Bassist seeks bass for serious, long-term relationship
September 3, 2010 9:36 AM   Subscribe

What kind of bass guitar am I looking for?

I've begun to search for a new bass guitar, but I'm having trouble narrowing down options. I've tried a few at used guitar shops, but it's hard for me to really get a sense of an instrument in those settings, with all the extraneous noise and subtle pressures to buy. So, I'm looking for advice about brands/models that might fit the sound I'm looking for, so that I can focus my search.

The sound I want: I play in a folk/americana/rock band that has a wide and diverse group of instruments. We have a lot of instruments that work in the mid and high range, so I tend to play pretty low, anchoring parts. I'm looking for a bass that has a very warm, rich sound in the low end, but remains distinct and avoids being muddy or too growly. With all that said, we also have louder, more rock oriented songs that require a punchier sound higher on the neck, and I want a guitar that maintains a sort of big, warm tone even higher up on the fretboard. I guess the big adjectives that I have in my head about this are: warmth and evenness.

My bass now is a Fender hybrid: precision pick-up, precision body with a jazz neck. I use flat-wound strings and my current amp is an old Peavey rig, but probably to soon be replaced by an Ampeg of some kind. I like my current bass, but it can get muddy at the low ends and also get weak in the "bass" frequencies as I move up the neck. Due to touring logistics, I frequently play through amps that aren't mine and that have completely different settings and sounds, so I want a bass that can retain its "identity," so to speak, with diverse set-ups.

I'm definitely looking to buy used. I don't have a ton of money to spend, but if I found something I really loved that was in the $1000-2000 range I might try to make that happen. I know this is pretty subjective and hard to pinpoint, but what guitars do you immediately think of when you read my description? Any particular manufacturer or years? I guess I would also take advice on how to get the sound I'm looking for in general, regardless of the guitar I use, but I'm really interested in finding a nice, durable guitar that I can play for the rest of my life. What say? Anything I can add to help narrow the focus?
posted by otolith to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think it's your amp rather than the bass that's the problem. Basses do have different sounds but you can play a great bass thru a crappy amp and it will still sound crappy. The bass you have now sounds like a reasonably good one (provided it's set up correctly). I'd get your new amp first and then see how your bass sounds thru it.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:44 AM on September 3, 2010

I've owned a Fender P-Bass, an Ibanez SG, an EB3, and a Godin A4.

Based on my experience, and what you describe you're trying to play, and the way you've customized your current rig, you want a Godin A4.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:49 AM on September 3, 2010

IMHO you already have the perfect bass for what you want to do. I agree with doctor_negative that you might look at looking more at the amp end of things, or experiment with some other flats or pickups for the bass.

Have you tried playing with a pick? A P bass with flats in the style of music you describe can really benefit from the definition playing with a pick will give you in the overall sound of the band.
posted by quarterframer at 9:56 AM on September 3, 2010

Can you take your bass into a music store and try some different pedal chain configurations? That should let you really customize your sound and tweak it to what you want.

Just a nice compression pedal can really bring out a deep, low, warm sound that is still as bright or dark as you want it.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:11 AM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you are trying to cover a lot of different sounds, so you might benefit by adding a jazz pickup in the bridge position. They have a brighter sound than the precision pickup, and you could blend those tones together to cover more of what you need to do and adjust for the differences in various backline amps.
posted by InfidelZombie at 10:20 AM on September 3, 2010

FWIW, you can do some amazing stuff with just an EQ, particularly if you're dealing with shitty house amps.
posted by jenkinsEar at 10:29 AM on September 3, 2010

I also play bass in an americana/rock band and I think I know the sound you're looking for. I play a 1975 Rickenbacker 4001 with flatwounds (no pick) through an Ampeg tube head. Warm, rich, smooth, distinctive - it has it all! Looks and sounds great, and always gets compliments from other bass players. I'd recommend it in a heartbeat!
posted by platinum at 10:31 AM on September 3, 2010

Are you married to the flatwounds? Roundwounds might be too bright but something in between like ground-wound/halfwound/half-round/pressure-wound/etc strings might give you a little more clarity to keep from getting muddy without taking away the warmth. I'd at least try them before getting a new bass.
posted by 6550 at 11:14 AM on September 3, 2010

My bass now is a Fender hybrid: precision pick-up, precision body with a jazz neck.

Hunh. I have one of those m'self. When I played it regularly, I was mostly playing through a big Ampeg (I forget the model number a couple of decades later) with roundwounds and got a tone I liked a lot. It was pretty close to what you describe, so maybe the amp is the trick.

Anyway, my best recommendation would be a Rickenbacker, as platinum suggested above. I don't know that you would find one for that price range, though.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:26 AM on September 3, 2010

I don't know too many solutions for this particular issue, and I agree with some of these people that it just might be your amp or your cables as opposed to your instrument. I personally play a 1964 Fender Precision Bass, but I also own a traveler bass guitar, and it's a really great instrument. Light, great sound through the entire range, and sturdy. If you are looking for a new instrument, that one is great.
posted by auiricle at 11:28 AM on September 3, 2010

I second the idea of pedals, though.
posted by auiricle at 11:29 AM on September 3, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions so far, folks. I will definitely be using my current bass to try out new amps, so I may find a better sound that way. I'm interested in this idea of using a compression pedal as well. Any suggestions for who makes a good pedal? Will also give the Godin and Rickenbacker basses a try. Re: pick suggestion, I much prefer finger picking, but I'll give the pick a try at our next practice.

More ideas welcome...
posted by otolith at 11:31 AM on September 3, 2010

I suggest tweaking the electronics of your current bass. It's already been suggested that you might want to get a J pickup - having the P pickup in the bridge and a J in the neck gives you all kinds of versatility of tone. Another thing you ought to investigate is either a good EQ pedal or adding some active electronics with EQ to your bass.

If you're just tired of the bass and want to try something new, I recommend Music Man. They feel nice (at least in my hands, they do) and they have great built-in EQ. You can get a good one for somewhere near 700-800.
posted by nathanfhtagn at 11:44 AM on September 3, 2010

Nthing replace the amp before you replace anything else. I can't say I much dig on any of the modern ampeg stuff, but to each his own. FWIW, I would try a markbass lm2 before you buy any ampeg. The VLE knob could help you quite a bit with what you are trying to pull off.

You could also try some other p-basses as I can't think of any bass that would be better for what you describe. I could see a Rick pulling it off too, with two caveats:
- Ricks are not known for being even; rather they are known for having bad low e-strings (see this talkbass thread). My Rick has this problem, but it's often not too noticeable.
- Ricks feel incredibly different for other basses, so I highly recommend you try before you drop the cash on it. 4003s are bound slab bodies, which can really cut into your wrist. The string spacing is also much more uniform across the entire neck/body length than most basses.
posted by yeoldefortran at 1:11 PM on September 3, 2010

MusicMan StingRay


Warwick Streamers 5 strg

I have had both brands and in the end really fell in love with the music man. The Warwick was REALLY NICE but I was absolutely terrified it was going to get damaged all the time. Sold it to drop the blood pressure.

Best piece of equipment I ever bought besides the bass was a SansAmp. Infinite possibility when it comes to tone with this beast of beauty. Get the foot switch for it. :)
posted by Gravitus at 9:13 PM on September 3, 2010

The P-bass with flatwounds is a very classic sound, especially paired with an Ampeg amp. You might want to go for a higher end (American made) P-bass, maybe one with active electronics and a Jazz or soapbar pickup in the bridge position. You might also consider getting a Lakland, which many consider to be a better Fender than Fender (more consistent tone and quality control).

The Musicman Stingray is very versatile and definitely has a big tone. The active electronics give you a lot of flexibility but you still retain a characteristic fat (some call it tubby) tone. New ones are in the $1200-1400 range. I've tried/owned lots of different bass and keep coming back to the Stingray for its sound and great feel.

Something you'll want to consider is the width of the neck. The P-bass and Stingray have wider neck than the Jazz neck that you currently play, might take some getting used to.

You definitely want to check out the Tech21 VT-bass pedal (same manufacturer as SansAmp) if you dig on the Ampeg sound. It's an amp simulator of sorts so you can go direct into a PA.
posted by kenliu at 9:05 PM on November 6, 2010

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