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What Does A Bad Bass Sound Like?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Raiztee, Nov 3, 2013.

  1. Raiztee


    May 26, 2013
    So now that I'm about to buy a bass, I wanna know how exactly a bad bass sounds like.

    I mean, I've been playing acoustic guitar for a bit, and electric after a while. After playing for a while, I was able to tell the difference between high end and low end guitars. (They all sounded the same to me before I started playing) I have no idea what you call it, having a trained ear is it? But unfortunately, I don't have that for bass.

    I'm about to buy one without any prior experience of playing bass, so all basses kinda sound the same to me, especially in the youtube videos I see. Though those basses are probably all mid-high end or something.

    Basically, I want to know what's the main difference between what's considered a bad sounding bass and a good sounding one since I have no idea what to test when I get to the shop and what to look for in the sound. I'm kinda aiming for a low end one with my budget.

    I want to get something that sounds remotely decent. Something that wouldn't hold you back when practicing stuff. (I've had that experience with acoustic everytime I heard the difference between the high end stuff I listen to and the low end guitar I have :U)

  2. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    What's bad to you might be good to me. And vice versa. Trust your instincts.
  3. hsech

    hsech Work hard. My Social Security needs a raise.

    Jun 27, 2012
    Central Iowa
    Use your ears. What sounds good to you might not sound good to me and what sounds bad to you might sound good to me.
  4. Keithy


    Oct 5, 2013
    Try looking at scottsbasslessons.com he has just launched his new site and has a new lesson on what to do when buying a bass guitar. He is also a very good tutor.
  5. Duckwater


    May 10, 2010
    USA, Washington
    +1 to the above, you may want someone you trust to evaluate any possible issues with an instrument you're interested in buying, but the decision of what you get should be up to your hands and ears.
  6. tjh


    Mar 22, 2006
    I dont think there is such a thing ... I think that there is maybe a bad EQ/string choice/etc for the mix/song, but I am of the opinion after playing some pretty junky stuff and having time to set up/change strings/etc you can usually get something 'usable' out of about anything ... I have heard very good sounding basses being challenged by mediocre at best backline amp situation ..., and I have heard basses that sounded like junk when I played them, sound great in the hands of the masters ... how a bass 'sounds' is extremely subjective as mentioned above..

    .. now how a bass FEELS, is a different story .. there are some basses that I have found just not at all comfortable to play ...

    .. I would suggest take a look at what the players you see playing the type of music/genres that you are interested in playing are using ...emulating their choice to a degree might be a good starting point .. for instance, a Gibson EBO is not going to be as suitable in some situations as a Marcus Miller or a Geddy Lee Jazz, but I don't know I would call either bad sounding, but perhaps a bad choice ... JMHO
  7. Maxdusty


    Mar 9, 2012
    Michigan USA
    I agree with the other comments above but want to add that a quick down and dirty to a bad bass (at least to me anyway) - one that has a muddy sound (with feedback hum) is not ideal . That being said, some prefer the more earthy, "woody" sounding bass (similar to that of an upright) in their music, some prefer the punchy, clearly defined bass sound (think funky bass lines). The muddy bass sound is really neither and is usually a sign of bad electronics on the darn bass. Then again, some people actually like that sound. :)
  8. Raiztee


    May 26, 2013
    Thanks for all the input guys! I appreciate it.

    So from what I gathered from you guys

    -A good bass is unlike acoustic in that how 'good' it is is purely subjective

    -I should just base my purchase on what 'feels' best to me

    -Even 'bad' basses are still at the 'usable' treshold

    -I should also base my purchase on the genre I'm gonna play

    -Muddy, feedback hum-y sound is -1

    Also, thanks for letting me know about Scott's site. Will certainly be useful in the future.

    Thanks again for the advice people.

    Another little question. Would an audio interface and some nifty little software sound the same as what an amp sounds like or is an amp plain better? I kind of don't like the little dirty percussive sounds when you pluck(or w/e) the strings of a guitar. I kind of want it to sound completely artificial, like no sound from my fingers or the pick, just purely bass.
  9. deathsdj


    Sep 18, 2010
    Wichita, KS
    Some basses when I play them make me happy and want to play them more. Those are the good ones. I wish I had something more concrete to help you with but it really does come down to what makes you happy. It is such a relative thing that it is hard to advise someone.


  10. hbarcat

    hbarcat Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2006
    Rochelle, Illinois
    In my experience, it's not the sound (tone) of the bass so much as the quality of all components. This affects how it plays and how long it will last as well as the sound.

    You want a bass that has a neck which can be adjusted to the correct shape that allows for proper string height at each fret (this is partially a personal preference) and also maintains even notes from fret to fret with no dead spots. Quality of finish on the neck also affects the speed and exactitude of your playing. Uneven fret heights means that the neck will have buzzing notes if adjusted too flat so the strings will need to be raised higher to compensate. This results in noticeably sharp notes higher on the neck and also makes the bass harder to play. Under these circumstances, forget about getting any slap and pop sounds.

    The ability to accurately and precisely adjust the bridge affects intonation. Bad intonation makes some notes flat and other notes sharp and this obviously sounds unpleasant. The bridge also greatly affects the sustain of notes and a quality bridge makes a noticeable difference. Poor quality tuners also negatively affect sustain, especially if they vibrate while notes are being played.

    Poor sustain also means the notes will sound thuddy and dull when most people prefer bright tones that ring out. There are exceptions as some people actually do prefer notes with dull attack and no sustain - such as some old school Motown.

    Electronics affect the sound more than anything else and poorly made electronics will likely not be to your taste, nor are they likely to last long as dust and oxidation over time take their toll. Most players prefer pickups that will provide a tone that can be described as "bark" or "growl", or perhaps "even and smooth" or with a "mwaaah" sound. cheap pickups will lack any sort of tone nuance and just sound dull. Very poorly built pickups will actually sound microphonic, meaning they will amplify every little bump and tap on the bass body, more than they will amplify the actual string movement.

    Like most things, you get what you pay for (to a certain extent) and if you buy a bass that cuts corners and sacrifices quality in order to make it as cheap as possible then you're asking for a bad sounding bass.
  11. senp5f


    Jan 27, 2008
    Santa Barbara, CA
    What will the end application be? If it's playing live, I would advise you to focus more on getting an good amp than worrying about the bass. A $4,000 instrument played through a tinny little amp that can't compete with the drummer is going to sound awful. And a well set up Sqiuer played through a great amp is going to sound perfectly serviceable.

    To your question: a "bad" bass sound is one that's wrong for the music. In a live setting your sound comes from hands plus bass plus amp.

    One reason that some basses (like Fenders) and som amps are so popular is that they do a decent job with most kinds of music that would use electric bass on. Some basses are more of a specialized tool for a specific style of music.

    The other thing to remember is that what sounds good to you solo won't necessarily sound good in the full band mix. Example: scooped sounds are awesome when you're playing alone but get lost live.

    So. You need to know what one of music you want to play and how the bass should for it -- thick and wooly? Tight and punchy? Bright and snappy or clicky? All those sounds have their uses.

    If all else fails, just get a fender jazz and a good ampeg. If you stick with bass you will probably branch out eventually, but that combo should do a passable job with most genres until your ear for bass sounds develops. Good luck!
  12. Try to identify a bass sound that you really enjoy, find out who the bassist is and what bass he or she plays, and get that. Be aware that you won't get the same tone. But it will at least (probably) be similar.
  13. simenandreas


    Jan 23, 2011
    Watch this video! You will surely hear a difference between the basses. Pick your favorite go a bass with the same pick-configuration! :)

  14. Sleeq


    Feb 13, 2008
    The problem is, only you and maybe a few bassists (who most will sound rude and snobby) will notice anything.

    The main reason you are playing is to keep the rhythm and entertain an audience, who don't care or know what bass is and they are all focusing on the vocalist.

    So just play your bass, as long as it's comfortable to you.
  15. Dbt25677


    Jun 9, 2013
    The only bass that can be considered 'bad' is one that doesn't make the same sound every time.
    A reliable bass is a good bass.
    Doesn't matter if the sound is punchy, smooth, explosive, hot, cool, doesn't matter. If you can depend on that bass to make the same sound each time, then that's a good bass.
  16. el murdoque

    el murdoque

    Mar 10, 2013
    A Bass that's working is not a bad bass.
    If there's no humming (or it's silent enough), nothing broken,
    the instrument can keep it's tune long enough and the setup is ok, so that at least the
    notes are right, you're ok.
    I know a few players that keep a bass they bought for less than $150 in their herd of handmade deluxe basses for those gigs you don't want to bring a $2000+ bass (Including myself).
    So there is 'good enough' and that is quickly reached.

    A friend bought a set for $250 (Bass, 15" combo, cable, bag and strap) new and everyone was stoked about how good that thing worked. Sure, i went back to my
    favorite bass afterwards and it felt like home again and i knew where the extra $2000 went that i spent for it, but i could gig on that cheap stuff if nothing else was availlable.

    I played a Peavey bass a couple of times that's below $400 new that i really liked - so much i considered buying it.

    So if you're starting out and can already play a bit go to a place that has a lot of basses to try out and play a few. take one that feels good and you're ready to go.
    someplace later, GAS will kick in and before you know it, you're sitting on a collection.
  17. Here let me fix that for you.

    The problem is, only you and maybe a few luthiers and soundmen (who most will sound rude and snobby) will notice anything.

    But seriously OP good construction and quality parts.
    The sound and playability can be so finicky do to setup and strings.Some basses are just a string charge and/or setup away from being your favorite bass.
    But if its not built well it will become a "bad bass".
  18. Feel, components, consistency, playability = bass

    Tone & sound = amp (and strings)
  19. Sav'nBass

    Sav'nBass Supporting Member

    Jan 18, 2009
    Northern Va.
    I agree. I really dig his site.
  20. malthumb


    Mar 25, 2001
    The Motor City
    In my experience, it is typically not sound that makes a bad bass bad. What makes a bad bass bad can usually be attributed to
    • Poorly designed or maintained electronics (bad hum, scratchy pots, uneven range in tone or volume adjustment)
    • Poor fret installation
    • Poor balance
    • Bad neck feel (difficult moving hands up and down the back of the neck, usually due to finish issues)
    • String height. Too high is a common problem, but some people also find too low a problem, particularly if it makes the bass difficult to play without fret buzz

    Anything that makes you have to adjust how you play or think about how to compensate for something that's not quite right. You don't want to fight your bass.

    The only sound related issues that I've encountered that made a bass bass (IMO) was poor volume control. Either not enough volume when full on or too touchy in making small adjustments. There are basses whose sounds I like better than others, but that doesn't make the one I wouldn't consider buying bad. Just not my cup o' tea.

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