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What makes a bass sound good??

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by BassBuzzRS, May 10, 2006.

  1. BassBuzzRS


    Oct 18, 2005
    How do the different factors for your sound weigh? This might be foolish, but bear with me as I am going to present a guess to amuse my fellow bassist friends. This is not a scientific thread, just estimated numbers for discussion purposes.

    Assuming a regular bass, like a stingray or jazz bass precision bass etc. I am also trying to simplify a little or else the read would be so very long, but not more accurate :)

    Part 1: Actual Bass sound

    Let's say that you make your bass sound the way it does because of these major contributing factors:

    a) Wood/Material (30%)
    b) Construction (5%)
    c) Electronics (25%)
    d) Hardware (15%)
    e) Playing technique (25%)

    These factors are made up of their own subcomponents:

    Neck (25%)
    Body (45%)
    Fingerboard (20%)
    Material symbiosis/resonance blend (10%)

    Bolt-on / neckthrough / glued or set-in neck (65%)
    Glue type and amount (5%)
    Finish (5%)
    Number of laminates (5%)
    Scale length (20%)

    Active bass:
    Pickup type (20%)
    Pickup placement (15%)
    Pickup brand/construction (25%)
    Preamp brand/construction (40%)

    Passive bass:
    Pickup type (40%)
    Pickup placement (30%)
    Pickup brand/construction (30%)

    Bridge type (20%)
    Bridge brand (5%)
    String type (40%)
    String brand (30)
    Nut material(5%)

    Playing technique:
    Pick/figerstyle (45%)
    Picking strength (15%)
    Picking hand positioning/picking spot(40%)

    Conclusion examples Part 1:
    1. Ash or alder body? Bodymaterial= 45% of the category Wood/Material, a category which impacts the total sound about 30%.
    Thus the ash or alder decision might have (0,45x0,3) 13,5% impact on the overall actual bass sound.
    2. You pay extra for a custom wenge fingerboard neckthrough model: (0,2x0,3) + (0,65x0,05) = 9,25% impact on the overall actual bass sound.
    3. You upgrade your bass with a better onboard preamp and new pickups: (0,65x0,25)=16,25% impact on the actual bass sound.
    4. You switch from pick to fingerstyle and play softer: (0,45x0,25) + (0,15x0,25)= 15 % impact on the actual bass sound.
    5. You buy a badass bridge for your fender: (0,25x0,15) = 3,75% impact on the actual bass sound.
    6. They don't have maple fingerboard, so you buy rosewood: (0,3x0,2) = 6% impact on the actual bass sound.

    Part 2 Perceived amplified sound for the player

    You plug your bass in, and open up a whole new ballpark! Many new factors apply to the total sound that you hear.
    Let's try to weigh them too. Asuming no EQ applied and you are still playing alone... These factors will affect the way you hear your sound.

    a)Actual bass sound (see above) (50%)
    b)Preamp (5%)
    c)Poweramp (2%)
    d)Speaker type/size (7%)
    e)Speaker enclosure (5%)
    f)Cabinet brand (5%)
    g)Room acoustics (10%)
    h)Cables (1%)
    i)Ear position vs cabinet placement (16%)

    Conclusion examples Part 2, relate to conclusion examples in Part 1.
    1. Ash or alder body? (13,5 % x 50 %) = 6,75 % impact on the perceived sound.
    2. The custom wenge fingerboard neckthrough now impacts the perceived sound 0,925x0,5 = 4,6 percent, while cabinet brand impacts more, and your position vs the cabinet impacts 4 times more than the expensive upgrades to the bass itself.
    3. New preamp and new pickups = Roughly 8% impact now as you are in an amplified situation with many more factors.
    4. Switch from pick to fingerstyle and play softer: (0,45x0,25)switch + (0,15x0,25)playsoft x 0,5= 7,5 % impact on the perceived bass sound.
    6. Fingerboard type now counts 3%, which is less than the amp's preamp, no eq.
    5. The poweramp type now impacts the sound more (2%) than the badass bridge(1,875%), which in all practicality is as low as the ridiculed difference in sound when switching to another cable type.
    7. Switch rooms and lift your cab up on a chair =(g+i) 26% impact on the perceived bass sound.


    Part 3 Perceived bass sound when practising with your band

    Ok so you go to band practise with your bass and start to play together. Old and new factors now affect your sound.

    a) Your perceived amplified sound (55%)
    b) Amplified bass sound vs the other instruments. Sharing the sonic spectrum (15%)
    c) Your position vs the others (15%)
    d) The mix/room acoustics (15%)

    Conclusion examples Part 3, relate to conclusion examples in Part 1 and 2.
    1. Ash or alder body: Unamplified you could probably hear the impact(13,7%). But when you amplified it, it mattered much less overall (6,75%). Now with the band playing around you, it doesn't matter much overall; 3,7% !
    2. The wenge NT bass option: 2,5%
    3. New onboard preamp and pickups: 4,5%
    4. Fingerboard type: 1,65%
    5. Lift your cab up on a chair: 8,8%
    3. Move around to another spot on the stage: 15% impact on your perceived bass sound.

    Part 4 Audience perceived bass sound when you perform with a band!

    How much does the non musician audience hear the details in your bass sound.

    a)Amplified bass sound vs the other instruments (15%)
    b)Audience position vs PA (25%)
    c)Audience position vs the stage sound if any (10%)
    d)House or soundman's mix / room acoustics (20%)
    e)Audience focus on your instrument(30%)

    Conclusion examples Part 4, relate to conclusion examples in Part 1 and 2 and 3.

    Here it becomes even more far fetched in the conclusions, hehe:

    If the listener is aware of the bass sound, and in a good spot and listening to the whole band mix, he probably be hard pressed to hear a difference in your bass body material (3,7% from part 3 x i.e. house mix 20%) = below 1 % !!!!
    Your custom wenge NT option, bad ass bridge, different fingerboard wood, new pickups and onboard preamp will matter even less, and in all practicality mean nothing to even the attentive listener.

    Now add in that the listener might not be attentive to the bass sound per se, or is even focused on the gitar or vocals in stead. I don't mean to discourage, but it seems that you can get away with just about any type of gear that works. They will not notice any upgrade you make. Even you yourself would probably not notice at band practise if you didn't know beforehand what you expected as a result. of course I made up the scenario and numbers, but I find it interesting nonetheless.

    Phew, that was one long post, took me hours :)
    What do you think?

  2. BassFelt


    Mar 26, 2002
    Interesting "pseudo analysis". IMHO the players' percentage is larger than you state, the electronics' too, and the bass amps' insignificant in a larger venue with PA, in which case the engineer plays a bigger part than you mentioned. But it doesn't matter because even if all the percentages would vary quite a bit, the conclusion would still be more or less the same, and worse if the venue is a stadium :)
  3. 62bass


    Apr 3, 2005
    Wow! That's quite a bit of work. Here in Canada you could probably have gotten a government grant to fund further research.:)

    My head started to hurt reading it and imagining putting all that together.

    I know a lot of guys really get into this sort of thing and find it important, but I just try a bass and if I like it, I buy it. If I made a mistake I sell or trade it. It works for me but apparently not for everyone.
  4. high mileage

    high mileage

    Apr 17, 2006
    Rockford IL
    It's all about the player... I'm sure Will Lee would sound better with my gear than I do. I can admit that.

    I'm more of a "bottom line" kind of guy too. If the whole package sounds good, plays good and looks good, then it's what I'm looking for. "Good" can mean a lot of different things, and the definition used to change more than it does now, but after playing enough basses you'll figure out what works best for you.
  5. BassBuzzRS


    Oct 18, 2005
    Very wise, if you ask me :)
  6. lola99


    Jan 28, 2006
    An experienced bass player would sound better playing my bbq grill than I would playing the best, most expensive bass created by bass angels in heaven :rollno:
  7. Craig Garfinkel

    Craig Garfinkel

    Aug 25, 2000
    Hartford, CT
    Endorsing Artist: Sadowsky Guitars

  8. mark beem

    mark beem I'm alive and well. Where am I? Gold Supporting Member

    Jul 20, 2001
    Alabama, USA
    The person behind it.
  9. In the immortal words of Styx, "Too Much Time On My Hands."

  10. paulraphael


    Apr 13, 2006
    If you heard me play, you'd stop reading what I write.
    if you really have too much time on your hands, check out the cool links on this page ... it's mostly about accoustic guitars, but i'm sure there are relevent ideas ...
  11. BassBuzzRS


    Oct 18, 2005
    LOL :D And if his playing was really smokin', you could probably eat grilled food afterwards!
  12. NJL


    Apr 12, 2002
    San Antonio
  13. Geoff St. Germaine

    Geoff St. Germaine Commercial User

    It seems to me that the percentages you've assigned are somewhat arbitrary. Heck, anyone attempting to do this without spending a lot of time systematically investigating is doing it arbitrarily.

    I think that you also have to qualify what you mean by "contributes to the sound". For instance, lets take the example of you saying that the hardware has a 15% effect on the sound. What exactly does this mean? Also, what is more important to the perceived sound, etc., etc.
  14. BassBuzzRS


    Oct 18, 2005
    Yes yes, arbitrary :)
    15% to hardware, hmm how much do you think that factor is then? I was just making a guess :smug:

    Just to clarify a point, there is no question that the bass player is a major contributor to how the bass is perceived by a listener. I see that some people say the the person behind the bass makes it sound good. It's beside the point of my post.

    The player makes music with a bass, no one can take that away from the player. His/her style and technique, note choices and you name it all, makes a player who he/she is.

    In this post however, I was pondering on how we spend cash to upgrade bass hardware and technology and accessories, only to make zilch sonic impact on a given audience's opinion. How much difference do the different factors contribute? See what I mean? Anti-GAS !
  15. RolandMHall

    RolandMHall Supporting Member

    Jan 9, 2004
    St. Louis, MO
    I agree 1000% on this. However I will also mention that trial and error by both players and builders have given us what we consider standards for electric bass.

    tone woods - (Ash, Maple, Mahogany, Alder)

    neck/fretboard woods (Maple, Rosewood)

    electronics (I think it comes down to personal taste)

    scales/lengths (ever hit the low b really hard on a crappy 5 string?)

    etc, etc. I do believe that in some instances upgrades may be needed. But I'm of the strong opinion that one doesn't need to spend thousands of dollars on a bass to sound good.

    For many of us, making the move from passive to active was like night and day.

    With that said, I really don't think that a custom tulipwood body is going to resonate better than let's say Ash. Maybe, but I'm not sure.

    I guess that what I'm saying is that I agree with the post and at some point most of those upgrades or costly accessories get lost in the mix anyway.
  16. artistanbul

    artistanbul Nihavend Longa Vita Brevis

    Apr 15, 2003
    I believe this can't be done like this.
    there are no reference points so it is bound to be invalid.

    I mean, rule number one is, changing one component at a time, to evaluate it's effect. this is usually not that easy because of multi components varying effects when together.

    even if you did that, you would need a reference point to measure the percentages, and that reference point is vague. maybe sine profile? hz? I don't know.

    still thanks for putting something like this.
  17. B String

    B String Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2002
    Los Angeles
    Its so stupid to keep going over this again, and again.
    Its been talked to death in other threads. Most people
    agree that the chrome tuners, knobs, and bridge sound
    best. Some think that gold knobs and other fittings sound
    best. I personally feel black tuners and knobs have a more
    centered sound, but really, chrome sounds the best for
    most applications. I'm of course talking about "high end" knobs.
  18. Petary791


    Feb 20, 2005
    Michigan, USA
    Well this is my not in-depth opinion.

    Technique is about 80%, pickups are about 15%, and wood is 5%.
  19. zazz


    Feb 27, 2004
    have you ever played an instrument that is soooo good that even an acoustic open chord struck lazily sounds like a harmonic heavenly choir....and then havent you played an instrument that is just plain dead.

    now whats the difference there regardless of player?

    as long as the hardware is competent it usually comes down to the strings and the wood...if its not working at that level before its even plugged in...then it aint working imo.
  20. Moo

    Moo Banned

    Dec 14, 2002
    Oakland, CA
    That might be pretty close ;)

    Don't forget preconceived opinions of what the bass will sound like.

    And if you're wearing a shirt. :bassist:

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