April 04, 2017

We've discussed how to get a killer overdriven bass sound at length in previous articles, but what about all the bassists out there who want a clean sound? Don't worry, we haven't forgotten about you!  For some serious pocket grooving, stripped down, low volume acoustic gigs, or certain styles of music, such a clean tone is indispensable. Whether you're a bassist who likes to play with overdrive looking to clean up your act or a clean bassist who wants to make your sound even cleaner, this article will help you dial in your rig.

Dirtying Up Your Bass Tone: A Review

Generally speaking, the formula for getting a gritty sound is to keep the master volume low, then raise the input gain until you get enough overdrive from the preamp. Then, set the master to the necessary volume. Keep in mind though that overdriving the preamp will sound different on every amp, and especially when tube/solid state differences come into the picture. Overdriving a solid state amp, generally speaking, sounds harsher than overdriving a tube amp. On an amp like the Carvin Audio BX1600, turning up the drive increases the harmonic content of the signal in a pleasing way, because of its class A input stages.

Now, Let’s Clean it Up

Now that we’ve reviewed what creates an overdriven sound, we can look at what to do to clean it up. If you are looking to get a clean sound with plenty of headroom, you want to do the opposite of what’s described above. Run the master volume higher than your input gain. Then raise your input gain to the appropriate volume level for your playing situation. By using this method, you ensure that you maintain the highest possible headroom in the power amp stage and prevent clipping the preamp stage. On most amps, this setup will give you the cleanest, loudest, and most dynamic signal, but may add some noise. This noise would be less than the noise generated in a cranked up preamp dirty tone, but there can often be cleaner and quieter dynamics in the music where a cleaner tone is desired.  This means the noise floor may be lower and a lower noise level may be perceived as not quite enough.

Headroom is Key to a Clean Tone:

We have talked about headroom before and it can be the difference from a clean tone and a clipped peak-less present tone.  With your preamp cleaned up, the power amp needs to be able to supply the clean high dynamic peaks. These peaks can be four times the average output power. If you are seeing the clip indicator light up, if you are just hearing dull peaks, or even if you are hearing a clunk or buzz sound on the peaks, then your amp is out of head room. You can turn it down, but this lowers the average output level you need, and it may still not handle the peaks.

The first and best direction is to have an amp and rig that can handle the peaks at your needed playing level. This will have the most dynamic clean sound. The next and very common way to approach this is to use a compressor. The compressor can be set to only turn on if a certain level is reached. This is setting the threshold level. The Carvin Audio BX Series bass amps have a single knob compressor built in for easy and quick adjustments. Set it when you see clipping or hear any overloading of the amp. Using a compressor is a great direction to a clean tone when your rig is covering most of your needs and you only hit the high peaks occasionally. In this situation, you retain your highest dynamics most of the time and on the occasional extreme peaks the compressor kicks in and keeps your signal clean.  If you are in compression most of the time and you are out of headroom, you may need to look into a larger amp or adding more cabinets.  More cabinets will double your output letting you turn down the power amp. This is also adding more headroom, because of the added air moved from more speakers and because the added speaker will load your amp at a higher output power. Note: be sure your amp head can handle the lower impedance of adding more cabinets. Check the minimum loading of the amplifier and do the math on your total impedance of all your cabinets.

You also need to make sure that your bass cabinet and added cabinets can all handle the power of your head, to prevent blowing speakers. You don’t need to bring a behemoth of a bass cab to the show to get a clean sound, but it is important that you have a speaker that can handle the power of your head with room to spare. 

BRX10.4 Bass Speaker Cabinet

The Carvin Audio BRX10.4 can handle 1200 watts, which makes it a great match for even the most high-powered of bass heads.

 Advantages of Clean Tone

A clean tone with plenty of headroom tends to sit in the mix better and provides a more “open” bass sound. Especially in a band context, with bashing drums and thrashing guitars, a clean tone can be the key to sitting in the mix, cutting through and ensuring the bass supports the overall sound. As a bassist, it’s important to know how to get both clean and dirty sounds and be able to adapt them in variety of different playing situations.




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