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Cutting Through the Mix with Fretless Bass

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by bigjames, Nov 8, 2018.

  1. bigjames

    bigjames Player of Smooth Lines

    Jan 25, 2005
    Burnaby, Canada
    Hey guys, it has been a while since I have visited the site, but I find myself in need of some advice related to my fretless: I play in a reasonably small group that fluctuates in number of vocalists and instrumentation a little from week to week; generally there are 3 female vocals, 2 male vocals, piano, 1 or 2 acoustic guitars, 1 electric guitar, bass (me), and drums. We perform in a very professional theater, but practice in a crappy little room. Previously, I played in an amp free environment (we plugged in direct) with in-ear monitors. The sound guy managed the mix. This group is more traditional PA for vocals & piano and amps for guitars.

    For the most part, I have been playing my Sadowsky NYC 5-String PJ through my old GK MB150E (because it is easy to carry around) and my sound and ability to cut through the mix is fantastic. Last night, I opted to play my Fbass AC6 fretless for fun. It sounded great when I played by myself and the low end was full in the mix, but when playing as a group anything higher than about D vanished. I cranked volume and still, it vanished in the mix.

    The Fbass is an awesome instrument, so I suspect my issue here is a combination of tone and the acoustics of the practice room (which suck). I generally leave my amp EQ flat (all at 12 o'clock) and limiter OFF. When I play the Sadowsky, I have pan in the middle, volume at about 9 (of 10), VTC in the middle, and slight boost on bass and treble - it sounds great from top to bottom. On the Fbass, I usually do similar: volume about 9/10 on the mag pup, about 5/10 on the piezo, general tone in the middle, and the bass, mid, and treble at middle as well.

    Obviously, I will need to use my ears to fix this, but it can be tough in a crappy room. Where do I start? Is there a frequency spectrum I should boost as a starting point? What is the method to fine tune tone control in this situation?

  2. nostatic


    Jun 18, 2004
    Lompoc, CA
    Endorsing Artist: FEA Labs
    Mids are your friend when trying to hear yourself in a mix. Cut the bass a bit, boost the mids. Also try with and without piezo (sometimes that is great for being in a mix, other times not), and try bridge pickup alone which should cut more.
  3. rutrho


    Mar 29, 2014
    San Jose, CA
    I play fretless in a metal band with an active Ibanez, coated strings and dual soapbars.
    I usually end up bumping low mids, mids and treble on both my pre-amp and on the bass, I roll the bass off a small amount if not at all and dial in a lot of compression. I also end up plucking over the rear pickup or near the bridge for more attack and I end up biasing towards neck P/U about 70/30.
    I don't have any major issues cutting through with a loud ass drummer and 1-2 guitars and sometimes cookie monster vocals.

    I wonder if string choice can be a factor here as well?
    bigjames, Impermanence and gebass6 like this.
  4. Torn Bassist

    Torn Bassist

    Feb 8, 2013
    I agree Mid's should be your focus for a band mix
    bigjames likes this.
  5. Chuck M

    Chuck M Supporting Member

    May 2, 2000
    San Antonio, Texas
    I play with one group that has a singer and the music we do is jazz standards....Frank Sinatra/Tony Bennett style. Instrumentation is piano, bass, drums and voice. I usually play upright on that gig but occasionally play my Ibanez GWB 205. Usually I hear myself fine but there have been times that I have increased the mids a bit depending on the room.

    I used to have a habit of leaving the EQ controls alone after I had once found the tone I wanted with a particular bass and amplifier. I have since learned that a small adjustment of EQ can take my tone from not so great to wonderful. For what it is worth...I usually make small cuts rather than boosts in EQ settings.
    bigjames and Wisebass like this.
  6. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism

    It sounds like you like scooped mids. Those sound great alone but are really hard to get through a mix. Instead of boosting the mids, you could add more speakers. I like a lot of mids with my fretless though so I typically slice through the mix.
    bigjames and Groove Doctor like this.
  7. 1. Lay the speaker box on its back facing upwards.
    2. Position the amp in the centre of the room.
    3. Both 1 & 2.

    Doing these have turned horrible rehearsal rooms into great rooms.
    bigjames likes this.
  8. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    The giveaway: "anything higher than about D vanished. I cranked volume and still, it vanished in the mix" tells me that this is a room-related issue. Tiny differences between the timbre of two instruments can exacerbate room modes and trigger standing waves in disproportionately huge ways.

    Try this: Walk around the room while you're playing your fretless bass. Is there a spot in the room where you suddenly can hear your bass, conspicuously loud and full? If so, mark that spot, put your amp on that mark, and then walk around the room again. Find a place where the bass sounds full and loud to you. Mark that spot. WHen the rest of the band shows up, start out standing on the 2nd marked spot. Is the bass still vanishing in the mix? Move around some more until you find the place where it doesn't.

    Note that sometimes moving just 3-6" in some direction is all it takes to go from "I can't hear my bass!" to "My bass is so loud I can't hear the drums!"
    bigjames likes this.
  9. bigjames

    bigjames Player of Smooth Lines

    Jan 25, 2005
    Burnaby, Canada
    Thanks for all the replies and ideas. I will definitely give these a try next time I find myself in this spot. I love my fretless bass, so this situation was frustrating. I will report back with what I try and what works when I get a chance. Thanks again!
    rutrho likes this.
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