underwood to be too fiddly in the end.

    at its best sound, i have to say it did sound nice and natural, albeit in a limited range. if i began to play beyond the octave on the fingerboard, i would simply disappear from the band. in the end i could never fix that volume issue and went to a FC soon after
  12. superman


    Mar 5, 2007
    Nashville Tenn
    Like jumpcat said try useing just one side of the pickup,,some basses work better with the treble side in,,others with the bass side,,I have had more luck useing the treble side,,and if you think the pick up might be broken I have had very good luck sending it back to Underwood,,most of the time they will either repair it for free or just send you a new one,,,extremly nice folks,,K
  13. bolo


    May 29, 2005
    Apex, NC
    Nuff said?

    I don't really think you can make broad generalizations like this w/ amplified DB. I do respect people like you Roger who have tried multiple pickups and shared their impressions. But since I have pored over every post in this forum for several years, I think it's more appropriate to say "It depends."

    On the bass. The bridge. The strings. The amp. The player's technique. The type of music and instrumentation like Sam said. The player's personal tastes and preferences.

    I have not tried the Underwood or FC. But I have tried the Bass Max, Double Big Twin, Rev Solo I and II, Schertler DYN-B, and Planet Wing. For my bass and my needs and my tastes, I like the Rev Solo the best. But I fully expect that it's not going to be everyone's favorite, and I understand that.

    I just don't think you can make sweeping statements about what's the "best" pickup for DB, or mic, or speaker, or strings. Otherwise, this forum would be pretty dull. :)
  14. bolo


    May 29, 2005
    Apex, NC
    Jon, belated perhaps, but welcome to TB! Hope to see you posting here often.
  15. bolo


    May 29, 2005
    Apex, NC
    Nice Sam.

    I have observed many, many times that I hear jazz groups on the radio or in person and the bass sounds rather nice during the ensemble and other solo sections. But then when they get to the bass solo ... "ZING." Too much zing. That same edge that helps you hear the bass in denser settings can just sound spitty when solo'ed.

    I am listening to a recording with John (now Jennifer) Leitham where I could almost swear the tone I hear with the full band includes a pickup, but then during the bass solo, it's all mic. Hard to do this switching kind of thing on a gig ...

    When I solo, if I am using a pickup, I consciously back off somewhat w/ the right hand to smooth out the attacks and lessen the zing.

    Whatever ... This is nothing new. Let's talk more about the Underwood. Sorry. :oops:
  16. Roger Davis

    Roger Davis

    May 24, 2006
    Bolo, you're right of course.

    I was really responding to drurb who was questioning whether jonster had made any other comparisons in declaring Underwood as the best pickup he had used. I had made some of my own comparisons and found that I preferred the Underwood. I put in a question mark which is a shorthand way of expressing that I'm not being too dogmatic in my statement.

    If the Underwood was the greatest thing since sliced bread then there would be no need for all these other pickups - and there clearly is, the Underwood doesn't suit everyone.

    The pickup just seems to suit what I want and my playing style. I've tried so many others only to be disappointed. Using Red Spiros I can play through the loudest bands, with good response and the amount of sustain that I like. It makes the weakest E string strong and I can get a good strength right up the fingerboard. Interestingly the thing that it doesn't do for me is the 'bass only louder' trick. But then very few pickups do when cranked up and is it essential that they should? IMO the amplified DB has its own unique sound but that would start a whole new discussion.
  17. bolo


    May 29, 2005
    Apex, NC
    Roger, understood, well said.

    Back to the OP - I changed the bridge on my bass about 7 or 8 years ago. Everything else was the same - bass, strings, amp. But the pickups (I had two at the time and tried them both) sounded much different w/ the new bridge. One of the pickups sounded so much different and so much worse that I put it away and never tried it again.

    So, like you, I keep old pickups in a drawer. Because if I ever get a new bass, or change my bridge again on my current bass, it's kind of like starting all over.
  18. kilo watt

    kilo watt

    Jan 20, 2009
    I use an underwood now after spending time a stringcharger...Mag pickups turn your sound into a gigantic electric fretless p bass...Anyway back to the underwood,I've found with my setup(Little Mark11,two 12" Traveler cabs,Aphex Bass Xciter,Boss GEB7 EQ,driven by a 1965 beat up German laminate which I adore,my girlfriend refers to it as my wife:rolleyes:),that,after a lot of subjective listening,dropping the treble side pickup pleases my ears the best...With it in the E and A strings sound tight and slightly compressed while the D and particularly the G string sound thin,like there's a phasing mismatch going on...Drop that treble side pickup off the bridge wing and the bottom end on all four strings is there, deep,fat and full with a nice natural sounding mid/top end...A painless experiment to your bass and your wallet...EQ settings can be backed off,which raises the feedback threshold...I'm a Rocknroller,putting up with loud guitar and drums,even got the f holes plugged with foam when playing live...Hope I haven"t offended anyone with my presence on this thread, but it does show you what that Underwood's capable of :eek:
  19. buddyro57

    buddyro57 me and PJ (living with the angels now)

    Apr 14, 2006
    Cedar Falls Iowa
    I studied with Richard Davis and always admired the sound he got on all of the Solid State recordings of the Thad Jones/ Mel Lewis Band. I asked Prof Davis what he used, he said "Underwood, straight into the board....." really that's amazing But, considering the fact that he probably went into a state of the art analog board , and of course he has a GREAT bass. I like the underwood too, but I sure don't sound like Prof.

    Attached Files:

  20. jonster


    Nov 12, 2008
    Thanks, Bolo!

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