- Jan 28, 2016
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Well, I have to pull the trigger at some point. Maybe I should just switch to using a pick instead. I just think it gives such a weak and boring sound, plus it's not cool to play bass with a pick either 😀
But maybe I have to change my approach.
First off, I want to say that I know where you're coming from. When I first started out on bass I had no idea what a bass was actually supposed to sound like, so I didn't know what was good or bad. My recommendation is to not try to find your "forever bass". Just just choose something affordable that you think you'll like and play it for awhile as your ear develops, while playing this bass continue to try other basses so you can figure out what they sound like and whether you like them or not. After a year or so you'll probably start to understand what you like/don't like and can then make educated decisions going forward.
I will tell you that as a former guitar player I ran way too much midrange on bass, and it caused a lot of problems for the guitar players because I can easily blow them out of the water. Be prepared to embrace some tones that you may think sound kind of ugly, but are in fact really good when sat in a mix.
Myself, I'm in the detuned 4 string camp. I like to be able to use the open strings as pedal and passing tones, and IMO that generally works better when I'm in the same or similar tuning to the guitars. As such, I don't really have a lot of use for the B string on a 5 string, and if needed that low B I'd tune a 4 string to BEAD. I don't really see 4 vs 5 strings as a better/worse thing, it's just two different ways to approach a problem and comes down to personal preference.
Strings - I'm not the best guy to ask. I use the same 105-45 set in C that I use in E. Reason being is that as I tune down I want that sludgy, looser string sound. If I tuned down to A I'd probably use a 125 or 130.
That said, one of the reasons for longer scale basses is the higher tension means you can run a thinner B string (better clarity). Even in a standard 45-105 set, the 105 will often sound different than the other three strings. Some people don't mind that, and it drives others up a wall. A standard 130 B string takes that a step further, and becomes more prominent as you increase gage to compensate for lower tunings.
As for disliking the B string on the basses you're trying, some of that could be the amp (I don't know if they're plugging you into something high end or one of the practice amps), and some of it could be your technique (you'll get less buzz with practice), or if you lack a light touch you might require a higher action
As for active electronics, I think they help produce a solid low end. Depending on how you setup the preamp, EMGs with a BTS preamp can scoop some 300Hz while boosting up around 2.4k, which helps add attack and cut without causing a lot of issues with the guitars. They also have a really fast transient response and I like the compression that they add.
When I first started playing bass I fully intended on being an "elitist fingers only douchebag" (those were my exact words, said semi-jokingly at the time), but over the years I've gradually brought in more pick and with my current band am probably about 60% pick because it's the right sound for those songs in this band.
What was said above about increasing attack by bouncing the strings off the frets when playing fingerstyle is 100% something you should learn. It will put more definition on your attack so that you cut a bit harder in the mix when you want to sound more aggressive. Even if you don't 100% embrace it as "your sound" it's another tool you'll have in your toolbox should you need it.
If using a pick is producing a weak/boring sound you probably need to hit the strings harder (and possibly EQ your amp better). Some of the distortion you hear on some bassists is the fret clank. You can dig in and bounce them off the frets with your pick as well, and adding distortion will put some chunk on the sound. I use a thinner Dunlop Tortex (.73 or .88), and the sound of the pick being chewed up by the strings is a part of my sound.
Also, consider picking up a Bass Driver DI. IMO, it's a jack of trades for any bass player. It sounds a little ugly on it's own, but it hits all the right frequencies and works really well in a mix.