Acoustic Overtones on Electric Bass

Is their a way to get more pronounced overtones on an electric bass?

This is something I miss when playing my electric bass instead of my acoustic bass. If I use a very aggressive attack it helps but still not the same thing.

Maybe using Pedals like a Digitech Bass Whammy or Electro Harmanix POG? I haven’t tried these. I’m thinking they may be lacking in subtlety.

I’m expecting to hear, “No”. That it’s just the difference between playing acoustic versus electric. I’ll take any suggestions y’all come up with.


One thing that might help is trying longer scale basses - 35" and 36". Counterintuitive, but the longer the string, the more harmonic range you get.

There’s also Acoustic simulator pedals - I know little about them though.


use a tube amp … expensive and heavy but you will have some overtones.

sounds pretty bad IMHO


Yeah from what I found online they don’t seem promising.


That was my thought. If it’s just for home and recording weight shouldn’t be an issue.


Especially if it’s just a tube amp sim :slight_smile:


Kind of funny how this guy wasn’t very impressed with the pedal either. :rofl:

@terb I hadn’t even considered that. I’m not worried about the weight but the cost puts this solution out of reach right now. Thanks, this does give me something to start researching.

The piezo pickups I’ve heard on an acoustic guitar or bass don’t seem to do a very good job of capturing this either. Does that also have to do with the amp, or pickups, or both?

@howard Will a tube amp sim really do this or are you just spit balling?


I was totally serious.

There’s some awesome amp sims out there and they can add a lot of tone.


both in my opinion


@howard @terb

I’ve already started reading up on how (and how much) the tubes affect the sound and the capabilities of the current amp sims.

Thanks guys.


I’ve been reading about piezo pickups and that they can be so clear that they really show off all your imperfections.

Then I read that modern (and maybe just more expensive?) piezo electronics use built in compression to minimize this affect.

From there I’ve been digging into how greater force leads to more pronounced harmonic overtones. Which took me into the world of piano hammers. Then I felt like that was taking me in a direction I wasn’t ready to go.

So I started looking more into how tube amps function and why they sound the way they do.

I’m starting to understand why I haven’t been able to find more information on all this as it applies to bass. If you’re recording or playing in a top tier touring band you might be able to capture these nuances for the listener but if you’re playing clubs on a budget the only person that would ever even notice is you and that one musician in the crowd. Who’s response would likely max out as, “Nice tone tonight.”

I’m really interested to see where all this research goes. Not because it seems very practical but just because it’s interesting.


I’m interested, please do share your research. I know a little about tubes ( plate saturation, etc.).


I learned that what makes tube amps so special is they amplify the overtones making your sound both richer and more organic sounding. The difference is that non-tube amplifiers don’t pass the overtones or, at least, don’t pass the overtones in the same way or at the same volume as a tube amp. At least, this is what I got out of what I was reading. If I’ve missed something, please feel free to correct me.

I also watched a video (which I can’t find right now) where the guy, using a combination of acoustic pickups managed to really bring out the overtone of his acoustic bass. Something didn’t sound right about it though. He then recorded a second track, over the acoustic bass track, with an acoustic guitar. It sounded awful. The overtones from the bass crowded into the sonic space of the guitar and it ended up sounding like a mess.

It made me decide to leave this idea alone till I can afford a tube amp I can play with.

All of this did bring me full circle to see what I could find to make my acoustic bass sound more like an electric solid body bass. What I found was the magnetic soundhole pickup but there aren’t very many options for acoustic bass. I came across posts where people were using bar style sound hole pickups made for guitar. I’m guessing these use rails instead of individual poles. I haven’t found any sound samples and I really don’t understand why this would be a good solution.

@Jamietashi @howard @terb @korrigan or anybody else who understands pickup design, I’m looking for a good soundhole pickup for my acoustic bass. If anyone can offer any help I would really appreciate it.

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that’s the idea, yes. it’s mostly a matter of THD (Total Harmonic Distorsion) which is pretty high with vacuum tubes. Solid states and tube components does not behave the same regarding to the odd and even harmonics, that’s why a tube amp tends to sound more warm/rich/organic.

I don’t see why it would NOT be a good solution ? a bass pickup and a guitar pickup are just the same thing !



So the only difference is spacing and alignment of the pole pieces?

And it doesn’t matter when using rail style pickups as long as all the strings fit within the width of the rail?


That’s correct Eric. But if your acoustic has bronze strings you’ll only be picking up the steel core and it my sound kind of thin and weak. Switch to electric strings if you need more thump. I’d also recommend a humbucker over a single coil.

And you don’t have to use a pickup specifically designed for a soundhole if you can figure out how to mount a standard pickup like I did here…


it could be interesting to adapt something like a Ricken neck pickup, or a PB51 neck pickup, into the soundhole.


@terb @korrigan @Jamietashi Thanks guys.

I assumed bass pickups were something significantly different in design. I don’t know what I thought was different. Magic bass dust or something.

So, what I need is a rail style humbucker with tone, volume, and 1/4" female input.
Am I missing anything?

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@terb I was thinking I should stay away from the PB51 because of the pole pieces.
Eliminating the pole spacing as a potential problem.

If/when I decide to get a nicer acoustic bass, I would want to transfer, whatever I end up doing, over to the new instrument. If it has different string spacing, I would be out of luck.

Am I assuming the string spacing things is more sensitive than it really is? Is this something I don’t have to worry about?

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yes, it’s not so important. more an aesthetic concern, as long as your strings are not very far from the pole pieces. but the PB51 pickup was just an idea, a rail pickup will work fine too. a Strat-sized mini humbucker with dual rails (Hot Rail style) seems straightforward.