Bass Frustration, Tele Intonation Riddle

As a father of young kids, with a relatively demanding day-job it’s just not possible for me to be part of a band. Maybe in a few years I could commit to rehearsals and gigs, when my daughters are older (right now the younger is 10 months, the older just over 3 years) , but that’s still some way off.

So I’m a bedroom guitarist, or rather a spare-room guitarist, and I devote my playing time to trying to improve myself as a musician and trying to come up with original music that I record on Garageband. The GB projects led me last year to buy an electro-acoustic bass. A Dean EAB, which I managed to get from Guitar Center for about $130 out of the door when they had a coupon. I figured an acoustic bass could be a lot of fun and it has been, at least initially. The day I got it, I came up with a bass groove, which became the basis (bassis?) of a song I’m quite pleased with.

One thing I noticed straight away however is that the output from the passive pickups is totally lacking. So recording using a regular guitar lead straight into my USB interface just doesn’t work. I have to mic up the bass. I’ve been doing this since the beginning, just putting my cheap MXL condenser mic up to the soundhole. However, in the four months I’ve had the bass, the playability has degraded considerably. The strings now buzz and rattle like mad and all of these things get picked up by the mic. It’s now got to the point where I can no longer play grooves or more complex bass lines on it, but instead just have to follow the route of the chord and be extremely careful about how I play, to try and minimize the horrible extra noises. I’m tempted to ditch the thing and go looking for a cheap electric bass on Craigslist, but perhaps I can try raising the action (through introducing more neck relief) and also change the strings to try and fix some of the buzzing and rattling. I might also experiment with an after-market acoustic pickup as an alternative to the onboard electronics. In searching for images I found a nice post on another blog about the EAB. This author also seems to have experienced similar issues.

I’ve also experienced some strange problems with the intonation (‘staying-in-tuneness’) on my new Telecaster. I found I could tune the open strings perfectly but on the lower frets the notes would be out of tune, but then fine again at the 12th fret (where the octave of the open strings can be found). This really bugged me, because this could’ve meant some nasty issues with the lower fret placement and some serious time, $$$ or even a new neck to correct. I was kicking myself that I hadn’t noticed this in the store either. I must’ve been playing higher up the neck all the time.

Fortunately I was lucky. In trying to find out what the problem might be, I discovered a virtual text book on intonation written by luthier Mike Doolin of Doolin Guitars. After reading this I examined the problem with an electronic tuner and discovered that the fretted notes were going consistently sharp and that the degree of sharpness was increasing depending on how much pressure I applied. I figured that the guitar had just been in the store a long time and the strings were past their best. I changed them out last night and the problem, although not totally gone, is much improved and if I focus on fretting lightly I no longer notice it. Phew.


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