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So I've been playing an Electric Upright bass for about a year now; I have fallen in love with how easy it is to carry around and set up for street performing. I was wondering if anybody here had experience with any electric bowed instruments and how to make them sound more acoustic and less faux. Here is a link to the strings made by NS: https://thinkns.com/accessory/ns-electric-strings/

They are supposedly made for getting the proper frequency out of an instrument that doesn't have a body to resonate with. Could a pedal or new strings help me get that standard-acoustic sound without having to lug around a full upright bass? Personally, I am starting to become envious whenever I hear a traditional upright bass. Here is a small recording of my electric double bass (if you'd like to give feedback or hear my conundrum): https://mrbonescabaret.bandcamp.com/track/madelyn-woe-feat-eric-stern

I thought about putting more standard Double Bass strings on it. Thanks, best regards.

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    Mainly pizz or arco? Feb 2, 2021 at 19:55
  • Mainly pizzicato and am learning slap. However, I do often bow my bass for recorded compositions. Feb 2, 2021 at 20:08
  • I know a guy with one, and the rockabilly slap thing is strings against the fingerboard, which your NS won't do. I admire your problem but have no solution. Feb 2, 2021 at 21:10
  • @DaveJacoby that's interesting because I can slap my strings against the fingerboard without any problem. Feb 2, 2021 at 21:13
  • Does it go through the application? Feb 2, 2021 at 21:15

2 Answers 2

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Being an upright player for most of my life and playing both acoustic and EUB’s I understand your desire to get a more acoustic tone out of an electric instrument, nothing beats the sound of a well miked acoustic bass. In my personal experience an acoustic tone is just not possible with an EUB. I have tried multiple pickups and have managed to get some great tones out of EUB’s but nothing like what an acoustic bass sounds like to your ear. Even if you have a resonating hollow body EUB like an Eminence, once you use a pickup you lose any chance of getting a pure acoustic tone. If someone can prove me wrong I would be extremely happy to be mistaken about this. The only thing I can think of that might possibly work is modeling but I’m not aware of that technology for upright bass.

Even an acoustic bass doesn’t really sound like itself when you put a pickup on it and put it through an amp. A piezo or magnetic pickup can potentially get you a great amplified sound but it still is electronic and lacks that beautiful natural woody sound that the bass creates as it moves air. Side note, using a preamp is very important in order to get a good amplified tone by buffering the extremely high impedance of piezo pickups. Whether I play my acoustic or an EUB live what I go for is a warm, fat, articulate tone more than trying to match the acoustic sound. I suppose you can experiment with some short delays or reverbs to try and replicate the resonance of a bass body with an EUB, I personally haven’t tried that.

I listened to your track and your bass sounds quite good. Is it an NS? One suggestion I have is dial back the high mids, around 1K or so. Those frequencies are always too strong with any kind of upright bass pickup, acoustic or EUB. Piezos emphasize that high mid nasal growly string noise sound which is a part of a natural bass sound too strongly. I haven’t tried the NS strings (but I do use D’Addario’s, they make them) so I can’t offer an opinion on them but I’m guessing they will give a good warm tone but not sound significantly more like an acoustic. Remember, the pickup is just getting either string or bridge vibrations so changing strings will change the sound somewhat but not the character of the instrument.

Here is a link to a video with my EUB. The bass itself is a one off, an Ampeg Baby Bass neck with a mahogany body I designed. It has a Wilson pickup, Sadowsky preamp and D'Addario Helicore hybrid strings. I’m not on camera much and only walk, no bass solo but I’m posting to demonstrate that if I can get this kind of a sound out of an EUB (I can’t travel with my acoustic) I’m satisfied.

Bottom line, unless you’re going to get an acoustic and a good mic and run it through a PA (which can be very problematic in a band situation) just go for a good warm, punchy and clear tone with your EUB that supports the music you’re playing and is pleasing to the ear. If you come across a way to make it sound more like a real acoustic please let me know!

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  • Was rather hoping you'd answer. Not many bass players seem to answer here. Wonder if eq might work - I use parametric and/or 7-band, and occasionally limiter/enhancer, but that's with e-bass. Might give a bit more colour, although on that recording, OP doesn't have a too bad sound. Using an 18" cab might help. More air = more bass. But then lacks portability.
    – Tim
    Feb 3, 2021 at 11:12
  • @Tim I personally find semi-parametric amps of any size can get a nice tone out of an upright or EUB. I often use only a single 10” cab on small gigs. It’s important to have at least a sweepable midrange to dial out the harshness. I use either a Krivo magnetic pickup or a Gage or Wilson piezo pickup live on either upright or EUB these days and just accept that it’s not going to sound like an acoustic bass in a studio with a mic on it. Feb 4, 2021 at 3:54
  • @JohnBelzaguy Thank you so much for taking the time to answer. I was afraid that would be the answer; that is, not ever being able to achieve the sound of an acoustic alongside the convenience of having a smaller and electric UB. Also, I do play an NS. It's been quite good. Do you think getting different strings or perhaps a reverb pedal could help? Also, I'm jealous of how your EUB looks; that skeletal look is beautiful. Feb 4, 2021 at 22:34
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    @SophisticatedUsername For me what is really lacking in delivering a true acoustic sound either from an EUB or even an amplified upright is the beautiful airy top end that an acoustic has. It seems like no pickup can reproduce that. Feb 5, 2021 at 1:11
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    I'd say it could be a good thing. After all, the sound of the acoustic bass will fill a (smallish) room, and that in itself will produce reverberations - even echoes. Need to experiment with different types of reverb and maybe even use different types in different settings - particularly open air. Stereo reverb might be an option too - spaciality.
    – Tim
    Feb 5, 2021 at 7:28
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I'm adding an answer to this question for the benefit of the duplicate Producing Natural Sound with Electric Double Bass, and since the only answer so far, while good advice, amounts to "don't try," and some might be forced to go electric for space reasons.

Disclaimer, I'm applying my experience as a violinist window-shopping electrics, and there are way more makers and models of electric violins than basses. Looks to me like it's just the Yamaha Silent and then several NS models, though NS's NXTa talks a lot about better acoustic emulation:

The dual mode Polar™ pickup responds to both lateral string vibration for bowing, and vertical vibration for pizzicato playing. ... The resulting sound retains the essential timbres of a fine acoustic bass.

Anyway, my general advice is to first get a "clean signal" that comes as close to what you want. That means just two pieces of gear, the instrument and the amp. Pick the instrument that sounds the "most acoustic," comparing multiple ones while using the same amp, and then pick the amp that sounds most acoustic, comparing them via the same instrument. For me, amplifying an acoustic violin with a clip-on mic, I settled on a keyboard amp for giving an even response across the spectrum, but I have a feeling a bass will do best with some bass amp.

Once you have the best possible clean signal, you can always work on tweaking it with EQ and maybe reverb, but the general principle here is to do as little post-processing as necessary.

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