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Unplugged gigs - Should I play bass or guitar? Looking for experiences

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Naigewron, Jan 13, 2021.

  1. Naigewron


    Jan 5, 2018
    Short backstory: My current band (vocals/guitar/bass/drums) have spent 3-4 years without a permanent drummer. During this time, we've played a number of acoustic shows with just vocals and two acoustic guitars.

    Now we have a drummer and can finally do proper shows once Covid restrictions are over, but we want to keep playing acoustic shows now and then too. The drummer will probably use a cajon and percussion setup, and the guitar player will of course play guitar. The question is: What will I play?

    I never liked unplugged lineups with just an acoustic guitar and a bass, so that choice was easy. But with some proper percussion behind us, will the bass suit the music better, or should I keep playing guitar to fill out the "front" of the music more?

    There's obviously not one right answer here, but I'm looking for experiences from people who have been in the same situation, or maybe examples/videos of bands who have made one or the other alternative work for them.

    If I end up playing bass for acoustic shows, I'll also need to look into what sort of tone I'll want. I'm not a big fan of acoustic bass tones (although I'm not totally opposed to the idea), but my Ibanez SR basses might not be quite the right tools for the job either :p
    Maybe some sort of passive, mellow, possibly semi-hollow bass might fit the bill nicely?
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2021
  2. Jon Moody

    Jon Moody Commercial User

    Sep 9, 2007
    Kalamazoo, MI
    Manager of Brand Identity & Development, GHS Strings, Innovation Double Bass Strings, Rocktron
    My first thought is to try it as-is, with two guitars and the cajon. If it sounded good without a drummer in this setting, I don't think adding one is going to reveal any major issues.

    If you DO want to play bass in this situation (but don't like the idea of an acoustic bass), what about a fretless? It would have the softer, mellower tone you're going after. I've used fretless on many folk gigs (backing up two guitarists), and it fits really well.
  3. I remember playing with a similar setup, everybody acoustic, me playing an ordinary bass guitar with a small combo. It works alright soundwise, but sometimes it does feel weird (everybody looking for beers, me looking for a plug). Later I started to play double bass which solved this problem for good.
    I don't think acoustic bass guitar will solve your problem, as it is going to sound too silent and you will need a combo anyway.
    It's either DB, or any BG with combo. I always gassed for Godin A4, because it sounds greatly 'acoustic' ... with a combo.
  4. Naigewron


    Jan 5, 2018
    Yeah, I've been considering that too. I have virtually no fretless experience, but I've been wanting to get into it for a while. Maybe this can be my "excuse" to start working on it :)

    Yeah, we are always plugged in and mic'd in these situations, so the guitar or bass will plug into a mixing console and a PA system, usually via a pedalboard for a bit of tone shaping and the occasional effect.

    So I suppose the right word is "acoustic" gig, not actually "unplugged"
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2021
  5. CallMeAl


    Dec 2, 2016
    Ithaca Ny
    I play in a 3 piece and we usually use a cajon. Mostly electric guitar, but we’ve played some acoustic guitar sets and I’m confident we could pull that off long term. Variety of styles; blues, folk, jazz, country, some rock.

    I love it, but I’ll say that the guitar player does a great job of filling out the sound. It might just be a “try it and see” scenario, and depends on how the guitar player chooses to arrange the part, how they choose to fill the space (or not.) personally, I’d be excited for the challenge of writing bass parts for that! :)

    As for tone, P bass, old rounds, 50% tone works great. Old school, but definitely not trying to pull off an ABG or DB tone.
    Naigewron likes this.
  6. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Really depends on the music and the players. But in general, unless you are playing harder stuff, and the guitarist is very good, a second guitar will add a lot more.
    inthevelvet, MonetBass and Naigewron like this.
  7. tb-player

    tb-player Supporting Member

    Mar 6, 2019
    Id suggest two options, if you’re open to change
    1) look into an inexpensive upright bass. It’s a bit of a learning curve, but the tone is magic and TBH, it looks freakin’ cool. People dig it.
    2) For not too much money, you could find a used Godin fretless 4-string. It gives the feel and look of an acoustic bass with much better tone. Maybe still a learning curve, but more dynamic than a traditional, boomy acoustic bass.
    Beej, JRA and Naigewron like this.
  8. wmhill


    Aug 20, 2012
    upstate NY
    MTD basses endorsed artist Bartolini pickups emerging artist TECAMP bass players gear endorsed
    I'm in a similar scaled-down version of our regular 6 piece band. I play bass as it really rounds the sound out and makes it danceable.
    Bass is where the boogies, you know. (pay no attention to the knee scooter )

    bhc 122037428_679988329591180_4113077041162620335_n.jpg
    Beej, srbbass, Basslice and 5 others like this.
  9. DirtDog


    Jun 7, 2002
    The Deep North
    The doctrinal thinking in these “unplugged” situations is an ABG. But yeah, ABG will require amplification nonetheless.

    Is there anything in your song arrangements that requires another six string (eg holding down rhythm during a solo or something). Where NOT having a second six string will present problems? Or is it more about adding a different tonal flavour to what’s already happening and keeping the rhythm/tempo to some degree?

    If I were to find myself in that situation and didn’t have to be completely acoustic (eg no amplification whatsoever) - and since there seem to be no apparent “rules” - I’d be considering a baritone/bass vi, a fretless or an EUB. All would need amplification of some sort. Since I also play steel guitar, I might try a resonator or lap steel for effect.
    Depends on the musical style, tho.
    Omega Monkey, Naigewron and JRA like this.
  10. nixdad


    Aug 15, 2008
    Los Angeles, CA
    I play in a 7 member acoustic/electric Beatles band which features 6 vocalists. Instrumentation on most songs is 2 acoustic guitars, bass, keyboards, primary percussionist on cajon along with a small ride cymbal & hi-hat, secondary percussionist on tamborine/bongos/clapping/harmonica/cowbell (whatever is necessary) and our final member plays guitar & flute when needed. Everything is run through the P.A. system and we all have small, powered Mackie SRM-150 monitors on mic stands which helps everyone hear themselves and keeps stage volume at a very reasonable level as the vocals are the focus. The entire band performs seated.

    I use an electric bass with flats through a small, wedge-monitor type combo with a D.I. which is run to the mixer. I used an ABG for a short time, but an electric bass has since worked best for me. My primary is a Ric, but I also play a Fender Starcaster at times which is semi hollow.

    My advice is don't overthink it, especially since you're just getting this project started. Play whatever bass you're comfortable with along with the strings you like - you'll soon find out what fits in the mix best and serves the music. If some songs are better served by you playing guitar, then do what you feel is right.

    Keeping things at a comfortable stage volume for all is important. Are vocals important in your group as well? Do you guys run the guitars through the P.A. as well?
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2021
  11. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member


    FWIW: about the most fun i have playing fretless is exactly what you're describing: "acoustic" gigs (no strats, teles, les pauls, drum kits, etc.) where the bass is almost always 'figural' in the music even though the responsibility for the bass player is the same: low notes.

    IME: short of DB, a fretless is a good choice! good luck with the gig --- yay for the gig! :thumbsup:
    Rabidhamster and nixdad like this.
  12. dave64o

    dave64o Talkbass Top 10 all time lowest talent/gear ratio! Gold Supporting Member

    Jun 15, 2000
    Southern NJ
    I recently decided to buy an acoustic-electric guitar so I can work on my regaining my guitar skills while we're on break because of the pandemic. About a year ago my band started talking about being able to do an acoustic set or even a whole show. So I'm doing that specifically to be able to play bass or acoustic as needed.

    In that kind of setting, I have Labella flats on my Precision as well as an Ibanez AGB-205 semihollow, also with flats on it. Either should work well for an acoustic show. I think your idea is a good one if you want a hollow body or a semihollow.
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2021
    nixdad and Naigewron like this.
  13. Gougedeye

    Gougedeye Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2008
    Central Washington
    When my rock band is off, I'm in a 3 piece acoustic set up. I've tried it all. Two acoustics, ABG, EUAB, semi-hollow, fretless, my regular rig. All work, but I, and it seems many people, prefer my regular set up. Generally, I play my 5594 through a small amp. Sound great! and provides a familiar sound and feel and reduces the variables. Enjoy!
    nixdad and Naigewron like this.
  14. packhowitzer

    packhowitzer 155mm of pure destruction

    Apr 20, 2011
    No matter how "acoustic" a gig was, I would still bring an amp if I was playing. As long as I'm bringing an amp, I may as well bring the bass that will best compliment the music. For me, regardless of the percussion choices or the types of guitars being played, that bass will almost always be a solid body electric. I have an EUB that is a decent choice (it's a humble palatino, but gets the job done). But even having that bass, I'd still say that my chances of sitting properly in the mix would best be achieved with a solid body electric.

    I would EQ and play this bass in a manner that suits the type of music being played - probably not too loud and with the treble rolled back some. I'd probably play closer to the neck and all of that to achieve a warmer tone.

    But what I'd NOT do is listen with my eyes and play and ABG just because the other players had acoustic guitars and the drummer had a percussion kit. I have nothing against ABGs, but I know that if I was going to bring my best tone and playing to the table, then that would be me with an amp and a bass I was comfortable with, being played and eq'd to taste for the setting.

    Just my .02
    nixdad, Gougedeye and Naigewron like this.
  15. oldskoolskatedad


    May 18, 2014
    A great option for an "unplugged" gig would be a small combo and bass uke or short scaled AEB strung with polymer strings. I personally am very interested in the Gold Tone 25" M-Bass for this exact purpose as it's not as cramped as a bass uke.

  16. As you have vocals I presume there is a PA system.
    I’ve played quite a number of “acoustic “ gigs where the acoustic guitars went through the PA. I played a Jazz bass into a small Ampeg for stage sound DI’d into the PA.
    The drummer just played quieter, as any good drummer is capable of doing.
    Careful EQing of the PA channels and away you go.
    No-one complained.
    That would be my way.
    Naigewron and nixdad like this.
  17. filwitheneff


    Feb 22, 2008
    Like you, I play both guitar and bass. I've also played many acoustic gigs...some where I'm the only instrumentalist, and some where I'm sharing the instrumental duties.

    Personally, when in a situation where I'm sharing instrumental duties, I'll play bass 99% of the time. To me, adding that bass adds much more to the overall sound than adding a second acoustic guitar. There are exceptions to that, of course, but not many (IMO).

    My bass of choice is simply a P-Bass with flats.
  18. Hasty


    Jul 4, 2014
    Fort Worth, Tx
    Ever thought about a cello with bass tuning? I don’t know what type of music you’re playing exactly so it’s hard to give a good recommendation.

    I play small combo stuff all the time, but it’s Jazz so I use Double Bass, but I wouldn’t feel bad using an electric bass (fretted or fretless) if it fit the musical style. Roll off the tone a little and enjoy the sound. People don’t really seem to care as much about Bass unless they’re bass players.
    nixdad and Naigewron like this.
  19. MD-BassPlayer

    MD-BassPlayer Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2003
    Play your electric, turn down the treble, turn down the bass a bit and make sure you're not playing too loud in the mix. Bonus points for flats. Be prepared to be removed from the line up if the band is splitting the proceeds. Bass isn't very important in an acoustic setup. There, I said it.
  20. MonetBass

    MonetBass ♪ Just listen ♫ Supporting Member

    Sep 15, 2006
    Tulsa, OK
    IME with one acoustic guitar, a standard electric bass tends to overpower it. With two acoustic guitars, though, it can work. If you have a EB with dual pickups, favor the bridge p'up, cut the highs and bump the mids. And most importantly, turn down the volume. A little goes a long way in this situation.
    nixdad and Naigewron like this.
  21. Primary

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