Phil Lesh's tone -- preferred era?

Discussion in 'Bassists [BG]' started by Low8, Apr 12, 2020.

  1. Low8

    Low8 Supporting Member

    Mar 30, 2014
    For you Deadhead bassists and Phil fans, just curious if there is a preferred era you prefer regarding Phil's tone. If so, when and why? He's always sounded great... but for the aficionados out there, merely wondering if there was a certain time when Phil was using a certain mix of ingredients that you folks tend to prefer. Any special shows stand out?

    Maybe if Geoff Gould reads this, he can chime in with some stories on what it was like to work with those guys?
  2. jerry

    jerry Too old for a hiptrip Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 13, 1999
    Every time I pick a Dead album out and listen I'm always amazed how great his tone almost always was, that said, I've always dug the Wake Of The Flood-Blues For Allah period.
  3. Mark 63

    Mark 63 Supporting Member

    Apr 3, 2012
    I’m partial to the early 70s Starfire era.
  4. lucas303


    Mar 11, 2019
    For me it's definitely 73-74. His tone was well defined but so fat and warm at the same time. Also he'd get just the right amount of breakup when he really dug in.

    I'm listening to 6/17/91 right now by coincidence, and I am not a huge fan of his tone in this era. It's a bit too artificial sounding for my taste.
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  5. Low8

    Low8 Supporting Member

    Mar 30, 2014
    His early 90s tone definitely wasn't as deep... at times, sounds like the low strings on a baritone.

  6. AlvarHanso


    Jun 20, 2011
    For me it's '72-'74. That wooden tone he has is just so rich and powerful. The Guild in the late 60s prior to it becoming an Alembic beast had a great tone to begin with, but once he was shaping it more with all those active controls, he was crushing things. Oh, to have been at a Wall of Sound show...

    He has a different tone from '76-'77, and I prefer the way it sounds on tape in '76. Betty gets it a little fuller, rounder, or maybe he had a tighter sound in '76. Seems to elicit a smile from Jerry in the Help On the Way intro here.
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  7. Pat Harris

    Pat Harris

    Nov 17, 2006
    Austin, TX
    It's tough to beat anything from the early 70s up through 78. For his role in the Grateful Dead and the way the other players had their sounds dialed in, it was a very sonically "rootsy/organic" version of the band-- before the midi took over. He had some serious cutting power to his tone in the late 80s through 1995, and the whole band mix, to my ears started sounding very "cold" from about 93-95.

    I *really* enjoyed Phil's tone with The Q lineup from 2000-2003 (such a monster group of players), up through his time with Larry Campbell in 2005, as well as with Furthur. I haven't seen him live since he only has been playing select dates outside of CA, but the webcasts and recordings don't really scratch the same itch for me.
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  8. I preferred his tone when he was using the Modulus six string. I was never really a fan of the band or his playing, but the later stuff he played on the Modulus Quantum 6 had the best tone, to my ears.
    SwitchGear likes this.
  9. Lazylion

    Lazylion Goin ahead on wit my bad self!

    Jan 25, 2006
    Frederick MD USA
    I saw him with Bobby and the Furthur band a few years ago at the Patriot Center in VA. He had a fantastic sound, with more highs, lows and mids than I could have imagined! He was playing a Ritter Jupiter through Eden heads and four 4x10 cabs. Never heard a sound like that, before or since!
  10. kesslari

    kesslari Groovin' with the Fusion Cats Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2007
    Santa Cruz Mtns, California
    Lark in the Morning Instructional Videos; Audix Microphones
    Mission Control era for me.
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  11. Eric Cioe

    Eric Cioe Supporting Member

    Jun 4, 2001
    Holland, MI
    72-74 for me, with 76-77 right behind. I love how the band played in the late 80s, but I think Phil's tone is pretty bad by then, and got worse through 95. Bobby and Jerry sounded pretty sterile, otherwise, which stinks because their playing is lit and Brent Dead is among my favorite Deads.
  12. His tone in the Europe 72 shows was perfection. Never got into his later years (post-Keith).
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  13. Passinwind

    Passinwind I know nothing. Commercial User

    Dec 3, 2003
    Columbia River Gorge, WA.
    Owner/Designer &Toaster Tech Passinwind Electronics
    Anything from '69-'77, but mostly any show when Pigpen was still alive and playing.
    edwinhurwitz, Roger W, ahc and 3 others like this.
  14. 73-74
  15. hennessybass

    hennessybass Supporting Member

    Oct 11, 2008
    Bayou City
    Phil's tone...

    Check out - Good Ol' Grateful Dead Podcast.
    They break down American Beauty and Working Man's Dead song by song, and each song is broken down track by track. I just finished up AB, and haven't started WMD yet.

    Really cool overall, and cool to hear Phil's bass recording solo and in the mix. At least for American Beauty, the bass is on two tracks. One track is deep and mellow and the other bright with a lot of high end... then mixed.

    Just cool to hear how they get the bass sounds. Also just a great podcast for anyone interested in songwriting, recording or the dead.
  16. bobyoung53

    bobyoung53 Supporting Member

    I've pretty much always liked his tone but my favorite era is probably the 70's, he had that nice pure sound, especially the low notes. I liked the Guild/EB-3 stuff the best. What was he playing on Blues For Allah? That's the tune I always play for people who say the Dead couldn't play.
    edwinhurwitz likes this.
  17. I would like to revisit my earlier post on this thread and revise my opinion. I had previously been unaware that Phil had played Ken Smith basses, having had three BT6 models that he played live in 1990 and 1991. I decided to seek out some footage of those being played and I can say, unsurprisingly, that the Smith produces my favourite Phil Lesh tone! Really great sounding basses but quite a thing to hold for nearly three hours a night.

    Further to that point, I know that the 'Dead weren't the most energetic band but they really gave the fans a proper show. Nearly three hours long! In all the time I've been attending live music shows, only Rush and Steve Vai have managed that! Also, has any band ever been more fastidious with video recording their shows than the Grateful Dead? There are literally scores of shows from any given years available on youtube, all filmed on high quality cameras with a good sound setup! It's quite a documentary record!
  18. Blues for Allah would've been Mission Control, his first Alembic bass
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  19. Early 70's like this:
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  20. bobyoung53

    bobyoung53 Supporting Member

    That had a good sound too, there's actually a thread about it under basses.

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