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WHERE do electric basses get their SOUND from?

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

  1. Jewce


    Feb 23, 2018
    Santa Maria, CA
    Haha, you're funny man. But, you're right. We take what we hear, and put it to use.
    40Hz likes this.
  2. Axstar


    Jul 8, 2016
    East of Eden.
    Maybe basses get their 'sound' from listener perception, and nothing else. I can hear something like a P bass strung with flats in a given mix. I can usually identify most passive basses in a mix, as the classics have a baked-in tone. However, my colleagues don't know why I keep buying basses, or own multiple basses, as "they all sound the same". To them, the bass is the tuned kick-drum rumble when they go to the gig. And most of us have probably been told to "turn down" while we are still unpacking our gear, because the low end from the guitar/kick/keys is automatically assumed to be coming from us. Some people start to panic as soon as they see amplifiers!

    If I had to break it down to the bass itself, I find it hard to say which elements of a bass paint the biggest picture, sonically. The tonal difference between roundwound and flatwound strings is pretty much always noticable, even in quite a busy mix. The same bass is 'speaking' every time, but the timbre is different due to the string type. Beyond that, I would consider pickup type, pickup placement and circuitry to be important. Fretboard composition does something... and maybe a bassist plays a black bass more aggressively than a pink one? Who can say!

    So, in short, I'm taking a solipsistic approach; as bassists we shunt air molecules around and the "sound" we produce only exists in the ear holes of whoever is listening.
    Arnel M. likes this.
  3. kkaarrll


    Jun 1, 2014
    super ferrite?
  4. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    Solipsistic approach?

    Axstar you are awesome! It would be worth reading your post for that one line alone! :laugh::thumbsup:

    Funny thing is, when you get right down to it, that’s the only approach you can take with a topic like this.

    And that remains true whether or not you think you are. :cool::)
    Axstar likes this.
  5. Skybone


    Jun 20, 2016
    Good band name
  6. Nev375


    Nov 2, 2010
    But that is also a guitar. A bass is an entirely different object from a physics perspective. A bass has strings with much more mass and a longer neck.

    Imagine the difference between a short fishing pole and a long one with regard to vibration sensitivity. For the guitar with the strings being tuned an octave higher the vibrational energy in the strings isn't easily lost within the instrument itself and there is more harmonic content for the pickups to sense. For a bass the length and flexibility of the neck will easily absorb those harmonics.

    Pickups still matter, but not as much as overall construction. ...Unless you are after a warm thuddy tone and you don't want those piano like roundwound harmonics in the first place.

    That's why it's a bit of a silly question. Like the "where does the flavor in food come from" analogy. It depends on what we are eating and who the chef is. We don't all want the same thing and the ingredients to make different recipes are drastically different. Mostly it boils down to the talents of the cook and how he uses what is available to him, or in this case, the player.
  7. mongo2


    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw
    I just spent a few hours playing several of my basses to try to pick out what I can live without so I can continue culling the herd. Since I was the only one playing, the "finger/player" argument is rendered moot. I also set all of them up for my playing style, pickup height and every other setup parameter so setup differences are negligible.

    I even have backups to a few of them so I was able to compare different copies of the same bass and they all sound different.
    Arnel M. likes this.
  8. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    The Acoustical Physicist in me disagrees with you on a theoretical level.

    The bassist in me that has owned wood and aluminum necked basses disagrees with you on an experiential level.
  9. JoeWPgh


    Dec 21, 2012
    As much as I am in the wood matters camp, and prefer Babicz's bridges over other bridges, to me a bass is still 70% setup and 30% bass, if not 80/20. When the instrument is well set up, it become more expressive - maybe not in the operatic aria sense, but in terms of being able to coax more and different sounds from one. All elements matter, and all contribute. But, as you climb the quality ladder, improvements get smaller and more expensive, just like anything else. And there is a point of diminished returns. That's the rub. That's a personal call based on skill/expectation/situation/income. What's makes sense for one may not for another. I make no judgement where people draw that line.
    Arnel M. and I Can't Dance like this.
  10. Ekulati

    Ekulati Supporting Member

    Jan 2, 2016
    Richmond, VA
    Since we've gotten waaaaay off the track of trying to isolate and objectively compare various (non-human) elements of one particular bass vs another, and strayed into all manner of unrelated minutiae, I'll go ahead and throw out the one question that will annoy both sides to no end:

    Yeah, but can anyone in your audience hear it?

    Go ahead now, I'm fully aware of all the possible retorts to this rhetorical stink bomb...
  11. JoeWPgh


    Dec 21, 2012
    Almost everyone knows the audience doesn't much care about the things we bassists obsess over. But there are things I like, and I want them for just that reason. Why don't you?
  12. M.R. Ogle

    M.R. Ogle Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 5, 2004
    Mount Vernon, Illinois
    Backstage Guitar Lab owner
    A Yugo passes by at 65 mph.
    A corvette passes by at 65 mph.
    The bystanders (audience) say, "There's no difference in those two cars."

    You could tell the difference if you were DRIVING them!
    Arnel M. and JoeWPgh like this.
  13. Ekulati

    Ekulati Supporting Member

    Jan 2, 2016
    Richmond, VA
    Of course,. Like I said, I know all the rebuttals. That's the best one. Still, for me, I only have so much time and energy to obsess about perfect this and perfect that, before realizing I'm inspired to play well with a tone that may be 98% of my theoretical ideal, but I might drive myself crazy pursuing that final 2%.

    Arnel M. and M.R. Ogle like this.
  14. mongo2


    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw
    In my jazz duo with a guitarist playing mostly instrumentals it's hard to believe the tone of the instruments wouldn't be heard by the audience.
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2018
    Ekulati and Rumbledore like this.
  15. False dichotomy; there's certainly no difference in the SPEED of each car. Nor could you tell which is better or worse based solely on the speed. So it's an irrelevant comparison to the point at hand.
    Ekulati likes this.

    MAJOR METAL The Beagle Father Supporting Member

  17. Page after page of people reporting their subjective experiences, which to be brutally honest, doesn't mean much. We can all agree that this image appear to be moving:


    But no matter how much that appears to be true, it's not moving at all. People "hear" differences in instruments, but it's more to the pickup windings or the amp settings than the negligible mass/composition of the neck/body. The effect upon the vibrating string is so minuscule as to be lost. In many ways it's similar to suggesting that the outline of the lake shore affects the ripples from the rock I toss in. While it's technically true, it has no practical value.

    I'm surprised almost nobody has brought up the additional mass of the player's body, or the floor. Those are all connected systems, so therefore they must have some impact on the sound as well. The physics of a vibrating metal string are so small in comparison to the huge mass of a neck and body (and by extension, the player and the environment) that the composition of the bass effectively dampens any vibrational energy from feeding back to the string to the point where it can be detected by the pickups.

    But as I suggested in my original post, people simply do not want to believe it has no effect. They think it does, so as far as they're concerned, it does. Whatever. You can think magic fairies perch on your headstock and make your bass sound like a million bucks. This argument rages on every electric guitar or bass site, and nobody's going to change their mind based on whatever anyone else says, so maybe the best thing is to just shut it down. I'm not interested in getting into a long, drawn-out fight with someone who has a different opinion than my own. Life's too short and we have more pressing problems at this point in history.
    Ekulati likes this.
  18. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    You can call my input “opinion” if you want to, but it’s based on solid study (I have a degree in this, plus 4 decades of designing electroacoustical systems for pro audio applications)of vibrating systems, including vibrating strings). The end conditions of a vibrating string do affect its behavior. I have textbooks that do the math on this. You are free to trust your instincts or scientific knowledge. Your call.
    patrickhowell, M.R. Ogle and JoeWPgh like this.
  19. JoeWPgh


    Dec 21, 2012
    If the only things that affected tone and response were the strings and pickups, then a pr of J pups in a 34" hollowbody would sound and respond exactly the same as a solidbody. It would have to, unless the body and neck have an influence
    Arnel M. and M.R. Ogle like this.
  20. Jim C

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

    Nov 29, 2008
    Bethesda, MD
    Pbassmanca likes this.
  21. EatS1stBassist


    Apr 15, 2016
    So cal

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