What Contributes to the Upright Bass’s Sound?

In chatting with a friend who plays bass he brought up the dilemma that many bass players face. How can I get an upright bass sound out of my electric bass?

Before I get into my findings the blunt answer is that the only way to get a true upright bass sound is by playing an upright bass. I know that sounds stupid to state, but some people believe that you can get a real Les Paul tone from a Variax, or a real tube sounding amp from an effects pedal, and it’s not true.

So why the pursuit? Because often when doing a gig it’s not necessary for that pure sound and instead can be replaced with an improvised version.

My friend said that he had heard from one of his friends that the way to get an upright bass sound on an electric bass was by adding a little distortion on the amp side, which would increase the string noise that can be heard on an upright bass. I thought that was interesting approach to the dilemma and suggested that maybe putting the electric bass through a guitar overdrive pedal might be another step in that direction with pedal beefing up that tonal range on a bass and getting a little closer to that sound.

But the question still lingered in my mind: What makes an upright bass sound like an upright bass? I’m guitar player/luthier by trade so even though I can play bass, as well as build and repair them; it’s not my main instrument. Then it dawned on me that scale length probably played a larger role in the equation than amps or effects did. When you consider that one of the contributing factors between Gibson guitars and Fender guitars is three quarters of an inch, it makes since that scale length would be contributing factor to the question.

So what’s scale length difference between an electric bass and an upright bass?

About four to six inches, which is quite a lot.

The next question: Does anybody make a 40” scale length electric bass?

The answer: Yes, Knuckle Guitar Works does. It’s called the Quake. It’s not quite 40”, it comes in at 39.55” to be exact, but that’s pretty close. And while it still doesn’t sound exactly like an upright bass, it’s a hellava lot closer to it than the 36” standard.