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Expensive basses get muddy in the mix!

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by rickreyn, Jan 30, 2001.

  1. rickreyn


    Jun 16, 2000
    Lutz, Florida
    I recently saw Kim Stone with the Rippingtons. He's a fantastic bassist and personality and plays some great Roscoe basses, I believe. Despite all that, his playing was virtually indistinguishable in the mix. In fact, all I heard was a sub-sonic muddy mess that Stone occassionally slapped his way out of. No matter the thousands of dollars you've got into a bass and rig, it seems that the crisp clear sound that one hears in front of the amp may be enjoyed by only the player. Everbody else gets mud. Sometimes I wonder if the low "B" has made the problem even worse. Just an observation.
  2. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Total Hyper-Elite Member Gold Supporting Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    My guess is that the venue plays a role in the sound. I've seen him in a small, outdoor venue, and his sound was clear and punchy. He was playing through a Walter Woods amp and EA cabs on stage, and running through a very well-engineered PA.
  3. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    I went to an outdoor show with Ramsey Lewis, The Rips and the Yellowjackets, among others. The sound people completely screwed Ramsey, it was possibly the worst professional sound job I've ever heard. Both the Jackets and the Rips brought their own guy and sonically were very good.
  4. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I agree - there are so many variables in these situations, that you can't possibly tie it down to the choice of bass. I've seen the same band (and bass player of course) in two different venues in my home town not too far apart and using exactly the same equipment, but the sound was totally different. In the first venue, the sound was clear and tight and every nuance of the bass playing stood out. In the second venue, it was just mush - completely indistinguishable sound. But it was the same bass and amp combination.

    I also know in gigs I've played around, that the sound is more dependent on the venue than the gear, as I always use the same setup, but the sound can be totally different. Some nights I just setup flat and plug in and it sounds great - other places, I struggle all night to no avail, changing settings and ways of playing and it still sounds horrible. A good sound man out front can help, but my current band can't usually afford this luxury - although we notice the difference when we can!
  5. IMO, it's nothing to do with your gear, and only a small amount to do with the venue. It's 95% the useless, unimaginative idiots that pass for sound engineers these days. I think the quality of your bass will reflect in the quality of out front sound, but only if that turkey twiddling the knobs let's it. 35 minutes to eq the drums, and 7 seconds for the bass! It's true! That's exactly what happened to me, and boy, did the "engineer" get an earful from me, which of course made him want to screw my sound up even worse. Funny thing was, his "good" sound, and his "bad" sound were indistinguishable from each other!!
  6. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    I dunno guys...sometimes it's actually the tone of the instrument itself that's the culprit. I've seen it especially prevalent in higher-end neck-through basses myself. There's so much emphasis placed on getting a super clean hi-fi tone sometimes; the bass sounds great solo, but doesn't have the cojones to cut through a complicated mix without becoming overbearing. It's why I've bought and soon sold Spectors, MTDs, Alembics and a few others. I don't think it's the fault of the design per se, as much as the unwillingness of the bassist to take that 3000.00 bass and dial in the nasty-sounding frequencies that give a bass character in a mix (but make the solo tone suck). Same goes for sound men...many times, if it takes any work at all, the bass gets short shrift. As much as I love nice high-end instruments, it still amazes me that you can wrestle with getting the thing to sound good in a band situation, but pick up a passive Fender, and it's RIGHT THERE immediately.
  7. CS


    Dec 11, 1999
    The problem is with the soundman, use the good one, I will give you his name if you want.
  8. rickreyn


    Jun 16, 2000
    Lutz, Florida
    The "quality" gap between the high end basses and your typical Fender seems great, but not in the work-a-day world. If this were not true, the universe would be covered with "high end" basses. I also agree with the need to add the best sound to the overall mix that you can, which is typically not what you want to solo with. I am fortunate to have a fairly straight forward Jazz setup on my bass for the 99% of the time I am simply laying down a groove.
  9. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    Minor point, Mike...MTD hasn't made a neck through. Tobias did, however. I actually get requests for my old neck through Tobias 5 on some of my gigs, it sounds great live but it doesn't have the typical hi-fi sound.

    Other than that I agree completely, people fall in love with the "bedroom" (or practice room) sound of some of the higher end basses and that tone can be completely lost live.

    OTOH no matter what bass you have, a soundman who sets up your bass to mimic the kick drum EQ settings (that's why they do bass after drums ;)) will kill you most times ... unless that's the sound you want.

    I've played with great soundpeople and poor ones, as have lots of people here. The great ones can make the gig one of the best musical experiences of your life.

    The bad ones suck. Big time.
  10. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    actually, brad, believe it or not, there was actually an mtd neck through 6 string fretless at the namm show, iirc. i don't know if it was a one-off or if he is going to start offering neck throughs too now. it also had the light wave thing going on, first 6 string lightwave i've seen.

    pretty cool. now all they need is 7... :D
  11. It's not the gear, not by any means. There's a local band, Q, that I've seen about 6 or 7 times. The bassist uses a late-'70s Jazz with EMG pickups, a Hartke 3500 head, and a Hartke 4.5XL cabinet. Sometimes, he has great sound coming out of the PA; other times, it's muddy and indistinct. This leads me to the conclusion that live sound more often has to do with the venue (acoustics, quality of PA, how much the soundman has had to drink, etc.) than the gear.

    I saw Q at a 10-hour outdoor festival last April; they were the last band of the day and were mixed terribly, since the soundman was very tired and had consumed quite a bit of beer. I saw them most recently at an 8-hour indoor festival; they were the second band of the set and were mixed excellently. The bassist had the exact same rig AND EQ settings at the two shows.
  12. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I've got a neck-though Tobias that can sound great at gigs and one of the reasons I bought it was because, I'd heard a couple of local players get great sound out of these, live.

    But, I have also seen one of these players using exactly the same gear in a large "boomy" hall and get a really indistinct, muddy bass sound. I have myself played in similar venues where nobody in the band could get a decent sound - too much shiny floor and wall to cope with! Good sound man out front does help as I mentioned, but there are some places where you're just not going to get a good bass sound no matter what.
  13. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    Yep, Brad, you're right about the MTD being a bolt-on, but you know that thing sounded so "neck-through" to me. I had the same mix placement problems. I imagine it was due to the stiffness of the wenge/wenge neck. It was probably the nicest bass I've ever had, but it wasn't "me". I found my best results with Lakland. High-end bolts. I'm sure I'd love a Sadowsky, too.
  14. Kubla Khan

    Kubla Khan

    Jan 29, 2001
    I would have to agree with mchildree. There's times where my Alembics sounds so great when they're solo'd or brought out correctly in a mix. In some other live situations, they don't sound so great! Then I bring out old 4001 (my version of a passive fender!)

    Kubla Khan

  15. Well, I've had a slightly different experience. I play neck-thru custom made 6's, and I've never had any trouble getting a good solid and present tone out of them. I did use a Fender Jazz 5 Deluxe (MIM) for a few gigs when I was working in New Orleans on Bourbon St., but after a couple gigs, the consensus was to bring the J home, and bring back the 6. The tone was just better, end of story (we won't discuss the awful B string on the J ;) ).
  16. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    Yer right, Mike, that Wenge neck can sound very neck thru-like. I dig them, though I've never played one at a gig.

    JT, I didn't get to go to NAMM. I never get to go to NAMM.

    Thanks for reminding me;)

    I did see the 6 string LW in NYC and for the life of me I can't remember what type construction it was. I must be slippin'.
  17. Allrighty,
    I'm gonna put another spin on this because I'm feeling that sound engineers (as a whole) are getting an undeserved bad rap here. You folks who've had bad experiences, I feel for you, but I have to say that not all sound people are lazy, incompetent, beer swilling idiots. The ones that are should be fired (OUT OF A CANNON!!!!). I'm a professional sound engineer with 10 years experience. I don't drink on the job - EVER, I'm the first one at the gig and the last to leave. I mix well (I've got a couple of Industry Association awards for best technician to back that up) and I'm attentive to the needs and concerns of the musicians that hire me as long as I'm respected by them (I am). I go out of my way to get good sound. Now here's what I have to deal with: Venue acoustics, It's hard to give ANYTHING definition in a room where the natural reverb is 4 seconds. Also, an empty room sounds completely different than a full one. Inadequate gear. Bands that are WAAAAY too loud on stage. It's hard to get a defined mix that's not ear bleedingly loud when that band's generating 110 dB of drums, amps and monitor wash all by itself. Singers with no mic technique. "I can't hear the vocals...that's because the guitarist's marshall is on 10 and the singer's standing 2 feet from the mic, duh." Flak from musicians, who have no idea about anything, because they aren't way louder than everything else in the mix (Singers, guitarists, I'm looking at you). Belligerent patrons, like the guy that's standing 2 feet from the PA and bitching 'cause it's too loud. I could go on, I've heard it all.
    Here's the big secret: after the Pa is set up, buzz free and tweaked out, soundcheck should take about 10 minutes. Why? Because, the only thing I can really do is make what the band has given me louder. Now, there's an art to finding the right balance and making little tweaks and a bunch of tech knowledge involved in getting the sound from the microphone to the PA as cleanly and purely as possible.
    But the cardinal rule is "S#@* in S#@* out." So if the band sucks, or the sounds on stage suck (I've heard plenty of "pros" with awful sounds) the mix WILL suck. Stuff sounds like it sounds and no amount of eq or effects will change the basic character of a sound. Personally, I believe that if a sound guy has to spend 2 hours soundchecking, there's something wrong.
    Anyway, sorry for the rant here, but I just needed to tell you guys that there are some good sound engineers out there and maybe let you in on some of the stuff we have to deal with. For you guys who have had nothing but bad experiences, I do feel for you (I've been there as a bassist), try not to let your experiences with a few idiots sour the whole thing. working with a good sound engineer can yield amazing results.
    As for the high-end bass thing... It all depends on the player. I find I have to add a lot of midrange to most basses in order to get clarity, unless the player's already added some. The "hifi" sound doesn't cut through a big mix very well. The only basses that I don't have to add mids to are jazz-style basses, Spectors and anything with Barts! So beware the smiley face EQ! And leave your 18s at home! All they do is add big boomy bottom end that can totally destroy a mix. (Unless you're doing Dub, where that's the desired effect and there's space in the mix for it).
  18. Yeah, I really hate kids who get up onstage with the scooped-mid thing going on. I add midrange anyway...

    What's your opinion of taking a DI off the amp instead of from the bass? I prefer it because it allows me to stick my envelope filter in the (buffered) effects loop, where it's quieter, instead of in front of the amp, where it forces me to lower the preamp gain. It also covers up for the fact that my bass (Dean Edge Custom 5) pretty much has no tone.
  19. FunkmastaJ


    Feb 1, 2001
    Seattle WA
    I definately think that "exotic" bases get lost in the mix. More in recordings than on stage though. Why do 99% of the session players use fender-ish basses.
  20. Actually, they don't, FunkmastaJ. Lots of session players use Tobias, Ken Smith, Modulus, Fodera, etc. Getting lost in the mix is more a question of bad EQ settings than the bass itself.

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