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Long: Problems finding "my sound" in a bass rig - suggestions much needed...

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by AlexanderB, Apr 10, 2010.

  1. AlexanderB


    Feb 25, 2007
    Warning. Long text... Additional style and bass info at the end.

    I have problems finding a rig that provides the bass tone I hear in my head. (And that I hear on recordings both of my bass and on certain records.)

    I am looking for a loud rig with extended, ballsy lows and very clear mids and top range. Having tried some different setups since I started playing bass in 1996, I still have not found it.

    The main culprits are bass speaker distorsion and the midrange honkiness/harshness, especially when volume goes up?

    I have designed, built and played "Hifi" rigs similar to the Fearful (etc) concept (PA box 15", 6", 1" and 15", 10", 1") more than a decade before that was "discovered" by the people here. Even with such a rig, I still had to apply lots of EQ to get the sound I like (which was OK). Not enough volume was the problem.
    My current "big" rig is an EBS 311 (15", 10", 2") + an EBS 15F (15") powered by a QSC 3602. (The 15" speaker replaced by 3015LF.) The preamp is an EBS 1V2 and I use a Behringer DCX 2496 processor for eq, cross over etc. This rig is loud enough, barely.
    With some pretty big corrections in the processor I get an OK frequency response, but the EBS / Eminence driver distorsion (mainly in the 500 - 1500Hz range) still disturbs me. I had hoped the final result to be better.)

    So: I have now a somewhat expensive dual box + 4 RU case set up that barely delivers the spl I want and still not really the tone I want. I also rely on the processor + extra box to have the rig performing ok, making it a large and impractical set up. The 3015LF's output also drops of at 50Hz or so and requires over 10 dB of boost below 40Hz to get decently flat.
    Without the processor, the rig sounds not even average.

    Actually, my previous DIY rig sounded better and required no processing to do so but was insufficient in terms of SPL.

    It seems I will go back to using one of my PA subwoofers in combination with some powerful 410 / 610 or similar, I guess.
    Dispersion is of less concern as my tone has so much energy below 500 Hz and little above 1000Hz.

    I do not know what cab too choose, though.
    I have recently played through:
    Ampeg SVT-410HE (too much distorsion and peaky upper bass and probably not loud enough even with a sub.)
    MarkBass 104 HF (strange/ugly tone and unclear low mids. Not hifi at all.)
    Peavey TVX410 (surprisingly good, but felt somewhat scooped in too low frequency.)
    Fender Bassman TV 15 (generally good tone for me. Good low mids and probably filtering out some of that harsh upper mids. Not a rig but for tone reference.)
    EBS ProLine 410 (ouch. Hollow, farty sound and peaky high mids.)
    EBS NeoLine 212 (good tone, for practicing at home, maybe... Less output then my one of home stereo speakers!)

    Warwick Hellborg rig (good, clean tone but lacking in lows. Stupidly overpriced...)

    I am seriously considering using a PA stack, but then I will still need two boxes and a processor. :meh:

    Any output is much appreciated...

    My main bass is a four string Squier JV Precision with maple neck and SD pick ups. It has a pretty "lively" tone with aggresive (almost harsh) upper mids, thick lower mids and strong bottom down to F# on the E string.
    I also play a Danelectro Longhorn that also is not very refiend but still has more polite mids.
    In addition to that I also play two fretless basses; one Warwick Corvette and a (soon to be delivered) luthier Unicorn five string. Those basses have lots of lows and the Unicorn is specified to be have a thick and complex tone.

    I play fingerstyle, mainly standard rock and pop musik from 1955 and forwards. Many times there is no bass in the PA, so my rig HAS to be powerful.

  2. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    i think your only solution is to get ready to drop major bucks on some mayer cabs. holy cow! i am so glad i was never so specific about my gear needs.

    btw, don't judge fearful style cabs by 10 years ago standards. the new style 2 and 3 way cabs all use these newer high xmax neo woofers that are made to throw tons of air out in the lows and mids and do it more efficiently. it's possible you may still not dig their tone, but they will go much louder than older designs as long as you have a good amount of power to kick them.

    but if that doesn't work, mayer may be your only option. hope you got $10,000. if it were me i'd just lower my standards ;)
  3. I hate to say it, but my guess is a large part of what you are experiencing is technique related (and possibly user error with EQ). While I definitely have favorite pieces of gear, and there are some cabs that I don't like a lot, I rarely find a rig that doesn't work for me. If you put a good, clean, full tone into a rig, it is a rare rig that you can't EQ to at least get close to what you are looking for. Of course, some rigs are just not large and powerful enough for given playing contexts, but if you can't generate enough volume with 500 or 600 watts into a reasonably high SPL 410-sized cab, then there might be something else going on. It's amazing how one player can totally fart out and mush up a rig with loose right (and left!) hand technique and a bit too much low end EQ, and another player can literally get twice the volume and clarity out of the same rig and bass without really changing anything. I've found this time and time again at GTG's, and have seen a high correlation between technique issues and 'gear unhappiness' (not talking about good old 'G.A.S.', but literally guys who go through rig after rig and 'can't find their sound').

    I know that isn't really that helpful, but if you have a few bassist friends that you respect, you might have them play your bass through your rig as some additional data points in evaluating what actually is the issue. If you really find multiple rigs all not sounding good, IMO something else is going on. Just trying to save you some cash!:)

    That being said, the Markbass and Ampeg cabs you list above are among my least favorite.
  4. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    and just to show you how weird the world is, the ampeg and markbass cabs ARE among my favorites ;) well, favorite 410's, that is.

    have to admit i kind of agree with ken, though. you should always be able to get a pleasing sound in any rig you try if it works. but it doesn't mean you have to buy it. anyway, keep looking around and eventually you'll find the gear that strikes a chord with you.
  5. Pure IMO and personal taste there:)

    You know, back to the OP, since I have no idea of his skill level, he mentioned that he dug the 15/6 type cabs he built years ago, but they weren't loud enough.

    The components, crossovers and the ability of an amp head to put a wump of power out at 8ohms has just gotten SO much better over the last 5 years, that another try at one of those designs might do the trick.

    A 15/6/1 with that Eminence neo LF 15, and 500-750 clean watts at 8ohms pumping into one of those cabs is quite something to hear. The larger 212/6/1 is even more impressive.

    Things have changed a LOT in the last 10 years regarding drivers and amplification.

    That all being said, even at my moderate skill level on the instrument, I've had it happen time and time again. Someone brings over a rig that they are 'having trouble with', and I hear them play, and they are pounding the strings, not muting open strings correctly, not 'pulling through', not using the meat of their fingers with their plucking hand, sloppy slap technique, not using variation in right hand plucking position to make tonal adjustments across strings, and not fretting precisely, and cranking up the bass control on the on-board pre. The rigs sound mushy and 'compressed'. When another player who is a bit more skilled plays the same rig, nine times out of ten, they are amazed at 'how good it sounds'.

    Again, apologies to the OP if this isn't the case at all, but it is amazing how correlated 'technique issues' and 'not being able to find my sound even though I've tried a zillion rigs' is in my experience.
  6. Sundogue


    Apr 26, 2001
    Wausau, WI
    Some things jump out at me when reading the OP's post.

    First, you seem to be infatuated with achieving the tone of recorded bass. While that sounds so fabulous in a recording, that typically sounds like crap in a mix with a full band onstage.

    Most recorded bass has what we refer to as "scooped" or that smiley face EQ. Not always, but that works great within that context. That can work great in a recording because everything can be boosted and EQ'd in the final mix. Also, know that bass (actually all of the instruments) in recorded music are highly compressed. Now, again while that is desirable in a recorded bass track, live it is generally not (certainly not to the degree of a recorded bass track).

    Also, you apparently want to achieve tons of low end. While in a recording one can mix ALL of the frequencies into the mix as far as one cares to push it, live onstage through commercial bass cabs one seldom hears the fundamental frequencies of the low end. Typically, most everything below 100Hz only makes your amp heat up while what is coming out of your speakers is (practically speaking) non existent. some content below that is heard to be sure, but those are the frequencies that have doomed more than one bass player when trying to achieve "recorded" bass tone.

    The low end one usually hears the loudest and deepest are the first and second harmonics of the fundamentals. A low E produces a 40Hz signal. Good luck trying to get much of any of that to be heard well in a live context. It is more likely that the 2nd or 3rd (80Hz and 160 respectively) are what is actually being heard.

    Ever hear people on TB talking about boosting the mids? That's where the magic of live bass is happening. And lots, if not all commercial bass gear produces that quite easily. Upper bass (100Hz on up to say 250Hz) and low mids (250Hz up to 500Hz) is that "magic" low end that you can actually hear onstage in a full mix. 500Hz on up to 1kHz are those mids that help "cut through" and brighten up things to go along with those lows and low mids. All commercial cabs can produce those frequencies. Some handle certain frequencies better than others and only some will do so at very loud volume.

    But...keep in mind that the bass tone you have in your head (that recorded tone) will only sound like mush (if it is heard at all) in a live mix with a full band. What you hear and what you like playing by yourself is not that same tone a bass player should strive for in a live mix (unless you are playing relatively quiet gigs). Because that sweet tone by yourself will get lost in a live situation at higher volume. It takes lots of power and speakers that can handle the low end. Even the lows around 100Hz will require lots of watts, much less those below 100Hz.

    The distortion you hear is simply you driving your speakers too hard. You either need to cut the deep lows to prevent your speakers from over excursion, or get better speakers/cabs that handle what you are trying to push. But as I explained, you shouldn't waste your time trying to reproduce the fundamental notes anyway and focus more on the harmonics found a little higher up. It will still be perceived as deep lows, but most amps and speakers can handle those better. The distortion will be gone.

    With regards to that mid range honkiness...While that may sound undesirable by yourself, it is the very thing that gets you heard onstage in a live mix. I personally hate that tone by myself, but in a full band at high volumes, the bass cuts through like a knife. The benefit of using those seemingly harsh tones at gig volume is that those frequencies require little power and place little demand on your speakers. But they allow you to be heard without having to use extreme high powered amps and expensive, large bass cabs.

    I agree with others that perhaps your expectations are just unrealistic. That tone in your head that you hear in recorded music rarely works in a live situation. It can, but that tone is typically reserved for quieter gigs. The louder you (and the band) get, the more problematic the deep lows become and the more a bass player needs to rely on and appreciate the low to high mids. Now, you can cut some of that honkiness or harshness out and still allow those mids to do what they do best. It's a matter of fine tuning certain frequencies within those mids to get it to be loud yet still appealing to you.

    Typically, I cut my deep lows (those below 100Hz) as they just steal power from my amp with no real benefit. I also boost at 500Hz and 800Hz. But I cut back quite a bit at 1.3kHz because that area sounds very harsh and annoying to me. The rest of the frequencies are flat or adjusted to the room I play in. Do I like that tone playing by myself? No. But in a live situation it sounds great and I could blow my bandmates off the stage...even with a little 210 cab for most gigs, or a 215 for larger ones.

    Really, it comes down to two different tones. One by yourself, and one for the gigs. One doesn't usually work for both very well. It can but it really depends on the context.
  7. +1 to every point above.
  8. bunny10


    Mar 11, 2006
    Finally some truth and knowledge about about the difference between recorded and live bass sounds and tones.

    We should have a dedicated thread about this very subject. I have searched in the past but never found any. It would be a great educational tool for a lot of players to have a discussion about this as well as to actually post clips so that people can hear the real differences.
  9. Should probably try some Mesa cabs IMHO. I really like how low the bass goes and how defined the mids and treble are in my Vintage Powerhouse 4x10. That would be my next port of call. Also some examples of the "Grail" tone would probs help :)
  10. +1 again, and this relates to my combination of 'technique and EQ user error' above.

    Whenever I go to clubs and hear a bassist (with or without PA support), I rarely leave thinking 'man, I wish the bass had more low end'. It's almost always, 'I wish I could hear more note articulation and mid punch, and depending on the context, treble extension'.

    It's amazing how little true low end you need, and how much mid response (and especially treble response if that is your thing) in order for a nice, punchy, round, articulate bass tone to get out to the audience.

    Rooms eat up the upper mids and treble much more than deep bass.

    That being said, the same can be said for technique. If you don't have a clean, articulate, fat, round tone going into a rig, you aren't going to get one coming back out. That sounds so obvious, but again, IMO is the cause of80% of gear churn.
  11. shoot-r


    May 26, 2007
    VERY well said...
    This should be a mandatory read for everyone at T.B.
  12. jnewmark

    jnewmark Just wanna play the groove. Supporting Member

    Aug 31, 2006
    Stax 1966
    Third St. Cigar Records staff musician.
    Also, at least in my limited studio experience, you don't normally play live out of a bass rig anyway, but directly into the board. you can drive yourself nuts trying to get that tone live.
  13. Kjung I will agree with you that good solid technique will easily get you a good tone, but, hypothetically, even if a bassist's tone is different or unique, it doesn't necessarily mean it's 'bad'. Every pair of fingers will respond to a string differently and behave in the way that the player's technique has developed over their time of playing. I don't think its fair to blame someones tone problems solely on their technique.

    Take John Myung from Dream Theater (only example I can think of). He has very well developed and precise, but unique technique. Despite this, his sound often has difficulty being heard at all in the band context. Although your statement is true to the great majority of cases, there are always exceptions.
  14. +1 all the way. I was only talking about those who are 'not happy with their tone' (even though they've tried a LOT of different rigs/basses). That indicates either lack of understanding of EQ (i.e., dialing in way too much low end and scooping mids) and/or a lack of skill in sending a 'good' tone to the rig in the first place.

    Myung is a good example of a tone that gets lost in a mix. Andrew Gouche is another one... amazing player, but all you hear is that 'MTD with the bass and treble cranked' boom and click.. rumble and sizzle, and virtually no note definition. However, that is a personal choice with these guys, and I assume they are happy with their tone and not constantly searching for a new rig or bass.
  15. Sundogue


    Apr 26, 2001
    Wausau, WI
    There have been numerous threads and posts about live versus recorded bass tone. And most TB'ers have been extolling the benefits of boosted mids in a live mix for a long time.

    And it's no real secret that while we play bass and love the low end, the reality is that those deep low fundamentals are difficult to reproduce without big amps, big cabs and that usually means big money too. ;)
  16. tcald2004

    tcald2004 Supporting Member

    Dec 2, 2008
    tupelo, mississippi
    three step solution:
    1. put a darkstar on your bass.
    2. get an ashdown rig.
    3. sit nicely in the mix, feel really happy while you play, and gets lots of compliments on your tone.
  17. Sundogue


    Apr 26, 2001
    Wausau, WI
    I agree. Usually in a club setting (especially with PA help) lack of low end is never the issue for an audience. As you said, most of what is missing is the mids and the bass has no articulation or clarity.

    I like the smooth low end as much as the next guy, but that just isn't where it's happening for live bass sound...for the most part anyway and in my experience (Ugh! I always feel the need to quantify my opinions to protect myself from the inevitable reply that I don't speak for others...well, duh! :D).

    And I also agree that no matter how much one plays around with their gear, it all comes down to "nothing good will come out of your speakers if what's going in isn't at least as good." The old saying of "you can't polish a turd" holds true. If your technique sucks, or if your bass (or how you use the tonal controls) sucks, it won't matter what kind of gear you use. Sometimes it's just the player. :eek: ;) I've heard some amazing players with awesome tone playing through some rigs that I couldn't get to sound decent no matter how much knob fiddling I did. So what does that say? :meh:
  18. Man, I know the feeling. Living in Detroit, which has a very close-knit bass community, and also some of the most amazing funk/pop/gospel players on the planet, I have guys coming through the house that are so scary it isn't even funny (I'm like the kid who owns the catcher's mitt and a new baseball, given all the gear I own... I always get invited to play and guys love to come over and hang!). There are guys who make every piece of gear I own sound not only identical, but fantastic. Very inspirational, and it is a nice way to get some sense slapped into you (pardon the pun!).

    Even at my modest level of playing skill, I kind of chuckle that I have a number of basses and rigs, and even though I can easily hear the difference and have clear preferences, once I find the combinations I like and play through them (you can hear this in all my youtube clips), for better or worse, I 'sound like me':D Yeah, some pieces of gear have a bit more low end extension, a different quality to the mids, more or less going on above 6K, etc., and this can have an impact on the tone (obviously). But it is really a 'last 10% of developing/refining your tone' thing compared to the 90% impact of technique (assuming again the rig pushes enough air to work in a given context and volume level).

    Sometimes a trip to the woodshed has a lot more impact on tone than a trip to Guitar Center (it's a lot cheaper also).
  19. pulse


    Apr 10, 2007
    Berlin, Germany
    whilst I think that some speakers simply sound horrible I do agree with KJUNG, that bad technique can cause major tone hunting headaches. and cost thousands in gear swops:smug:
  20. +1 Even some cabs that sound very good 'for what they are' can really work against a given tone goal. If you like a modern slap tone, as wonderful as it is for what it is, a Bergantino NV610 is not going to make you happy. If you want huge, old school low end with a very organic top end, a Bergantino AE410 is probably not going to work that well, no matter what you put into it.

    And, to your point, there are just cheaply made, poorly tuned cabs out there with drivers with very limited xmax and cheap piezo tweeters. Those aren't going to make many players really happy.

    However, if you try 10 cabs and 5 amps, and just can't 'get your sound' from any of them, then a trip to the woodshed is probably in order:D

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