Any thoughts on acoustic basses?
August 5, 2013 6:32 AM   Subscribe

Over the weekend, I was blindsided by a powerful urge to buy an acoustic bass guitar (not stand up bass), mostly for noodling around the house without plugging in my electric or an occasional acoustic jam with friends. Can you give any buying advice or perspectives?

Right now, I'm probably leaning towards the Fender T-Bucket Grande, since I like short-scale guitars, but I've read that (like all acoustic basses), it doesn't project a whole lot unamplified. I'm not likely to play through an amp often--I already have a Mustang bass I play out with. The main issue I'm trying to address is that sometimes I just want to have a vigorous plonk on the bass without plugging in the amp and pedal chain (etc.); surely the acoustic must project more than an unamplified electric...

Open to other makes and models, but probably not looking to spend a ton of money.
posted by Admiral Haddock to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Un-amplified, an acoustic bass guitar will be lost in all but the quietest of mixes of instruments. A friend of ours sometimes brings one when we go camping and we can do campfire songs with just the acoustic bass + singing but once someone brings out a guitar or banjo or even a uke the bass is pretty much lost, and not in the good way that an electric bass can sometimes be felt but not heard. Just lost.

YMMV, of course, but I wouldn't buy one, and I love playing bass.
posted by gauche at 6:36 AM on August 5, 2013

I know a few bassists, and none of them have never found a satisfactory acoustic bass (barring sexy sexy doublebasses).

Would another solution to your quandary just to have a small practice amp that you can just plug into real quick, bypassing all your pedals? I have a little diddy one that I use when I can't be bothered to wait for the valves to warm up.
posted by greenish at 6:50 AM on August 5, 2013

I'm not sure where they fall on the loudness scale between acoustic bass guitars and all-out double basses, but one other affordable option to consider: Bogdon Box Bass.
posted by usonian at 8:09 AM on August 5, 2013

I have the impression that the lower end of the price range is not really worth it for these things. As for the sound, I've heard a really good one played unamplified close-up, and I could hear everything clearly, but no one else was playing at the time.
posted by thelonius at 8:12 AM on August 5, 2013

The best acoustic basses I've seen as far as projection and volume go have been banjo-style. I've seen and heard one of these in person and it was plenty loud. They're also portable — the banjo head and the neck can be separated without completely unstringing it. There's other models of bass banjo available, including I think some guitar-style ones (i.e. made to be played horizontally) but I can't speak to them from personal experience.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:14 AM on August 5, 2013

Dobro-style basses can also be fairly loud unamplified. On the twangy side, probably not unlike banjo basses.

Wooden acoustic bass guitars have been notoriously anemic since they've been a thing. This is a little bit of a mystery, because the Mexican guitarrón, which inspired the existence of the acoustic bass guitar, is notable for being quite able to project well even in open air venues against violins and trumpets. Perhaps it's simply a matter of the volume of the resonant space on a guitarrón being larger than most acoustic bass guitars I can think of.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:23 AM on August 5, 2013

Yeah, playing the guitarrón is just a tremendous feat of physical strength and endurance. It's not just the astonishingly large body size, though that's part of it. They've also got very heavy, very stiff strings under very strong tension, and the action on them is very high.

And that means that the playing technique is completely different: if you try to play with "proper" guitar-style left-hand technique, cradling the neck gently in your fingers, you won't even be able to get the strings down.

So it's not that it's acoustically impossible to make a good loud bass guitar out of plain wood. It's that it's physiologically impossible to play the damn thing using the same technique as you'd use on an electric bass. American guitar shops (in anglo neighborhoods at least) don't sell guitarrones because anyone who picked one up would swear that the action was all fucked up and it was totally and permanently unplayable, and would put it right back down again.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 9:49 AM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I dissent. A little.

Everyone is quick to point out the shortcomings of acoustic bass guitars. And they certainly wont shake the house unplugged. But they are awesome and fun. I favor a Breedlove. Keeps up just fine in a small combo with other acoustic instruments, especially indoors in small rooms (think: living room jam).

True, it does not have the full bottom that you get amplified or with a double bass. But it can at least be heard if you take care to match it with the right strings and take the time to adjust your right hand approach in order to maximize what you can pull from it (there's a sweet spot where you can get the most volume, it's not just about plucking as hard as you can). Totally different from electric.

A double bass is louder than an ABG, yes, but let's be honest--add volume from guitars and a kit and you need to amp those too.
posted by quarterframer at 12:06 PM on August 5, 2013

Have you considered a U-Bass? It looks more like a ukelele than a bass (about the same shape and size), but danged if it doesn't sound an awful lot like an acoustic double bass.
posted by Rykey at 1:14 PM on August 5, 2013

Best answer: Due to my own issue I cannot really comment personally on using one of these with other players...That said I have had a few ABGs and have seen some in action. played by yourself, just jamming on the couch I think they are great. I have an 80's Applause (like Ovation) I found recently at a pawn shop. Got it for 50 bucks! it's quite fun, and actually records rather well (which I find odd, I am not fond of the sound of Ovation 6 strings at all).

Now, for playing with others, I have seen only two that can reasonably do the job, both oldies:
The Ernie Ball Earthwood, most famously used by Brian Ritchie in the Violet Femmes. This thing is HUGE, and that is why it actually does the job. You most likely never find one though...I have not come across one in years...
Then there is the Guild B-50 (later B-30). I had one once upon a time, and really wish i still had it. It played great (short-scale) and sounded so nice. It was beautiful, and so well made. They are not rare, but not common either, and not cheap. It too had a big body, 18" x 8" deep...I never got to play it with anyone else, but I think it would've kept up ok.
Point is, body size is key.
So I'd say, if you do get one, get it as cheap as you can, and get it just have fun...unless it's one of the nice big-bodied ones, it likely wont be heard in a group.
posted by Soap D. Spencer at 7:00 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, all! I'm going to head to the guitar shop this weekend to try one out first hand, but you've definitely helped to cool my jets on this. But I'm still interested, given the responses from Soap and quarterframer--I don't expect a lot of loud jamming, but keeping up with a guitar or uke in the living room seems a reasonable expectation. Plus, I think having the ability to play alone for 30 seconds, as I currently do with my acoustic guitar while I'm waiting for my wife to put on her coat or whatever, would be fun.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:25 AM on August 8, 2013

Response by poster: Update: I bought a Fender Kingman. It's a heck of a lot of fun to play solo at home. I haven't tried jamming with it; it has pretty reasonable projection, but it's not going to deafen anyone...

Thanks, all!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:57 PM on August 19, 2013

« Older Will this old MBP run Minecraft?   |   Glowing red jewel? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.