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Subcontrabass Guitar - to build or not to build? Answered

Hey all you musicians, and especially guitar players! I am currently planning the next version of my Prism Laser Guitar (vote for me if you like it!) and I need some opinions.

The next version will hopefully sound very much like a real guitar, not a synthesizer. It will also be capable of playing chords among other tricks the first version couldn't do. However, due to physical and monetary restraints, it will have to be a 4-string bass guitar of some sort. That's fine with me - I love bass!

So here's the idea: Unhindered by the physical limitations of a vibrating string, I am free to tune the bass as low as I want. I'm thinking of giving it a C#, F#, B, E tuning, with a bottom note of 17.5Hz. That's lower than pretty much any bass you can get, opening up a whole playground of super bass notes to drive neighbours up the wall. ;)

Is that something people would be interested in? Or should I stick to a standard bass tuning range?


I think anything to do with guitars or bass's is a great project! I'm currently trying to design a digital tremolo system similar to the original vintage Fender but with out any tuning problem's whatsoever. It's people like you that inspire me to develop this idea, so I really look forward to seeing what you can do:) By the way, if you or anyone here on Instructables has any advice or info about my project, I can use all the advice I can get. Keep it going!!!

100% digital tremolo? All I can say is, brush up on your programming skills, specifically digital waveguides. If there's one thing I learned from building this guitar, it's to appreciate the incredible complexities of a simple vibrating string!

Sure thing. If you want to build an analog tremolo, here's one of a few schematics that you can follow. Here's another one, but again it's analog. Oh, and one more.

Really, there are so many effects pedal circuits out there that you could spend years building all of them. I suppose the trick is to only build the best of them. ;)

Thanks again jeff-o. This project does'nt actually have to be Digital, Analog might work great for a proto-type for the long road ahead! I'm not actually an electronic's wizard with a Phd, I'm just a musician that has dealt with the hastle of mechanical Tremolo's all my year's in playing. I've had this idea for quite some time now, and would love to have a system on-board that mimics all the Tremolo function's without the string's ever losing any string tension, which has alway's been associated with Tremolo's, even the Floyd Rose System's are still prone to string integrity. Thank's for the URL's you mentioned, I'll definately check into them. wayne6412

Aha, well if all you wanted to do is avoid string tension issues then yeah - one of the links I posted may indeed be what you're looking for! It'll be hard to fully reproduce the sound of a tremolo arm (which is actually producing vibrato) or in-built tremolo springs, but you can get close for sure.

Yea, tremolo and vibrato definition's, in a way, contradict the other when associating them with Fender and stringed instrument's thank's to Leo Fender, but not in an intentional way. The web site's you mentioned were really informative, but were mainly devoted to the "Tremolo" system built in the amplifier's themselve's. I think Tremolo or Vibrato is definately the wrong term when referring to the mechanism built into the guitar itself, a good term I would of used is "Pitch Bender" because that is really more or less what it does. What I want to develop is a device that in appearance, looks like the original set-up, but with some sort of FX processor that reproduce's the same signal as 'bending the string's", but in a sense, without ever affecting string tension. I suggested Digital because the processor could also be used for alternate tuning, etc. with just a push of a button. I know this is a really complicated idea, but I know it can be done, I've just got to do a lot of research. Good luck with your Bass project and thank's for all the info! Wayne6412

According to a bit of research I did, that's pretty hard to do properly! Best of luck - if you succeed, you'll have something that very few have done before (if at all!)

Definitely! I'll post it here when I figure it out.(if most of us are still living!lol)

Maybe you could try some kind of capacitor with a spring so that it comes back up after pushing it. This will lower the pitch at a steady rate and reliably.

That could be a good start, I'll research it. Thanks! Oh, I was gonna add this info: To better explain what I'm chasing since I'm not a electronics pro., Take, for example, a Digital Delay...once a note or string is struck and released, the D.D. continue's to process the signal, even though the string is muted, the signal can still be maniplulated by the processor itself, without touching the string again. That's kinda' what I want the Tremolo to do, in a sense. Actually, the spring's and mechanic's of the Tremolo, will actually be a "dummy", just having the feel and look's of a mechanical one, while the Digital system will mimic it's action's. Simple huh??? LOL!! Thanks again:)

Really an ingenious circuit. I know one has to start at the bottom and just keep climbing up. Although this is a partial understanding, it's primarily a Delay unit. My idea is still the Tremolo or "pitch bending" unit. I'd like, for example, to hear "Eruption" are a good Steve Vai riff played with what I'm wanting to design, and not be able to tell the difference between the mechanical Trem. vs. the Digital system. I really appreciate your interest and help gathering this info. so far.

Thanks, I'll check it out. Anymore idea's anywhere will help!! wayne6412

Why don't you make a 4 string standard tuning electric guitar sound?

Ummm... you can do that? Forgive my ignorance, but I thought that standard electric guitars needed 6 strings.

They do, but you get 4 string, 7 string, 8 string etc. up to 12 string models too. You can also do double neck, and recently someone made a 7 neck guitar too. I see no point in 4 string guitars except for chords. But, it would be good here.

I knew about 7, 8 and 12 string guitars, but not 4. Would it be limited as far as playability is concerned? Ideally I'd like the same range of notes available to the musician as on a regular guitar...

I suppose it would be quite limited, especially if you play lead guitar. If you can get 6 "strings", make an electric standard. If not, just try whatever you can, I mean, who doesn't want a laser synth guitar?

I can't think of anyone. ;) I'll work on getting 6 strings on there at some point...


8 years ago

Your biggest limitation will likely be the amp and speakers themselves. It gets increasingly difficult to reproduce sounds as the frequency drops below a certain range ( 50 hz? 40 hz?) Low frequency audio also requires more "driving" (energy) for the same "apparent" volume. The Mythbuster's massive car "sub-sub woofer" is a good illustration... The enclosures for subwoofers are increasingly important, too (resonance.) I'd be willing to bet that the low frequency / high power requirements together add up to "less articulation," which may be why you can't perceive the different waveforms as well (or maybe it's just a perception thing.) Personally, I have no problem "feeling" a normally tuned bass...but I am looking forward to seeing your new project.

You make some excellent points. And, as I wrote a few posts down, I won't be able to build a super-bass as planned, anyway. It'll be a regular bass. Now I just have to find a busted bass guitar - There are plenty of working ones out there, but I can't bring myself to break one for this!


8 years ago

I haven't read the details of your laser guitar Instructable, but if it is a synthesizer, couldn't you make the tuning selectable? I'm thinking of the five-position tone selector switch (or whatever that thing is) on my Strat clone, but used to move the tuning up or down octaves.

It might be more work, but it would add another dimension to the instrument and avoid having to make this difficult decision because you could do all of the options.

In the next version I'm planning, it will be possible to tune the strings - but I'm not sure how much just yet (that will require some experimentation!) Perhaps a third version will be tunable to any range, even swapping the "strings" for left-handed playing - but that's still a while away. I need to learn some new skillz to accomplish that. ;)

While I am fully aware there are those that would enjoy being knocked down on their feet by super-duper-low bass notes, musically, such a guitar would be lacking. The range of the instrument is secondary to it's versatility and it's function.

A great guitar is one that is versatile, and can handle pretty much any sound you want to produce. This versatility begins low since your making a bass guitar, which are difficult to get unique sound out of. That only makes it more important to make an instrument so people can noodle out any sound they wan't. Take the song NYC-25, by (one of my favorite bands) The Olivia Tremor Control. Listen to that magical base line, which carries the whole song on that funky beat. Now, that was a regularly tuned bass guitar. A... Subcontrabass would really only be good for making absurdly low, and somewhat mumbled riffs. If that is what you want, that's fine, but I think that you'd get a lot more interest and interesting sound out of a regularly tuned bass.

I think you're right. I'm glad I asked, sometimes I need some insight to keep myself from spinning away in nonsense directions! However, I've since found out that I wouldn't have been able to build a subcontrabass guitar anyway. The algorithm I am planning to use kinda falls apart below 40Hz, and wouldn't sound much better than a square wave in those frequency ranges.

What? You've been here a year and more, and don't know that you should obey The Law?

Oh, the question was never whether I should build it (and write an Instructable!) or not, just what tuning to use. Or do you want both? ;)

Personally, I won't be building it, but I can imagine there are loads of guys "out there" who would love to be able to blast out the deepest-possible bass line.

That's my thought, too. I suppose I'm one of them, though I don't actually play guitar (yet). Just the idea of an instrument that needs to be connected to a big 12" subwoofer to play gives me the chills. :D

...ever heard of brown noise?

Not to worry; the effects of brown noise to which you are alluding (gross!) were disproved by Mythbusters. And you simply cannot argue with Mythbusters. ;)

Having recently been to a music festival, I can affirm, though, that large amounts of heavy base at close quarters can certainly "ease digestive transit", as the yoghurt adverts say.

It certainly does vibrate the innards, doesn't it? Kinda like riding a ride-on lawnmower...

... Just what I was thinking...