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