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How can I get a darker tone from my ESP?

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by macrocheesium, Nov 21, 2012.

  1. macrocheesium


    Sep 12, 2012
    A few months ago I got an ESP F-5E, and while it's a beautiful bass I absolutely hate the super bright tone. I've hung onto it because I really want to like it, but because of the sound I end up using my SR300 most of the time.

    What can I do to get a tone more to my liking? I'm guessing a pickup swap would help? The Ibanez SR series has my favorite tone of all time, so I want to get it as close to that as possible.
  2. Silens


    Dec 27, 2011
    Based on the tonewoods, I'd say pickups are an issue. Bartolini's are typically dark pickups. You could always cut treble on the EQ, or switch to nickel wound strings, have your strings die or use flatwounds.
  3. macrocheesium


    Sep 12, 2012
    Not a fan of flats and I've played with the knobs for hours. Cutting the treble just makes it sound muddy. The only time I've tried Bartolinis was on an SR Premium and I didn't like the sound nearly as much as the SR's (too twangy like the ESP), though it might have been something else affecting the tone.

    Edit: You're right, the SR series uses Barts. I was thinking of the Nordstrands. Think they would make a significant difference in my bass?
  4. iunno


    Dec 16, 2010
    Sounds like it's probably the preamp. Try converting it to passive, or replace the preamp. Could be the pickups too, wiring them together in series would probably help.
  5. DaniKettu


    Aug 18, 2008
    They might change your tone slightly but don't expect miracles. If you want to change the tone more dramatically i would change the preamp to something better (aguilar, bartolini,glockenklang).

    The easier way out would be the flats though.
  6. Does the bass have the tone you want acoustically?
  7. DaniKettu


    Aug 18, 2008
    That's good point if the bass sounds acoustically way you don't like there is not much you can do imho.
  8. El-Bob

    El-Bob Supporting Member

    Oct 22, 2006
    Hamilton, ON
    I disagree about the preamp. I've owned an esp with the same one, and it was capable of plenty of dark and warm tones, as well as the bright stuff. If anything it was too mellow for my taste.

    The real questions we should be starting with are these: How are you EQing it on the bass and amp, and how are you setting the pickup balance? What's your technique like? Finally, I would ask what strings you are using, before suggesting any expensive electronics changes.
  9. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    What kind of strings are you using?
  10. macrocheesium


    Sep 12, 2012
    I was afraid of that. Acoustically I don't like the tone at all.

    As I said, I've played around with EQ settings for hours, on both the amp and the bass. I always keep it turned to the bridge pickup all the way. I don't use a pick and keep my plucking hand unusually high, around where the bottom of the fretboard is. I like the warm tones there. I'm just using the strings that came on the bass, not sure what they are. I bought Elixirs but didn't like them any better so I switched back.

    I wouldn't know the first thing about any kind of preamp change, but I know places that I could take it to and have that done.
  11. BFunk

    BFunk Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Bridge pickups are always brighter than neck or middle pickups. What amp and cabs are you using? Is the sound thin and pingy?
  12. How about a low-value capacitor parallel to the preamp input to cut treble?
  13. iiipopes


    May 4, 2009
    Let's see, too bright. Solutions:
    flats instead of rounds
    use 250kohm pots instead of 500kohm (passive bass)
    increase tone capacitor to .047, .068 or .1
    pickups with alnico II magnets instead of alnico V, VIII, or ceramic
    turn down the tone (passive) or treble (active) on the bass
    trim (one of my cabs has a switch, the other has a rheostat on the tweeter) or cut the tweeter in the cab
    turn down the treble on the amp (remember, most bass amps have "flat" as the 12:00 position, not full clockwise like a conventional instrument tone control)
    pick/pluck more towards the neck
    use the neck pickup instead of the bridge pickup
    humbucker instead of single coil
    fingerstyle with the side of the finger, as does a double bass player, instead of the tip of the finger
    block of foam under the strings at the bridge saddles
    bleed capacitor to ground, say, something from .001 to .01

    One, some, or all of these will darken a bass. I recently purchased an Ibanez SRA305 with the EMG-HZ pickups. Great pickups. The neck was a little too bright. I bridged the neck volume control with a 1 megohm resistor to bring the effective value down to 330kohm, effectively simultaneously increasing the load to ground and decreasing the resonant peak of the pickup. That was all I needed after the new strings settled in.
  14. macrocheesium


    Sep 12, 2012
    Thanks for the tips everyone, I'll see what I can do.

    I keep the pickup selector turned clockwise the whole way. I assumed since it was to the right that would be the bridge, but there isn't any indicator.
    I use an Acoustic B100, but the amp isn't a problem. I use it with my SR300 and it sounds great. I wouldn't say "thin", but it does have a certain pingy quality, and it sounds like the upper mids are much louder than they should be.
  15. Thomas Kievit

    Thomas Kievit Guest

    May 19, 2012
    Great tips so far :) That's why I love TalkBass :hyper:

    As you can see, a lot of options are possible : Different Pups, different preamp, different strings, some twisting with your EQ settings etc.

    If you would to switch pickups, you could put some Nordstrands on your bass, like you mentioned. I recommend Nordstrand DualCoil pickups, series wired. That'll change your sound good and more towards your taste :)

  16. wcriley


    Apr 5, 2010
    Western PA
    That is possibly a wrong assumption. On every bass guitar I've owned with a blend knob, clockwise rotation favors the bridge pickup.
  17. Thomas Kievit

    Thomas Kievit Guest

    May 19, 2012
    For me, blend knobs are always at 12 o'clock. Don't like the sound of 1 pickup, being louder then the other. For my feeling (and taste :p) I get a fuller sound this way.
  18. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    You don't like flats, but at one point in the past I got tired that that round wound treble tone. I still wanted brightness, but not the ringing sound.

    So I witched to LaBella stainless steel Deep Talkin' Bass flat wounds. They aren't thumpy and dead, and have a bright sound without the piano like quality that you get from round wounds. They are bright enough so you can slap on them. One set lasted me almost 4 years, and then I broke a string.

    Also, changing the pickups to something darker would help. The deep toned Barts would do it. That bass comes with ESP's own pickups from what I can see on line.

    Other option would be switching to bridge to a brass bridge, although I don't know what the stock bridge is made of, I'm guessing it's zinc.