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Joe's Amp Tone Epiphany

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by Joe P, Nov 30, 2004.

  1. Joe P

    Joe P

    Jul 15, 2004
    Milwaukee, WI
    Holy Canolli - it's a revelation!

    I have just made a change in my sound that is causing changes in my whole bass experience, and has solved several problems that have been constantly perplexing me until now. I thought I should post this in case anyone else with less experience, such as I, could benefit - and I suppose so some of you wise and experienced cats can have a chuckle.

    Background: For most of the almost-two years that I've been seriously playing and learning The Bass I've run a US-made, passive Peavy foundation 5-string through a Hartke 140W 'Transient Attack' head, and a Hartke aluminum-cone 4X10. I run a DOD compressor full-time (level at 10:00; tone at 12:00; attack at 1:00; compression at 11:00). I almost always play finger-style.

    Until the last several weeks I ran the head settings With the tone controls variably but generally flat-ish - maybe the high-mids somewhat below flat, and the treble boosted - and that darn, evil, cursed conture button activated (Oh-oh; maybe now you get where I'm going...).

    I've been playing with a three-piece cover band who's style is generally a 'classic rock', or 'jamband' or 'power trio' bar band sort of thing. We don't attempt to duplicate the originals of the songs we cover, and have some of our own arrangements. Also the Guitarist is encouraged to improvise for as long as he wants when it's his solo time (he's smart and reasonable about it).

    Revelation: I had thought that 'definition' and 'clarity' meant TREBLE! Now I should say that I know it's perfectly valid and reasonable that a bassist would prefer a 'scooped' EQ conture; it can sound very nice, and I'm sure it's optimal for several styles of music and playing (I would especially think for a band that's a 'greater than three'-piece band; one with more midrange instruments). The thing is that for the kind of band I'm in, and for the style that I'm developing (barely beginning to develop 'style', of course, with only a couple years into this), the scooped sound was wrong-wrong-wrong-wrong-wrong for me:
    Wrong #1 -you could hear when I started notes much clearer than when I stopped them.
    Wrong #2 -when the guitarist went from rythm to lead the midrange dropped out of what was left.
    Wrong #3 -I HAD to run the tone control on my bass cranked to keep it from sounding like a distant thud.
    Wrong #4 -I could NOT get a good sound out of my bridge pickup by itself.
    Wrong #5 -I couldn't get a good sound when plucking anywhere near the bridge.

    Nooooowww with the conture switch OFF, I run bass boosted to 2:00, low-mids cut to 10:30 or so, High-mids almost cranked to like 4:30, and highs flat.

    Now I am finally able to explore the wide range of beautiful and useable tones that this bass has to offer! I'm especially thrilled with the sound of the bridge pickup with the tone rolled-off all the way. It's like there ISN'T a pickup/tone combination on the bass that sounds bad anymore; before MOST sounded bad! Now I know what 'growl' is! Now I know what 'tight' and 'focussed' sound means. Now when I stop a note it's just as immediate and dramatic as when I plucked it. Now when the guitarist stops playing, it doesn't sound like something's dropped out of the song (he even just stops now to let his R. section groove; he even brought a little drum from home that he just stands there and bangs away on before a solo sometimes!). Every note I play is now distinct, and the harmony with the guitar note blends and grinds.

    Oh - and when I make any mistake, it's so obvious that I could just crawl under a rock...

    I am so diggin' this.

    Any comments or further enlightenment on this subject would be appreciated. For example: "When you're ready to move up to a bigger rig, you sound like the type who would dig a such-and-such kind of amp with thus-and-such cab"...


  2. Joe P

    Joe P

    Jul 15, 2004
    Milwaukee, WI
    Aww - what-the...

    I'm twenty-one spots down the thread list with no replies! I figured a few would find this interesting or helpful!


  3. tombowlus

    tombowlus If it sounds good, it is good Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 3, 2003
    Fremont, Ohio
    Editor-in-Chief, Bass Gear Magazine
    Okay, I'll bite! :p

    It sounds like you are finding out that there is some magic to be found in fairly full-sounding mids. This does, indeed, work well for many players (though not for all, to be sure). IMHO, the quality of the midrange reproduction is one of the most varied aspects across the gamut of bass gear manufacturers out there, and there are lots of opinions, approaches, designs, whatnot based upon varying ideas of what are "good" mids and what are "bad" mids.

    If you want my personal opinion, the gear that you are currently using is not ideal towards reproducing a balanced tone across the lows, mids, and highs. Not to diss any of your gear, but to my ears, there are brands that do a better job at presenting a balanced tone, and present, yet musical, mids. And to get even more heretical, I might suggest that either no compression, or a higher quality compressor, might also be of benefit. Again, I am not trying to tell you what to do, or diss your approach, but to me, too much (or too cheap) compression can kill my tone (and I also play mostly fingerstyle). That said, I do like to have a quality compressor on hand, though I set it up so that it is only kicking in at the very extremes.

    I can give you a ton of references as to what gear will help you get what tone, etc. I have also posted a number of threads in the past on similar topics, so you might want to search some of my posts in the archives. If you still have questions on specific gear, or if I an be of any further help, please let me know.

    Take care, Tom.
  4. DemoEtc


    Aug 18, 2004
    I think I know how you feel - like this whole other world opens up and you can't wait for the next time you play! And, just like you mentioned, lots of times it's something really simple.

    Congrats Joe!
  5. IvanMike

    IvanMike Player Characters fear me... Supporting Member

    Nov 10, 2002
    Middletown CT, USA
    ah, the dreaded "smiley face eq"
    you play by yourself and the smile eq from a contour knob or what have you sounds really neat. in a full on band ya wonder where the bass went. with your current eq settings you are kinda doing a smaller version of the smile by boosting the bass and cutting the low mids. you're just boosting high mids instead of treble. You might want to try plain old "flat" for a while and use the eq only to correct for the sound of a given room (this is what i use my eq for). outside of live music, you really start to develop an appreciation for mids in the recording environmant. Often the mids are what helps the bass be audible and present. Not to mention that in mixing, instruments typically benifit from "frequency slotting" where slight adjustments are made to let each instrument "own" a chunk or two of the audio spectrum.

    When you decide to upgrade try out a bunch of stuff, and run it "flat" to get a feel for what each brand really sounds like. You should also consider getting a rig that will run 400+ watts eventually, as that can make a big difference in the gigs you can play, and can sometimes even make a difference in your sound.
  6. Joe P

    Joe P

    Jul 15, 2004
    Milwaukee, WI
    What first really got me thinking about this was when I brought home a little amp that a freind of mine lent me to practice with (I leave my amp at the rehearsal studio, and usually practice there). This thing is like a tiny little open-back amp for practicing guitar on, with a cheap four or five inch speaker in it, but I noticed this certain sound I got on the bridge pickup when I rolled the tone on the bass all the way off. It was as though this little amp reproduced the low notes between B and E on my 5-string BETTER than my Hartke rig - it was clear as to what actual NOTE I was playing; with the big system the lowest registers rumbled the room, but with the band I could (I actually experimented with this) play a WRONG note - like a half-step or whole-step off! - and you really couldn't quite tell if it was for sure OFF! On this little all-midrange practice amp every note to the lowest barked-out clearly, even though there could not have physically been any low-end in the sound. When playing lower registers, it all sounded like an "R" vowel - like "Rrrrrrrr". This rather fascinated me.

    When it comes to the compression: I certainly would like a better-quality compressor, but can't afford it now - it is actually surprising how well this little Boss unit works, with the settings I'm using. It does suck a just a little of the lowest-end, I think; this is probably one of the reasons I have the bass EQ boosted a little. I'm quite sold on the use of full-time compression for what I want to do with bass. I'm constantly aware of it's effect, and am developing my whole style around it.

    Here's how I see it: You mainly affect two things by playing harder or softer - volume and tone. For the kind of music I'm playing (generally 'classic rock') - and what I'd maybe want want to play in the future, being maybe funk or 'smooth jazz' or a hip hop kind of thing, or a horn band, or even modern country or pop (I'm sort of thinking toward music that could maybe get me into a more popular, high-paying band) - you don't want that much loudness-dynamics in your sound, and even if the bassist WANTS it, they'll compress you at the board anyway, to hold your place in the mix (as it should be)! (Most any bassist who's even against compression is probably getting his sound all 'smashed' anyway - at least in the studio, for sure) ..Now on the other hand, both subtle and dramatic tone changes can be achieved by how and where you pluck strings. I'm working on harmonies and harmonics and 'tone dynamics'.

    You can listen to most any recording that has a lot of dynamics to the vocals, for example. You can play for a listener a clip of the 'part-A mellow vocal' part, and then of the 'part-B screaming vocal' part, and ask 'which is louder'; they'll say 'oh part-B is louder' - but the vocal is all compressed, and measurement instruments would even tell you that they're very nearly the same. It's the tone in that 'push' that makes the louder part 'louder'.

    I'd like to maintin SOME volume dynamics, though - like maybe one-quarter of my 'real' dynamics. In other words, if I had a ratio control, I'd set it to '4:1' instead of the 8: or 10: or 20:1, or whatever this smasher pedal is giving me. It really does do a great job, though - especially considering the high built-in ratio. I'm pretty picky about attack and release times, and at the setting I'm running it is pleasing - there are really none of the common pumping or breathing effects that lower-end compressors so easily exhibit (either that, or they're set up with a mushy-sounding soft-knee!). It has an attack control that seems to be linked to it's release setting - a faster attack setting causes a slower release time. Where I have it set is just about right (about 1:00; it isn't super-touchy, though. anywhere from noon to 2:00 sounds nice).

  7. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    Cutting mids can make low notes sound nice and clear, but the downside is that notes in the higher registers can get lost in the mix. I like a bump in the 200-300Hz range... that makes the upper-register notes sing out quite well, and adds some chunk and growl to lower notes.

    YMMV depending on your bass, your amp, your speakers, your technique, your ears (yadda yadda)...
  8. tombowlus

    tombowlus If it sounds good, it is good Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 3, 2003
    Fremont, Ohio
    Editor-in-Chief, Bass Gear Magazine
    If you are playing with compression, and as Joe points out, many of us are, even if we don't know it or don't want to be, there is a very real chance that it is having an effect upon your tone. This effect can be major or almost transparent, depending upon the type/quality of compressor, your playing style, how the compressor is set up, and any number of other factors. Finding a way to allow for an appropriate level of compression (which is sometimes none at all!), while still maintaining your desired tone is somewhat of a challenge, but can be a rewarding experience, if you succeed.

    Good luck, Tom.
  9. Petebass


    Dec 22, 2002
    QLD Australia
    Mee too, but I usually get shot down for suggesting it.

    Read my sig. I believe way too many musicians EQ with their eyes!
  10. That's cool that you figured this out. I think a lot of people reach this conclusion sooner or later. Mids are where a great deal of the electric bass's tonal character lives... without them, all you're left with is a toneless "boom/click" sound. When playing in a 3 piece or a band with 1 guitarist, you really need a grinding, mid-heavy tone to fill space. There's nothing worse than seeing a band where the guitarist goes to solo, and the whole thing falls apart because the bass is too scooped. The worst example of this I ever saw was Dream Theater - the songs literally (to my ears at least) train wrecked every time Petrucci went into one of his wankerrific solos, because Myung's tone wasn't present enough.
  11. Petebass


    Dec 22, 2002
    QLD Australia
    At a concert that size, I'd lay the blame for that squarely with the sound guy. 95% of soundguys go for the scooped bass sound, partly because they don't know any better, but partly bacause a typical Bi-amped, 3, or 4 way PA system will naturally produce that sort of sound for bass guitar.
  12. Joe P

    Joe P

    Jul 15, 2004
    Milwaukee, WI
    Yup. That was us. Like I said though - the rest of the band HEARS my mistakes now! I can't help but wonder if that's what makes some bass players stay scoopy (not me!).

  13. Joe P

    Joe P

    Jul 15, 2004
    Milwaukee, WI
    Never ceases to amaze me...

    OK - at work I have the cheapest speakers in the world on my computer - these little plastic things are a disgrace.

    Several folks I know here at work have been supportive of my work on the bass, and periodically ask me how it's going. What I've been doing for the last year or so is bringing in CDs with little cuts of some of the new parts or techniques that I've been working on to play for them. Formerly you could barely hear what I was playing on these things; and especially if I was singing and playing, the vocal would sound WAY hotter in the mix than it did on a 'full range' system.

    I brought one in today that was recorded just with one mic (GT-55) in the studio, of me singing with my bass and amp - these days I've been trying to write arrangements that I can pull-off as just solo bass and vocal. (That reminds me: I have to find out how to POST stuff - I'd love the chance to get critique from you guys. My non-musician aquaintances only compliment me, and I know it would actually do me some good to play it here - I've noticed there's no holding back with brutal honesty on the Technique or Recordings forums, as it should be.)

    Anyway, I used the bridge pickup with the tone control maxed on the bass, and of course the new amp tone described above, using thumb technique to play and sing the verses from Mary Jane, by Rick James. The bass tone is growly and great through these junk speakers! To be fair I should say that what's on the recording is not ONLY the amp tone, as the mic is picking up clicky string noise acoustically too; I love that added in there (it makes me wonder if that's a little bit how peizos sound on a bass). What also amazes me is that the mix between vocal and bass (which was just determined by amp volume and our relative proximity to the mic) sounds about the same on the junkers here as it did on the studio monitors in the control room.

    Now I'm even more sold on proper MIDS!


  14. I've heard John Myung's stage rig and it does indeed sound like that. I was amazed that such a great player had such terrible tone....

    A lot of so-called sound engineers (even ones touring with big acts) really don't seem to understand the significance of midrange... The smiley-face EQ makes for a great kick drum sound, but doesn't help anything else. As a great example, I did an arena show with two fairly large acts a couple years ago as systems engineer. I had 12 EAW KF-850s a side and 8 SB1000s (2x18) a side with a raft of power (60kW or so) in a 6000 seat venue. Each act was provided their own console and system EQ and processing (identical Soundcraft Series-5s, KT EQs etc). One act sounded brilliant (Finger 11), nice,even mix, loud as hell. But you could hear everything clearly. Their engineer basically left the graphics flat and the system tuned the way I had it. The other act (who shall remain nameless :D) sounded terrible. The guy came in with a bad attitude ('not enough PA', etc.) and spent half an hour hacking away at his EQs and having me change system tuning parameters (mostly cuuting mids). He basically scooped all the mids out. The result was a total mess. Great kickdrum sound but you couldn't hear the vocals or bass very well and when you could hear the vocals they were shrill and harsh. I had to tell him to back it off when the inputs of the EQs started clipping. It wasn't nearly as loud as Finger 11. He continued to complain that there wasn't enough PA so I told him flat out that maybe it would work better if he hadn't hacked all the mid out of the PA. He was really offended.. :rolleyes: The scary thing is that he's a very well respected studio engineer and has some pretty major album recording credits......

    I don't agree with your comments on big PAs though.... :D
    A big multiway PA should reproduce the input signal pretty faithfully, if it's tuned properly. SISO rules apply. :D
  15. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    Even recording engineers can have a tough time with bass. I was really disappointed in the last studio project I worked on (demo of cover tunes). Played my passive Fender through a vintage blackface Fender Bassman head & 15" cab mic'd into one channel, and straight DI into another. The sound in the cans was fantastic... nice and growly. But I wasn't there for mixdown... on the final result, my bass had become all woofy and muddy and blurry. It's as if the engineer (a guitarist) said "well, it's a bass, so I need to turn up the bass frequencies". WRONG! :scowl:
  16. uglybassplayer


    Aug 24, 2001
    New Jersey
    Your above comments are interesting Mark. I just had a similar experience this past weekend at a retreat we played at. Granted, part of the problem we were having was that we were using the house PA which had very limited options in terms of EQ cababilites, but our soundman had us setup in such a way that we were all stepping on each other sonically. The guitars had way too much bass which was competing with me as well as the kick... I could go on & on. I attempted to explain to him that while the guitar may sound thin by rolling of the bass and boosting the mids a bit, it would sit better in the overall mix. Well, with a lot of persistance (and arguing) we eventually worked out the sound issues so things didn't sound TOO bad, the soundguy's lack of preparation in terms of backup gear along with his attitude in dealing with the situation caused some rifts with the band and it made for a stressfull weekend.

    - Frank.
  17. Larzito


    Aug 1, 2000
    Dallas, Texas
    My favorite is when the soundman says "turn down your rig and I'll put you in the monitor." I usually end up playing by sight the rest of the night. At least the audience got to hear the bass.

    I've noticed there tends to be two camps when it comes to bass and how it should sit in the mix. Listen to a lot of classic rock...you know the bass is there, but you often can't distinguish the notes or feel it. Then listen to Motown, country, R & B. The bass is fat and warm, audible, vibrates the room, etc. I'm thinking I need to find a really well known reference song and keep the cd in the gig bag. Then, when I have to deal with soundman from unknown, I can say, "here, listen to this song...this is how I want my bass to sound FOH." And I have my Bergie mini stack for those venues where the sound guy doesn't want the onstage rig to intefere with the PA.
  18. tombowlus

    tombowlus If it sounds good, it is good Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 3, 2003
    Fremont, Ohio
    Editor-in-Chief, Bass Gear Magazine
    I've gone to the extent of having the sound man come back and listen to my rig. Then I ask him, can you get my bass to sound like this in the mains? One guy responded, "Well, I wouldn't be much of a sound man if I couldn't!" I didn't bother mentioning to him the time, trial and error, and money that went into getting my rig to sound as good as it does (to me, at least), but I was hopeful that now he knew the tone that I was after. Unfortunately, I go out front to hear how I sound (gotta love wireless systems!), and all I hear is a huge boomy, undefined thump on each note. It sure as heck was loud, but it didn't sound remotely like "my tone." Oh well... I guess he wasn't much of a sound man (by his own definition!). ;)
  19. slinkp


    Aug 29, 2003
    brooklyn, NY, USA
    I'm a fan of having some mids in the sound...
    JoeP, your observations re. tiny/crappy speakers are a good clue.
    I've noticed this with my clock radio too. It's interesting that if i leave it on a "classics" station, and the morning show happens to be playing something old like, say, 70s disco or motown, you can clearly hear the bassline even though there is nothing in the sound below about 400 Hz. It's typically a P-bass with no bridge pickup, totally unlike a "modern" pop sound, and it can cut through any mix on the crappiest speaker in the world. Those guys knew something.

  20. Joe P

    Joe P

    Jul 15, 2004
    Milwaukee, WI

    I've been learning so much about tone in the last couple weeks, and at the same time my playing has stepped up to a new plateau (which means - if things go as-per-usual - that I'll hit another brick wall for a month now). These two things are surely related, as I've made the huge switch of using the bridge pickup for most songs (still have to use the neck pup for more 'hard rock' or 'classic rock' sounding songs. As long as I have only one decent bass, I wouldn't want a one-pup model!), and I'm getting used to plucking near or over the bridge pickup where the strings are less compliant. I'm using a lighter touch, and the bass is so responsive to right hand technique now, that I find myself rather instinctively modifying plucking style - like plucking with two or three fingers at once for some notes, or slapping strings my whole flattened hand, or leaning toward a hybrid classical guitar/thumb-style/double-thumb technique way down by the bridge, or using 'backwards' finger-flicks; OH! - and semi-random, fast left-hand wanker-slides (you know, like "wee-oww!") sound so cool on the bridge pickup that I must admit I'm definately over-using them for now!

    You guys are great,