Monday, November 28, 2011

Some Thoughts On Desired Upright Bass Tone

Perhaps this is of no one's interest but mine, but I feel the need to suss out what great upright bass tone is after mentioning it in the last "Fat Friday Feature". I like the bass to sound meaty, it's notes nice and round. The attack of the notes should start with a nice thump from the pluck of the finger, the sustain should bellow loudly and have a woody, reedy character to it.  The decay should resolve itself to the nice "mwhaaa" tone that every bassist since Jaco Pastorius seems to want.   To hear what I mean by "mwhaaa", click here and skip to the 2:44 mark.  I know it's on a bass guitar, but you should get the point.

The best way to achieve this is by using a good condenser mic. There may be an adequate pickup/preamp combo; I just don't know what it is.

In the over all mix, the listener should be able to hear all of these things without straining. By keeping the bass tone as defined above prominent enough in the mix, any given song will have a great deal more warmth to it.

 There are some exceptions to this - bluegrass bass being the first one that comes to mind. The function of the bass changes slightly - it's usually up to the bass player to keep pushing the song forward, even more so than most other genres.  In bluegrass, you just need to have a nice thump going on to keep the time and punch through the brightness of the mandolin/fiddle/banjo. As an example of what I mean, sing the word "thumb" (or "tomb") for the bass part to "Foggy Mountain Breakdown". Achieving the bluegrass sound requires no finesse to be honest. A lot traditional bluegrass bassists, when not sharing a mic with the other musicians, stick a microphone in some pipe insulation and wedge it between the top of the bass and the tail piece. This tends to do the trick nicely in most venues.  It ain't rocket science; it's bluegrass!*

* - If there are any sensitive bluegrass fans out there, this section is by no means meant to insult. Rather, it reflects a simple, pragmatic view of what works for bass in bluegrass settings.

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