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Greg Lake's bass sound

Discussion in 'Bassists [BG]' started by skygzr, Jan 16, 2017.

  1. skygzr


    Feb 23, 2015
    Southeast US
    Having lost two thirds of ELP and Chris Squire in the past two years, I've spent a great deal of time listening to that era again. The 70's were my second decade, perfectly positioned to hear prog evolve. I was pretty obsessed with it. Most of my friends totally didn't get it. The hell with them anyway ;-)

    To my ears, some ELP hasn't aged well; I seem to like Yes about as much as I ever did. Squire's sound was a great revelation. Crunch growl rattle clank. Lake's sound is more like "ding ding ding". Nothing wrong with it, but I seldom listened to ELP for the bass parts (although there are some good ones).

    I always figured that he went to that sound because he was a converted guitar player. I also guess that Emerson wrote some of his parts. I have no proof but I bet a dollar no one EVER told Squire what to play.

    Knife Edge is an example of where that sound worked really well. There are others, of course.

    Just to be clear, I'm not knocking the guy or his abilities. I still love some of this stuff. But to my ears his sound is a bit vanilla. Its not a primary reason to listen to the music. YMMV.

    And as long as I'm pissing people off with my opinions, "Pirates" was the best thing they ever did. Watch the live version from Montreal. I saw that tour but they had misplaced the orchestra by the time they got to Columbia, SC. I saw them three times over the course of a couple of years and I remember really liking Emerson's synth bass sound. Much more full than the bass guitar. Pure sine waves vs complex wave-forms, I suppose. Of course we're talking about the cheap seats in big concrete caves not built for sound. Its hard to make bass sound good in a big concrete cave.

    Hope nobody dies soon, but unfortunately it'll happen no matter what I want.
    jeffthebassist likes this.
  2. Lake has said in interviews that he was not into the "boom boom" bass sound, and strove to emulate the bottom end of a Steinway, or whatever. I think that really comes through on the live Nutrocker (I don't think there is a studio version, anyway). He really did seem to enjoy "blending" with the keyboards. Exceptions to this would be Lucky Man and From The Beginning. To me. his "old school" tone fits those songs well too. I agree with you about Knife's Edge, as well.

    I absolutely love Squire's bass parts and tone. The guy was so imaginative! Close to the Edge is the quintessential Squire tone for me.
    rtav, rickwebb, Axstar and 1 other person like this.
  3. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    Dunno...I always liked Lake's huge tone and precision a lot more than I liked I liked Squire's clankety-clank tone and occasional sloppiness. Both are equally valid rock sounds. But I thought Lake was a far more accomplished musician. The real problem with ELP was Emerson. A very difficult man with a very large ego from all accounts. So (largely because of Emerson's prima donna attituude and tendency to alienate many of the musicians who tried to work with him) they were nowhere near as long-lived or prolific a band as Yes...although I liked Yes a lot more before they went super-'80s pop for a far too many years before getting back to their roots a bit. I guess what I'm trying to say is I consider Greg Lake the better musician, but Chris Squire was, hands-down, the better rocker.
    rtav likes this.
  4. I can't recall Squire ever sounding "sloppy", but I suppose he was "looser" at times. Lake had more of a staccato style. Of course, maybe comparing them makes as much sense as comparing Hendrix and Segovia.
    Scottgun likes this.
  5. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Yes and ELP were two different bands. Why would Lake want to imitate Squire or vice versa? And regarding the idea that Emerson wrote his bass parts, don't forget that Lake was the band's producer for all of their biggest hit albums and wrote many of their songs. So I find it highly unlikely that Emerson would write his parts. Maybe he had occasional suggestions, but I seriously doubt he wrote Lake's parts.
  6. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    Given that a number of ELP tunes have the bass doubling Emerson's left hand, I'd say you're only partially correct.
    :::dancing banana:::
  7. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Really? I don't know...I can't recall many songs where this happened. I know there are a lot of songs where Lake played guitar and Emerson played the bass with his left hand, but out and out doubling seems pretty rare to me in the ELP catalog. "Living Sin" is the only one that's sticking out in my mind, and all three of them are credited as writing it.

    At any rate, it's irrelevant. They all wrote, and they were all perfectly capable of coming up with their own parts.
  8. MonetBass

    MonetBass ♪ Just listen ♫ Supporting Member

    Sep 15, 2006
    Tulsa, OK
    How do you know that Emerson wasn't doubling the bass part with his left hand? ;)
    LBS-bass, elgecko, Matthew_84 and 5 others like this.
  9. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Haha....good point :D
  10. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    MonetBass likes this.
  11. Axstar

    Axstar SUSPENDED

    Jul 8, 2016
    East of Eden.
    I've never been a huge fan of Greg Lake's tone, but I appreciate him as a player. I know the unkindest of critics have joked that the best bassist in the band was Keith Emerson's left hand, or that Greg followed Keith's left hand, but honestly try playing the bass part to Tarkus for a couple of minutes at a time! To play that ostinato with a pick, with that unflinchingly bright tone, and somehow make it sound consistent is a skill in and of itself. I'm still not entirely sure how he played it...

    I quite like Greg's early tone, where it is just a Jazz bass into dual Hiwatt stacks with the occasional fuzz or wah interlude. Seemingly he heard something in that scooped Jazz bass tone, and went chasing it further. He played a modified 4001 bass for a very brief period, then moved to a Gibson Ripper and then onto Alembics. It seems the Hiwatts were ditched in favour of a complex rig of Crown power amps and various cabinets. Definitely a 1970s take on high fidelity, with massive folded-horn cabs for lows and additional cabs and tweeters for mids and highs. I don't think this rig honestly translated well onto tape on live recordings. You hear a lot of treble 'gink' and click, and sort of harpsichord-like metallic shimmer from the mid-range speakers but hardly ever anything from the folded horns seems to make it onto tape. The clip of Pirates sums this up perfectly. It is sometimes hard not to mistake Greg's bass for another percussion instrument.
  12. s_wood

    s_wood Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Mar 23, 2003
    Delaware (USA)
    Greg Lake was an early influence of mine. I loved his 4 string tone, which I always assumed was his solution for a very busy mix. To be heard he had to compete with lots of low end from Emerson's synths and piano and Palmer's seeming ability to hit all of his dozen or so toms at the same time, all the time.

    All of his recorded output through "Brain Salad Surgery" was a 70's Jazz bass with Rotosounds and a pick. You can hear the Ripper on the live album "Welcome Back My Friends..." but, to me, everything in that mix sounds boomy so it's hard to single out the boomy bass tones for special criticism. The "plink" of Pirates mentioned above was an Alembic 8 string.

    And +1 to the post above that mentioned how hard it is to play the 10/8 or 5/4 obstinato in Tarkus, especially at the tempo on the version on "Welcome Back My Friends...". Whew... especially the root drone 16ths...
    bholder and biguglyman like this.
  13. jsbarber


    Jun 7, 2005
    San Diego
    One thing that strikes me about ELP, when I look back, is how young they were when they emerged on the scene. I saw them perform Pictures at and Exhibition in August of 1971. I was in middle school. It was their third album and Greg Lake was 23 years old. (Emerson 26 and Palmer 21) For sure there are young bands today, that's always been the nature of the music industry. But look at the talent these guys had...
  14. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    And to think, he was already a "veteran" having spent a year or two in King Crimson!
    rtav, Matthew_84 and bholder like this.
  15. I love both Greg Lake and Squire's work but the 8 string bass tones on Pirates and other tracks from that era were brutally harsh. His aggressive unmodulated picking and tone certainly did sound "plinky". Squire at least came up with some wacky tuning for his 8 string bass parts on Changes and refrained from bashing the strings like he was some sort of tradesman with a hammer.
    I would think that the bass ostinatos from Tarkus were probably written by Emerson as they do follow Emerson's left hand and in the "Old Grey Whistle Test On Tour Special" you can see Emerson teaching Lake the bass parts to Karn Evil 9 part 2 or maybe pretending to teach him in front of the cameras.
    Speaking of the "Old Grey Whistle Test" ELP doc: what's the deal with that mutant Jazz Bass he played for much of the time? No pick guard, no neck pickup.
  16. rtav

    rtav Millionaire Stuntman, Half-Jackalope

    Dec 12, 2008
    Chicago, IL
    I've been a HUGE ELP fan since the 70s, and they were all unreal musicians. To get three players of their caliber (Emerson is still the finest keyboardist rock has ever seen - ask Jordan Rudess), and Carl was a monster player, and Greg sang with such a beautiful voice and could play fantastically (Tarkus, Karn Evil 9 2nd Impression, etc.) in the same band, much less on the same album, is itself miraculous. It would be hard to notice anyone else in a band besides Emerson, it's like having Hendrix in the line up - if you notice anyone for any moment alongside him that person must be incredible.

    Greg was a terrific songwriter and had a great ear for melody, but I believe from what I've seen in video if them working out Karn Evil that Emerson wrote most of the bass parts, and together they worked stuff out (I can think of one musical line in a video I saw where Greg and Carl were working out the rhythm of something Keith had already written). Emerson's music itself was often composed before the other two heard it - there is a funny, biting story about Greg's introduction to "Tarkus" while visiting Keith at his apartment (according to Keith, upon hearing Emerson play "Eruption" for the first time, took a long drag from his cigarette and said, "I think that would be great on your first solo album.") But that is the way much of ELP's material had to be written, as Emerson was the primary music writer, and was writing things with a classical view - all the parts were written out by him, composed completely, including the bass. Of course there was input from the other two, sections where one player or the other might add a section, and there are ELP songs where Keith did not write the bass parts (obviously Greg's songs, some of their classical remakes, etc., but I'm sure Keith wrote the majority of the basslines in their music.
    bassobrutto and Al Dente like this.
  17. I saw Greg Lake many times. First with ELP at the Hollywood Bowl in 1971. He is greatly underrated in my opinion. He was a fantastic bass player who could play complicated bass parts while singing. I saw ELP live all the way through the Brain Salad tour (2 nights in a row at the Anaheim Convention center.) I read that Greg considered himself to be very "precise" on bass. By precise, I think he meant that he played all the parts, however complicated and never took short cuts like sitting on a root note. A good example are some of the tracks on youtube where he sat in with Asia. He had a very short time to lean all the parts and all of the vocals, yet you can hear on endings, he plays all of the ending parts correctly. Also, check out some of the "Pirates" footage. I have a hard time believing he could memorize so many complicated bass parts! He had a clean sound with some highs and plenty of bottom, but not much mid-range. I heard he put new Rotosound strings on before every show. I think he liked the sound of piano wires in the bass register, so his sound was very different from Chris Squires. Squire played through 10" speakers when I saw Yes in Anaheim and his sound was not "Hi-Fi" like Gregs, but much more colored and distorted. His bass to me on "Roundabout" had a sound like a grinding spring, with lots of highs, etc. They were both exceptional bass players with Squire perhaps more innovative and Lake, cleaner and more conventional. Both were immensely talented in that they could also sing while playing complicated bass parts. Losing both of them is tragic, as they had so much more to give.
    bassobrutto, rtav, Al Dente and 4 others like this.
  18. RickC

    RickC Gold Supporting Member

    Jun 9, 2005
    As an aside, Greg was using a Sadowsky J in recent years before his passing. That seems very appropriate for his style - a bass that excels at sitting in the mix.

    rond likes this.
  19. Yes, I read years ago on the Sadowsky web site that he had "borrowed" a jazz in Inca Silver until his was built. Looks like he ordered a traditional J style with a rosewood neck and gold finish. He played it at their 2010 ELP reunion.
  20. jerry

    jerry Doesn't know BDO Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 13, 1999
    I recently went through a phase of breaking out some old school prog including ELP, I really dug Lakes tone! What a great talent!
    rtav, EASonBass and JimmyM like this.

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