1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  
    TalkBass.com has been uniting the low end since 1998.  Join us! :)

WHERE do electric basses get their SOUND from?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Arnel M., Jun 6, 2018.

  1. INTRO: A few weeks ago, armyadarkness posted a thread - What really makes a GREAT bass sound GREAT! - and prompted me to post a question that have been bugging me for quite some time now. WHERE do electric basses get their SOUND from? I apologize if this has been covered before. I searched "sound, bass sound" but didn't see one that talked about my query.

    VERSE: From different sources, I gather the following: pick ups, strings, woods, bridge, pots, preamps, fingers, playing style. I agree, but I suppose these factors have different weight values in terms of sound.

    CHORUS: To simplify things, let's talk passive fretted basses with EVERY part working and in tune, using the same player, strings, cable and amp, same settings etc.... IMO, I would rate each sound source factors somewhat like this:
    1. pick ups - 40 - 60%
    2. strings - 15 - 30%
    3. playing style - 15 - 30%
    4. bridge, woods, other hardware - 5 - 15%
    What I'm getting at is that however you mix the values, the bass sound will mostly come from the PUP.

    BRIDGE: For those who agree up to this point, please go to the next paragraph, and for those who don't, please post how you would rate these factors. Thank you.

    CHO 2 (change key): So if we say that the sound of an electric bass comes mostly from the PUPs, a stock Fender, Ibanez, Squier, Yamaha can be called generically as it is. BUT...
    If you have a Sq VM Jazz, and change the pick ups to an EMG, shouldn't it be called an EMG bass on a Sq WMJ body? Or does putting a Fender pick up on an Ammoon bass make it a Fender sounding Ammoon bass? I mean, why do we change the pick ups on our basses if not to go for THAT PUP's sound?

    CODA: The second question would then be - how should we call the bass officially? This 2nd Q may be immaterial though. :)

    OUTRO: How would we call a Toyota with a Honda engine assuming that it can be done? Do we wanna ride (or be seen) in a Toyota but deep inside we know that Honda is "running" the car?
    Pbassmanca and jd56hawk like this.
  2. I don’t know much, but...

    A wire at a specific length and tension will vibrate at a specific pitch. This is where the sound begins. Pickups then capture that sound magnetically.
  3. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    Your weighting values are pretty close; but, I disagree about the neck material. Neck construction has a huge effect on tone. But, since most necks are maple, we tend to discount that variable. Pick up a graphite neck bass or an instrument with a wenge neck, and you will hear what I’m talking about. Otherwise, you’ve got it about right.
  4. jd56hawk


    Sep 12, 2011
    The Garden State
    Nothing wrong with a Honda or Toyota.
    I don't see either one in my immediate future, but I do like the FJ Cruiser.
    Pbassmanca, SactoBass and Arnel M. like this.
  5. FJ Cruiser yeah :) My wife doesn't like it but looks handsome to me :) can't afford one though.
    jd56hawk likes this.
  6. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    I have to disagree about how low you rated playing style.

    Think about the vast difference between plucking gently near the end of the neck vs popping the strings as hard as you can vs using a pick and palm muting near the bridge vs playing harmonics.

    There's more of a difference in sound between those different techniques than you would get from changing between different brands of the same pickup style in one location.

    How and where and with what you hit the strings is where over half of tone comes from.
  7. twinjet

    twinjet What does God need with a starship? Supporting Member

    Sep 23, 2008
    I would say an output jack.
  8. Agree with you on where our tone comes from! However, isn't the PUP that will be picking up (hehe) the "tone" we are making (ergo the rating)?

    Actually, i realize that what I'm probably after at is that I see bass comparisons, "in praise of" posts in YouTube that credits the brand when in fact they have changed the PUPs.

    Thanks sir.
  9. haha, a Yamaha bass with a Fender output jack! Nice one. :)
    SoCal80s and Pbassmanca like this.
  10. 2BitHack


    Nov 11, 2014
    it all depends on what the definition of "is" is.
  11. Would love to "hear" from you sir.
  12. Jim C

    Jim C Is that what you meant to play or is this jazz? Supporting Member

    Nov 29, 2008
    Bethesda, MD
    It's mostly the player
    A pro can sound awesome on an SX or Squire
    An OK player can have the greatest instrument in the world and will still only sound OK
  13. James Collins

    James Collins

    Mar 25, 2017
    Augusta, GA
    I think the general consensus from prior posts was that the name of the type of bass comes from the shape of the body and neck. Putting a split coil in a Hofner 500, Rickenbacker 4003, Warwick Thumb, or a Thunderbird does not make it a precision bass. The only reason I think controversy exists about this is because split coil pickups get called Ps, single coil get called Js, and humbuckers MMs.
    Arnel M. likes this.
  14. James Collins

    James Collins

    Mar 25, 2017
    Augusta, GA
    I also do not understand how you come up with the percent difference in sound. The fundamental note you here when you play is the majority of the sound you hear. That comes from plucking a string at a certain tension and length.

    Playing style offers a huge ability to shape sound. It is most obvious because it is really one of two things you can AB test on the same instrument. Playing hard versus soft, finger/slap/pick style, over the neck/bridge/etc, or the many other intricacies.

    The only other thing you can AB test on the same bass is the pickup/electronics settings. Tone all the way of sounds much different than all the way on. Bridge pickup sounds different than neck pickup than combined. Preamp makes an obvious change.

    Everything else is harder to compare because it requires physically changing the bass (swapping strings, pickups, neck or body material, fretboard material, finish, tuners, nut material, fret material, or bridge). Even among these things, it is coming felt that swapping strings, pickups, nut material, or bridges impacts the sound a noticeable amount--again it is difficult to quantify this as a percent.

    Of these last parts--the most difficult to exchange parts--are considered to impact tone the least. In particular, the neck, body, fretboard, or finish are rarely changed for anything drastically different. In my opinion, they impact tone as much as any other part, but it is difficult to quantify because you cannot normally compare the exact same bass under the exact same conditions with only one variable changed in a double blinded way. The best evidence of this comes in recordings where people AB test two similar instruments. I have yet to hear one where the recordings sounded identical, but how can you attribute the sound in two recordings to only the wood change. Maybe in one recording the playing was different leading to brightness from being a little closer to the bridge.

    Everything adds small changes to the sound by dampening frequencies or vibrating the strings with overtones. This contribution could never be very much by percentage of sound heard in any strings instrument, yet the small change can have a big impact. I think all your percentages are BS based on your biases.
    40Hz, M.R. Ogle and Arnel M. like this.
  15. symbolic_acts

    symbolic_acts Supporting Member

    May 24, 2004
    it sure isn't the wood.

    the pickups + string type/age + scale length/tension is 99 percent of the sound. obviously not counting EQ.
    TH63, Luigir, Bassbubble11 and 3 others like this.
  16. that's how i look at it. thanks sir.
    MEKer likes this.
  17. The percentages were my own opinion. I just wanted to know how others look at things.

    Also, the assumption I made was everything to be the same from player to strings to electronics.

    Basically, i think what I'm after is people calling a Squier bass a Squier, when they have modded it with EMG or SD pups. Because, if the pups provide the biggest part of the sound we're creating, then the pups should be credited for it.

    Come to think of it, why would anyone change pups if not to get the sound coming from those new pups.

    Just my thoughts. Thank you for the input sir.
    Ekulati likes this.
  18. Tim1


    Sep 9, 2005
    New Zealand
    Having experimented over the years, I would rate the combination of neck and body woods far higher than 5 - 15%. This is based on having swapped the same pickup across basses at various times and heard a considerable difference depending on the bass to which it was fitted.
    SuperTwin, Afc70 and Arnel M. like this.
  19. low_E


    Nov 17, 2013
    Vista, California
    obviously from their mojo
  20. Thumpin6string

    Thumpin6string Supporting Member

    Apr 25, 2013
    Redding CA
    I agree with this point. My graphite neck sounds totally different from any other type of neck I've played. The main thing is that it can sustain a note almost forever. It is also pretty bright sounding. When I designed my bass, I chose mahogany (warm sounding) for the body to help tone the brightness down. Also IMHO The hardware (bridge, nut and tuners) and the pickups and electronics have a role in it also. That said, I think the neck and body play the major role in the sound. That is why a fender with a maple neck sounds different from a rosewood neck and an alder body sounds different from an ash or mahogany body.
    tfer, Afc70, Tim1 and 2 others like this.

Share This Page