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Need to understand gear and tone and the like; anybody got a guide they can point me to?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Dethlateer, Jan 23, 2017.

  1. Dethlateer


    Jan 10, 2017
    I would put a TL;DR at the end but I'm not sure how to summarize this accurately. Sorry.

    I have just about as much grasp on gear and what it all means and how it contributes to tone as a beginner who's googled the vaguest of questions for a week and I've been playing for nearly 3 years. For example, for my birthday I went out and bought myself a new rig (been playing on my bandmate's ancient beat up ampeg head and cab that sounded horrible), an Ampeg SVT-7 Pro (I'm into metal and play in a metal band, so I've found my favorite bassists and bands throwing the Ampeg name around a bunch as well as the other bassists in my scene) and an Ampeg SVT 4x10 500 watt cab. That day I heard some words. Preamp. Tube. Tweeter.

    In regards to tone, I don't actually understand it at all. I don't understand frequencies or how they work; sure I know what a frequency is, but I don't get how Rob Chapman for instance can play a guitar and say something like "The bridge humbucker pickup is great but this single-coil neck pickup just isn't quite reaching the frequencies I'd like it to reach." I don't understand how somebody can tell that sort of thing by ear, regardless of the fact that I don't really understand humbuckers vs whatever else, single vs double coil, etc. Being a bassist and listening to other bassists talk about tone and messing with knobs myself over these last few years, I'd settled on a tonal idea of max mids with maybe 2/3rds bass and 2/5ths treble (at least with aforemetioned ancient ampeg and my own combo amp at home), but a fellow bassist told me something I'd never even thought of: "I can tell that you set your tone the way you do because you've been listening to too many Alex Webster interviews (which is true). What you don't realize is that yeah the way he sets up his tone is awesome with his gear; his head, his pedals, and his bass. Its not necessarily going to be the best idea for your gear though." Again, I've always sort of just assumed... you know... you cut/boost your bass this much and mids this much and treble this much and you'll get x sort of sound. Even though I knew having similar knob-turnage as someone with high-end gear was never going to sound anywhere near as good or even as close in tone, I didn't/don't know why that is. And talking to a dude who knows about production and the computer/micing side of things, hearing him talk about "compression" and this and that and the other. Everything music beyond "bass, head, cab, strings" kinda flies over my head.

    So yeah, if anybody can point me to a guide on this sort of thing I'd really appreciate it. I just would love to better understand all this so I don't feel like an idiot like I did when I asked what the difference between a 4x10 and 8x10 cab is and why the added speakers even matter (which for the record I still couldn't tell you what they do despite make the cab a pain in the ass to load/unload).
    vishalicious likes this.
  2. Stumbo

    Stumbo Guest

    Feb 11, 2008
    A lot of what I have learned is from listening to 1000's of hours of recordings, live music, testing and owning various gear and gigging regularly with different types of bands for over 10 years. After while you get to know how various basses, cabs, amps and other equipment sound, especially at different types of venues. I also put together a small PA and did sound for several local bands.

    In addition, I read and studied hundreds of websites, books, magazines, catalogs, articles, 10's of thousands of TB threads along with learning about which bands used which equipment. I also studied music theory and ear training for a year at the local community college. I learned some keyboard and guitar along the way and built a couple of cabs. I always have an acoustic guitar handy to play anytime something hits me.

    All this takes time. Don't feel bad if you don't know stuff. We were all there. Check out the link in my sig below. Also read all the TB stickies and Wiki page articles.

    Keep listening and learning.
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2017
    Dethlateer and petrus61 like this.
  3. DirtDog


    Jun 7, 2002
    The Deep North
    Yep...takes time and experience and there's no one correct answer. We all started where you are. Think of it as a journey, not a destination.
    ctpunk, waynobass, Pet Sounds and 5 others like this.
  4. petrus61

    petrus61 Supporting Member

    Hang around here long enough and spend enough money, you'll know everything ;)

    I've been playing for about 20 years and while in that time I've learned a good bit about all types of gear, effects, strings, basses...a lot, if not all of it, was through much trial and error. The most important thing I've discovered through all of that is what my actual preferences and tonal goals are, with a good measure of practicality and how all of that can be applied to performing music, be it live with a band, or all by myself. After trying nearly everything, I realized that the more utilitarian my gear, the better. I basically aim for a sound that will mesh with a live band and help fill the role that I need to fill in that context. For me, it's a P bass, GK rig, a good compressor and some very subtle overdrive. Someone else may have the same goals in mind, but use a different set of tools to get there...maybe an active 6 string through a Markbass with zero effects. It takes time to realize what works for you, and even when it seems like you're finally there, you never really are.

    For all my gear knowledge, I'm still a mostly complete noob when it comes to cabinets and the science behind them. My brain goes into shutdown mode when I try to understand it, so I still have much to learn.
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2017
    Stumbo and JJR58 like this.
  5. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    If you don't intuitively understand that more speakers move more air I don't know what to tell you.

    You say you know what frequencies are, but you don't understand how someone could hear them...can you hear the difference between EQ settings on your amp?
    Stumbo likes this.
  6. karl_em_all


    Jul 11, 2013
    Dimension X
    There is no real guide. But TalkBass has an answer for just about any bass related question you can come up with. For me, I keep things simple. I try to make my tone complement the guitar(s), focus on my playing, and I learned how to use my gear to get what I need out of it and how not to break it.

    Understanding Ohms is important. Setting up your instrument is important.

    When it comes to single coil or humbucker pickups it's probably best to try out a few basses to hear for yourself what the differences are. Same goes for different amps and cabs. Try stuff out.
    Stumbo likes this.
  7. Dethlateer


    Jan 10, 2017
    I know more speakers move more air but I just don't know how that can be used. I've heard more speakers = cleaner mid-high end (assuming its because all the frequencies have double the speakers to go to which is less work than cramming them through 4 speakers), and probably also allows for higher volumes with less chance of screwing up the cab or blowing a speaker, but other than that I don't understand the point if I'm not planning on cranking my volume to 10.

    I can hear the differences between the EQ settings, yeah. But its a primitive sort of understanding. Bass adds woosh. Mid makes me hear myself. Treble makes me sound more clicky and makes it harder to hear myself (with previous amps, have yet to try boosting just a bit with my new head). That's all I've learned just with my own experience.
    Stumbo likes this.
  8. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    More air moving = more volume. Period. That's it. Speakers aren't garden hoses.
    My advice is to read everything posted in the amps section of TB for the next month. Pretty much everything you're talking about is covered on a regular basis.
    pudgychef, Stumbo and Dethlateer like this.
  9. el murdoque

    el murdoque

    Mar 10, 2013
    What i learned after years and years is that personal experience matters most. Learning the terms is basic for later understanding. For example, you learned the difference between 4x10 and 8x10 and maybe even that this is usually used to describe cabinets, meaning the number before the x states how many there are and the number after the x states how big the diameter is in inches (Excepting Markbass, who do it the other way round). This is basic. It should also be basic to know that a 4x10 and 8x10 are not identical, that the 8x10 should do something more - just by looking at it. Looking at the numbers will tell you that the difference between them usually is about 6dB: 3dB gain from doubling the speaker surface and another 3 for doubling the watts on a Class-D or solid state amp due to the resistance, which is typically halved by doubling the speakers. This is already a bit beyond basic. How much is 6dB more? Sometimes a lot. Sometimes not. How to discern? Do it a couple of times and you will get an idea.

    Here's the major problem: Every musician that has spent a bit of thought on how to arrange his equipment, what to buy and how to connect all of it automatically becomes an expert (self-appointed, but expert nonetheless).
    The proposed 4th law of Clarke's egodynamics states that for every expert, there is an equal and opposite expert.

    Most of the things you can find on the general topic of the very gears and levers that make the bass playing work will include so called facts that are heavily disputed by others.
    How to discern? Experience.
    How to start? Anywhere.
    It's a vast topic and too big to tackle all at once. Pick the one thing that bothers you most at the moment and ask.
    Ask people that should know - fellow musicians, here on talkbass, maybe in a good shop.
    Mind: You will get mostly opinions, even though they sound like hard facts. Tread them like those, keep them in mind and check their value for yourself.
    Stumbo likes this.
  10. karl_em_all


    Jul 11, 2013
    Dimension X
    More speakers will give you a bigger presence. More omph!
  11. el murdoque

    el murdoque

    Mar 10, 2013
    That already is some good knowledge!
    An Equalizer works by taking the signal and manipulating the frequencies (boosting or cutting).
    There are four things to keep in mind.
    1. How much does it affect the signal (how big is the boost/cut)?
    2. Where is it centered (on some heads, Bass is at 40Hz, on others 60 or even 100) ?
    3. How is the Q-factor? This is the most complicated, this factor describes how wide the bandwidth is where the EQ attacks. Say, you boost bass +6dB - this might mean that 38-42Hz is boosted 6dB, 36-38 and 42-44 is boosted 4dB 34-36 and 44-46 is boosted 2dB and the rest is unaffected. Another Amp might have a wider Q and boost a wider range, resulting in a different sound.

    These first three are different in different amps, so even setting amps the same way may result in different sounds.
    Some amps have boost and cut, some have only boost or only cut, and not all the knobs act the same.

    4. How does this affect my signal in band context?
    Here, again, nothing beats experience.
    You might realize that when you have sufficient power at your hands, thus eliminating the 'I set the amp this way because thats the only way for me to hear me once the guitar fires up the fat distortion' and giving access to 'I can set my amp any way i like, if i don't hear myself, the master volume will take care of that' - you have a lot of choice.

    There is a distinction between the 'bedroom sound' and the 'band sound'. Bedroom sound usually has a mid scooped EQ and sounds really nice when playing alone, but it lacks those mids when other musicians join in and drown out the bass.
    So even with enough power at their disposal, most bass players EQ their amps differently when they play with others.
    Bass is, in most ways, the glue that holds the band together. The link between the guitar and the drums. To get that down, both the sound of the guitar(s) and the drums plays a big role when choosing how to EQ. You want to be heard, but not interfere with the others - and not stick out (unless you're Les Claypool).
  12. DirtDog


    Jun 7, 2002
    The Deep North
    Hey Stumbo - I had no idea that wiki was there! Nice work, my man!
    pudgychef and Stumbo like this.
  13. Tone is a relative thing. it only matters most when:-

    (a) It is correct for the particular song

    (b) and how it sits in the mix for that song

    The amount and size of amp speakers is generally relevant to the size of venue played.
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2017
    Mugre and Stumbo like this.
  14. For the first couple of years I concentrated more on just playing well, tone was secondary. It seems that you are at that point now. Keeping it simple, and making small adjustment as you learn what works best for you.

    In other words, turn a knob a little or move a slider and play. Move it again, play more. Play a lot and slowly work towards what you like more.

    There is no guide, but there is a ton of info on TB.
  15. Maple

    Maple Supporting Member

    Feb 25, 2016
    San Francisco Bay Area
    When I started out, I bought a setup that was affordable. Then realized the amp didn't sound like I wanted it to. So I sold it and bought another amp that I thought would sound like I wanted it to. Then I sold the bass and bought another bass thinking it would sound like I wanted. It went on for several years. gear coming and going. As I gigged more, I would notice some amps didn't sound as good with the band or visa versa. Or something that sounded good just wasn't loud enough. Eventually I figured it out. sort of.

    Now, 30 years later, gear still churns but very infrequently. but I have a far clearer idea of what I'm after and why I'm making a change.
    JGbassman likes this.
  16. foolforthecity

    foolforthecity Supporting Member

    If you can obtain a looper, it's useful for allowing you to focus on making sound changes without the distraction of playing.
  17. tbz


    Jun 28, 2013
    Best advice. Just listen to stuff. Listen to other bassists live. Try amps out. Maybe get something with a complex eq (Eden WT series, for example.) Tinker with the concept of cutting tone, and then increasing volume, instead of boosting tone.

    When it comes to the 4x10 vs 8x10 argument...yeah...just go to a place that has them, and play through them a bit at volume. It should become pretty apparent. A lot of this IMO comes down to practical experience. It helps to read about the concepts so that you can codify/define what you're hearing/experiencing a bit more, but a lot of this just comes down to putting in the time.
  18. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    First and foremost, use your EARS and NOT dial positions to find your tone.

    And welcome to TalkBass!!!
  19. tgriley62


    Jan 25, 2011
    S.E. Mo
    Can't offer much on tone but, from now on no matter how good looking anyone on stage is you will automatically be yelling for them to move so you can see what type of rig the bassist is using
    LowActionHero and drummer5359 like this.
  20. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    You'll need to go by your ears. But if you learn the way I do you might want to read a really good general book that looks at each of the factors systematically before you start experimenting so you have a framework to operate under.

    I found Mitch Gallagher's (of Sweetwater) book Guitar Tone: Pursuing the Ultimate Guitar Sound to be well organized and very useful if you're very new to this. It is written from the perspective of guitar. But it's still easy enough to take the information presented and extrapolate it to bass.
    vishalicious likes this.
  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.

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