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Upright bass volume

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by mchildree, Apr 8, 2001.

  1. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    I'm having trouble generating the volume I *think* I should be getting out of my bass. I'm new to this game, so I'm looking to the experienced DB players on the list for assistance. My bass is a newish Strunal plywood strung with Helicore Pizz Mediums. When it arrived, I had a local luthier work on the string height and bridge shape a bit and he commented on how well the bass seemed to be set up "out of the box" in comparison to others he's worked with. The volume increased a good bit when I installed the Helicores, but I'm still having trouble hearing myself over an acoustic guitarist (who doesn't seem to me to be playing especially loudly). I'm planning on playing bluegrass and folksy stuff, and I can imagine that I'd be pretty lost in a trio or more. I'm working my right hand as hard as I feel I should, but still not enough volume. I owned a '50s Kay a couple of years back and I don't remember having this problem.

    What factors are involved in double bass volume increase or decrease? Any particulars I should check out? The luthier who worked on the bass has a good reputation for work on acoustic string instruments although not particularly for double basses. Could he have missed something like a soundpost installed incorrectly, etc.?
  2. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    Volume aside how would you describe the quality of the sound? (constricted? open? etc.)
    Can you raise the strings? (this'll increase vol.)
    Do you have access to a set of Spirocores to try?
    Are the bridge feet cut so they touch evenly on the top of the bass?
    Is the soundpost too tight?
  3. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    To my unexperienced (with double bass), the tone seems pretty open, but I don't have much to compare it to. When I got the bass, and after I installed the Helicores, the action was quite a bit higher and I haven't noticed a substantial lessening in volume since the action was lowered. The feet of the bridge have been shaped so that they make consistent contact across the bass face. When the bass was shipped from the distributor in NJ to me in GA, it was boxed with the bridge off and the soundpost hadn't budged so I guess it's pretty tight. I know the symptoms of a soundpost that's not tight enough...but what constitutes a "too tight" soundpost?.

    I made the choice of the Helicores based on recommendations from other players for a plywood bass, no arco, folk/bluegrass/blues. Gut would have been my first choice, but I couldn't spring for those at the time and was afraid they'd be too tough on a beginner's hands. Can strings alone make a big difference?
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Strings alone can make a HUGE difference. I'm a pizz only player (for now), and I remember how frustrating it was shopping for basses when they all had dead orchestra strings - you'd pick up a $20,000 bass and it'd go: Thudd, thudd.... I don't know much about your Heliocores, but I suspect spirocores would be louder (also harder on the old hands).

    A couple of things about pizz tone production: If you want a bigger sound, make sure you are using as much of your right index finger as you can to pluck the string. I had a lesson with Rufus Reid last year, and he showed me how - at slow to medium tempos - you can actually pluck with the MIDDLE knuckle of the index finger to get a bigger sound than you get with just the knuckle at the tip of the finger. You also need to make sure that you are using the weight of your arm/shoulder to produce the sound, and not just the finger/wrist. And you'll get the loudest/brightest sound plucking at the end of the fingerboard as opposed to higher up.

    Reedo and Don would be the guys to answer your soundpost questions, so I'll move along now.

    Good luck.
    Pgh_Thump likes this.
  5. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    I've used your Helicore pizz strings as well as the Spirocores that Chris mentioned, and there's no appreciable difference between them for sound output.
    Remember that the one playing the bass is in the worst possible position to hear how it sounds out front to everyone else.
    If your luthier has already seen it, I wouldn't question the soundpost.
    I'm not clear, looking at your profile, whether you're playing unamplified or not.
    Some basses are naturally loud, some are not. There's no way to know what the end result will be while the bass is being made.
    You're reminding me of the bad old days when the leader forbade amps, and my fingers were usually raw meat.
  6. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    In the situations where I'm having problems hearing myself, I'm unamplified. I just ordered and received a K&K Bass Max (Thanks Bob!), so I'm not too worried about volume when I can use an amp. For me though, a big attraction of getting into upright was the opportunity to play without all the "mucky-muck" (Thanks Nigel Tufnel!): Parking lot pickin' at bluegrass festivals, etc. and also in a "historical trio" doing old Irish sea shanties and Civil War-era folk tunes, where some semblance of authenticity is needed (no amps).

    I did wonder if maybe I was being heard better at a distance away, and that I was in the worst position to be heard. The guitarist I was playing with said he thought my volume was a bit low, also. Then again, he's standing right next to me (and he's a guitarist, after all....).

    Thanks to all who answered, or may still answer!
  7. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    Nope, haven't had a lot of experience. I assumed my technique probably had something to do with it, if not all of it. But, upright teachers are pretty slim pickins here in East Bumf**, GA (they all moved to West Bum**ck). I figured I'd ask a few questions while I'm trying to locate one, if that's ok.
  8. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    Thanks for the info. I'll check those out.
  9. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    As others have said your inexperience and probable lack of technique are a factor. Considering though your Kay seemed loud enough and that this bass can't keep up with an acoustic guitar coupled with the fact the sound post didn't fall over during shipping without a bridge I'd say soundpost fit could be a large part of the problem.
  10. PB+J


    Mar 9, 2000
    arlington va
    My volume has gone steadily up since I started working a lot with the bow. I play really only jazz, and don't need the bow, but just practicing bowing scales has made a HUGe difference. The bow shws every screw up and makes me work hard on my left hand, getting good contact and a focused point on the tip of my fingers

    It's also true that getting volume out of a bass has less to do with hitting hard and more with hitting right, finsding the sweet spot. I had an unamplified outdoor gig the other night and I was really nailing it--plenty of volume, and I wasn't sore at all. Whne you get it right it's really like hitting the sweet spot on a baseball bat--no pain, and the notes just fly out
  11. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    not to butt my ignorant nose into a good topic progressing nicely, but just thought that i'd add some off topicality...

    at the last atlanta bass player get together, dragon brought a video of his band playing at a wedding, seems it was a civil-war re-enactment band. it was very cool - we'll have to get him to bring it again at the next get together.
  12. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    Hey John, I remember that now! He talked about it on TBL some a while back. I'll have to get with him on that...we have a new museum here in town that is gonna be hiring that kind of group for gigs on weekends pretty soon. I've been working with the Education director of the museum who's done that kind of thing for years. They just gave me a pretty spiffy Confederate Naval uniform, LOL. I'll have to get a photo to post to entertain everybody. Mike in his historically correct naval uniform, playing his brand new Czech upright
  13. I think you're gonna have to stick to the "mucky-muck". In the old days of unamplified basses, they had the strings an inch off the board to get volume, and they played hard. They used to say you could tell who the bassplayer was by looking for the guy with the gnarly hands! The slapping technique about 'cos it produced more volume. I say do yourself a favour, and buy a nice compact amp like an Acoustic Image. Stop struggling, and enjoy.
  14. LARRY GO


    Jul 15, 2001
    I hope you have had improvement in your volume. sorry this is a late post but i've just tuned in. I too had a volume problem on a different level. I play in bluegrass, sea chanty and irish bands. but only in the bluegrass bands that i have to work hard to be heard over the many instruments in a big picking circle. this is what i found. buy the best strings you can afford, raise the strings as high as you can and still play comfortably, pay special attention to your right hand index finger that you are using the side of the finger not the tip. if you get tired alternate songs between slapping(using the right hand middle and index finger but flatter) and straight picking and the best way to get stronger is to slowly increase your playing time and pizzing
  15. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    Yeah, I actually have seen a good increase in my volume, due to a combo of factors, I think:

    Number one, just some experience and experimentation with the right hand to get the good meaty tone, angle and leverage. Thanks to my teacher! I also got some work done on my bass...the soundpost was indeed way too tight. The luthier shortened it quite a bit and that helped. Plenty of volume now for the sea chanties and Irish stuff.

    But....I just got hired into a bluegrass band...a loud one. These guys are using the old single-mic method where everybody moves around the mic based on who's singing or soloing. I found a used SWR WM-12 and it's working out ok. I really only need a slight volume increase so I can hear myself (the guys say it's fine out front), and I'm considering trying a small headphone amp and one earbud in my left ear to get the little volume boost I need. I know the tone won't be optimal, but the convenience might make it viable.

    Anybody else tried this?
  16. Re: Strunal bass volume.....

    I have played Lidl's and Strunals (same company) , new and used, and found them to be dead- sounding regardless of the soundpost location, strings and whatever technique you may have.
    I think its because of the type of plywood they use. It looks funny to me...very soft compared to other plywoods.
  17. A student of mine has a plywood Strunal, it's not bad. It's better than many other plywood basses I've seen, and is comparable to Kay and recent Englehardts. Like any plywood bass, it needs to be set-up and adjusted. This doesn't just refer to soundpost placement but the quality of the soundpost wood and a proper fit (ie. length); and the tail wire should be replaced with lightweight aircraft; the bridge needs fir properly or replaced althogether.

    I wouldn't expect to be able to play any low-end bass that hasn't undergone this work.
  18. Monte


    Jan 9, 2001
    DFW Area, Tejas

    I've seen you post a few times on this, and I wonder if they were set-up badly. Were they all in the same shop? I've recommended to several beginners and schools to look at these for a beginning instrument. Every one I've played has had better than average tone (when set-up w/ good strings) for a laminated instrument. Amplified with a pickup you can get a decent sound out of it. Now for classical, I've never heard a plywood that sounds very good bowed, but this does OK. The hybrid sounded really nice. You shouldn't expect a plywood to sound great, but side by side with other new laminates in its price range such as Englehardts, Eberle, and any number of Chinese basses, they compared very favorably.

  19. David and Monte:

    I have played (pizz only) several plywood Lidl's and Strunals, new and used. I have also worked on one to try to improve the sound by using gut strings, Spiro's and others...moved the soundpost too. Still sounded dead. Same with Hofner plywoods.
    This does rule them out for practice instruments but I think there are better plywoods available. The two used plywood Eberle's I tried had good volume, even though they both needed some set up work, a decent bridge and different strings. Barrie Kolstein sells fully set -up new Eberle's but I have not tried one. Grunert plywoods can also sound very good.
    To me though, the King, American-Standard and most Kays produce a slightly fuller pizz sound than other plywood basses I have heard.... if they are set up right. The King and A-S sound to me to be more solid and fuller-sounding than the Kays. Other people may hear differently but thats my conclusion. The newer Englehardts seem to get good reviews too. Other than the horrible Cremona and Palatino, I have not heard any Chinese or Korean plywoods.
    I would agree that using a pickup can make many dead sounding basses sound OK.
    Monte...I referred earlier to the plywood Lidl's and Strunals only so I can't comment on the hybrids. The only hybrid I have played was a Czech Dvorak ( don't know who makes them) which sounded much better to me than many of the lower-end carved basses by the same maker. This would be a much better deal for a beginning classical player than an all-plywood bass in my opinion. I'm sure other hydrids fall into this category too.

  20. Monte


    Jan 9, 2001
    DFW Area, Tejas

    That's strange; you and I were both typing esentially the same thing at the exact same time. I was longer winded and yours was posted first. Twilight Zone.......

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