Coming a long way from the 17th century the double bass (or upright bass, bass Viol or contrabass) has made its mark on a lot of musical genres. From classic / orchestra to chamber music to Jazz to Rock n Roll to Rockabilly the huge bowed string instrument can be found.
Techniques of playing vary from violin bow to finger plucking to slapping, each of them used to get specific sound-characteristics out. And it doesn’t stop there. In each individual context the amplification (if requested) may differ.
So let’s take a look on how you can pick up the tone and under which circumstances which method might lead to the best results…
THE INSTRUMENT ITSELF
A double bass is an impressive, if not intimidating piece of craftsmanship. Due to its tremendous size it dominates not only the stage but has also a lot to offer when it comes to frequencies.
To give you an idea of how much is actually going on, here’s a scientific article about the correlation between bow and double bass, regarding vibration and sound, but a brief and a little bit more practical roundup might read like:
The standard instrument has four strings and is usually tuned to E1 (41,2Hz), A1 (55 Hz), D2 (73,4 Hz) and G2 (98Hz). Nearly 3 octaves upwards you reach a high-mid range of almost 784Hz. Taking the fundamental resonance and the string harmonics in consideration it becomes certain you’re dealing with a lot of “character” that needs to be transmitted.
(THE CHOICE OF) THE PICKUP
To avoid the name dropping spiraling out of control the (overall great and informative) blog doublebassguide.com offers an outline of currently available and advisable systems.
To fully embrace further techniques we’d highly recommend to get a pickup with a 6.35mm jack output.
Going from the pickup into a DI Box and straight into the console / stagebox is undeniably the quickest and cleanest way to get the signal across to the PA.
You’ll benefit from a trouble-free sound and restrained noise pollution on stage for the cost of, lacking a better word, aural liveliness. And while a crowded sonic pattern justifies such method every day, it remains the quick & dirty, or better, quick & sterile way to handle it.
But it’s just not 100%…
RUN IT THROUGH AN AMP
The obvious option to run the signal (via the pickup) through an amp has its pros and cons just as every amplification has its advantages and drawbacks. So on the one hand you may use the capabilities of tweaking the sound to broaden its spectrum, on the other compression and frequency transmission might limit the dynamic and natural ring of the double bass.
Eventually the selection of the amp is a very personal decision regarding particularly the style of music played. For a more “rock-oriented” sound almost every regular halfstack configuration (such as Ampeg, Orange, Gallien Krueger etc.) will do the job.
Promising to provide a very natural rendering of the acoustic tone a few companies have made names for themselves among bass players. AER, Acoustic Image and Realbass for example are highly regarded and of course the handmade circuits of Walter Woods have achieved an already legendary, if not mythical status.
If you feel as intrigued by such fabled figures as we do, you might want to check out this article by Hubert Liegeois, the founder of Lieg Amps.
MIC THE BASS
To fully capture the eclectic range of sound(s) coming from the double bass a sensibly placed microphone might be the best way to go.
Of course a regular condenser pencil pointing at the strings or the F-hole from small distance would do the job. Just as on almost every other acoustic instrument. But luckily there are some devices on the market that come around a little bit more goal-oriented…
Gooseneck microphones with clever mounting methods have become kind of the industry standard lately and with the following we have achieved remarkable results.
- AUDIO TECHNICA Pro35
As inexpensive as reliable cardioid condenser clip-on microphone that cuts quite a dash on various instruments. With a frequency response from 50 to 15.000 Hz you really can’t go wrong.
- AUDIX ADX 20ip
Due to a frequency response from 40 to 20.000 Hz this “miniature” cardioid condenser microphone is a few steps up the ladder. Especially with the additional “bassball” mounting accessory by Kontrabass Atelier you’ll get a handy solution.
- DPA d:vote 4099
The highend supercardioid condenser microphone (with a frequency response from 20 to 20.000 Hz) from Danish descent is nothing less than a multi-purpose satisfier. With the handmade fixing system there’s no hustle when it comes to mounting but just in case DPA offers an interesting guide on “How to mic a doublebass” on their website.
WHAT WE HAVE IN STOCK
Our double bass is of Romanian descent, strung with Pirastro Obligato strings for the extra bit of smoothness and has been adjusted by the german master luthier of Bley & Sohn.
It’s 3/4 scale makes it suitable for almost any given style from jazz to classic. Road-ready in a custom made flightcase it comes with a mounted passive Balsereit pickup to make sure each of the above mentioned ways of amplification is possible.
Of course requested tools such as microphones, DIs and amps are ready to be shipped right along with it.
LINKS & RECOURCES
The Original Micro Bass Amplifier (the longterm workmate of the double bass)
kontrabassblog.de (the german version of doublebassguide.com)
kontrabass-atelier.de (very informative and well-resourced one-stop-shop for all things bass)
Bley & Sohn (a beautiful shop in Dortmund / Germany for string instruments)
Frequency chart by boublebassworkshop.com
Pantelić and Prezelj: Sound Generating Mechanism of the Double Bass (PDF)