Let's talk about bass techniques!

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mbene085
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Let's talk about bass techniques!

Post by mbene085 » Thu Aug 22, 2019 7:58 am

Figured I'd change the pace a bit, as I've actually been more of bass player than a guitar player lately, and have been exploring new techniques. Funnily enough, as mentioned in the "other forums" discussion, the biggest bass forum seems to be heavily biased toward cover band bassists, and less on original music.

So, who here plays bass, and what techniques do you use to help you achieve your goals?

I'll start by going into some of the things I've been exploring.

1) Getting flatwound tone from a bass with roundwounds.

I play acoustic and classical guitar, and am not willing to cut my nails short - they're not super long, but they're integral to my technique and tone on those instruments, and I don't play "enough" songs that call for that thick, thuddy flatwound tone to have a dedicated bass with flats. What I found is that playing with my bass nearly vertical, I can use an acoustic bass technique, striking the string with the side of my finger. This severely tempers the string attack, and avoids my nails, which give my "typical bass fingerstyle" tone a sharper, almost pick-like attack.

Of course, I couple this with rolling down the treble on the bass and my amp. The net result is a thick, thuddy attack that actually works great for motown-style licks, accompanying acoustic instruments, etc - the type of stuff you would often want to try playing with flatwounds.

2) Finding ways to incorporate polyphony into bass parts

This is actually the bread and butter of what got me heavily into bass. I will admit that for a long time, I treated the bass like an instrument that was meant to play one note at a time, maybe some octaves or fifths in the right circumstances, but seeing ABS IV, the bassist from Pinback, playing live for the first time a couple years ago made me realize how many ways he was weaving in and out of the guitar parts.

There weren't a lot of videos showing his techniques up close, so until I got to see him live, I had no idea what he was actually doing. I was front row right beneath him, and basically spent the entire show taking mental notes of stuff to try out.

Here is a recent video where you can really see how he keeps the arpeggios going - at first, he's just using his thumb and fingers like you might expect, but then he starts fretting notes with his right index finger way up the neck, arpeggiating the low notes with his thumb, and flicking the back of his ring finger on the 1st string to play that high note independently of the left hand/thumb part which is arpeggiating way down the neck.

So, this sent me down a rabbit hole. I got a Bass VI and a shortscale 4-string and started seeing what I could get away with in terms of polyphonic "guitar"-like parts while maintaining the fundamental notes of typical basslines.

2a) Bass VI.

I found the Bass VI lent itself to certain types of techniques, mostly guitar-like chording with right hand techniques similar to my fingerstyle acoustic guitar technique. I even sometimes use a thumbpick to emphasize the bass notes on the 4th-6th strings while playing higher strings with my index, middle, and ring fingers, acoustic-style. The key with this is to keep chord voicings simpler and more sparse than I do on acoustic - inserting thirds, fourths, or fifths in the lower registers quickly turns things to mud, but using a fundamental (or single note of an inversion) and then skipping a string or two before adding more voices tends to work much better.

The string spacing prevented me from getting too fancy with right hand techniques, so I started exploring that on a shortscale 4-string...

2b) 4-string.

On 4-string, I've been throwing in two-handed tapping (sparsely!), triads (4-2-1, or 3-2-1 in terms of the strings), and stealing some of ABS IV's strumming/multitasking tricks like the "fret with right index, pluck with right ring finger, arpeggiate bassline with right thumb and left hand" thing.

2c) "regular" 6-string - with a capo!

So, I had started searching for a shortscale 6-string to tune like a Bass VI, but give me room to explore the more "bass-like" techniques I was developing on 4-string. The thing is, they were all north of $2k, so before trying to work that into the instrument budget, I decided to perform an experiment. I got a used LTD B-206 super cheap (35" scale, 2" nut) and a pair of capos. I basically tuned it B-B as a Bass VI down a fourth, and capoed it at the 5th fret - the result is a 26.22" scale Bass VI with ultrawide "nut" and string spacing!

I'm still getting to know it, and it's definitely heavier (and more neck-heavy) than it "needs" to be, but it's definitely an entirely different animal from my Bass VI. I can do all of the "bassy" techniques on it that are too cramped on the VI.

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Re: Let's talk about bass techniques!

Post by marqueemoon » Thu Aug 22, 2019 10:57 am

Cool thread.

I play bass almost as much as I play guitar.

I use an always on boost into a Barber Tone Press with the comp and blend at noon and the output just about unity gain. It does a great job of evening out the perceived level differences between pick and fingers while retaining the unique sounds of each.

Lately my big focus has been on cleaning up my playing. Keeping unwanted strings from ringing out, and paying more attention to how notes decay and adjusting that. I’ll often use a finger on my right hand to gradually mute a string by sliding or rolling. I’ll often use the volume control for end-of-song fadeouts. This detail stuff makes a huge difference in the overall sound of the band IMO.

I love double stops and chords, but I try not to overdo it. There’s usually an open string in there somewhere. I usually follow the “What would Lou Barlow do?” standard when it cones to playing more than one note at a time.

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Re: Let's talk about bass techniques!

Post by parry » Thu Aug 22, 2019 11:11 am

marqueemoon wrote:
Thu Aug 22, 2019 10:57 am
I usually follow the “What would Lou Barlow do?” standard when it cones to playing more than one note at a time.
:D

You beat me to it!
Yep. Pretty much lots of that ^^^
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Re: Let's talk about bass techniques!

Post by mbene085 » Thu Aug 22, 2019 11:32 am

Oh jeez, so it's not just me. I also was a "WWLBD" player up until a couple years ago. That's literally what I'd be thinking as I decided when to throw in some fifths and whatnot. It's a pretty good guiding principle for any kind of rock. Then I starting going further "out there" with all this 4-6 string stuff, but it's for a very different style of music.

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Re: Let's talk about bass techniques!

Post by parry » Thu Aug 22, 2019 1:34 pm

Oh, I got the gist of what you were after, but for my self-taught, crude playing that is one of my comfortable places. I don't get a chance to play bass as often as I'd like (in a band context), so I haven't really had the opportunity to stray too far. Yet. But it comforts me to know that there are others like us, who have noticed. Because I think if you are watching - he's one of the ones doing something fairly unique in the broader, common areas of the bass player world.

I won't be adding any quality content to this thread (sorry for the interruption), but I will definitely be watching. It's a great thread - thanks! :)
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Re: Let's talk about bass techniques!

Post by Shadoweclipse13 » Thu Aug 22, 2019 8:40 pm

parry wrote:
Thu Aug 22, 2019 1:34 pm
I won't be adding any quality content to this thread (sorry for the interruption), but I will definitely be watching. It's a great thread - thanks! :)
Me too! Subscribed to the thread.

I usually go for more of a "What would James Jamerson do?" kind of direction than anything else. I'm working on finger picking with a single finger. Getting better at it, but I still suck. It's a lot of fun to play though.
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Re: Let's talk about bass techniques!

Post by countertext » Thu Aug 22, 2019 9:02 pm

Re the OP, I used to weave a thin handkerchief through the strings right up against the bridge to get a softer, muted tone, or to take the roundwound zing off it. A guitar polishing cloth muted even more, almost like an upright. However, it always changed the intonation a little, so your tolerance (or intolerance) for that might be a limiting factor.

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Re: Let's talk about bass techniques!

Post by Larry Mal » Fri Aug 23, 2019 4:05 am

I've been making my peace with the pick. Like a lot of us, I was brought up thinking that the bass guitar should only be played with the fingers, which I do. But I've been working my way to realizing that the bass guitar is a guitar, first and foremost, and that a pick is every bit as valid.

Otherwise, I used to use a technique for slapping that involved my two fingers and not my thumb very much. I'd hold my hand almost perpendicular to the fingerboard and kind of drum the strings with my fingers that way.

I thought I might have made it up, later I found out that John Entwistle used to do that. Odd that I didn't know that since I'm such a Who fan but I don't pay a lot of attention to stuff like that.
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Re: Let's talk about bass techniques!

Post by RuffiansFC » Fri Aug 23, 2019 7:11 am

compressor. it's as crucial to my bass playing as it is my guitar playing, especially on fretless. as even as I play, it's still necessary.

I've been a big fan of cobalt flatwound strings, because they have a bright sound that can get you in that roundwound territory. I slide around a lot on bass, so I prefer flatwounds with and without speed bumps.

when recording, I would much rather play with fingers and have others track the same way when possible. if someone plays with a pick, I almost always have to battle the attack because it's stepping on someone's toes most of the time. with fingers, I don't have to do much eq except for cutting out mud.

playing with my fingers also makes me not think like a guitarist. i'll approach a song with an economical approach so the low end isn't getting in the way. there may be some options to add some more harmonically rhythmically interesting moments instead of following the guitar, and i'll take them if they make sense. even if I play with a pick, I'm not doing it so I can match the speed or complexity of an insane guitar part. it's usually for the tone.

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Re: Let's talk about bass techniques!

Post by burpgun » Mon Aug 26, 2019 12:48 pm

Been playing bass for 30 or so years. My main instruments are a 1975 Precision with rounds, a U.S. Jaguar with Labella low-tension flats, and a Pawnshop Bass VI. Amp side is whatever is loud and neutral: I'll use a SansAmp VT to dial in the sound.

I've mostly been a pick player and remain that way. Peter Hook was my motivation to play, so you can see why I lean the way I do. I prefer slightly overdriven sounds and I use a lot of effects. Between that and my sloppy technique the pick works best. That said, the other player who really made a mark on me was Jah Wobble, so I do play with fingers some time, but mostly on the flats.

The coolest, least intuitive playing trick I know I picked up from a Daniel Lanois interview: Play softly with lots of gain. There's a fullness and extended range that seems to emerge. I've taken from that the idea that hi-gain on the instrument side, be it guitar or bass, is something I no longer seek. If I want dirt I'll get it out of the pedal.

My other thing is that I only hit the strings in the range of where the P pickup is, onto the neck. Too brittle for me closer to the bridge. You get cool overtones when you go up over the fingerboard: See Al Cisneros

The Bass VI is all pick, I don't even really know how normal finger style would work there. I see the VI as a low guitar and treat it that way. Open G tuning on that guy is also fun for wall of sound racket.

And finally, unless you are Larry Graham or Bootsy Collins, slap bass is terrible and I don't know why so many bass players even bother. And why are so many demo videos guys slapping away? Not my cup of tea at all.

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Re: Let's talk about bass techniques!

Post by marqueemoon » Mon Aug 26, 2019 2:55 pm

One thing I’ve started doing is switching fingers while holding down a note to set up better for what I’m playing next. I’m not sure if that’s an approved technique but it works for me.

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Re: Let's talk about bass techniques!

Post by Plumerai » Fri Aug 30, 2019 12:14 pm

Accenting certain notes to compliment the other instruments or rhythm helps. I probably picked it up from the Cure & the Banshees. When I was drumming the bassists we had played everything really even/straightforward which sounded boring to me.

Learning to not play over everything. Sometimes having the bottom end drop out gives more impact when the bass kicks back in.

Also, I'm really into harmonics on bass. We have one song recorded & several more ready to go when we finally get the band restarted.

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Re: Let's talk about bass techniques!

Post by marqueemoon » Fri Aug 30, 2019 12:58 pm

Yeah. On one of my band’s newer songs I have a simple 3 note harmonic part I came up with to accentuate the creepy vibe.

Another fun one is scraping the pick at a low angle close to the bridge to “bow” notes. You need roundwound strings , obviously. Running some compression helps too.

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Re: Let's talk about bass techniques!

Post by Maggieo » Fri Aug 30, 2019 1:17 pm

James Jameson (Motown) and Carol Kaye (Thr Wrecking Crew) both put foam rubber under the strings, back by the bridge.
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Re: Let's talk about bass techniques!

Post by Shadoweclipse13 » Sat Aug 31, 2019 1:18 am

Maggieo wrote:
Fri Aug 30, 2019 1:17 pm
James Jameson (Motown) and Carol Kaye (Thr Wrecking Crew) both put foam rubber under the strings, back by the bridge.
I always thought Jamerson stuffed a folded piece of felt underneath the bridge cover, but I could be wrong.
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