In a previous article, we discussed the common equalization points on a bass amp and described how they affect your sound (you can find that here). But in a live setting, there will be times where something is not sounding right and you need to make a quick fix in between songs. Or maybe the soundman didn’t give you ample time to soundcheck properly, and you don’t have time to stop the show and play your bass alone to check and dial in your sound. Or you could be using an amplifier you are not familiar with. These are just a few of the instances where you need to know how to quickly address any issues with your tone on the fly.
Assuming that your bass amplifier has a usual four-band EQ (Low, Low Mid, High Mid, High), this article will cover how simple adjustments to these controls can fix most of the problems you’ll encounter in a live setting. Here are a few common problems with live bass tone:
- The bass sound is too muddy.
- The bass sound is too thin.
- The bass sound is too clanky/punchy.
- The bass sound is just too quiet.
If your bass sound is muddy and indistinct- for instance, you cannot clearly hear the difference between notes, especially on your E or B string- try backing off the low end. Too much low end can cover your bass sound in a woofy, boomy blanket, so reducing the bass control on your amp can go a long way. Don’t reduce it too much though, or that will lead you to our second common problem.
If your bass is too thin and is not filling in the sound, adding either more bass or more low mid content to the signal may help. Increasing the low mids is a great way to make a bass sound more “present” in the mix without making it too muddy.
A clanky or punchy bass sound is often desired in punk and hard rock genres, but it’s definitely possible that you can have too much of a good thing here. Especially when playing with a pick, too much sound in the high mids and treble can compete with the guitar, cymbals, and vocals, and be tiring for listeners in the audience. If you notice that your sound is too clanky, roll off some of the highest treble frequencies and you should see an immediate difference. Increasing the high mids can be great for adding more attack and growl without adding more treble content.
If your bass sound is just too quiet, there may be no other choice but to turn up the volume, or better yet, ask for more bass in your monitors. If you’re playing in a situation where your bass amp is being fed through the FOH, it is often best to keep your stage volume to a minimum. However, some venues do not put bass in the monitor and expect you to use your onstage amp as your personal monitor, in which case you have more leeway in turning the overall volume up. If possible, tilt your amp upwards or elevate it so you can hear it better. Next time you may think about a larger rig if stage volume is an issue. Remember headroom will be lost if you are turning up a rig that is too small for the gig. This kind of dynamic headroom loss cannot be corrected by EQ adjustments, although unnecessary low end could be stealing your power. Try turning down the low EQ and see if your output improves.
Having a bass amp with a very flexible EQ section is really useful in quick fine tuning. The Carvin Audio B1000, for instance, comes equipped with a six-band EQ including sub bass control which allows you to easily adjust the room-shaking low end content.
Equalization is one of the best tools to create a killer live tone in any venue. Be sure to make small adjustments one at a time and don’t get too flustered if it’s not quite sounding the way you want. With enough experience, you can adjust your EQ for any stage.