What makes a bass "punchy", or "percussive"?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by BrandenSteele, Dec 18, 2012.

  1. BrandenSteele


    Nov 25, 2012
    I am going to be buying a 6 string fretless or fretted bass guitar, and I would love to have a nice punchy, percussive sounding bass. Is it the pick-ups? The neck material? Any ideas for percussive 6 string bass?
  2. Coolhandjjl


    Oct 13, 2010
    Strings have a huge influence. You hear terms like thump, attack, etc. This is the strings, some do it better than others. Also, bolt-on style bass's do better than neck-through in that regard as well.

    Now that I have stuck my neck out, every new post after this will disagree. :bag:
  3. Theo413


    Aug 6, 2012
    a good amp makes a huge difference as well.
  4. Broadstbully22


    Dec 5, 2011
    Strings and speakers have the most effect. Rounds are more punchy then flats. 10s are more punchy then 15s.
  5. Dbassmon


    Oct 2, 2004
    Rutherford, NJ
    Technique, how you attack the string

    Pickups, bridge pickup adds lots of attack

    Single coils are more aggressive (and noisier) than humbuckers

    Amplification, eq and processing, compression
  6. El-Bob


    Oct 22, 2006
    Hamilton, ON
    Everything has an impact, but for me the biggest factors are:

    1) The tone inherent to your pickups. A Jazz bridge pup, or an MM in the sweet spot will always have a degree of 'punch', but a neck mudbucker probably never will

    2) Your amp head. Changing a head makes a big difference to the same bass and cab. You want something with an inherently strong bottom end.

    3) Your cab. You want something that keeps the bottom end and the mids tight and focused: strong and present, but not muddy.

    Boost your low mids a bit with the appropriate gear, and you'll get some punch going on.
  7. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    Punchy is a vague term that means different things to different people. For example some would argue that flats are punchier than rounds because they have less treble and sustain.

    For my definition of punch, I prefer a bolt-on bass with alder body. I also prefer a sealed speaker cabinet, and yes, I prefer 10" speakers, although punchy 15" cabs are more common these days.

    Some say that a bridge pickup is necessary, but I disagree... I think a P-bass has better punch than a J-bass. But again, this is a vague and highly subjective question.
  8. klyph

    klyph Supporting Member

    Mar 28, 2009
    Cape Cod
    The care and skill of the player in deploying muting techniques. I would say you can make muting easier by raising the strings off the fretboard somewhat, and lowering the pickups, to give your hands the clearance they need. Flatwound strings help too, but there's no reason not to get punch out of a neck through bass with roundwounds, if you can set it up to mate with your playing style to achieve this goal. The problem (for me, at least) is getting that punch and still reaping the benefits of super-low action; lessened fatigue and more facility. Oh, you can stuff some foam under the bridge, too.
  9. Volume

  10. Luckydog


    Dec 25, 1999
    I agree the terminology, regardless of how widespread used, is subjective. To me a p-bass has punch due to its humbucker pickup, especially when used with flats. Punch, IME, is a solid thick knockout type of attack that has little sustain, and, depending on the strings and other factors, focuses on mids and lower mids. The key is "thick".

    I would describe the tone of 2-pickup basses as more cutting than punching, and covers much more tonal and frequency range. But cant ever produce the thick knockout tone of a humbucker.

    Describing tone is 5 parts semantics and an equal amount of indivdual perception.
  11. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    I will keep collecting until I have 40 basses
    What makes a bass "punchy", or "percussive"?


    1 - Your hands. How you play makes a big difference. Do you gently thumb pluck? Do you play with a pick aggressively? Do you slap?

    2 - EQ. Learn to use you EQ to cut through the mix. Different rooms, different bands, different amps, different basses all need different EQ settings.

    3 - Your amp. You won't be punchy with a 10watt combo with an 8" speaker.

    4 - You need a good bass. Not necessarialy expensive.

    5 - PA support. If you run into a PA with 18" subs and 2000 watts per side then you will be heard.
  12. MCS4

    MCS4 Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2012
    Fort Lauderdale, FL
    As you can see, opinions widely vary on this topic. The short is answer is "a lot of things," and that a very punchy bass likely comes from several things coming together.

    I think your best bet is to simply search around the forums to find out which brands/models of bass have a reputation for "punchiness" -- so that you then don't need to worry about why in particular a bass has that sound.

    That being said, my impression based on personal experience and lots of forum-browsing is that bolt-on necks, dual pickups (bridge plus neck, such as jazz style), and lighter body woods are commonly associated with punchy/percussive sounds.

    In addition, I personally believe that the finish plays a noticeable part -- a thick gloss or other type of coating may tend to compress/restrain the sound in a way that leads to a more percussive sound. Part of this comes from my experience in stripping the thick gloss from my main Carvin and refinishing it with tung oil, which I believe made a noticeable tonal difference (although in the opposite way from what it sounds like you want). My backup Carvin, which has a bolt-on neck, humbuckers, and a thick gloss finish, is far more percussive.
  13. Syco_bass

    Syco_bass Supporting Member

    Aug 13, 2008
    Tucson, Arizona
    EMG pickups are very percussive "punchy" in my opinion. They have a distinct tone that lends itself to that term. Just listen to anything from Flea. He has a very mid scooped "punchy" tone. In my opinion tone woods also make a difference. Swamp ash has a very "punchy" or focussed low end and Maple has that same quality with a bit more bright quality.

    Also, adding a bit of compression to your signal will help. Of course, non of this makes any difference if you have low quality parts, speakers, technique, or buzzing frets or freatboard, etc.

    Good luck.
  14. Coolhandjjl


    Oct 13, 2010
    My Hamer Cruise 2-Tek is my punchiest bass. Modified J style two piece alder body with a high gloss finish, and a bolt-on three piece maple neck with rosewood fingerboard. Is has two Seymour Duncan SJB-1 single coil pups.

    Strung with D'Addario XL, a roundwound, it is all attack and very little growl or harmonic overtones.

    Strung with DR LoRider, again a roundwound, it is all growl and harmonic overtones with very little percussive attack.
  15. pasco jacorius

    pasco jacorius

    Jan 4, 2010
    To me punchy sound depends a lot on how you pluck the strings. I've made a short video there
    where you can definitely hear that some notes are more punchy than others.
  16. Osprey


    Jun 20, 2005
    I agree with everything in this thread. (Must be nearly Christmas). I don't think anyone has yet mentioned plucking (heck..or using a plectrum) close to the bridge. The difference is less marked with 2 pickups, but on a P where you can work either side of the pickup , over the pickup, further down by the bridge or right up by the neck you get a huge variety of sounds, some of which must be punchy!
  17. kander


    Feb 3, 2007
    +1. It's all in the hands.
  18. +1 to most of the above. IMO the main thing that makes a bass 'punchy' (meaning to me, a lot of lower mid content and a lot of 'space between the notes') is having the ability to play cleanly and in time with your right/plucking hand reasonable close to the bridge.

    Secondary influences are rig voicing (too much scoop of the mids or deep low end extension fights that tone) and pickup type and placement (with soap bar type pickups with at least one in the P Bass position or closer to the bridge) helping get you there quite a bit.
  19. M.R. Ogle

    M.R. Ogle Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 5, 2004
    Mount Vernon, Illinois
    Backstage Guitar Lab owner
    Lots of contributing factors, but you gotta eventually wind up with a bass/amp/EQ situation that emphasizes and cleanly defines the low-mid frequencies.

    Strong low mids. Any and every way you need to get em.
  20. Lowbrow

    Lowbrow Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2008
    Allentown, PA!
    Strings, and not totally scooping out the ~400hz range with your tone controls (though it can sound pretty awful when you're solo'ed and it's very tempting).

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