It can be a shock to pick up a bass guitar after playing a regular guitar and find it barely loud enough to hear. Although it can be jarring, it’s normal for bass guitars to be quieter than standard guitars.
A bass guitar might sound especially quiet due to its solid body structure, improper sound mixing, or a problem with your sound equipment. Bass guitars are also fundamentally quieter than standard guitars due to a difference in how your ear perceives certain frequencies.
If your bass guitar sounds unusually quiet, there are a few things you can do to identify the problem and solve it. This article will outline five things to know about the volume of your bass guitar.
Things To Know About Bass Guitar Volume
A bass guitar is similar to an electric guitar but with four strings instead of six. The four strings of a bass guitar play the same notes as the four lowest-pitched notes of a standard guitar. Like an electric guitar, a bass has a solid body. Most players plug their bass into an electric amplifier before use.
Bass guitars are known for their use in the funk, jazz, and rock genres of music over many decades. People use bass lines in music production to add a grounding element and make the song sound cohesive.
However, there’s another essential difference between the bass guitar and the standard guitar: frequency. Bass guitars are capable of producing notes with much lower frequencies than your average electric guitar. These low notes are often responsible for maintaining the rhythm of a song.
Because a bass guitar is functionally different from a standard guitar in these ways, there are a few things to understand to play your bass at the appropriate volume.
1. How the Human Ear Perceives Sound
Sound moves in the form of waves. A sound wave can move through the air and enter your ear, creating vibrations in the eardrum. Bones in the ear amplify these vibrations as they travel through the ear and eventually trigger sensory cells.
These sensory cells are capable of activating electric signals. Nerves then transport the electric signals to the brain, which translates the signals into a sound that we can understand.
This basic understanding of sound is essential to perceiving the volumes at which a bass guitar can produce notes. Read on to learn how these fundamental principles of sound can directly impact the volume of your bass guitar.
2. Certain Frequencies Sound Quieter
So, sound travels in waves. But why do some notes sound higher or lower-pitched to our ears? Well, the frequency of a note has to do with the number of repetitions that a sound wave experiences in one second.
You can visualize this concept of repetition by considering how compressed a wave looks. A more compressed wave results in a higher-sounding pitch, while a less compact wave results in a low-sounding pitch.
As I mentioned earlier, the purpose of a bass guitar is to provide lower-sounding notes. As a result, many of the frequencies produced by a bass are significantly lower than the frequencies produced by a standard guitar. However, the human ear is typically less sensitive to notes of a lower frequency. This reduced sensitivity can make the bass guitar sound much quieter than you might expect, especially compared to other instruments in a song.
3. Your Guitar’s Body Structure Affects Its Volume
The way your guitar is built has a more significant impact on its volume than you might think. There are two common styles of bass guitar: acoustic and electric. An acoustic bass guitar has a hollow body, while an electric bass’s body is solid wood all the way through.
There are two ways sound is amplified when you play guitar. If the instrument you’re using is acoustic, the guitar’s body itself is responsible for amplifying the sound. As I mentioned earlier, an acoustic instrument has a hollow body. This hollow form is perfect for creating natural resonance.
Resonance involves compression and pressurization of the air in a space. This pressure amplifies the sound of a guitar by increasing the vibrations that occur in the air as sound waves pass through it. The bigger the internal chamber of the guitar, the louder the sounds it can produce. This principle of resonance explains why acoustic guitars with a large body typically sound louder than those with smaller bodies.
These principles of resonance apply to basses and guitars, and other instruments like the harp, mandolin, and violin.
Solid-Body Electric Guitars
Electric guitars amplify sounds a little bit differently. Because they typically have a solid body, there’s no air inside the guitar to create natural resonance. This lack of resonance causes the bass to produce notes at a drastically lower volume, especially when playing it like an acoustic guitar.
Instead of being played like an acoustic guitar, you can hook up electric guitars and basses to an electric amplifier to increase their volume. These amplifiers—also called amps—can take electric signals from a guitar and produce a much louder and fuller sound.
Are Acoustic or Electric Basses Louder?
Acoustic basses are significantly louder than electric basses. However, it’s much more common today to use an electric bass over an acoustic bass. But without the help of an amplifier, the notes they produce are barely audible.
4. There’s a Right Way To Sound Mix
Sound mixing is an integral part of the music recording process. If you’re trying to record a song and the bass is sounding extremely quiet, you may need to make some adjustments to your sound mix to make it more audible.
What Is Sound Mixing?
Sound mixing is the process of blending multiple instrumental and vocal tracks to make a cohesive song. This process can take time to perfect; aligning each track with the appropriate volume and rhythm can be difficult. When done incorrectly, a song can sound discordant and wrong.
Mixing Sound Properly
Often, an improper sound mixing job can be the reason your bass sounds unusually quiet. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to get a more balanced mix.
One of the easiest ways to find balance in your audio mix and bring out the sound of the bass is to focus on rhythm first and foremost. When you first start the process of sound mixing, try starting with the drum track, then moving to the bass track. Working with these specific tracks first will help you maintain a consistent rhythm, making the bass line easier to hear.
5. Your Equipment Affects Your Bass’s Volume
As I explained earlier, most solid-body electric basses need the help of an amplifier to make audible sounds. However, if your amps and other sound equipment aren’t working correctly, your bass may sound a lot quieter than it should.
Setting Up Your Equipment Correctly
First and foremost, you should make sure you’ve set up your equipment correctly. If you haven’t connected your amp to your bass in the proper way, it may not be able to amplify the guitar’s sound like you hope.
Before you first go to plug your guitar into an amp, you should turn the amp off. After plugging in your guitar, set the volume, gain, and reverb to zero. Once you’ve made sure that these settings are at zero, you can turn on the amp. From there, you’re free to play your guitar and change the levels to tune the sound to a level that sounds good to you.
Identifying Broken Equipment
If your electric guitar is sounding much quieter than it should, the problem may not lie in your guitar at all. In some cases, the problem could be that your equipment is not working as it should.
A broken amp is usually somewhat easy to identify. Firstly, you should check to see if your amp will turn on. If it won’t turn on, this is the first sign that something is wrong with your amp. Be sure to check and make sure you have plugged in the amp before attempting to turn it on.
If your amp turns on but doesn’t amplify your guitar as it should, there could be a broken tube inside. However, before jumping to any hasty conclusions, you should make sure your lead (the chord connecting your guitar to the amp) is functional. Switching out your lead for a new one is an excellent way to test for a faulty lead.
If you’ve tested the power and the lead, and the amplifier still isn’t working correctly, there could be an internal problem within the amp. Possible internal problems include broken tubes, interrupted circuits, or inadequate voltage. If this is the case, it’s best to take a broken amp to a professional to identify and fix the problem.
There are a variety of reasons that your bass guitar sounds quieter than you expected (relevant article: 7 Reasons Why You Seem To Always Want a New Guitar). Factors like instrument structure, sound mixing, frequency, and amplifying equipment all affect the volume of a bass guitar.
Solid-body electric bass guitars are fundamentally quieter than acoustic guitars. Still, with proper use of equipment and sound mixing, you can bring out the sound of your bass.