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9 comments / Posted by Bruce Ohms

 Power Trio Bassist

The three-piece band or power trio is a staple of rock and roll. Bands like The Police, Rush, Nirvana, and Green Day have gone down in history as three-man musical powerhouses. While a lot of talent is required to make this band format work- as with any other format- a power trio comes with its own set of unique challenges. The biggest one is: How to fill out the sound with only three musicians? Sure, it sounds fine when everyone is chugging along at full throttle, but if the guitarist takes a solo suddenly there is a big old gap in the midrange where the rhythm guitar should be. This is an age-old symptom of the power trio, leaving many bassists to wonder what they can do to make it sound less empty.
If you’re a bassist in a power trio, your job is exactly the same as a bassist in a four, five, or ten piece band- to lock in with your drummer and provide a solid melodic and rhythmic foundation for the rest of the instruments to sit on top. However, the dynamic is somewhat different in a guitar/bass/drum format. In addition to your usual responsibilities holding down the low end, you may have to pull double duty as the rhythm guitar too, and fill in extra sonic space you wouldn’t otherwise have to. There are many things you can do both technique-wise and with your rig to help your power trio shine sonically.

 1. Chords are your friend.

While power chords are usually played on guitar, picking or strumming power chords on bass can really beef up the sound. It doesn’t have to be just power chords- try strumming thirds or any voicing that the rhythm guitar would be playing that complements the lead guitar part. You don’t have to do this all the time, but it is good when your guitarist takes a solo and you need some extra heft to your sound.

 2. Use some modulation effects. 

Subtle use of effects pedals can go a long way. A chorus effects pedal is great for adding some depth to a bass line. An octave pedal can add an octave up or down to your bass line, giving it extra prominence and allowing for some nice dynamics. Depending on your band’s style of music, there are many other types of pedals that will do the trick for you, so feel free to explore the possibilities.

 3. Adjust your EQ.

Playing the bass isn’t just about the low end. In a three-piece band, you will need your sound to punch through with a little more midrange since there is no rhythm guitar. Scooping your mids may prove detrimental. Keep the low end up as much as you can without making it too woofy and dial in a full midrange and treble presence that isn’t clanky or harsh. A bass amp with a six band EQ like the Carvin Audio B1000 is especially useful in dialing in your tone since it gives you finer control. A parametric EQ like the one present on the BX Series can be great in letting you choose the midrange character easily. This advice isn’t one size fits all of course, so you will have to turn some knobs at your next practice and find what works with your band.

4. Add some drive.

A little bit of overdrive can add some extra harmonic content to your bass sound and really help it fill out the mix. You can either use your amp’s drive control or go with an effects pedal, preferably one that is tailored for bass. Be careful not to distort your bass too much though, as it will tend to lose some of its dynamics and take up too much of the sonic space your guitarist is occupying. Fuzz pedals may be overkill, but could also work, so take some time to experiment.

 

 Drive Knob on B1000 Bass Amp

Cranking the drive knob on a Carvin Audio B1000 can add some grit and grind to your bass tone.

5. Make sure you have enough bass amp.

While this seems obvious, it really is essential in a power trio to have a bass rig that has enough power to be heard clearly. How much power and which cabinets you need to equip yourself with is really dependent on your band’s style, playing volume, and your guitarist’s equipment. For more information, read our blog article How to Decide How Much Bass Amp You Need.


Playing in a power trio can be challenging for bass players, but rewarding as well. There’s nowhere to hide in this band format, so you can really step up and let your tone and playing shine through. Have any additional tips for power trio bassists? Let us know in the comments!

Comments

  • Posted On October 31, 2016 by Ed Sullivan

    Once I got an 8-string bass, I never felt the need to go back to using my 4-string. Now the only issue I have is trying not to drown-out the rest of the band.

  • Posted On October 25, 2016 by Charley Greenwood

    Tips: Occasionally double single note lines with the guitar before or after solos – and don’t forget that the bass can be an effective soloist too.

    Silence can be your best friend. Notes “hanging in the air” are a great contrast to the more expected “noise blast” – think and play symphonically.

    All three instruments require exceptional tone – the drums especially. That combination of simple tone components is what makes the power trio so effective.

    Accept that material based on four-piece construction will be difficult or impossible to successfully cover – adjust your play list.

    Finally, have a LOT of fun and let loose – that’s the magic you are going for. PLAY WITH PASSION.

  • Posted On October 23, 2016 by Shane

    Along with the tips in this article, you’ll probably want to use some compression. I have played in a power trio for 30+ years and have found that riding the precipice of feedback can be a really good thing. Compression will help you do that by adding sustain.

  • Posted On October 22, 2016 by Steven Travelbee

    This is a great article, as are all of the CarvinAudio tips articles. So much great and helpful info! I note, however, that the article focuses on 3-piece bands with guitar-bass-drums. I wonder if any different approaches to bass would be in order for a keyboard-bass-drums combo, like the greatest of all, Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
    Thanks for this outstanding series!

  • Posted On October 22, 2016 by Jeff Peterson

    I do all these things save using pedals. My Carvin BX1200 is such an amazing head that I don’t forsee ever replacing it. I drive two super 12" cabs in bi-amp mode with it, one sub and one 3-way, and the flexibility and tone I get never ceases to amaze me. The chrome knobs, the nice blue lights, the EQ section, the POWER, it has everything you could possibly want. The DRIVE knob gives me the harmonic richness that I couldn’t quite get with my GK head. It’s built like a tank and has been perfectly reliable. Jeff

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