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Deadheads: Phil Lesh 80-90s tone on a P-Bass?

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by Murphbass, May 10, 2016.

  1. Murphbass


    Jun 12, 2005
    Sacramento, CA
    I play in a few Dead cover bands and am trying to cover a lot of eras of the band with (2) basses. I have a P with flats/quarter pounders that does a pretty good job with the '70s (most like '71, I'm guessing). I'm also trying to approximate the 80-90s, which I know is a jazz, G&L, a few Modulus and Ken Smith. But, in general, it seems like a more hi-fi sound than his previous years. BTW- I thought I saw a shot with Phil with the Jazz where it looked like he might have EMGs in there, but it was hard to see. Anyone know if it was stock or not?

    My current stop-gap has been a Lakin maple neck P-bass with EMG Geezer Butler pickups, various nickels and steels (Dunlop, D'addario NYXL- not tried Slicks yet) with a Boss GEB-7 adding a bit at 4.5k, and even less boost at 800hz and 10k, maybe a little boost in the low end, too (50 and/or 120hz). Very slight changes to bring out the 'hi-fi'-ness and add a little booty. Not so worried about my stage sound as much as that going to the house. Trying to distinguish that bass from the Pbass with flats.

    I also have a Squier Affinity Jazz bass with Dimarzio Model Js that in some ways gets closer to that late 80s/90s tone, but it's a little too zingy, especially with a pick. Nice fingerstyle bass and great fly bass (I take the neck off and put it in my overhead luggage! Cheap bass that I don't have to worry about). I should note that bass has Rotosound rounds and the pickups wired directly to the output jack (no resistors/tone caps, no blend or volume pots). I never touch my knobs and prefer everything straight up (my other P is wired the same). Perhaps a tone cap would get rid of some of the zing, but I'm not sure the instrument is totally up for the task.

    So- thoughts I've had- replace the Lakin neck with a Moses or Status graphite neck. Add a buffer? EMG actives or other hi fi pickups? I don't want to spend a fortune, and I'd like to retain a more traditional P-Bass tone (I do play in a lot of non-Dead projects, too), so having a buffer than switches on/off is appealing if it'll get me closer to the tone. I don't foresee buying a Modulus, though I dream of a Ken Smith one day.

    How would you approach the task with my gear? Thanks in advance- talkbass has always been very forthcoming with great suggestions!
  2. matty1039


    Oct 26, 2015
    New Orleans
    Just spit balling here but you could take your jazz and wire back the volume and tone pots. If it is currently too zingy then you can at least adjust some of the zing. Roll back on the bridge volume and maybe set the tone about half way.
  3. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Really, this seems like the most straightforward solution. You're trying to get a very specific tone, and you've thrown away two of your simplest and easiest tools for doing so. Just put the volume and tone pots back in, and between the relative pup volumes and the tone knob I'll bet you have no trouble dialing in the sound you want.

    Lesh has always been one of the all-time great knob-twiddlers. If you want to cop his tone, you might have to twiddle some knobs too!
    Mushroo and matty1039 like this.
  4. I would get a ken smith then (but you said you didn't want to spend a fortune...). His tone in the early 80s (when using a jazz, and the doug irwin P bass) was pretty lame. Hardly any character and just all around boring. When he got his modulus in mid/early 80s it got better. He didn't get the Ken Smith until 1990 (or late 89?). The modulus and smith both have a distinct tone that will come off as more phil lesh esque than a Jazz or P bass will for representing his 80s sound. The modulus will be more affordable and also probably a bit more versatile than a ken smith.

    What is the name of your group?
  5. Murphbass


    Jun 12, 2005
    Sacramento, CA
    Thanks for the replies. Wisconsindead- maybe it's just my fondness for '82 (Greek, Frost, etc.), but I feel like there were some good tones. Probably the G&L? A P-Bass would be in the ballpark, I'd think. I think the Irwin was easily his worst sounding bass. I may swap out the electronics in my Lakland 55-94 to something a bit more hi-fi than the Bartolini pickups/pre.

    I play with Stu Allen quite a bit, both in the 'Mars Hotel' and other Terrapin Station shows, various private events, etc. Also do shows with other Dead/Jerry Band/Old and in the Way cover bands, though I'm not a permanent member of any one band.
  6. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

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