May 16, 2023
It’s no secret that bass is the most important instrument in the band (except for most of the others!). Kidding aside, a killer tone can transform a set or a record from ordinary into classic, and for bassists (like any guitar player), achieving a unique tone is as much of an art as playing itself. So, it makes sense to dig into your bass tone in detail, if you haven’t already. Here’s a little on doing just that.
Bass guitar tone has evolved significantly over the years as different artists have experimented with different sounds and techniques. Ostensibly, the modern bass approach was pioneered by Motown great James Jamerson, whose trademark sound combined bright attack with a thick mid-range groove.
Classic bass tones around that era often relied on single coils and tube amps to create a warm, woody sound that could be heard clearly in the mix. More modern bass tones tend to use humbuckers and solid state amps to produce a heavy bottom end with plenty of punch.
Punk and grunge tones are often heavily distorted, and current bass players make use of any number of effects and crazy techniques to achieve something new.
It would be easy to assume bass tone is all about the amp, but the truth is a lot of the work is done with the bass itself first. That could be as simple as playing with the tone, volume, and EQ knobs (and don’t neglect this innocuous-sounding tweak), but there’s more to it than that.
Also consider the placement of your bass relative to the amp. Moving around while playing can alter the sound significantly since the pickups will “hear” different sounds from various angles. Trying out different strings, bridge heights, saddle depths, and other modifications can all help you dial in your perfect tone.
Newer, less broken-in strings, for example, yield a brighter sound. Go too old, though, and you might find the tone too dull. Higher bridges result in more sustain and volume – great for boom, not as great for groove and space – whereas a lower bridge works better for articulation and clarity. Similarly, a shallower saddle gives you a brighter tone with less sustain and deepening the saddle is similar to raising the bridge.
So, it’s worth setting up going direct to a board or setting up your amp with nominal settings and dialing in the bass itself first.
Once your bass is dialed in, the amp you choose and how you set it gives you a world of timbral flavor to play with. First things first, you’ll need to understand the difference between gain and volume. In short, on a bass amp, input gain is the amount of signal entering the amp, and master volume is how loud it reproduces it once it’s gone through whatever the amp does to it. On some bass amps such as classic Carvin units, these are labeled “drive” and “volume”. There’s a surprising amount of room for change when you play with these. Start by setting master volume at a reasonable level and experiment with the drive (aka input gain). You’ll see that the more you drive this setting, the more grit and distortion you’ll get.
Once you’ve found the right drive setting, then look to shape the tone with the EQ knobs. Beware of too much boom – although you want low end, too much can actually hamper the bass’s ability to cut through. Finally, remember that how your amp sounds is largely dependent on the room, so if you’re committed to getting a great bass sound every show, you’ll need to make some adjustments once you get into the space.
Tweaking your bass tone with bass and amp settings can be a subtle art, and sometimes you just can’t achieve what you want – or you may find yourself without that big bass rig you’re used to. In either case, you can get a lot of subtle control using pedals and small units like Carvin’s BX1 Bass Preamp. Of course, you can also combine this unit with your preferred cabinet.
If you want to take a sledgehammer to the job and really go wild, you can always employ other effects pedals too. Massive distortion, delay, reverb, crazy EQ – the sky’s the limit. One note, however: When you use a really aggressive bass distortion, you’ll lose a lot of low-end boom, as the distortion also acts as a kind of compressor. This can result in a really aggressive sound but it may not whoomph the room like you want. Of course, that’s what a well-reinforced kick drum is for.
Bass tone isn’t all in the gear. You can achieve an amazing variety simply via technique. The nice thing about that is you can alter your tone midstream. If you’ve played bass for more than about five minutes, you’ll already have noticed these things, but just as a reminder:
Bass is a fabulous instrument, and the unique character of the bass track is often what makes a track cool or a band stand out. It’s half about the groove and half about a cool tone. Good luck!
November 06, 2023
One of the most misunderstood things in mixing is bass – whether it’s getting the low end right in general, letting the bass guitar cut through without overpowering everything else, or just making the bass interesting and cool. It can be tricky to get it right, but there are plenty of tried-and-true tricks for getting there quickly. Let’s go over a few of those.
October 30, 2023
Some of the great guitar-playing artists were self-taught – which means a great many of them use weird tunings. That’s probably no coincidence – using alternate tunings is a great way to come up with a unique sound. So, let’s look at a few of the most common uncommon tunings you could try with your guitar – or your bass.
October 23, 2023
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