Electric Bass Mute 101: The “Magic” Sponge
There is a beautiful decay in James Jamerson’s sound. Just listen to the intro of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. With a foam mute under the strings of his 1962 Fender P. Bass, Jamerson was able to achieve that perfectly tapered decay. This mute, which use to come stock with Fender basses from the early 60’s, was a secret weapon he kept hidden under the chrome bridge cover of the instrument.
There are several electric bass mutes you can buy online ranging in price from $19 to over $100. However, as a poor starving musician I’ve had to improvise over the years. I’ve stuffed hand towels, T-shirts, and socks –virtually everything and anything in my dresser drawer (besides the undies) — beneath my strings to achieve that vintage muted bass sound.
After experimenting, I found a microfiber Car Wash Sponge (NOT the one you do the dishes with) to be the most affordable and effective method. You can find these sponges at most stores in the automotive department with all the car cleaning supplies.
Items you will need:
- Microfiber Car Wash Sponge
1. Cut Sponge into a 4″ x 1″ x 1/2″ rectangular piece. These specs are specific to the setup on my bass. My string height is pretty high, so you might have to adjust the measurements. Working with a large car wash sponge is nice because there is plenty of room for trial and error.
2. Insert the mute under the strings. Note: There are 2 settings with this mute. You can either have the 1″ side touching the strings or the 1/2″ side, depending on how muted you want it. I prefer the 1/2″ side touching the strings.
3. Angle the bass mute so that the G string end is closer to the bridge than the E string end. Note: I like to have excess sponge hanging off the edge for easy removal from either side.
4. Plug in and enjoy!
There is no wrong way to do this. Use your ears and experiment with different widths, lengths, and angles to find the amount of muffle you are looking for.
Here is a recording I made playing Jamerson’s line on Stevie Wonder’s “You Met Your Match” with the mute.