When it comes to acoustics and electro-acoustics guitarists have it easy; there are hundreds of instruments to choose from at virtually any price you want to pay. If you want an acoustic bass, however, you get the short straw.
Although acoustic-bodied bass guitars like the Framus Star Bass and Hofner’s Violin Bass have been around for a long time, they are essentially standard electric bass guitars. They may have thinner, semi-hollow bodies, but they rely totally on the pickups for their sound. They don’t bridge the gap between electric bass guitars and the traditional, cumbersome upright bass.
In recent years, however, the choice has got broader and here we evaluate six electro-acoustic basses ideal for pure acoustic or on-stage use. Despite the relatively small size of the electro-acoustic bass market there’s enough variety of models and prices to appeal to anyone looking for an alternative instrument.
Few bass players would rely solely on one of these but they do provide a practical route to small ensemble playing, home rehearsal and some studio work. And although they get much closer to the sound of an upright bass (particularly when amplified) they offer a much more compact option.
However they sound acoustically, the sophistication of today’s onboard pickup systems and preamps means that the range of amplified sounds available is staggering. Primarily the idea is to enhance the natural acoustic qualities of the instrument, but in reality most circuits go way beyond that and can provide a purely electronic sound that is totally different to that of a solid-bodied bass.
The right sort of amplifier
However, getting the right sort of amplifier is essential. Don’t assume that your current combo or stack will suffice as in most cases it won’t. The keyword with acoustic instruments is convenience, so it makes perfect sense to use a smaller, purpose-built or adaptable combo, with enough tonal adjustment to help bring out the best of the instrument.
Devices such as the AER Cube or Line 6 Lowdown Studio are ideal. Think small, comprehensive, ultra clean sounding and with DI output facility - all essential elements for successful acoustic amplification.
Buying a purely acoustic instrument with the idea of having electronics fitted later is obviously possible but it’s a skilled job and could be cost-prohibitive. It’s much better, in our opinion, to get one ready-loaded with a pickup and onboard preamp with a good natural sound, and then choose whether to use the electronics or not.
There are other more practical considerations to take on board. Single saddle bridges always mean a degree of compromise for intonation accuracy, and the shorter the scale length the more noticeable this becomes. Although much lighter than solidbodied basses they are also bigger so the playing position is very different. Onboard preamps mean they are powerful when amplified and because of their vibrant acoustic nature this can easily lead to uncontrollable feedback. Let’s take a look at what’s available…