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Metal, with or without distortion...

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by René_Julien, Sep 25, 2008.

  1. René_Julien


    Jun 26, 2008
    I just wanted to start this thread about the "philosophical" issue about distortion, overdrive or fuzz on bass in metal music.

    I started playing bass 9 years ago, to immediatly form a trashmetal band with some friends.

    Being 17 at the time and being wild, rather naive and a Cliff Burton wannabee the most important element of my gear was my distortion pedal.
    Namely a BOSS MT2 Metal Zone as my first,... because it had the word "metal" on it. (a bit young, naive)
    Although not the best distortion for bass, it can be tweaked right, your whole setup, and you have a fair bold distorted metal sound. (I am not the only one here on TB who uses or has used this pedal.)

    Some time later in my "career" I stumbled upon the Ibanez ToneLok serie. My guitarist bought the Seventh Heaven, and that thing looked so cool.
    So I went to get the PD-7 Phat Hed. Finally, an overdrive/distortion designed for bass.
    I used it for a while in the distortion mode, get a bit tired of the harmonics, then used it in overdrive mode.

    Over the years the metal I listened to moved more toward other subgenres (sorry for the dirty word).
    I got more into progressive metal and some more "European" metal. (No pun intended against American, some of my favourite bands are American. It doesn't matter where you're from but what you play.)

    My personal opinion now is that I don't need distortion to be metal. Perhaps it's maturity kicking in.
    A "clean" bass has the advantage that it sounds heavy on it's own with the proper equalizing, while a clean guitar lacks aggresiveness.
    I let the guitars handle the distortion, guitars are perfect for that. Over time I sobered up and decided that I don't want my bass to sound like a distorted guitar. I want to exploit all the other tonal uses of a bass.

    I am happy with just my clean sound now. Mostly thanks to experience as a bassist in finding gear that suits me.
    (I only use delay and echo now, but only from time to time.)

    Does anyone else have opinions or strong feelings about this?
    Use of distortion varies from the different subgenres?

    I'm not trying to be an elitist now and judge fellow bassist who do use distortion. If it works for you and you are happy with it I'm happy for you. I just want to share views on the subject.

    ! (Oh, and please don't go overboard with discussions about definition of metal and it's subgenres. We had our share of those here on TB. It's all objective, it's all in the ear of the beholder.)
    Keep it brotherly. :)
  2. a nice big overdrive is what i think works and what i'm starting to lean towards now
  3. I just think in a general passage of heavy music. A wall of heavy distorted guitar and distorted bass, won't sounds as heavy as the mix of a wall of heavy distorted guitar and booming clean bass. This is not only a metal thing obviously.
  4. AndyLES


    Aug 25, 2008
    New York
    I dunno, I find a cleanISH tone, with just a bit of grit, cuts in a dense metal mix better than either a clean tone or a distorted sound.
    BornAgainBass likes this.
  5. JFace


    Apr 17, 2008
    Columbus, OH
    I like a nice compressed, punchy tone, for most of my music, and then kick on the massive gain distortion/ODs for the appropriate parts.
  6. bkbirge


    Jun 25, 2000
    Houston, TX
    Endorsing Artist: Steak n Shake
    Tenacious D would agree with you.
  7. Deluge Of Sound

    Deluge Of Sound Banned

    Nov 8, 2007
    I play a lot of Stoner/Sludge/Doom/whatever, so I personally love having distortion on my bass. It's what fits the music, if I was playing in a band that was more into In Flames than Electric Wizard, I wouldn't be using it. I also probably wouldn't be playing in that band, :D
  8. ErebusBass


    Feb 20, 2008
    Madison, WI
    Distortion is overkill in metal. The guitars have a wall of distortion that you want to punch through, not blend in with.
    BornAgainBass likes this.
  9. eyvindwa

    eyvindwa Supporting Member

    Aug 1, 2007
    Oslo, Norway
    Definition easily gets lost with distorted bass guitars in metal. I go for a clean, or slightly overdriven, tone most of the time, and heavily distored/fuzzed out tone for certain parts.
    BornAgainBass likes this.
  10. crimson_basser


    Jul 9, 2008
    Endorsing Artist: Spector Basses
    If you listen to Zao's "The Funeral of God" the bassist plays with distortion/overdrive the entier album. It sounds absolutely amazing. I believe he has two tracks the entire CD, one clean, one distorted and the growl and clarity is unmistakeable.

    I think its one of the best bass tones Ive ever heard in metal. It cuts, its growls, its thick and bassy. Everything i could ask for.
  11. Darkstrike

    Darkstrike Return Of The King!

    Sep 14, 2007
    It works both ways IMO, so sometimes I will use it sometimes not.

    I don't think it would suit if Steve Harris started playing with a Blowtorch or something in all Maiden songs, but would Lemmy sound the same without his Marshall grind?

    Cliff Burton is another great example, when he leads it sounds wicked, but on a lot of songs he got lost in the mix through all of his distortion and the guitarists distortion.

    It does work best if there is only one guitarist in the band though, or all bass!:D
  12. René_Julien


    Jun 26, 2008
    So most of you guys share my opinion somehow. :)

    Although I hear a lot of you say to keep an overdrive or distortion pedal in your arsenal for certain parts. (solos?)

    Well, I'm known to be a radical man :) and I'm going to retire all my drive-pedals.
    They served me well over the years, but I'm going to go a different way now.
    Age of wisdom maybe? :ninja:

    Just what drive my amp can deliver will be all I need from now on.
  13. Jared Lash

    Jared Lash Born under punches

    Aug 21, 2006
    Denver, CO
    I'm not a metal player, but personally I use heavy gain (distortion, fuzz) more often when my guitar player isn't and vice versa.

    A relatively clean, mid-heavy seems to work best with metal, but as always, if it sounds good it is good. One of my all time favorite dirty tones was Billy Gould's with FNM and it seemed to work fine, even when Jim Martin had his guitar cranked. Then again, he only had one crunching guitar to deal with.

    Distortion on bass can work in metal and with two guitars, but it takes some very careful EQing not to step on each other's toes. In general I think it's easier to just have a clean sound. Of course, all of that is provided that you're in a band where they value the bass enough to even have it be audible.
  14. i prefer a cleanish tone for metal and a heavily overdriven sound works good for hard rock music for me.
    to me it does matter how fast the song is going; the kind of distortion i sound good playing iron man sounds horrible with a song like master of puppets, but it could be my technique perhaps? anyway dont know a lot about it, i have just had one gain based pedal only for about a couple of months now
  15. magickbass

    magickbass Guest

    May 24, 2008
  16. neuromancer


    Apr 28, 2005
    CT, USA
    I can agree that a full-blown distorted bass can easily disappear in a mix. I can't think of any recordings specificially, although those of us who are fans (or are doing some note-taking) have heard enough black/death/grindcore recordings where this is the case. Not always, although there are enough examples if you're looking.

    Over the past 15 years or so I've become quite the fan of an over-driven or distorted sound mixed with a clean one - and there are plenty of examples here: Doug Pinnick (King's X), Billy Sheehan (any of the Mr. Big recordings, although I'm sure there's more), Eddie Jackson (Queensryche), and Marco Hietala (Nightwish), not to mention recent recordings by Geddy Lee (Snakes and Arrows).

    This mixed/blended approach is one I tend to favor, since I've been happiest with the results when used in hard rock and metal. It doesn't get lost like a full-blown fuzz, and at the same time it gives my sound an interesting presence without losing the fundamental sound. Of course, it takes a little bit of tweaking to come up with the right sound, and not accomplished by setting everything on 11. It's also easy enough to do now, since a good number of OD/DS pedals have a 'blend' or 'clean' knob, and if not there are blend pedals available which server the same purpose.
  17. +1 :bassist:
  18. Darkstrike

    Darkstrike Return Of The King!

    Sep 14, 2007
    The greatest wisdom of all in this situation is that a decent drive/fuzz/distortion pedal is very easy to pickup in the future.

    A Metalzone, which you seem to like(I do too, btw) is fairly inexpensive, and very easy to find, even on a whim.

    At the moment I'm using my amps gain, on the tube channel, and kicking a Blowtorch if I want ovekill, but mostly the amp set to a medium grind.
  19. Very cool album. Psalm of the City of the Dead is one of my all-time favorite songs. The bass tone really does sound amazing on it.

    I think the biggest thing that ALWAYS holds up this type of discussion is the different ideas of metal that we all have. I have no intention of starting a sub-genre discussion, but I think that it is safe to say that drive works great in some styles, and very poorly in others. It's all a matter of personal taste.

    I play in a hardcore band (I know, I know, it's not metal, but it DOES have a similarly aggressive feel) and I run my Digitech Bad Monkey set for medium drive about 80% of the time. The remaining parts I play either clean or (for the really heavy doomy stuff) I kick in some nasty, fat fuzz from either a Big Muff or a Zoom Ultra Fuzz.
  20. René_Julien


    Jun 26, 2008
    Yeah... but I think I mean retire as they are going to be used as paper weight or something. :)
    They might come in handy someday when I change my mind about drive-pedals. Maybe I can make a friend happy with them, or lend them out.
    The Metal Zone I'm a bit emotional attatched to. All the gigs with my first trashmetal band, a bit of nostalgy.

    And the Phat Hed has a clean mode on it. :) With the "void" switch it works like... you know how BOSS has the defretter, well the PD-7 works like a "fretter" when playing fretless. :)
    I might keep that one as a clean boost now that I'm thinking about it.

    The Ibanez Bass synthesizer (the way I set it up it's a drive-effect) and the BOSS Fuzz FZ-5 were impulse buys. :meh:
    Interesting pedals, but not useful to me.

    For my "overkill" sound I switch on the BOSS RE-20 Space Echo.

    Darkstrike, it's seems you're loving your new amp. Nice.

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