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Do harmonics work the same on bass guitar as is the case with a regular guitar (Natural harmonics at the 7th and 12th frets) or is it different on the bass?

  • There are many more than that, both on any guitar and any bass guitar. 12th, 7th, 5th, 9th, 17th, 19th, 24th... – Tim Jan 11 at 20:20
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It's the same as on a guitar. Harmonics occur at equal divisions of the string length. Half the string is the location of the 12th fret. This produces a harmonic at twice the frequency of the open string, which is one octave higher.

Dividing the string into thirds, which is at the 7th fret, produces the fifth of the 12th fret harmonic. (Halfway between the 7th fret and the bridge, at the 19th fret, you'll find the same harmonic.)

This continues to work up the harmonic series. If you divide the string in equal fourths (which occur at the 5th and 24th frets), you'll get a pitch two octaves higher than the open string.

By dividing a string, you can find these same harmonics on any stringed instrument, though you don't necessarily have frets as a convenient reference.

  • 3
    +1, great answer. Two additions. (1) even through in theory the number is infinite there are audible at least 3 more audible ones, 2 between the 3rd and 4th fret (you get M3 and another 5th) and one more before the 3rd fret that is close to a b7. So you get the entire Dom7 arpeggio. (2) The true harmonics will not really lie exactly at frets 5 and 7 (12 will) due to a small dependency between just and equal tempered tuning. – ggcg Jan 11 at 20:10
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    @ggcg - you just beat me to it. Was going to add there's what is very close to a full octave scale around the two and a quarter fret and the second fret. Plucking very close to the bridge will make them stand out better. – Tim Jan 11 at 20:15
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    @ggcg: Technically a harmonic seventh, not a dominant. The difference is 31 cents, I think, which is quite noticeable. – Dietrich Epp Jan 12 at 4:16
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    @ggcg if my calculations are correct, on a 65-cm string, the fifth-fret harmonic and the seventh-fret harmonic are about a third of a millimeter and a half of a millimeter from their respective frets. I doubt many would find such small differences perceptible. The minor seventh in just tuning can be at a ratio of 9/5, 16/9, or indeed 7/4. Whether any of these is "dominant" or not depends on the functional harmony or at least whether the third is major. – phoog Jan 13 at 5:01
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    @phoog, I've done the same calculation, you are correct. My point was simple that the harmonics are not the same as equal tempered tuning. – ggcg Jan 13 at 11:37
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Harmonics are always at the same (proportional) spaces on any string.

The only thing that matters when determining where harmonics appear on a string would be length of the string. The 1st harmonic will always appear halfway inbetween the endpoints of the string (if it's fretted, count that as the endpoint), the next one divides the string into 3rds, etc...

That also means that the harmonics will always be in the same location relative to the fretboard (for instruments that have them), so as an example, the bass guitar and the guitar will both have a harmonic over the 12th fret on an open string.

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    This needed to be fleshed out with examples and illustrations. A beginner would have trouble understanding what's said. – Tim Jan 12 at 9:25
  • @Tim I've done the fleshing. – user45266 Jan 14 at 2:15

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