Welcome to the first of a few posts I intend to share regarding aspects of bass playing. I wanted to share some of my own thoughts and feelings on anything from gear, practicing to touring etc, and hopefully pass on a few of the things i've learnt in the meagre 20+ years of playing the instrument. I have no agenda here simply to give, and maybe even receive some ideas from others that have a real love and enthusiasm for the instrument.
So today's topic comes in the form of "Getting Your Tone" anywhere you play.
This is a subject that is an ongoing development, and a constant refining process that I see as being a bit of a journey. The Journey itself never comes to an end, the aim is to simply be able to assess the sound of your rig in any given room and dial in "your sound" into that space.
The "Your Sound" bit is worthy of a blog post alone, so maybe i'll tackle that in a future post. For now assume you know what your sound is, or how you like it to sound at least. The process entails comparing the sound in your head with the sound of the rig in the new room. As anyone that dabbles in recording knows, the sound you hear coming from your speakers in the studio is greatly affected by the shape, size and reflective and non-reflective surfaces in that room, including furniture. Room variables like this can boost or cut frequencies in the sound spectrum, which will mean that those frequencies are essentially cut or boosted in the audio you hear in that space also.
Well! as you can see this presents a problem! the sound that you spent ages getting just right in your bedroom will sound different in a room that emphasises bass frequencies for example. This new room will add extra bass to the sound you got at home with the amp settings in the same position. In order to get "your sound" back, you would as in this example "cut" bass on your amp until you return the bass presence in your sound to the correct level for the new room, Voila your sound is back. But there is a bit more to it than that, as there are loads more frequencies on the spectrum that might need to be tweaked too in order to get your sound back! so you repeat the process with the other areas of your sound.
This is where the capabilities of your amp head come into play. Some amps have fully parametric EQ (lots of sliders) used to cut or boost a large selection of the spectrum (this is obviously ideal for maximum control by you). Other amps may have Bass, Mid, Treble, or maybe Bass, Low Mid, High Mid, Treble etc etc. These types have a fixed point the slider that allows control over 3 or 4 different frequencies at a time, thus not being quite as specific and editable, but often sufficient for the needs of most situations, and quicker to approximate the sound you need. Either way manipulation of these controls should be controlled to dial back in your sound into the room.
I MUST say that practicing this as often as possible in a variety of rooms will be a massive help to your ear development. The more you repeat the action of dialing your sound into a new room, the better your ears get at relaying accurate signals back to the brain, telling you what knob or slider to move and by how much. This won't come overnight, but just make it something you just "Do", consider it good practice! a challenge to get as close as you can, as quick as you can when setting up for a show.
My method is as follows for each new venue / room.
- Start with EQ controls flat (center) at the amp (I have BASS, LOW MID, HIGH MID, TREBLE controls all pointing straight up to start with).
- Set Bass Guitar controls to your most used sound (most players know what this is as a rule).
- Assess how the rig sounds at approximate suitable performance volume (for that size room).
- Compare "that sound" to "your sound in your head"
- Start with a focus on BASS, is there too much, or too little in that room? adjust bass knob or slider to approximate levels. Think in terms of BASS = WARMTH, how warm should your sound be?
- Now LOW MID, how much "power or Punch" does your sound have, compare to the sound in your head, adjust to suit.
- Repeat with HIGH MID how much "Bite or Aggression" should your sound have? grab the dial and try to find it (approximately)
- Repeat with TREBLE, how much "Air, Sparkle or String Noise" should there be? Adjust the knob until you approximate it.
Now, stand back and listen to the whole thing, are you close? make a few little adjustments here and there, and wait till the band is playing with you in sound-check (ideally), this will also affect where your sound should be when playing against other instruments. Don't fret though, you've done the legwork already, it is likely to be minor tweaks that you can quickly do between the first two songs in the set.
All other settings on the amp like COMPRESSION etc can stay the same in most venues really, it's only the EQ that is the major thing to be getting your head round for now.
Be patient in developing this skill to "dial it in" right every time, speed comes with repetition, so get your gear setup in as many different rooms as possible, start in the house if you like! make it your goal to nail it or get as close as possible as quick as you can (but not rushing where possible). Over time you will develop your ears also and they will tell you what frequencies to shoot for tweaking right away, keep doing it and that does come I can assure you!
So that's about it for this little bit of guidance, if you like what i'm talking about, or it has been a help to you, or even if you have your own ideas to share, please comment below, i'm always up for a bit of discussion and learning.
See you next time!