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 Erskine? Send it to askdamian@notreble.com. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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Leave a Reply to Chris Chorney Cancel reply

  1. Interesting perspective. I’ve thought about putting one of these on a bass many times, but I’ve never pulled the trigger. Thanks for the advice on the radiused ramps.

  2. Good info, I’ve wondered about those myself. Since I often use a pickup as a thumb rest, I’ve always assumed they were there for that purpose, and didn’t realise they also serve to moderate RH technique. However, I like the tone of trying to drive my strings right through the body ;) , so I doubt I’ll be using one anytime soon. I’ve never had a problem shifting from playing near the bridge to over the neck, or anywhere in between, and I think most bassists should experiment with the range of tones you can get by playing in different places.

  3. Settled.. I am getting a ramp installed. These articles are the BOMB for bass geeks like myself.

    • Yeah man…I could definitely make use of a ramp!

    • I need to find a guy who makes them locally for cheap.

    • Not sure where locally to you is but I know a guy here in SW Florida…

      • 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

    • dude……get me a piece of wood and your guitar.I will make one for you.I have every wood working too known to man and the know how to make it work and look good.I’d do it for free Nolan. I love that stuff.

    • go to Northern Hardwoods either online or Chestertown and find the type of wood you want or go to Curtis Lumber in Balston Spa. They have a rediculous exotic wood selection there. I’ll bet you I can find the type of wood they made my Spector with. I’ve seen My Cirrus’ black walnut wood there. We can put a poly finish you can look down and see the grains. Hell,…..I made the Cabinets in my House…..I csan make these LOL!!

  4. I don`t normally use one for certain kinds of gigs! I do however have one on my Pavel de la Fuente musical instruments 6 string Jazz Pro Deluxe! AS Damian said I tend to play all over the Instrument for the tone I need. The Ramp just makes it easier! It doesn`t bother me to play without it however! Mainly because I`ve been playing so long, and have so many different basses.Once I warm up on a given bass{Which you should do before you play}.I`m good to go!

  5. I made a ramp out of cardboard and duct tape, and it works amazingly well! My father and I are in the midst of making a proper, ebony one though. They truly do help for fingerstyle, and they don’t get in the way for slapping either!

    • I would like to know more about this survivalist, economy, makeshift, duck tape cardboard ramp. I’m a fender jazz guy BUT! I bought a beater Alvarez 5 string fixer upper on craigslist for $80 and I would like to take it the whole 9 yards. (I fixed this thing up for the cost of a $10 set of strings and some TLC) you should make a how to youtube video :)

  6. I had one made for my J bass a few months back….I cant believe I haven’t been using this for 15 years……love it! on all styles…

  7. I’m addicted to them! It is awkward when I play a bass with out them.
    I make my own with a piece of alder and some sandpape

  8. ramp is for me absolutely necessary…i feel with more accuracy and speed with it..and my groove got better too.

  9. I need to add something like this on my wishbass but that goes over my fretboard because this plucking right by the bridge thing isn’t working.

  10. Wow! Fussy, fussy, fussy. Develop the light touch you need 90% of the time without a crutch. Then you can still dig in when you want to without having a hunk of wood or plastic in your way.

    • I use ramps for my cars.

    • I am with you 100%! I would remove that PoS first thing. Ramp? More like a Limiter. How would hit the strings hard enough to make them sing? How can you not control your dynamics? Practice more.

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

        • 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.

          • Garret

            Chris, bass ramps aren’t about thumb placement…

    • The excursion of the swinging string is not impeded at all by my ramp when I dig in. There is plenty of dynamic range and I would get major fret noise long before bottoming out on the pickup or ramp. The strings would only make contact with a ramp if they are already swinging enough to hit your pickup when you play. Play on!

    • So why not just, you know…work on a light touch? These “modern jazz guys/improvising bassists” probably practice, right?

    • 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

  11. damn – I misread and thought this was about bass tramps. Got excited there for a sec…

  12. makes sense… when I play upright, my fingers always hit the fingerboard… might have to build one and try it out.

  13. Check out Jim Tompson guitars makes ramps for my students out of eastern PA

  14. Thanks Steve. If anyone wants to check out
    my work go to http://www.jimmytguitars.com

  15. I have been looking into one of these recently and had this link forwarded to me. Gary Willis is obviously a proponent of ramps and actually shows how to fabricate and install one. I was wondering where his power tools were, ha ha ha! As a side note, I noticed that one or two guitarists in The Gipsy Kings also used a ramp.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rf3ycFvSDQc

  16. Great question! I have often wonder what that was between the pickups. And I have never seen a bass sold with one. Would love to try it.

  17. would this work for a stingray? would it look awkward on a stingray.must research.

  18. I often pluck over the neck which then becomes a ramp of sorts. Of course I have to adjust my tone settings to compensate for the “bassist” sound that makes.

  19. I don’t agree that it’s easier to play fast over the bridge pickup. The more you are in the middle of a string (length), the less power you need to move the string, which is essential for playing faster. The faster you play tghe less power you should incorporate. Playing over the bridge pickup needs more power, because of more stiffness of the string.

    And you should have give credits to Gary Willis, the inventor of the ramp, or at least he is a ramp pioneer.

    I use selfmade ramps made out of black rubber foam, they are easy to install and remove and the touch feeling is great because of it’s softness compared to wood, the downside is black finger tips.

    • Kudos to G. Willis!!

  20. Though non of my current basses have a ramp, I did install one on a bass some 15 years ago and exactly for the reasons described in the article (these ramps ain’t new) I´m thinking of putting one on my Ibanez SR1200 VNF.

  21. now, I can’t live with out it!

  22. Also, I believe that Shuker 7 belongs to Dan Veall.

  23. ramps are another tool you can choose to use or not…not for me really…have always been one for resting my thumb on the bridge pickup…i like the tone I get there the best..the ramp would just allow for more string click when playing fast and powerful.

  24. I’m kind of surprised that you didn’t once mention Gary Willis in this piece. If Willis didn’t “invent” the ramp (and he may have) he certainly put the concept out there to the broader bass playing community.

  25. Ah, the bass ramp. Another thing for people to buy instead of working on their technique. What that? I’m digging in too deep with my plucking fingers? Hmm, I guess I could put some practice time in trying to rectify the flaw in my playing…nah, I’ll just modify the instrument! It’ll go great with those tuners I bought that wind the string correctly on the post without me having to learn to change strings correctly.

    • I’m with you Damian.. I have them on all of my A team basses. Most of these shit talkers can’t play their way out of a wet paper bag. Oops, now I’m doing it. Haters gonna hate, players gonna play. Play on!

    • What possible abuse could one hurl at someone adding a ramp to their bass? Seriously.

    • I prefer piano and keyboard ramps myself. Makes it much easier to roll a heavy instrument upstairs and downstairs.

    • It’s almost worse that fingers vs pick.

    • I personally don’t like ramps, but I certainly wouldn’t begrudge anyone for using one. Who really cares? You have to have zero life to care that someone else does it. But that’s par for the course with many bass players. I wish bassists were more like guitarists, where they hide their tonal secrets. Bass players are like “You MUST do what I do or you’re doing it wrong.” Idiots.

    • Eric

      Once again, where’s the like button?

  26. sooo added I one aaaaaaaand why didn’t I do this before? Totally awesome.

  27. Personally, I like the ramps. I always end up placing a thumb rest between the pickups on my basses. I have a Ibanez Gary Willis and love the ramp. Why the hate. If you don’t like it, fine. But damn, you’re right Damian, it’s silly for those who make the negative comments.

  28. “It drives me nuts when luthiers put flat pickups on a bass with a radiused neck”

    …Blame the pickup companies?

  29. To see the negative comments is actually funny! My bass has a ramp, and it allows me to play things that are physically impossible otherwise. It’s not a matter of technique that could be improved, it’s a matter of biomechanics. To all those who talk smack about a simple tool which improves leverage, I hope you shut up if you can’t grow up.

  30. I thought it was informative Damian, I’m an advocate of ramps, and it’s always cool to share the technical side of things with those that are interested.

  31. 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

  32. 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!

  33. 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

  34. 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.

  35. 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

  36. 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.