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Factors affecting playability of a bass..


Gruuve

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I've been thinking about this for a while, but I haven't really sat down and taken any measurements or other "scientific" approach to it.

 

One factor in playability is obviously string gauge and tension. In general, I think most people would agree that smaller gauge strings are easier to play. Lower tension strings are also easier to play. Note that there's two ways to get lower tension: smaller string gauge and "stretchier" stricks. Beyond a certain point, lower tension starts to sound bad and become unplayable, but we're talking within reasonable limits here. I've never really put any research into which brands are higher vs. lower tension given the same gauges. Anyone? (Just for reference, I'm not talking REALLY light guage. I'm referring to B-string = 0.125 vs B-string = 0.130 or thereabouts).

 

Action or string height is also a factor. Generally, the closer to the frets the strings are, the easier the bass is to play. Most decent basses can be adjusted reasonably low without too much fret buzz. For most basses, it's a combination of the string height set at the bridge and the amount of bow in the neck set by the truss rod tension. I haven't really quantified this (like in terms of string to fret distance, etc.), but I generally try to get my strings as close as I can without too much fret buzz. I actually like some fret buzz...it gives the sound more harmonic content and grind to it, at least for fretted basses. I guess with a fretless you get more "mwah" by having the action really low, but it seems like you lose sustain more quickly with a low action on a fretless than you do on a fretted bass. Just to be very specific, I think fret buzz when you first pluck the note but disappearing after that is about right (for me, anyway)...if it continues to buzz after you've picked the note, that's too much IMHO.

 

The string spacing is another factor. As far as I've seen, it can vary from cramming 5 strings onto a 4-string neck width to widening the neck a whole 'nuther string to anything in between. (I guess I'm thinking mostly 5 or 6 string basses, although I suppose the same is true to a lesser extent with a 4 string bass.) I think different folks have different preferences on string spacing, but I tend to favor strings that have wider spacing vs. closer spacing. I like enough space to slap and pop easily, and it doesn't seem to degrade fingerpicking that much (for me anyway) to have a wider string spacing. I find that if the string spacing is too close, I can finger pick just a little easier (ie. less effort), but it becomes very difficult to slap/pop accurately for me. There doesn't seem to be much of a "standard" string spacing for anything over a 4-string bass. Or is this just my impression?

 

Another factor that I've realized but never really put any scientific thought into is the shape of the neck. To me, a less thick neck seems to be easier to play. (I'm thinking in terms of my Dean Edge fretless, which has a thinner neck vs. my Musicman Stingray5, which has a much thicker neck...both have identical string spacing). Looking at the two, you don't really notice the difference. But when I play them both, the thicker neck of the MM seems to make the notes just a little harder to reach. Or is it actually the thickness of neck, or just the shape of the back of the neck? I'm not sure now that I think about it, but I believe the MM's neck is definitely thicker than the Dean's neck (I'm not home where I can actually compare them). Just a thought...I've never actually known what was meant when someone said a bass has a "fast neck". Can anyone clear me up?

 

I'd have to say body size (and maybe even shape) is a minor factor in a few ways. For instance, a really heavy bass is more tiring to play. On the other hand, I can't see being able to slap on something like one of the "broomstick" Steinbergers...I steady the bass by planting my forearm on the top/front of the body...the Steinbergers and copies (except for the model with a full body) don't have anywhere to brace it the same way!

 

So, what are other factors that affect the playability of a bass outside of these?

 

Dave

Old bass players never die, they just buy lighter rigs.

- Tom Capasso, 11/9/2006

 

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An important factor to me is where the bass is positioned, on a strap, in relation to my body.

 

The top horn and strap placement, as well as body shape and bridge placement all plays to this. I like basses with the top strap pin approximately even with the octave fret, and bridge placement near the edge of the body. This means the neck will be not be so far extended from the (and my) body, and the first position will be within easy reach.

 

I'm not a very big guy and my arms are short. ;)

1000 Upright Bass Links, Luthier Directory, Teacher Directory - http://www.gollihurmusic.com/links.cfm

 

[highlight] - Life is too short for bad tone - [/highlight]

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Cucumber placement?

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v506/atmofmn/Bass/cuke.jpg

 

But seriously, one upright I played had a huge neck, sucked big time. Difficult to get good leverage on the strings and forget about virbrato.

 

Weight distribution. Borrowed a friend's acoustic bass guitar and it was incredibly neck heavy. Real chore to keep in position.

 

ATM

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Originally posted by Social Critic:

Originally posted by basshappi:

The color.

Isn't Bump the resident expert on color and playablity? I believe he states that black is louder.
Aha! Black may be louder, but you can play a red one faster...Bwa ha ha ha....

Old bass players never die, they just buy lighter rigs.

- Tom Capasso, 11/9/2006

 

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Originally posted by jeremy c:

Thinner, low action, light strings may feel better to you.

 

But I'd like to feel some resistance from the strings and I'd like to feel like I was really holding on to something.

Middle vs high ground in terms of guage is more what I'm referring to....I really don't like the really thin guage strings, so it's a balance of playability vs. tone. I have Ernie Ball Standard Slinky's on my MM that start at 130 for the B-string. The Dean has GHS (?) strings that start at 125 on the B-string, and they have noticeable less tension (the Ernie Ball's are as taunt as steel cables supporting a bridge!) and they feel substantially easier to play while still producing good tone, IMHO. I'm seriously thinking that I might try the Super Slinky's on the MM (they start at 125)...if there's not much loss in terms of tone quality, the slightly lighter guage strings might be worth the reduced playing effort. I guess I'll just have to try it and see...

 

Dave

Old bass players never die, they just buy lighter rigs.

- Tom Capasso, 11/9/2006

 

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Originally posted by Bob Gollihur (bob@gollihur.com):

An important factor to me is where the bass is positioned, on a strap, in relation to my body.

 

The top horn and strap placement, as well as body shape and bridge placement all plays to this. I like basses with the top strap pin approximately even with the octave fret, and bridge placement near the edge of the body. This means the neck will be not be so far extended from the (and my) body, and the first position will be within easy reach.

 

I'm not a very big guy and my arms are short. ;)

That's a really good factor that I hadn't really thought much about, but you're right. Easy reach of the whole neck. And balance...my first bass was a Yamaha BB300, and it was neck-heavy...it took effort just to hold the neck up. Very good point.

 

Dave

Old bass players never die, they just buy lighter rigs.

- Tom Capasso, 11/9/2006

 

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Here's my theory:

 

The fretting hand would prefer low action, light gauge flatwound strings, and narrower string spacing. The plucking hand would prefer higher action, heavier gauge roundwound strings, and wider string spacing. The challenge is finding the compromise that suits you best. And that's without even considering tonal differences.

 

Thickness of neck and string spacing preference is heavily dependant on hand size (including finger thickness).

 

Balance is critical IMO. Weight is pretty important too but not at the expense of balance; i.e. small bodies but heavy necks/headstocks have to be compensated by strap pin position and upper horn length.

 

Alex

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How about style of playing? Some basses seem better suited to certain styles:

 

And while I'm at it, how about right-hand issues?

 

Slap: The geometry (placement) of the pickups relative to the heel of the neck seems to be a big factor for me in "slap-ability" of basses. I need some room in between the two.

 

Finger: I tend to rest my right hand thumb on the pickup when I'm finger playing. I do it without even thinking about it. If the pickup is positioned oddly or has any sharp edges, that can be uncomfortable.

 

 

 

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weird....but i often rest my thumb above the string that i'm playing. (if i'm playing the d string, my thumb is on the a string) This isn't etched in stone, but this particular facet of my playing requires a decent spacing.

 

jason

2cor5:21

Soli Deo Gloria

 

"it's the beauty of a community. it takes a village to raise a[n] [LLroomtempJ]." -robb

 

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The play-ability of a bass is going to vary from player to player simply because it is so darned subjective. It's all about your own comfort-zone.

 

A friend of mine and fellow bass player has a bass he swears by. When I try to play it, it's horrible, it's like driving a truck. His idea of 'playability' and mine are in two different universes. :rolleyes:

 

 

 

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It depends on the song for me. When I slap, I like light guage strings, When I play finger funk I like mediums to heavy. Definetly Heavy when playing rock steady. Doing the my Jaco impression I prefer lighter strings. Ah. Another justification for owning as many basses as possible.

Together all sing their different songs in union - the Uni-verse.

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I went to a shop and played every 4 string J bass I could get my hands on (lots of Fenders and a Lull or two). I thought the string spacing was too close together on most of them to feel comfortable in my big ol hands. I am more comfortable with a P-bass neck and most comfortable with the neck of a blonde or brunette....
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