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Does bass construction affect harmonics?


uk_lefty
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Interesting one here.... Why do some basses sound much clearer playing harmonics?  What is it that REALLY influences good, clear, bell-like harmonics ringing out long loud and clear?  Obviously fresh round wound strings help, but I'm hearing big differences between my basses. The clearest of all is my five string fretless. It's wearing stainless steel round wounds but it always sounds good for harmonics even with old flats. Is it the massive rosewood fretboard with no speedbumps, the very stiff maple neck (dual truss rod), the swamp ash body? 

If P basses don't usually produce good harmonics why did my MIJ Fender P sound so good for them? Alder body, massive thick maple neck, Steve Harris signature SD pickup? 

 

Curious as to thoughts on this. Not that I do more than mess about with harmonics but when I play my fretless I just can't help but throw in harmonics a lot because they sound so good on that bass. On my Jack Casady, no chance. My Stingray is just ok for harmonics, it doesn't inspire me to throw them in when I go off on one despite it being my "best built" bass.

Edited by uk_lefty
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I imagine there would need to be absolute consistency in intonation for each bass as if you're hitting the harmonic at 12th (other harmonics are available) fret and the bass isn't intoned properly it will sound less clear.

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I’ve found that the more expensive basses I’ve owned have been very clear whereas the squire and Fender not so much. It’ll be interesting if that’s purely down to setup though, I must admit I’ve never particularly been bothered about intonation being spot on in the dusty end.

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Resonance of the bass material to amplify the vibration acoustically 

 I.E Heavy Dense wood may soak this up creating a "lower key"  or dull.... 
While a light body chambered body will be easier for the energy to transmit as sound from the vibrations

String type will assist this immensely. I always prefer a bass that has a solid acoustic tone before even attempting to plug it in. - Ash is decent. 
Proven this hypnosis on my Warwick & Yamaha RBXA2 & 5

Try playing your bass while on this on your lap, resting on a wooden desk or something so the vibration will travel through and try :)
 

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I tend to find that basses with a higher action project harmonics with greater prominence.  I play with a very low action and harmonics on my basses often lack brightness and 'ping'.  I know very little of the physics of this and it's just a personal observation (and as many of those who share my company would suggest, I could be talking nonsense).  

Edited by three
too many 'tends'
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I've done a little research on a related topic. I measured the "operating deflection shapes" of a bass of mine, which are like modes, but for structures with varying internal stress and strain. I found a spot where there was a match between the frequency of a high-amplitude ODS and the second harmonic of a fretted note. So, if you were to play that note, you would expect the energy from that harmonic to transfer into the bass body very easily. And it did! Looking at the spectrum of that note as output by the pickups, the second harmonic died away very quickly compared to other notes which didn't share this feature. This experiment suggests that the stiffer the bass is, the longer vibrations will sustain in the strings (and in the output), because energy that is transmitted into the wood doesn't come out as sound.

 

From the perspective of the bass, a harmonic is just the same as any other note. There are various vibrations ocurring in the string, which may or may not be absorbed into the body (causing them to die away.) I didn't do any experiments direclty on higher pitches, as the equiment I was using couldn't inject enough energy at higher frequencies. But if you extrapolate the results I got to higher pitches, you could say that any bass that absorbed less energy from the strings, whether because it was stiff or heavy, would play louder, longer-lasting harmonics.

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4 hours ago, Ruarl said:

This experiment suggests that the stiffer the bass is, the longer vibrations will sustain in the strings (and in the output), because energy that is transmitted into the wood doesn't come out as sound.

 

... you could say that any bass that absorbed less energy from the strings, whether because it was stiff or heavy, would play louder, longer-lasting harmonics.

The science here is borne out by 'dead spots' which occur where a particular point on the neck happens to resonate at the exact frequency of a note that is fretted at that same point. A lot of the energy from the string is absorbed into the neck, resulting in a short, dead-sounding note.

 

Which raises an interesting question. A lot of bass design features are notionally aimed at improving energy transferrence and increasing sustain (eg. hi-mass bridges, through-body stringing, mitred neck joints etc). But surely this goes against the science? Wouldn't it be better to isolate the entire speaking length of every string from the neck/body structure to minimise energy transferrence? A sort of super rigid frame including tuners, nut, fretboard and bridge which 'floats' on the neck body structure. The neck and body merely being a convenient device to enable the instrument to be handled and played and having no bearing whatsoever on the sound.

 

Of course, all the above, only if you want more ringing sustain and clinically pure harmonic content.

 

Update:  http://stashstainlessbass.com/shop  🤫

 

Edited by ikay
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Try bolting a string to concrete wall or to a very big rock. The string will not move the very stiff, hard and heavy base. The base (body) will not absorb the energy from the string. Bass as an instrument cannot be very heavy, like a rock.

 

A bass has a neck and a body. Both shapes have to be stiff for not to absorb string's energy. But both shapes have their resonances (Chladni patterns, anyone?). Therefore the components form a system. The system has resonance frequencies, because deformations need energy: that is away from the vibrations. If the resonance spectrum is wide and small, that probably produces pretty even response. If narrow and big, there may be dead notes etc.

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I've noticed that the way I set up instruments (ultra precise intonation up to the highest notes of each string) makes the harmonics jump very very easily, so set up is part of it as well as construction and the type of fingerboard (the harder the more harmonics you seem to get).

 

A neck through bass is supposed to have more harmonics, but I had the opportunity to compare two Leduc Masterpiece basses very close in construction, except the neck "fitting" : the set neck had more harmonics than the neck through.

 

Funnily, my bass having the most harmonics is my Le Fay Remington Steele 6 RHT CC CAP Big Block (what a name, I know), which has a bolt-on Padauk neck with a stainless steel fingerboard (fretless) and a cherry body with a crazy cherry (CC) very thick top.

 

The construction of this Le Fay is interesting too as it's a headless with a headstock and strings posts with a bigger body than usual.

 

All my main basses are sixers around 4 kilos (a bit more or a bit less), so construction or craftsmanship is also definitely another parameter to take into account as they are lightweight.

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23 hours ago, three said:

I tend to find that basses with a higher action project harmonics with greater prominence.  I play with a very low action and harmonics on my basses often lack brightness and 'ping'.  I know very little of the physics of this and it's just a personal observation (and as many of those who share my company would suggest, I could be talking nonsense).  

 

Would second this, I have a couple of guitars with high action (for slide) and they have the clearest harmonics. That, intonation and also my higher quality instruments seem more harmonic in general.

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19 hours ago, ikay said:

Which raises an interesting question. A lot of bass design features are notionally aimed at improving energy transferrence and increasing sustain (eg. hi-mass bridges, through-body stringing, mitred neck joints etc). But surely this goes against the science? Wouldn't it be better to isolate the entire speaking length of every string from the neck/body structure to minimise energy transferrence? A sort of super rigid frame including tuners, nut, fretboard and bridge which 'floats' on the neck body structure. The neck and body merely being a convenient device to enable the instrument to be handled and played and having no bearing whatsoever on the sound.

 

Of course, all the above, only if you want more ringing sustain and clinically pure harmonic content.

 

Update:  http://stashstainlessbass.com/shop  🤫

 

Having a "hi-mass" badge is supposed to prevent energy transference from the string as the non-string parts of the instrument are too heavy to vibrate. Except of course they don't really work because the overall increase in mass of a typical bass body with a hi-mass bridge compared with the same body and a BBOT bridge is negligible.

 

For an alternative look at isolating the string from the rest of the instrument have a look at the Born To Rock bass. In this case the design was conceived to do any with the need for a truss rod. 

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59 minutes ago, BigRedX said:

For an alternative look at isolating the string from the rest of the instrument have a look at the Born To Rock bass. In this case the design was conceived to do any with the need for a truss rod. 

 

That's the sort of thing! Sustain for days and harmonics you never knew existed 🙂

 

868069486_BornToRockbass.jpg.33ae219b3886fc77b48f9db71afea630.jpg

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It’s all about the rigidity of the “system” which the string is connected to. The more rigid the instrument, the longer the string vibrates and the more efficient it is at producing harmonics. A through neck carbon graphite bass typifies this, a bass made of jelly will produce no harmonics whatsoever (but will taste good - if you like jelly, vegan options available) 😉

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According to a Mr L Fender (small town luthier some may of heard of) the reason the '57 P bass had a bigger headstock was to try and remove the 7th fret deadspot......or more 5th to 7th.

 

It helped but, never completely resolved it. 

 

In modern times Fender even used graphite rods inserted in the neck in another effort to cure this issue.

 

So from that I guess we can say construction does influence the sound...at least around a D played on the G string, assuming std tuning😉

 

What is kind of odd is that often you don't even recognise a 'dead D' playing solo but, it sure drops off in the mix, the timbre of the note possibly? 

Edited by iconic
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On 11/01/2022 at 14:32, Chaddy said:

Yamaha RBXA2 & 5


 

I've an RBX4-A2 in the aircraft white/ grey....the lightest AND certainly loudest bass I've ever heard played unplugged, it's truly uncanny.

It's also one of the few basses to have it's own real unique tone.....in that most are very similar to my old ears. 

 

......odd thing about those A2s be they 4 or 5 string, bass players moan/moaned about a heavy bass, Yamaha pull the stops out and make a very clever uber light one.....bass players then whinge it feels light, toy like and cheap.....🙃

 

Sold a car to ex UK Yamaha sales manager, 10 mins to sell the car, 2 hours talking Yamaha instruments😃

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19 hours ago, BigRedX said:

Actually the one I used to own sounded pretty much like a very good P-Bass without any noticeable increase in sustain or additional harmonics.

 

Born-To-Rock-F4-B-Water.jpg

 

But really, really easy to carry ...

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1 hour ago, iconic said:

According to a Mr L Fender (small town luthier some may of heard of) the reason the '57 P bass had a bigger headstock was to try and remove the 7th fret deadspot......or more 5th to 7th.

 

It helped but, never completely resolved it.

...and certain Ned S. started to minimize the size of the headstock. The deadspots moved further up, until they vanished, hence L-2.

Edited by itu
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On 11/01/2022 at 22:03, Hellzero said:

I've noticed that the way I set up instruments (ultra precise intonation up to the highest notes of each string) makes the harmonics jump very very easily, so set up is part of it as well as construction and the type of fingerboard (the harder the more harmonics you seem to get).

I wonder what the connection might be there? Harmonics are a function of the string, not of the tuning system. An out-of-tune bass will produce harmonics almost exactly the same way as if you tuned it. Or am I missing something?

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On 11/01/2022 at 18:52, ikay said:

Which raises an interesting question. A lot of bass design features are notionally aimed at improving energy transferrence and increasing sustain (eg. hi-mass bridges, through-body stringing, mitred neck joints etc). But surely this goes against the science? Wouldn't it be better to isolate the entire speaking length of every string from the neck/body structure to minimise energy transferrence? A sort of super rigid frame including tuners, nut, fretboard and bridge which 'floats' on the neck body structure. The neck and body merely being a convenient device to enable the instrument to be handled and played and having no bearing whatsoever on the sound.

 

Of course, all the above, only if you want more ringing sustain and clinically pure harmonic content.

When I first learned about this, I did wonder for a while why everyone didn't play Steinbergers. the carbon fibre construction must be extremely rigid compared to timber. The best answer I've come up with so far is that even though the rigid string is what you start with, it might not necessarily be the best thing. Is Michaelangelo's David better for him having chucked away a load of the marble he started with? That's an extreme example, but I'd love to hear an actual Luthier's take on this. Are any of them working to try and make the body filter the sound in a desirable way? And we haven't even got into the transient effects, which were much harder to measure when I was working on this sort of thing. And they're harder to think about, too!

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33 minutes ago, Ruarl said:

I'd love to hear an actual Luthier's take on this. Are any of them working to try and make the body filter the sound in a desirable way? 

I'm sure this is exactly the sort of thought that goes into something like a Rob Allen. I had an RA Mouse which is a great example of a bass that has been carefully designed to work as a complete system, much like an acoustic instrument. The neck body joint is super tight, the body is chambered and the fixed bridge is bonded deep into the body with through-body stringing. The result is a bass that comes alive in your hands as soon as you touch a string. Rich full notes and harmonics just jump out of the thing. The whole bass vibrates like a living thing so there must be a lot of energy transfer going on, but in a way that harnesses and amplifies that energy to produce great tone. Fabulous little bass. It's the exact opposite of a rigid neck isolated from the body! 

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