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Thread: Acoustic vs. electric bass for acoustic guitar songs

  1. #1
    Toneologist
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    Default Acoustic vs. electric bass for acoustic guitar songs

    Hi guys, a little background first:

    I was thinking back to some of my influences and a post-grunge band from the late 90s called Days of the New came up. They combined some aspects of grunge, metal, and even world music into an all acoustic band. Originally they sounded like a cross between The Doors and Alice in Chains, with some pretty heavy riffs on acoustic guitar (if you distorted them, they would sound metal).

    On their later two albums, their singer/songwriter/guitarist Travis Meeks went solo and the material started sounding more like film soundtracks (Danny Elfman) or world music. He was often compared to Jim Morrison, but unfortunately a meth addiction has slowed his output. They (he) haven't had an album release in about 15 years, although bootlegs have popped up.

    Here's an example from their third and last album from 2001. Excellent production and arrangement, IMO.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUXyulycU0E

    This is in the bass forum because I remembered seeing them live on their first album back in 1998 with Metallica and Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains. Their bassist played an electric bass live, but neck thru.

    Which brings me to my point:

    When performing with acoustic guitars, do you guys prefer acoustic basses or electric basses?

    My opinion as a metal guitarist is electric basses tend to cut through better. One of the best tones I've heard on an acoustic song is probably Mike Inez's bass tone on Alice in Chain's "Rotten Apple," and I'm pretty sure that was electric. Acoustic basses seem to sound a little flubby or maybe add a bit too much fullness when combined with acoustic guitar.

    Of course there are so many variables here that I don't want to insist on this, but, as I'm considering some acoustic songs in the future, I'm considering whether an investment in an acoustic bass would be worth it. Generally I prefer a shallow body acoustic, with a thin, narrow sound, phosphor bronze, so I can layer a lot of guitars, as opposed to a dreadnought sound.

    My instinct is to say most people lean toward electric fretted basses even for acoustic songs. Now that I think of it, I don't see anything really exotic like a fretless acoustic 6 string being common, but if someone can point out a good example of their use, I'd be appreciative.

    This isn't to knock acoustics or semi hollows either. I've found beautiful sounds from them all, but for what I do I'd use them for one song or one part of a song and they wouldn't really be worth the investment.

    I appreciate any thoughts.
    Last edited by Inflames626; 03-05-2016 at 09:54 PM.

  2. #2
    Funkfingers
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    Default Re: Acoustic vs. electric bass for acoustic guitar songs

    How about the resonator bass as used by Les Claypool?

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Acoustic vs. electric bass for acoustic guitar songs

    I haven't seen or heard that, funk. Have an example?

    So far the last bass I was really impressed with was a Willcox Lightwave fretless that Dave Friedland (the Bass Whisperer) was demo'ing on YouTube. If I can find one for a good price I'll pick it up. Very clean sound.

    As far as Mike Inez, I may be mistaken. In live clips I've seen lately, it looks like he may be using a semi hollow. There are no F holes in it, so I can't be sure, but the way it's shaped leads me to believe it's semi hollow or a vintage themed solid body.

  4. #4
    Funkfingers
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    Default Re: Acoustic vs. electric bass for acoustic guitar songs

    Try Googling for video clips of Les Claypool's Duo De Twang.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Acoustic vs. electric bass for acoustic guitar songs

    You mean this?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EE5GuBSstw0

    It's interesting, but most of his stuff seems custom built for what he does. It would be overkill for us mortals.

    I always found him to be creative but not very listenable. Primus was big in the early 90s when I was in my early teens and I just found his playing to kind of overwhelm the rest of the band.

    I wouldn't be above playing anything with strings. I've an interest in medieval instruments that are no longer used much, like lutes and lyres.

    That said I'm not big on adding yet more strings to guitars when, IMO, having a dedicated bassist sounds better. Or, if range is going to be added, add more high strings on a bass, which I think sounds more interesting than low strings on a guitar. I think low keys on a piano are very effective as well because they are clear and percussive.

    I just wasn't sure what bass pros' thoughts were on acoustic basses (that is, hollow basses--they may be amplified if needed) vs. electrics in an acoustic guitar situation. I've seen bass players go either way.

    My impulse is acoustic basses are kind of plunky and dull, but this depends so much on mic placement and how tone is dialed in that I was thinking of giving them another chance, or at least an electric semi hollow.

  6. #6
    Funkfingers
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    Default Re: Acoustic vs. electric bass for acoustic guitar songs

    Yes. That instrument. LCDDT is all acoustic. The resonator seems to work in that context.

  7. #7
    of the Forum PFDarkside's Avatar
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    Default Re: Acoustic vs. electric bass for acoustic guitar songs

    I really, really like Travis Meeks and Days of the New. In fact, I have the three albums framed and signed by him somewhere around here. The first album could have easily been dismissed as an Alice in Chains knockoff, but the second an third showed tremendous growth, as far as I'm concerned. I've seen the band and him play many times, and his downward spiral is really sad and depressing.

    All the being said, I think of DOTN tonally sitting squarely between AIC Electric (Dirt, Facelift, Self Titled) and AIC Acoustic (Jar of Flies, Unplugged). When AIC went acoustic, it was a true acoustic sound and I think an acoustic bass (guitar style, not upright) fits right in with that tone. The bronze strings and hollow woodiness works great for unplugged type settings, IMO. In fact, the tone on rotten apple reminds me of an acoustic bass, combo DI and miced. (I may be off my rocker, but that's what I hear) DOTN, on the other hand, used acoustic guitars, but plugged into electric guitar amps (I believe he used Twins live) and the preamp definitely was adding some distortion to the tone (although not to the extent of an electric guitar). For that, the electric bass really fits the bill, since the acoustics are amplified to such a degree and the drums are full-on rock style.

    All the being said, I think each application requires a different instrument. For true acoustic instrumentation, unplugged and campfire type performances, I like the acoustic bass tone. For acoustic rock and songs featuring acoustic guitar, I prefer the solid low end of a traditional electric bass.
    Oh no.....


    Oh Yeah!

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Acoustic vs. electric bass for acoustic guitar songs

    PFDarkside, really excellent post.

    Yes, I saw them on that tour for the first album. I think it's unfortunate that the second and third albums were so dismissed, because they were far more ambitious conceptually and production wise. This is especially true considering that he did Red mostly by himself in an old distillery in Kentucky. Meeks and I are about the same age too, and I found their rise to stardom at between 17-19 to be really inspiring at the time. He was also quite good at taking riffs that might be metal (I think he said he was a Prong fan) and making it fit in an acoustic context.

    They were more of a rock band when Whitner, Vest, and Taul were with him, but he didn't need them as a songwriter. I got to meet Todd Whitner--I think I was 17 and he was 19--very cool, very tall dude.

    I remember Vest playing a red BC Rich or so, maybe an Eagle or something not quite so pointy, around that time. Really elegant. When they were setting up at the Riverport Amphitheater in St. Louis on July 28, 1998 (I think), the bass was set down with its back tilted to the audience, and it was obvious that it was a neck thru with a painted neck to match the body and very well made, as I remarked to my brother.

    I also distinctly remember them being distorted live via distortion pedals, but not so much on the records. I found them a bit fizzy and I probably would have done it differently. Because an acoustic is so loud and the strings are thicker, just detuning it to drop D, which they did, gave the instrument so much more power than a detuned electric--almost like a piano. I seem to remember Meeks saying they went straight to the board a lot in studio. I've always found their tone very balanced on the records--it's not super roomy like a lot of country and folk music, but it retains something more than just using a pickup direct, which can be kind of brittle. It's very consistent as well which makes me wonder about mic'ing, although stuff like the solos on "Touch Peel and Stand" are a bit open for my tastes.

    Live, I've never found acoustics played through conventional amps, even acoustic amps, to be very pleasing. The highs sound false and brittle to me. I think I'd rather go direct and just let sound reinforcement handle it, or mic the acoustic and try to stay in relatively the same position.

    There are definitely a lot of ways to do it--I suppose you could even go direct, mic the acoustic AND its respective amp, but I'm sure for live shows this would be a nightmare as far as feedback, lights, etc.

    What I like about Mike's tone in that song is it is so full but at the same time so clear and precise. I think we've all heard the sound of a really muddy P bass and how they can just "thunk" sometimes, taking up space in the mix without really adding anything. It might as well be a bass drum. I suppose that is my fear with going with acoustic bass.

    The thing is in a recording you can do whatever you like as far as the levels, so I'm still undecided. I think I'd probably just EQ out a lot of the acoustic bass's fullness, especially against the kick, and I'd probably end up with something approximating the sound of a solid body electric.

    What I've noticed as a guitar player who dabbles in bass is that bass is full of so many more options than guitar, be it pickup form factors, piezo electronics, and so on, and now with acoustics there is mic'ing. The world of bass gear is much richer and more interesting than on guitar, IMO, and bass players are underappreciated in this regard.

    Anyway, that went on long, but it's really cool to see someone who likes this criminally underrated band, too.

    Forgot to add, Red definitely used some straight up electrics (solo for "Hang onto This") and I'm pretty sure Green did too in places.
    Last edited by Inflames626; 03-06-2016 at 05:15 PM.

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