Let's have an intelligent discussion about use of OD / Fuzz / Distortion...

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by MustangMan78, May 7, 2021.

  1. MustangMan78


    Mar 20, 2021
    I've never really understood the fascination with dirtying up a bass sound. I'm looking for some help understanding the when and why some players use it. It seems like there's a plethora of gear out there that caters to heavier sounds, be it pedals, preamps, or OD circuits built into a regular bass amp. Myself, I've always gravitated toward clean tones or that Chris Squier / Geddy Lee kind of crunchy grind, which to me, is more of a "color" thing than the heavy clipped tones that I hear some bass players using. For me at least, that's a difficult tone to obtain without specific gear.

    Historically, bass is an instrument to provide low end feel, and together with the drums, provide the beat and rhythm of music. IMO, much (sometimes all) of that gets lost when you kick in something like a fuzz or heavy distortion/OD. I feel like you lose the clarity and punch that the instrument was originally intended to convey. That said, I can see it being a conscious choice for a solo passage to provide texture (think of the intro to RHCP's All Around the World). However, I would never consider that kind of tone as desirable in a full band setting.

    I was watching Billy Sheehan's interview with Julia Hofer recently on YouTube. He went into great detail about his tone and how he achieves it. He's well known for having a less than clean tone, but what I found interesting was how he splits his output from different pickups to a clean signal and a dirty signal. This allows him to maintain that bottom end punch and clarity, while also getting the heavier, clipped tones. In a hard rock setting, I can sort of see how that could be desirable, especially in a power trio or other band with only one guitar. However, not many people have a sophisticated enough rig to pull something like that off.

    So, what are your thoughts? Are you a fan of the fuzz? Do you have a doctorate in distortion? When/why do you use it? Do you feel it's overused / underused?
  2. gh0st42

    gh0st42 Supporting Member

    Oct 25, 2019
    I love a good fuzz on bass.

    It's not an always on effect by any means, but used in service to the song, it can add some very interesting sounds and textures to a mix, and free up the guitar for other things by filling some of the space they traditionally inhabit in a mix.

    That being said, it has to be the right OD/Fuzz/or Distortion pedal to work well on bass. Lots of guitar focused options make things muddy, loose low end, make you vanish in the mix, etc.

    The good news is that there are a HUGE number of options these days, that specifically cater to bass players with features that can get you the same type of flexibility that Sheehan and others had to have huge rack rigs and all manner of tricks to make work.

    Dirt pedals with a clean blend option, and even better with high passed distortion paths, and low passed clean paths, and even adjustable high and low pass frequencies are becoming more and more common and accessible.

    Cutting edge pedals like the Source Audio Ultrawave take things a step further, and split your signal into a bunch of separate frequency bands that can all be set clean or distorted for each band, with different EQ and compression for each as well, to really let you dial in exactly what you are looking for. Be it a touch of dirt and mostly clean, or a sludgy thick doomy fuzz mess.
  3. makanudo


    Dec 26, 2008

    Play a fresh set of strings with those overtones going into a distortion/overdrive and the tone will work very well in the context of a band. Look up isolated bass tracks on the tube and you'll find most have some sort of hair on them, either from the amp or other source.

    Dead strings into distortion never sound good to my ears since well, those overtones are just not there to get excited anymore.

    Those wild fuzz/heavy distorted bass tones are 99.9% (according to me) of the time a parallel processed recording to retain clean low end and distort the mids and highs. Same principle, get those overtones distorted to blend better in the mix but retain a clean and controlled low end.

    Like everything in music it's usually done to serve a purpose. Beef up the bass when the guitar is soloing (think Give it away by RHCP during the guitar solos) or add texture underneath not so distorted guitars (a la Karnivool), or just sound synthy and interesting like Hysteria by Muse. Imagine that bassline completely clean and the song wouldn't work.

    Of course there are instances where you'd want a completely clean flat DI for the sound engineer to work with. I'd think a jazz trio or recording/playing for a solo artist, but it's not uncommon for producers and mix engineers to add dirt in different amounts to bass tracks to make them work in the context of a band.
  4. Matt Dean

    Matt Dean Supporting Member

    Jan 2, 2007
    SF (North) Bay Area
    there are as many bass tones as there are styles of music. I play clean about 70%, distorted 20% and enveloped about 10% of the time… plus or minus 50%
    BassBrass, gh0st42 and DJ Bebop like this.
  5. Hummergeist

    Hummergeist Commercial User

    Jul 21, 2020
    Ableton Live tutorials and product reviews for Computer Music magazine.
    A lot of players use fuzz or distortion in different ways, for me it's a mixing tool - it helps me be heard in certain arrangement situations, and I always use some kind of dry/wet balance. I use flanger in the same way.
    Need Gigs, Rabidhamster and DJ Bebop like this.
  6. ad9000

    ad9000 Supporting Member

    Mar 30, 2004
    Leucadia, CA
    I am not as much of a distortion/OD/fuzz user as some of the folks here (although I do have three such pedals on my pedalboard), but I know that I do like OD or fuzz best when it's blended with a clean signal, whether that's achieved via a pedal that allows you to blend the dry signal with the effect or by more elaborate means (like Sheehan's method that you referred to).

    The best example of a clean/overdrive blend for me was Tony Levin's setup when I saw him live with King Crimson around 1996. He basically had two separate rigs, a Trace Elliot amp and a Marshall stack, if I remember correctly. When he kicked in the Marshall, the sound was gnarly and massive, but I could hear that the blended in clean sound was helping to maintain the punch and fundamental. I'm not sure if there was some DI in the mix also - I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case.

    Re. the appeal of OD/distortion in general, I heard Muse sometime in the mid 2000's and I'd have to say Chris Wolstenholme's overdriven sound was the ballsiest and most impressive that I've ever heard, as well as being a central part of that band's sound. I've never researched what he uses or how he does it, but I'm sure that information is out there. It's not appropriate for most of the gigs I do, but hearing him definitely made me want to further explore the possibilities of overdrive.
    gh0st42 and catcauphonic like this.
  7. Coot


    Nov 14, 2018
    I saw Greg Lake in the early 70's doing 1st and second(Tarkus) ELP albums . Very clean through HiWatts with a Jazz. Keith Emerson had the background filled with keys though. However, when Clapton went into a solo it needed Bruce to be dirty to fill the void between Baker's and Clapton's fills. There's a time and place for dirt and clean .. IMHO
    weird_hermiston and C Stone like this.
  8. Coot


    Nov 14, 2018
    Oh.. Lakes intro song "Barbarian " was nasty grit though on the first album. Then mostly clean ...
    C Stone likes this.
  9. C Stone

    C Stone

    Sep 4, 2020
  10. catcauphonic

    catcauphonic High Freak of the Low Frequencies Supporting Member

    Mar 30, 2012
    Seattle WA
    Parallel signal paths for dry and wet (OD/dist/fuzz) via a splitter are the bees knees when it comes to using that stuff. Fortunately these days there are soooo many options to get you there.

    Of course you need to be in a gigging situation where it's appropriate for the bass to be so unclean. Other than maybe a light overdrive, it can be a bit much for most working bands as an always on thing.
    gh0st42 likes this.
  11. stigbeve


    Sep 24, 2014
    Play bass in metal bands. I have always used overdrive to add definition to my notes in the mix. Makes it less muddy on those lower notes.
  12. Esteban Garcia

    Esteban Garcia bassist, arranger, aelurophile Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2018
    Portland, OR
    For me I like to hear clear, dulcet tones from the low end. Different strokes for different kinds of music. I don't play rock; it would be very out of place to use fuzz in the kind of music I'm playing. This is one of these things that kind of opened my eyes hanging around the rockers on TB, how much folx use drive/fuzz and other effects, and how important your rigs are to tone. Even in my rock days I played entirely clean with a hifi rig/DI and a little compression. I always figured if you've got one or two fuzzed-out guitars sawing away, fuzz on bass is just taking up more sonic space and contributing to an inscrutable wall of sound. I get that this is desirable for many styles of rock, but I've always been looking to open space and play counterpoint, not just add bottom to the guitars. Again, different tools for different jobs.
    Last edited: May 7, 2021
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  13. jbybj

    jbybj Supporting Member

    Jun 11, 2008
    Los Angeles
    In addition to all the various tonal considerations, one thing I love about many effects, not just fuzz and distortion, is how they can change the way you play. I can get some really rewarding sounds through a fuzz, that played with the same touch through a clean chain, would be practically silent. When an effect encourages you to touch the bass in a different way, the potential discoveries are limitless.
  14. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    I play church gigs. That music doesn't call for full on distortion or fuzz, but....there are occasional times when there is only one guitar, and a little dirt on top of a fairly clean sound helps fill out the spectrum that a 2nd guitar would have for an upbeat tune here or there. When there are 2 electrics, 2 acoustics, and keys (that happens a lot in my world), then I pretty much play clean and "stay in my lane". It's all about what serves the music.
  15. madmaskbass


    Apr 29, 2008

    I, like many am a huge fan of dirty bass, but it can be overused and misused pretty easy. Simple boy by Karnivool is a really smart and powerful song that is heavily bass driven and the guitars are complimenting rather than competing and it makes the heavily distorted bass a powerful tool in the song. Also most heavy bass has been processed so that there is a clean signal of clean low end that is mixed with the distortion to retain the foundation.

    Again RATM are masters of ensuring that the guitar and bass work in unison to make the overall sound and don't compete with each other.

    It is rare to find cat scratchers that have low enough egos and bass players with enough skill to pull this type of thing off but when they come together...music bliss!
    Rabidhamster and socialleper like this.
  16. Swamp_Ronin


    Jan 15, 2021
    Portland, OR
    +1 for simple boy. I’m a soul fan taste wise but Jon stockman’s bass on that record is sublime
    socialleper likes this.
  17. scuzzy


    Feb 15, 2006
    Troy, MO
    very much my approach. the more instruments, the cleaner I play. this sunday however, only acoustic and piano, so I'm playing a hiwatt driven patch with a pick. it fits.

    in my experience, most folks don't notice you are doing grit on the bass, but if you cut it and ran clean, they would hear something missing. It's subtle, but it is there. It can easily encroach on the rhythm guitarists range. great for 3 piece or when you need more fill.
  18. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    If you pull that off - the "the bass isn't dirty" until you turn it off, and then "something" is missing thing, then you're (my opinion) doing it right.
    gunai and scuzzy like this.
  19. socialleper

    socialleper Bringer of doom and top shelf beer Supporting Member

    May 31, 2009
    Canyon Country, CA
    There are a lot of different ways to use drive on bass. Some can be tasteful or utilitarian, others can be annoying. I have no love for Billy Sheehan's tone, and don't think it blends particularly well. However, Geddy Lee and Chris Squire are both well known for their use of drive via amp or pedals, and people seem to like their tones. Entwistle also seemed to be a pretty big fan of drive later in his career.

    In a more modern context, drive on a bass can serve as a way to fill in for a guitar. Doom\Stoner bands use fuzz on the bass a lot to fill in for a second guitar. Some death metal, grindcore, etc bands play very fast and drive helps the bass fit into the mix better. Drive is also a good way to boost the bass when it is playing a passage by its self, and give it some grit to make it sound more in your face.

    I use it as a tone shaping tool to make my bass worth well with my two guitar players. I don't use a heavy amount of clipping, but I like what the compression and harmonics on the high end do for my bass.
  20. Flatwound

    Flatwound Supporting Member

    Sep 9, 2000
    San Diego
    For most of my bass playing “career”, I have believed that I wanted sparkly clean tone, even though I liked Felix’s stuff with Mountain, for instance.

    But then, I watched a bunch of YouTube videos about the Orange Terror Bass, especially the one from Anderton’s, and I bought one. This amp has changed my views considerably about what I want.

    My current band plays blues, some Motown/R&B, and 60’s thru 90’s pop. The band loves the Orange. BL says it’s “cleaner” than the Carvin BX1500 (I think) that’s in the practice space. The opposite is true. I play a pretty dirty sound, with treble heavily cut. It’s very audible in the mix.
  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

    Jun 20, 2021

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