How to make a bass stand out in a three-piece?

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by De93, Mar 11, 2014.

  1. De93


    May 10, 2010
    If the music is something simple along the lines of early Everclear, Nirvana, Mudhoney, leaning towards a more punk than rock sound, how could a bassist really stand outand fill the space that a rhythm guitarist would?

    Gear is a cheap Peavey 4-string, Ampeg 4x10 and Portaflex. It's not a great setup, but those three pieces of equipment are unlikely to change. He could be coerced to add fuzzes, overdrives, etc.

    What about playing could bring out the bass more? He's not an adept bassist, but this music is extremely simple, sometimes only some fast power chords on guitar he follows along with.

    What sort of overdrives really sound great and have a guitar-like presence without getting too farty? I've been looking over some combinations of blending clean signal with Big Muf style fuzzes, kind of liking that sound personally but I'm not a bassist and have no idea how something will sound in band context.
  2. Helaskold

    Helaskold 100% Mediocre

    Jul 22, 2012
    Austin, TX
    Lemmy did a great job of filling a rhythm guitarist role on bass. Study his style. A little bit of distortion can go a long way. Is playing with a pick an option? If so, experiment with that.
  3. Primakurtz

    Primakurtz Registered Nihilist Supporting Member

    Nov 23, 2011
    Denver, Colorado
    A power trio allows the bass all kinds of territory. The clean low end plus lots of dirty mids & highs is a great, classic approach. Even if he stays mostly clean & simple, try cranking up the mids a LOT.
  4. GKon

    GKon Supporting Member, Boom-Chicka-Boom

    Feb 17, 2013
    Queens, NY
    I play bass (and lead sing) in a 3 piece, with an inexpensive bass and amp setup, playing rock and punk, all with a ramones type feel.

    I recently bought and use an Electroharmonix Bass Big Muff. It fills a good amount of space and can be dialed in for a lot or a little fuzz. It makes a big difference.

    Also, I played a LOT with the eq settings on my amp and on my bass, to get a punchy and heavy sound, that's not muffled, without a twangy top end/hi's.

    I was always a finger picker, but use an actual pick with a lot of our current songs, partially due to speed (my fingers can't keep up!) but also to get more attack out of the sound.

    Strings also play a big part in your overall sound.

    You may also want to consider a chorus pedal. I'm not a big fan for what I'm playing/my sound, but it can help fill in a lot of space.

    You can try to counter what the guitar is playing. For instance, if the guitar is playing way up hi, stay down low, to accentuate the difference and vice versa.

    I hope this helps.
  5. msaone


    May 13, 2012
    How could you not stand out in a three piece. For me it changed my playing style. I became busy and melodic.

    No hiding there
  6. Sorken


    Nov 20, 2013
    Like "vishuddha" said is a great thing, look at bassist playing in these types of bands and hear what they do.

    Im in a 3 piece aswell, and while we play much faster/harder and heavier music than you guys the principle should be the same only adapted.

    I go by it like this when i feel i need to fill upp the void.

    Pick fast/play fast, hammer like a madman.

    Play multiple strings/strumming, i often find myself playing powerchords.

    Octave jumps, example going back and forth between open e string and 7th fret on the A string.

    Making up basslines that work with the song.

    Using F/X like overdrive, distortion.

    Also adjusting the EQ correctly, may seem very basic but its damn important. What sounds good in the bedroom or when the other bandmembers are quiet may not work just as well when the band plays together.

    My tone while playing with band is very trebly, nasal and annoying when i play alone, but it cuts like a knife through the wall of sound that is our music.

    I hope you may get some ideas.
  7. BbbyBld


    Oct 13, 2005
    Meridian, MS
    I think it's all about the attitude and confidence more than the gear. I also think that it shouldn't be up to the bass player alone to fill up the mix. A three piece has to be a full team effort to work. If the guitarist is taking a solo, the drummer and bassist fill up the mix together. The guitarist also may need to make some sacrifices and play off of what the bassist and drummer are able to lay down.

    I use the same gear and pretty much the same settings whether or not I'm playing in a power trio or with a triple guitarmageddon wanker group. Sometimes I use overdrive and sometimes I don't. I just play what I think sounds good, and usually that means I'm more busy in a trio.

    Listen to bands like Led Zepp, Tool, Cream, King's X, Rush, etc...
  8. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    I think to look good in a 3-piece, I'd suggest something like a muted plaid with white shirt and black shoes.
  9. seamonkey


    Aug 6, 2004
    Fishman Fission Bass Powerchord FX Pedal!
  10. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Honestly, the best 3-pc bands I've heard didn't deviate much from their original recordings live and they just let the holes be there. Cream was probably the only one that the bassist got a little more artsy live. You can use effects and stuff to fill out the sound more and that's cool, but the best bands I've seen just played the bass as they would in a larger band.
    TC.65 and Jim Carr like this.
  11. Tommythebass95


    Nov 14, 2012
    All the above. At the moment i play at a three piece and personally i quite like it because it gives me the chance to throw in more interesting stuff (chords, arpeggios and whatnot) but if you are saying that he likes it to keep it simple there is no point in putting pressure on him to suddenly do things he has never done before. My advice, make him play something simple and catchy, grunge bands have great basslines where there aren't any guitars playing and it does't feel empty at all
  12. Yep, I can vouch for Big Muff Pi Bass. Sample of 3 piece with EH Big Muff Pi Bass here - . I agree with JimmyM keep it simple and do the job.
  13. SuperTbass


    Aug 29, 2010


    The reason I love three piece bands so much is because of all that space. It lets everything breathe and allows things to stand out regardless of what everyone else is doing.
    heynorm likes this.
  14. This!
  15. 100% truth.

    Led Zep's The Song Remains the Same (live album) is a great example. Cream's Farewell Concert (1968). Also listen to James Gang Live in Concert (at Carnegie Hall, with horses on the cover). Or the Who, Live at Leeds. I'm bringing up live albums because there's less overdubs. Driving bass throughout.
    ippofromearth likes this.
  16. Remus_Redbone


    Dec 27, 2010
    Western AR
    I personally think you are looking at the whole thing backwards. The bass is going to stand out in a 3 piece by default. Go with a big round full tone and lock up tight with the drummer. Think diesel truck exhaust / early Grand Funk. Let the guitarist have all the effects and play on top of that foundation.
    heynorm likes this.
  17. De93


    May 10, 2010
    The shaping of the tone is part if what I'm talking about. The bass is much more noticeable without the rhythm guitar, so it needs some way to fill the gap tone-wise, so that when I must break away from a rhythm for a quick lead, it doesn't sound like the song has dropped. His current mundane tone doesn't have enough presence to really compete with guitar. He plays mostly clean with light amp overdrive, no idea about amp settings but it's not bright at all, really dull and deep sounding, which was fine as a four-piece. I'm thinking he needs a decent amount of dirt and a boost in the midrange, so that he's more of a grinding bass that helps fill our sound rather than a simple low-end focused bass, if that makes any sense. I'm not sure how to approach bass at all, so I've come here. For 90% of our songs we play chords/notes very similar to each other. It's those moments where there's a lead or whatever else that make the deficits in being a three piece obvious.

    Thanks for the help so far guys!

    Also sorry about posting this in the amp section, wasn't really sure where it'd fit. Perhaps a moderator will wave a wand if it's a problem being here.
  18. Sid Fang

    Sid Fang Reformed Fusion Player Supporting Member

    Jun 12, 2008
    If you're talking about tonal space, then a lot depends on the tones used by the guitarist. You want the bass to be where the guitar isn't.
  19. I played in an original power trio for a while. We used to get many compliments on how huge we sounded but it was a conscious group effort to sound larger than life. Our guitarist used a Danelectro Fab Tone which is a very saturated full frequency fuzz/distortion yet clean palm mute pedal. He'd play a lot of full power chords with 7ths in them.

    The drummer had rather large Mapex drums that were tuned so the floor tom rang out a D note and the other tom rang with an A. Most of our tunes were in D. LOL! He used to use rim shots on his snare almost all the time to get outrageously loud snare hits.

    As the bass player, my part was to get a very present clean sound which I was able to do with my Eden 410XLT cab and Eden WT400 head. Those cabs have a very present low mid content which really helped me to cut through. I also ran a good bit of treble on the head so you could hear my fingers crunch each note unless the dynamics of the tune were low. To this day I still use a pedal like the Sparkle Drive that has a clean blend to simulate a rythm guitar when the real guitar takes a solo. I set the clean sound as close to bypassed as I can and then blend in some of the distortion set with medium gain. This allowed my regular bass tone to always stay the same but when the guitar would drop out I'd kick in the added distortion tricking the audience into thinking the guitar was still there.

    I found the big muff was to different from my main usable clean tone and it made the transitions jaggy. I'd also lose so much punch and definition out of my sound when a big muff is on. YMMV

    That's just the technical stuff. The other thing we'd do is play off each other and be mentally cognizant of where the holes where and decide if we wanted to fill them in or not. Dynamics will play a big part in peoples perception of how big you sound.

    Oh Edit* You may want to try experimenting with your "clean" tone to actually have a little dirt. I also have great luck with a Fulltone Bass Drive pedal to just give me a bit of dirt but there are many different pedals that can serve that function. VT Bass, Catlinbread SFT come to mind.
    HolmeBass likes this.
  20. When I played in a trio, I also thought (at first) that I needed something to "fatten my tone". I experimented and eventually bought a Digitech BP8. Great multiFX pedal...but after more experience, I concluded that it was my playing and technique that was needed to fill the space up, not a fat effects tone.

    Eventually I went back to just a bass and amp. Though a nice fat sound from my old Ampeg V4 cranked really does sound good :D it doesn't even need to be a tube amp.

    Oh, I also noticed when using effects, that it was too obvious (in a trio setting) when I changed from one effect to another (the jaggedy transition muthafunk mentioned).