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Bass Ramps: The How and Why

Shuker Singlecut Elite Bass
Photo: Shuker Singlecut Elite

Q: I see a lot of people talking about the use of bass ramps. I see that’s it’s basically a piece of wood in between the pickups, but I’m not sure what the benefits are. Also, how do you make one?

A: A ramp (or finger ramp) was created out of the desire to broaden the range of feeling one gets from playing over the pickup with the plucking hand (a la Jaco and many modern players). Personally, I really developed as a player with a love of the feel of playing over the pickup because it kept my fingers from digging too deep on the strings. Playing over the back pickup also allows for a higher string tension and makes it easier to play fast.

However, once I started exploring the full range of sounds on the bass, I realized that much could be gained from utilizing a broader range in hand position. I might pluck anywhere from the bridge and on up toward the neck (even up to about the 12th fret), depending on the sound I want.

The problem is – especially for one who who has become quite used to the feel of plucking directly over the pickups – is that it can feel weird to pluck in different areas in between the fretboard and bridge.

Enter the bass ramp.

As you said, it is simply a piece of wood, shaped to fit directly in between the pickups so it would feel uniform all of the way across.

This is especially appealing to players who play finger-style and need to play fast at times. It is significantly easier to develop a light and speedy touch with a ramp because it simply doesn’t allow you to play too hard (especially if you keep your pickups and ramp pretty high and close to the strings.

A ramp can be made of anything really, but wood is often the easiest to bring to the proper shape and also feels good under the fingers. I’ve seen some pretty cool looking designs with clear or colored plastics, and I now have a design with Pete Skjold where we’ve actually created a much larger pickup mold for the pickups so it really looks like one giant pickup. This is less about aesthetic and more because I found myself a little distracted by the seams in between the wood and pickups. Other luthiers can also make one large wooden pickup cover that can use as much space as you like.

One thing I will add based on my experience: if you are looking to really hone your technique, pay attention to the curvature of your fretboard. It drives me nuts when luthiers put flat pickups on a bass with a radiused neck, for example. This holds true for ramps as well. If you truly want an even playing surface for your right hand, the pickups and ramp (unless you are using one larger cover of some kind) must match the radius of the fretboard and you will also want a uniform string height.

Personally, unless you have a wood shop and are fairly handy, I would find a wood worker, luthier or carpenter of some kind to help you make your ramp. It’s just not worth the trouble and danger of trying to do it yourself without the proper tools. You will also want to measure all four corners of the inside space in between the pickups. Don’t just measure one side or corner and think that it will be a smooth surface as you pickups are likely slightly different heights from one end to the other.

Some have gotten quite fancy with their ramps and integrated screws to adjust the height of each corner of the ramp. I’ve generally just measured properly, discerned exactly what I wanted and attached it with thin, double-sided tape. This allows me to remove it if I want and leave no holes or marks on the instruments face.

Remember: measure twice, cut once. Really sketch out what you need and have someone make it for you unless you feel confident in your wood working skills.

A ramp is fantastic for those who want to really develop their right hand and develop a light touch which also facilitates speed.

But it also comes with a warning: once you get used to playing with a ramp, many find it quite difficult and awkward to play without one. It has a way of changing your approach to the instrument.

Readers, how about you? Do you use a ramp? Have you tried one and decided to switch back? What’s your take? Tell us about it in the comments.

Have a question for Damian? Submit it to the Ask Damian Erskine Forum. Check out Damian’s instructional books at the No Treble Shop.

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Share your thoughts

      Eric

      Eric

      Hi, Can you please share with me info on who in SW FL makes bass ramps? I’m in Davie and am considering experimenting with the use of a ramp aftet listening to Henrick Linder from Dirty Loops for the last week. If you are not familiar, YouTube “Dirty Loops Wake Me Up”
      Please Facebook message me the info at http://www.FaceBook.com/EricMBright

      Play On, Eric

      Larry Towers

      Why do you need a crutch for a light touch? In addition it limits other techniques.

        Chris Chorney

        Chris Chorney

        Yup. I think proper technique is to “float” your thumb as needed. So if I am playing notes on the E string, my thumb rests against the deck of the bass (or on a pickup, or on the neck), if I’m playing notes on the A string my thumb rests on the E string lightly, etc.

    Eric

    Eric

    I don’t play a well as Henrick Linder but if a ramp can benefit a player like him, I’m sure it can benefit a hack like me!
    Dirty Loops – Wake Me Up: http://youtu.be/j0sYj4wxyk0

Eric

Eric

I don’t play a well as Henrick Linder but if a ramp can benefit a player like him, I’m sure it can benefit a hack like me!
Dirty Loops – Wake Me Up: http://youtu.be/j0sYj4wxyk0

Mat

Mat

I don’t currently use a ramp, as I’ve switched to usually playing Pbasses over the last year or so (and that split pickup just doesn’t invite a ramp lol!) but after having played a bass with a ramp for about a year, I think it actually made my applied technique better.
Developing a lighter right hand technique is probably the single biggest thing that bassists can do to unlock TONE from their hands. I play a plain old passive Pbass with an exceptionally good pickup and potentiometers, with some TI flats on it, and the range of tones I get from nothing more than one tone knob and various right hand technique is almost unlimited. It’s making me so much better to work on this type of practice, expanding my knowledge by correlating every mechanic of my movement with every sound my bass makes, and listening to every nuance in the bass’s sound is making my ears better too.
Don’t know anything until you try it! Things may not always be for everyone, but there is something to be learned from very valid approach!

Dan Veall

Very pleased indeed to see my very own custom designed Shuker SingleCut featured for this article! I spent months working with Jon Shuker to perfect this bass and am so pleased with it. It has done gig after gig and sounds superb! The ramp is not a tool to FIX playing faults but as useful as a plectrum, should I need or want to use it. Incidentally, the ramp on my bass has been designed be totally adjustable in all directions, unlike many ‘stick on’ fixed ramps. The mountings were sourced specially :) http://www.shukerguitars.co.uk/dveall.html

Mark Daniels

Mark Daniels

I’ve been iusing ramps since the late 80s. I bought a bass which didn’t have a pickup where I usually put my right hand, so I cut the side off a small plastic medicine bottle and glued it to the bass. It does make a difference if you are used to plucking over a pickup. Not sure that shaping the ramp to the radius of the fingerboard makes that much difference though.

Bjorn Vilhjalmsson

Intresting, but no ramp for me!
I started playing on a Kramer bass with on p-pickup and did not like the sound playing over the pickup, so I´m use to play all over with no thumb support att all!
And its really helps when I play different basses, because they may not have pickup or thumbrest where you want it.
Best regards
Björn

that bass guy

that bass guy

I don’t see the need for this at all. I play a five-string bass and my right hand position is identical to that of a classical guitarist. I keep my right thumb slightly bent and use it to dampen the strings as I float from lower strings to higher strings. I don’t rely on any anchor like a pickup or thumb rest to dig in. I can play very fast in this way, and exactly like a classical guitarist my technique is not ruled by the pickup shape of the particular instrument I may be playing. If I need to dig in, it’s more a matter of curling my fingertips so that I’m playing on the end of my fingers and less on the finger pads. All of this can be developed by working on scales and arpeggios and not by installing a piece of lumber on my instrument.