I am experimenting with a bass technique of playing chords (mostly thirds and fifths) on the top two strings, while using the open A and E strings for a pedal tone or loud percussive burst.
I would also like to be able to detune the E string to D and be able to play an open D with this pattern, but I feel like the open D string is just too muddy. I mean, logic would tell you why - you can look at the string and see how much it’s wobbling as it vibrates loosely, with less tension. I’d like to be able to get more punch out of that open D.
Possible guesses (while I have played bass for over half my life, I’ve only in recent years begun trying to look more closely at the nuances of the tonal properties of the instrument.) A different style of string? A different gauge of string? Raising the action? Or a combination of all 3?
Does anyone have an idea what is the best way?
I’m talking about a Fender Precision in this situation (the specific bass would matter a lot.)
Be aware going to significantly thicker strings will mess with the calibration of the entire instrument. For optimum tone you may need to adjust not just the action but possibly the truss rod and nut. I’m sure you already know this but DO NOT mess with the truss rod if you don’t know what you’re doing. A pro can get everything adjusted correctly for about $50 in most cities.
You might want to consider picking up a cheap pawn store bass for your detuning experiments if your main axe is “special.” Personally I don’t like to be constantly messing with my main instrument’s setup but that’s just me.
OK, I’m not a bassist, but I’ve played and recorded with a couple of bands, and drop-D tuning for basses was not uncommon, and, so far as I know, the bassists just dropped the E string to D. No different strings or anything. To us, it sounded fine, but maybe I just don’t care about the tone and feel that much. I suppose you can try a different gauge of string. It looks to me, from what I can tell, that you want to go up in guage size for the low string if you want a similar tension to the E string. There is a string tension calculator here that looks like it helps with this.You can punch in what strings you’re using, and what tuning you want, and it suggests strings that will match at least the feel of the strings at their normal tuning tension. Like, for example, for drop-D, if I’m using a set of EXL160s with a 0.1050 gauge low E string, when downtuning to D, it suggests I try a 0.1200 E string for a close match to the original tension. So the general advice there seems to be go a gauge up.
But, like I said, I’m not a bassist, and I have no idea how this affects the tone, but it’s something to consider.
I have Hipshot detuners on all of my basses for this exact purpose.
I set them to D and use them infrequently, usually just to reach for an occasional low Eb or D to accent songs in those keys. The bigger trouble with drop-d is that it messes up all of your regular patterns–the roots on the E-string now are lined up with their corresponding A-string fifths, instead of the fifth being two frets up.
It’s not terrible sounding, but if that note were critical to my music I would probably look into getting a 5 string. (I’m not sure I’m man enough for a 5 string bass yet).
I’m playing on flat-wounds with a full-on 70’s setup (p-bass with felt at the bridge and tone rolled off), so it isn’t outside of the realm of possibilities that I am killing all nuance with a sledgehammer.
Long time multi-instrumentalist (including electric bass) tone hound chiming in…
What is the scale length of the Fender Precision electric bass? Usually the P-bass has 34 inches distance between bridge and nut, but you should measure to verify.
What is the gage diameter of your current low E (or D) string?
I agree with others that a larger diameter string would very likely help, but type of string, EQ settings on amp/effect pedal/P-bass, speaker(s), and cabinet are critical as well since this is an electric bass. Some vendors will sell single strings but I recommend a set with balanced tension for the intended tuning.
Remember this frequency equation: f = (1/2L)*(square root of (T/µ)) where f is frequency, L is scale length, T is string tension, and µ is mass per unit length of string.
Are you using round wound or flat wound strings? Round wounds are better for punchy.
For punchy EQ, try to silence the low frequencies (≤30 hZ) and boost the low-mids and dial in the mids to taste. Your current amp/speaker setup may or may not be sufficient. A 10 band EQ pedal can help possibly.
For speaker cab, I like the fEarful style cabs with separate speakers + separate cab chambers for lows and mids (no tweeter for me though…).