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What makes a bass good for chords?


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I've got an old Hohner B2 and one of the things about it is that, despite having humbuckers, it sounds really clear, well-defined chords.

To varying degrees my other basses tend for the lower strings to sound (relatively) muddy and the higher ones too strident when I play 3/4 string chords - this is when set up for  good normal sound. It doesn't seem to be such a thing when double stopping, only when things get seriously polyphonic 🙂

More than one bass player noted for 'rhythm style chordal playing used/uses a Rickenbacker(C)(TM)(R).

What do the panel think are the things that make a bass particularly good at articulating chords.

Or is this all in my imagination?

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Posted (edited)

Given the finger stretches involved in forming some chords towards the headstock end of the bass then a shortscale bass has to be a big advantage.

Edited by Cato
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Most basses tend to sound muddy if you play closely voiced chords down low. In certain situations I tend to play quite a lot of double stopped 10th and 3 note 7th chords so I just want a bass that has clarity over the entire range with enough sustain to let them ring out.  I'd also generally go for something with a good active preamp with a 34-35" scale. 

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4 hours ago, Stub Mandrel said:

I've got an old Hohner B2 and one of the things about it is that, despite having humbuckers, it sounds really clear, well-defined chords 

🙂

 

Aren't they essentially guitar humbuckers? I'm not sure if that has a bearing?

I find light strings and a bright, toppy eq advantageous to chordal adventures. Rotosound Funkmaster are the extreme.

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I think a clanky bass with a relatively narrow range makes chords sound more ‘together’ whereas modern neck thru active basses with big tonal range make them sound more spatial and atmospheric 

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17 hours ago, Cato said:

Given the finger stretches involved in forming some chords towards the headstock end of the bass then a shortscale bass has to be a big advantage.

I have long fingers but I can see this may be an issue for some.

16 hours ago, Doddy said:

Most basses tend to sound muddy if you play closely voiced chords down low. In certain situations I tend to play quite a lot of double stopped 10th and 3 note 7th chords so I just want a bass that has clarity over the entire range with enough sustain to let them ring out.  I'd also generally go for something with a good active preamp with a 34-35" scale. 

I mostly play 4 note bar chords and open shapes and relatively close double stops. I find most basses sound great when you use the D or A as a pedal note and play a melody on the higher strings, which is a similar situation, and yes some get murky if you use the E as a pedal.

I suppose I am wondering what makes some basses not sound muddy when you get down low.

13 hours ago, pete.young said:

Colin Hodgkinson plays a lot of chords, and he uses a Precision with fairly light strings.

Not familiar I'll look him up. Ah, I sometimes try to play like that,  but with less melodic results...

12 hours ago, BreadBin said:

Aren't they essentially guitar humbuckers? I'm not sure if that has a bearing?

I find light strings and a bright, toppy eq advantageous to chordal adventures. Rotosound Funkmaster are the extreme.

Humbucker, I recall we thought they were essentially guitar pups back in the day, and they have very high output. I've always used Elite standard (105) on the Hohner.

11 hours ago, ped said:

I think a clanky bass with a relatively narrow range makes chords sound more ‘together’ whereas modern neck thru active basses with big tonal range make them sound more spatial and atmospheric 

The Hohner isn't clanky, but it has a very aggressive tone control, so much so the volume drops noticeably when rolled off. With both pups the chords sound less defined with tone rolled back, but instead you get a very nice 'growl' as the E and A strings harmonise.

My active headless Hohner (5-string) doesn't sound anywhere near as good.

11 hours ago, ambient said:

This is why I play a 6 string bass. 

I can see 6 strings offer more chordal flexibility. Are their pups/electronic designed to give a better chord sound?

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I think it's probably more likely to be the player rather than any particular feature of a bass that makes chords on this instrument sound good.

Chords play a big part of my playing style and I can't say I've ever noticed that they sound better on any particular type of bass. These days I play long scale 5 string basses in one band and short scale Bass VIs in another and both do the job equally well.

From a playing PoV these are things I keep in mind when using chords:

The more complex the chord the higher the register you are going to need. For simple two note chords I can go all the way down to the open low B string on a 5-string. As the chords get more complex I find myself needing either a higher register for all the notes or at least those that are the "less obvious" notes in the chord. Failure to do this results in a poorly defined mush no matter what the bass.

Don't try and do everything on the bass. Use the arrangement of the music and the other instruments to add in the extra notes required. Then it's much easier to adjust the volume and timbre of each note to give the effect you are after. Think of the arrangement as a whole and not just what one instrument is doing in it.

And of course that leads to the well-known fact that works when solo'd is not necessarily best when part of a bigger music picture. This more true than ever when playing chords on the bass. Work on the bass sound in the context of the whole arrangement not on its own.

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9 minutes ago, BigRedX said:

And of course that leads to the well-known fact that works when solo'd is not necessarily best when part of a bigger music picture. This more true than ever when playing chords on the bass. Work on the bass sound in the context of the whole arrangement not on its own.

This is very much me trying to compose some 'solo' stuff mostly for my own satisfaction, also in the hopes it benefits my wider technique/options.

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3 hours ago, Stub Mandrel said:

This is very much me trying to compose some 'solo' stuff mostly for my own satisfaction, also in the hopes it benefits my wider technique/options.

In that case it's going to be much easier and what you will need to do is work on the chord voicings to give the best compromise between overall clarity and the notes you want to play.

And a lot of the time it works best if you keep it simple. You don't need to play every note of the chord. Lot of the time just the root and an upper register note or two that define the melody will be fine. If you must use lots of notes try and keep the intervals between them as big as possible - i.e. more than a third.

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3 hours ago, Stub Mandrel said:

 

I mostly play 4 note bar chords and open shapes and relatively close double stops. I find most basses sound great when you use the D or A as a pedal note and play a melody on the higher strings, which is a similar situation, and yes some get murky if you use the E as a pedal.

I suppose I am wondering what makes some basses not sound muddy when you get down

Getting chords to sound clear is as much to do with the players note choices as it is the bass. I think it's the nature of the instrument that close voiced chords down low are generally going to sound muddy. That's why a lot of people will raise the 3rd an octave and play 10ths, or will miss out the 5th when playing 7 chords- it cleans things up and gives a bit more definition to the chords. Close voiced triads generally sound better and clearer when you go in to the upper register of the bass.  Of course, power chords (with or without the octave) can sound great in the lower register,  but I still think they start to lose definition if your root is down low on the E string.

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5 hours ago, BigRedX said:

I think it's probably more likely to be the player rather than any particular feature of a bass that makes chords on this instrument sound good

This 100%. Before investing in a new bass, throw a set of low tension strings on your bass and see how it feels. 

Then is all about trial and error, my advice would be create yourself a backing track to play to and find the chord voicings that sound the best. 

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6 hours ago, BigRedX said:

I think it's probably more likely to be the player rather than any particular feature of a bass that makes chords on this instrument sound good.

I'm not convinced... I have a good selection of bases here and the one sounds head and shoulders above the others.

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7 hours ago, Stub Mandrel said:

I suppose I am wondering what makes some basses not sound muddy when you get down low.

I would say the answer to this is all in how the bass produces the mid frequencies. Scooping out some low mids will probably help with clarity, but when put in a mix with guitars it might get lost. 

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