An aggressive bass sound is a crucial component of many music genres, from punk to funk to heavy metal. While a clean tone can do just fine, a more aggressive tone can push your sound more forward in the mix and can really make your playing and the overall band mix come to life. Whether you are trying to give your bass some extra presence in your band or are trying to get the right tone for studio work, it is very useful to familiarize yourself with ways to give your bass some grind and growl.
What is an Aggressive Bass Sound?
Bass players generally have different opinions about what makes a bass sound aggressive, because there are different levels of it. It can be a particular clarity in the attack of the note to a full-on overdriven grind. If you are after an aggressive tone, it’s important to make sure that it works in the context and format of your band. In a power trio, for instance, beefing up your sound will help it fill up more sonic space. In a band with a loud drummer and two guitarists using heavy distortion, it may be better to pull back a bit.
Dialing it In
An aggressive sound comes from a variety of different factors.
- Equipment Used/ EQ Settings: Your choice of amp and how you set the controls is essential. A punchier, cutting tone can be achieved by adding high mids- this will accentuate your attack. If you have a graphic EQ on your amplifier, as many Carvin Audio bass heads do, this sweet spot is in the range of 800Hz- 1.3kHz. If your amp has a contour control like the one found on the BX1500, you can further refine your midrange sound and add a nice scoop to tame certain frequencies you don’t want. If you want more string noise and harshness on your string attack, give your treble a boost, but be careful not to overdo it. There are no hard and fast rules here, as the EQ settings also depend on the instrument and cab you are using, but addressing your high mids is a good starting point. Sweep the controls around and find what works for you.
String Type: Stainless steel or roundwound strings, for instance, have a lot more brightness and punch than the warmer, rounder sound provided by flatwound strings. New strings are also a critical part of having a really punchy sound, so you may have to change your strings more often than you’re used to if you want to keep your tone bright and aggressive.
Setup: Your string height (action) also matters; if you have your action set low, playing hard with either fingers or a pick may make the strings slap against the neck, causing a more clanky, metallic sound. You will have to fine-tune this overall effect by tweaking your string action to the sweet spot or adjusting your pickup height, as it’s easy to be excessive.
Type of Bass Used: In addition, the type of instrument used is crucial; basses with bridge pickups can more easily provide a crisper, sharper sound. Instruments equipped with higher-output pickups can also send your amp into overdrive more easily than low output pickups.
Remember, you can always set the gain control on your amp to determine how gritty your sound gets. Turning up the drive on a Carvin Audio bass amp can give you a pretty hairy sound with added harmonics, which, in conjunction with the factors above, can really make your tone stand out.
As we usually mention when discussing bass tone, it’s very important to keep in mind your role in the band (we can’t emphasize this enough!) Making your tone more aggressive by trying out these tips may breathe new life into your tone, but make sure that you are still holding down the low end. You don’t want to be a bass player whose tone is all grind and no thump!