History of Subs, Bass

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by yakmastermax, Dec 8, 2021.

  1. Hey all,

    This question was inspired by an ongoing discussion I've been having with my guitarist about music in general. He is more of a classic rock guy, and while I have a great deal of appreciation for classic rock, one thing I have always had a hard time appreciating is the apparent lack of bass (frequencies, not the instrument) on many classic rock recordings.

    Bass frequencies and sub bass, rather than the presence of the just the instrument itself, seem to me to be more of a modern thing, especially in rock. Modern rock recordings (post 2000s I would venture) IMO seem beautifully rich and full of Bass and sub Bass, which to me do great justice to the toms, kick drum, snare even, and of course the Bass guitar. Combine that with the explosion in popularity of house and EDM music in the 2000s, and really to me it seems that Bass, in the sense of high SPL at low frequencies, is a modern thing.

    I have a few questions for the more experienced, knowledgeable, and educated of yall since I simply am ignorant:

    Why do older recordings sound so lacking in Bass (frequencies). Was it the mics? Was it the bass amps and or PAs themselves back themselves? Did live shows back then just not have as much Bass frequency content? Did people just not have an "ear" for bass (frequencies, not the instrument) back then?

    When I go to cheaper shows in my town, and even at some of the more "medium tier" venues, my experience is often soured by what I perceive as cheap 1990s PA systems that feel like nothing but shrieking mids and very little Bass. This had me thinking that perhaps this is all just the result of the timeline of technology development in bass frequency reproduction and recording, along with the tech and cost associated with high SPL low frequency gear from the perspective of pure electrical power.

    This is especially important to me now because we are trying to get into the studio come January to record two original songs, and I know that in simple terms I want the tracks to have very present bass frequencies, for more than just the Bass guitar but for the sound as a whole. I already have a feeling that there might be some disagreement with the producer and even perhaps my bandmates because the music itself that we write is very classic rock with some jazz, genres that have not been known for their bass frequency content, especially when it comes to older recordings from those genres.

    I would like to understand why it is the case that historically these genres were not known for having good Bass frequency content, and why IMO the modern reality is if you go to a high production value live jazz show or rock show today, there is plenty full, punchy, powerful, BODIED low frequency content bolstering the whole experience...

    Thanks all!
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2021
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  2. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    What an interesting dichotomy. I find that in most modern rock music bass is BURIED in the mix by down-tuned guitars. I hear LESS bass than in older recordings.

    Still....interesting topic.
  3. Less bass instrument perhaps but more acoustic power in bass frequencies IMO
  4. 75Ric

    75Ric Supporting Member

    Feb 13, 2019
    Regarding classic rock, most recordings prior to 1967/68 (maybe even a little later) were done in mono. I think the Beatles first stereo recording was St Pepper's. When we were kids of 13 & 14, we would buy an album (we could only afford to buy one) and circulate it among us. We each had about a week to learn the songs. Trying to pick out bass lines in those early recordings was near impossible because you couldn't hear much. Plus, our record players certainly weren't audiophile (a reason why mono was the standard). I played a lot of root notes back then.
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  5. Redbrangus

    Redbrangus Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2018
    Under The X In Texas
    I don't know that I agree with the basic premise in general, but I will note that all of that music was mixed to be distributed on vinyl records and AM radio, which led to somewhat less bass content being reproduceable. (And it was a trade-off; the more LF you had on a record, the less time you could have on an album side.) When you hear modern re-mixed versions of classic rock albums on CD, there's usually plenty of bass content. And I think the availability of essentially unlimited bass content has led to an evolution in the public's basic taste in how much bass is desirable. IMHO, anyway. :)

    Edit: I have a CD recording that claims to be authentic recreations of swing-era classics like "In The Mood", etc., but with modern recording techniques and a reduced noise floor. And the bass is pretty much exactly where I would mix it if I were mixing an act playing that music on a stage today, but it really does sound inauthentic when compared to the original recordings, where the bass is barely audible. I like the recording OK, but my mom, who was dancing to these tunes when they were originally popular, would have thought the bass was entirely too loud. Tastes change... folks used to try to avoid electric guitar distortion with a passion.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2021
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  6. chaak


    Apr 25, 2013
    now here
    you can always use two signals, one D.I. and one wet. with the wet having some sort of an octave pedal for sub bass or better yet, two input signals and mixing both signals in such a way that one consists only of compressed lows as your clean bass tone and the second with no lows and distorted Mids and Highs.
    yakmastermax likes this.
  7. tripp2k


    Oct 31, 2010
    Mastering plays a role. Keeping the needle in the grooves of records was part of it. Limitations of MP3 detail when digital media came along.
  8. All that history aside, many modern systems can produce a lot of sub frequencies. BUT, perhaps counter-intuitively what we often perceive as the lows is often the harmonics of those fundamentals.

    For example, one good way to get your bass turned down by the FoH is to have tons of loud content below 30Hz. You're going to peak their meters with stuff that a lot of people aren't really going to 'hear.' You might feel it, if you are in just the right position, but you're also muddying up the articulation of things.

    That's why you'll actually see a lot of bass players with some HPF in their chain.

    Your bass on the recording is likewise going to be high passed to some degree. It is just a barrier to getting the overall levels to a commercial loudness level. Again this is not stuff you really hear as bassy. It isn't something most systems people listen on can even reproduce well. A lot of stuff with very prominent bass might have a high pass even up above the fundamental notes because it is not, like, a brickwall cutting things, it rolls off.
    spatters likes this.
  9. Another thought was micing bass cabs for the recording.
    JBL cabs were popular, but well known for their lack of true bass response.

    JBL opted for efficient (read: loud) and a small box.
    The D140F is right at home in 0.73 cubic feet, but the F3 is 119 Hz.
  10. mrjim123

    mrjim123 Supporting Member

    May 17, 2008
    We're a nation of extremes, where hyperbole and overkill can be found everywhere. This is true in music, especially live music and, ugh, cars; in both subs are often cranked up to such ridiculous levels that a bass guitar doesn't even sound like a bass guitar. I think that's one reason why high pass filters are becoming so popular. I have one between my bass and my amp; no sound guy is gonna make my bass sound like a freakin' boom box.
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  11. Redbrangus

    Redbrangus Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2018
    Under The X In Texas
    I'm not sure where this is coming from. JBL didn't offer any cabs other than (mostly horn-loaded) systems for theaters and SR until the Cabaret series was introduced in the 90's. And the then-current E-series 15s were almost universally in 4-cu.ft. boxes, tuned to 40 Hz.
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  12. knumbskull


    Jul 28, 2007
    My guess is that it’s partly technology - amps, PAs, and radios/stereos are generally better at reproducing low frequencies now - and partly taste, in that people simply didn’t expect to hear tons of low end on popular records back then.

    I think the whole bass culture thing, as in deliberately bass-saturated dance/electronic music (in the UK anyway) came from early dub records coming from Jamaica to England in the 70s - and the accompanying sound systems that really pushed the low end.
  13. abarson


    Nov 6, 2003
    Santa Cruz
    I thought the predominant method for recording bass "back in the day" was a DI direct to the console.

    From my experience bass has always been viewed and treated as a secondary instrument and recording engineers paid it little mind. It was always an accompaniment and not a highlight of popular songs.

    Artists like Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead were able to champion the instrument and engaged builders and engineers to capture its greater spectrum capabilities. Jazz fusion brought some prominence to the role of the bass and attitudes about how to record it started to change.

    But I don't think the real rumble came on until synthesizers started encroaching in the low-end territory. Amplification needed to evolve to reproduce it, and as others have pointed out there were reproduction limitations in the analog world. Entering the digital domain has clearly been an enabler of the sub.
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  14. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    Not exactly. Recordings were made on multitrack machines, and the recordings were mixed/mastered for either mono or stereo (45 RPM records were mono only, with few exceptions). When you went to a record store, you could buy the monaural LP or the stereo LP. Most consumers (especially those who bought rock and pop) in the 1960s had only monaural phonographs.
  15. mdlewis


    Jan 1, 2005
    Boston Metro
    I think it’s two things - mastering and tastes. Mastering is where you need to get your track in shape to be reproduced by some kind of playback system. In the 60’s and 70’s people would generally master for production on vinyl (either an LP or a 45 usually) to be played back on a variety of target devices. A common one at the time was a transistor radio (portable or auto). Playing back too many lows through these devices would cause ugly low freq distortion as they were unable to reproduce much low freq.

    This way many times, remasters from good quality session tapes can have a much more pleasing, bass-ic response when targeting modern playback systems.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2021
  16. stretch80


    Jan 31, 2005
    One of the things that has made me a little nuts in the modern world of sound systems and subwoofers is the tendency among (some) soundmen to go for the booming dance mix, when mixing a live band. So the bass and bass drum etc. become a boomy mush.
  17. Benj-jammin

    Benj-jammin Supporting Member

    Jul 16, 2020
    North Carolina
    I don't know, as a child of the late 60's and early 70's, I had no trouble with the bass and those old analog recordings. Maybe it's because I was able to talk my Dad into getting those Bose 901 speakers - ha. That helped. When it comes to live sound with the concerts, and ,my kids and their friends are always asking about concerts "in the old days," I'm certainly no techno engineer, but with the PA systems, I would say the advent of the suspend, arced/line array set-up was the real game changer. Some of you remember the old set-ups, tons of bins stacked on top of each other, right and left side - lots of muddiness and dead spots. Everything is so precise and clear now, even in small clubs.
  18. AceOfBassFace


    Jun 23, 2019
    My hot take on it was that many songs were mixed and mastered so they would sound good compressed over AM radio on the sonically-limited portable and car radio speakers of the day.
  19. Sorry, I should have spelled it out more clearly.
    "JBL loaded" cabs.
    Fender and Sunn come to mind, for starters.
    The D140F was the Fender designation in the 60s.

    These were followed by the K series, then the E series, then the M series, of which I still have one as NOS.

    The chrome domes of those times are very visible, including the Dead's wall of sound.
    The 4 cubic feet, 40 Hz boxes are EBS -6 types.
    I had started building in the late 60s and still have all the construction drawings and personal letters from JBL engineers in my files.
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