Psst... Ready to join TalkBass and start posting, make new friends, sell your gear, and more?  Register your free account in 30 seconds.

'Pure Sound'

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by Steve Lawson, Apr 19, 2001.

  1. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    A question for you lot from me for a change! :oops:)

    Recently, I've been thinking a lot more about sound than technique - it seems to be a fairly ignored area in bass playing in general, left to sound engineers and bass builders, but not really considered to highly in terms of technique as it relates to expression, vibe, mood, phrasing or just ambience.

    There are a few people who's sound just floors me, regardless of what notes they play - Michael Manring's solo sound on his Hyperbass just oozes wonderfulness - it's so clear that he's spent years just working on tone, making sure that his technique produces the right level of sonic control as well as just getting the notes out there.

    Another guy who's sound I really like is Mark Beazley from Rothko - I did a gig with him the other night, and there are a few things he does within the context of his band that are really evocative, mainly just ambient noises and single chord washes...

    So, where have you heard great sound? Please please please don't just list your favourites! I'd love to hear about great bass sounds, what they meant to you, why they stood out, or sounds that you've found if your own playing... and of course if you have any questions about any of the sounds on my CD, that's cool too...


  2. bassmonkeee

    bassmonkeee Supporting Member

    Sep 13, 2000
    Decatur, GA
    Hey, Steve,

    First off, I think the sound you get on your solo cd is pretty damn nice. But, to answer your question,I'd have to say one of the first tones that totally threw me for a loop was the sound that Michael Manring got on the first Michael Hedges album, Breakfast in the Field. It's very dry and woody. And, there is so much atmosphere to that album (with and without Manring). The track Two Days Old leaves me speechless even 12 years after first hearing it. The tone that Michael pulls from his bass sounds like someone crying plaintively.
    I'm pretty sure this was an old Jazz bass, or perhaps a musicman.

    Sorry to bring up Manring as my first choice, too, but at least I went back 20 years, right? [​IMG]
  3. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    No problems about siting Michael as an example - his sound rocks. And it's interesting that it was that inspiring on his pre-Zon Fender or Musicman (can't remember off hand the dates around his different basses, though you can find that out from the interview that I did with him for Bassist magazine, which is archived in the bassdotcom section of my website! :oops:)

    I guess it just goes to show that it's in the hands...

  4. Blackbird

    Blackbird Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2000
    Hey, Steve.

    I think people are less concerned about sound than, say, technique because sound is such a subjective thing. It is dependent on so many different factors that one person could go bonkers trying to reproduce it exactly the same way every time. Factors like the instrument one's playing, the brand, age, gauge of strings and how the player strikes them, the way the instrument's set up, the type of amplification and where one positions one's hand. Strangely enough, though, I believe every player at some point comes across a sound they like and then proceed to attempt to reproduce it on any given instrument and occasion, regardless of what kind of equipment they have. Modifying your technique to accomodate your gear is the easiest way to have a sound that's consistent regardless of the venue. I would argue that people attempt to have a consistency in sound whether they're aware of it or not, and whether the engineer, if there's one, is screwing it up or not. Playing the same instrument all the time does help.

    I have no specific sounds I find worthy of note, except obvious ones like Jaco, etc. Maybe some will occur to me later on.

    Will C.:cool:
  5. Hi Steve,

    After reading your post a couple bassplayers come to mind for me.

    Marcus Miller. I think he revoutionized how slap bass should sound. Clear, and punchy.

    Victor Wooten. The thing I love about his sound is how he takes a little from the old school funk sound (Larry Graham, Bootsy) and a little from the new school (Marcus) and somehow creates a sound that's all his own.

    (Hey that's my name too!)
  6. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    When I think tone, I think Jamerson. I always go directly to him, and have found that my sound has been an evolution of personal sounds trying to come closer to the Motown bottom. His tone was so warm and full. Even with some of Motown's earlier, archaic, recording, he always comes through, delivering a solid bottom, not just by rhythm and melody, but by his tone.
  7. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Some great thoughts coming in - the Jamerson props makes big sense - and I think that that was a combination of his hands, the mutes on his bass and the massive compression that was applied to all that early Motown stuff to make it sound great on little tinny radios. His sound does indeed Rock!

    Big Wheel,

    You point about the number of variables involved in sound is a great one - I had a chat recently with Ric Fierabracci (a player with utterly amazing tone, and now a total tone junky...) who commented on the amount of thought that he perceived had gone into my sound, and he said that having done alot of his playing in New York where you can't drive to gigs, that tone at least on the kind of really focussed level that we're talking about here, was out of your hands and reliant on the house backline and the soundman, so instead of honing in on tone, he got really into the whole notes and feel thing, which was what he had control over. I think he's really making up for it now, as anyone who has heard Ric play will attest to - his Pedulla sounds great, but it does seem to be mainly in the hands...

    I on the otherhand, will do everything in my power to take my full rig to every gig - I recently drove 1400 miles in a weekend and spent goodness knows how much money on road tolls to play at a festival in the south of France to make sure that I had my rig with me. I've worked hard and spent a lot of time thinking about tone and don't really like leaving much of it at home. The great thing about playing in California in January is that because I was playing for Ashdown, I was able to use a set up identical to my own, as I took my Lexicon MPX-G2, JamMan and Line6 DL4 with me. All that was missing was my Raven Labs Master Blender and my Interstellar Overdrive, and I was even able to borrow a Master Blender for my clinic at the Bass Exchange!! :oops:)

    It's interesting to look at the distinction between 'tone' and 'sound' - tone being about an instrument or player, but not normally being about a particular note, phrase, atmosphere. I guess it's difficult to sell sounds, but easy enough to package and market 'tone'... If you buy all the same gear as me, the 'tone' will be there, but it still won't 'sound' like me... :oops:)

    And on that note, there's a Modulus OB6 fretless in the same wood/finish combination as mine (really gave me a fright when I saw it! :oops:) in The Gallery in London, if anyone is interested - this is the greatest bass I've ever played, bar none! check out for more info on the shop...


  8. my favourite fretless sounds are upright bass sounds- eg. Danny Thompson and Herbie Flowers- and that's the sound I've been trying to get out of my flatwound-strung Hohner acoustic; a sort of dry "honk" as opposed to the electric fretless "mwah" that everyone else goes for (the Pino Palladino sound).
    miking it up helps, rather than relying on the piezo pickup alone.

    another sound I like a lot, (that everyone else probably hates:) ), is a P bass (also good with a touch of bridge J p/up added as well) with chorus- a clangy piano-like sound (as used by JJ Burnel ,Simon Gallup, Peter Hook etc.)- not strictly a "pure sound" though.
  9. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Mock Turtle - thanks for that - are there specific place where those guys 'sound' is just right - the combination of tone, taste, technique and everything else that's just sonically wonderful. I love Simon Gallup's sound, but I'd have to think for a while to find a bit of his sound that just floors me like that.

    Danny T on the other hand has that same kind of sonic vision that we've been talking about Michael Manring having - every note counts, every slide is there for a reason. There's a 'Whatever' track called Till Minne Av Jan which is soooo lovely in everyway - well worth looking out.


  10. There doesn't seem to be any "right" sound, but I think a player ought to have a voice of his own on the bass, a sound he pursues until he nails it. For me, the key is to have a sound that is as close to the human voice as possible. It is easy to blow off the mids when creating a bass voice, mids are very difficult, but that's where the individuality of the human voice happens. But I don't mean twiddling knobs, too much EQ introduces phase problems. I mean working with pickups, strings, woods, and bass construction so the bass itself is doing the right things, then choosing the right amp rig components so they are doing the right things, all without tweezing knobs all over the place, and of course working obsessively on getting the right sound from the hands, authoritative attack, smooth horn-like super-legato hammer-on/pull-off technique, complete dynamic control, authoritative control of time. I think the reason the electric guitar became the most-used solo instrument in pop music is because it is so much more vocal than, say, the trumpet. I think people identify with vocal-like sounds and respond emotionally to them. I mean, compare the tenor sax to the xylophone, which one is going to get people going? But I am not trying to convince anyone right now. I am just demonstrating that I have this deep conviction about sound, what it means, how it works on people's emotions, and a fanatical desire to achieve this sound that I have in my mind's ear. I think everyone should be on an obsessive sound quest, not an arbitrary one, but one that makes sense to oneself. It helps get all one's thinking and efforts going in the same direction.
  11. JazznFunk

    JazznFunk Supporting Member

    Mar 26, 2000
    Asheville, NC
    Lakland Basses Artist
    For me, the SOUND of bass was what got me into playing in the first place. One of my main influences, and the guy who got me into playing bass in the first place, is Jason Scheff from the band Chicago. I first heard his tone when I was getting back into the band way back in late '96/early '97 and it was incredible! This really midrangy, punchy J-Bass tone with a good bit of compression that just COOKED. I mean, his tone was just incredible. And really, that sound was what made me want to play bass. Once I started playing, one of my main focuses was trying to find my own personal voice and sound. I became sort of a gear junkie, but it was mainly in the sense that I was researching string types, pickup types, bass construction, etc., almost as much as I was concentrating on playing & technique. Through all of this research, I came to the conclusion that the key to finding the sound I liked was to listen to a ton of music that I really dug, start WRITING music that allowed me to play in the way I envisioned myself sounding, and to simply play with people as much as possible. Also, keeping my rig simple was a key focus, as I knew early on that too much gear in a signal chain can really gunk up tone. I knew what tone I was aiming for, and it was only a matter of time before I got it.
    Fast forward to the summer of '99 and the first time I heard Jaco Pastorius... Right then and there I knew where the sound I envisioned was rooted. I had ironically gotten a fretless bass a few months before, and my whole approach to that instrument changed once I heard Jaco. I have NEVER been one to rip off licks, or ANY part of another player's style verbatim. It's against everything I stand for with music. However, I will freely let whatever it is about that player's style/tone/etc. influence me, and will assimilate it into my playing. THAT is another BIG part of finding the sound you like... Assimilating all of your influences into your own sound. Jaco really legitimized the way I envisioned myself sounding, and also helped me to hear that my true voice on bass is with the fretless. It's a big melting pot of things. :) Luckily I now have the tone I want... A singing, midrange fretless tone with awesome sustain and growl, and a really thick, deep bottom that isn't muddy.

    And yes, all this leads to my answer to the original question. <lol>

    A tone that I really dig, obviously, is a midrangy, punchy sound with a fretless-type edge to it. Mark Egan's tone from the Pat Metheny Group's days is really gorgeous. Additionally, a tone that I've discovered in my own playing, influenced by Pat Metheny, is a tone that uses a touch of digital delay (I can't remember the exact settings), that adds a slight amount of slapback reverb. I love using this for melodic passages that sort of lay back, then cut the delay off to bring the bass right back up front. I tend to use this a lot in my solo playing. Also, the crispness and clarity of John Patitucci's tone has really influenced my 5-string playing, and I find it to be one of the most gorgeous bass tones I've ever heard. In the realm of upright, I have to mention Scott LaFaro. To be so fluid and fast, he has the most incredible tone. He's a huge influence on my tone, and is the genesis of my search for the deep bottom on top of the really prominent midrange in my sound. A nod has to go out to Larry Grenadier as well. He has one of the best upright tones. Crisp, clear, and every note has incredible articulation.

    There are so many tones that floor me and hit me in some way or another, but Jaco, Jason, Mark, John, Scott, and Larry are my biggies right now.
  12. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    I don't want my post to be about favorite bassists or what-have-you, so I will just say I really love the sound of a vintage bass.

    That's my short post for the evening. :)


  13. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Kurt - thanks very much for the thoughts on the relationship between emotive music and the human voice. There's much to think about and ponder there, and at first glance it certainly seems to tally with my own quest for 'sound', though I also find that the whole 'sound' question as opposed to 'tone' is about context, and that's kind of what I'm getting at here - sorry for being so vague with the whole topic... :oops:)

    Jaco's 'sound' varies for me - there are bits on Bright Sized Life and Hejira that really blow me away completely. There are bits of Weather Report stuff where his 'sound' leaves me stone cold - I'm not a fan of chorussed fretless at all, so all the chorussed stuff doesn't work for me, but there are other times when his tone just doesn't work for me in the context. And that's the crux of this - 'sound' doesn't just come from great tone. For me, it's a subjective connection between all the factors involved in playing, arranging, writing, recording and listening to music. Every factor that is involved in any musical exchange, as Kurt was talking about...

    Steph - I love vintage bass sounds too, but where is it that the connection between player and instrument just floors you, the bits where the 'sound' is just so right.

    Feel free to broaden it beyond bass - for me, there are two musicians in the world that I can think of who consistently wow me with the 'sonic environment' of their music - beyond notes and chops and just delving into sound - Michael Manring and Bill Frisell. there are others that have bits of music that has that effect, and a few singers who hit moments - Tori Amos singing China; just the sound of her voice and piano is mesmerising. Marcus Miller's bass clarinet sound on Amazing Grace live was a sound that literally knocked me off my feet - I had to sit down just to take in the wonderous sound of Marcus playing that instrument in the Barbican in London...

    keep those thoughts coming in... :oops:)


  14. maxvalentino

    maxvalentino Endorsing Artist Godin Guitars/ Thomastik-Infeld

    Steve, Very interesting thread you've got going here. And, ironically, I have been for the past several weeks immensed in the study of "sound" and "tone". I recently picked up an Epiphone Jack Casady Signature Bass, and one of the things that knocked me out was how this instrument (or any acoustically charged bass) really responds to variations of playing style and technique. As an experiment I started making a reference vocabulary of "classic" tones (i.e. Jamerson, Marcus, Stanley...)
    and began trying to create emulations thereof USING ONLY MY HANDS and this one bass. Now, I usually (as you know, Steve) am an ardent fan of FX processing and such, but just hollow-body bass into a SWR Baby Blue with no compression, flat EQ, and no fx gave such a true, organic sound, and I was able to create a wide pallete of tones by just manipulating the "speaking length" of the string with my hands and fingers.
    Of course, my "Jamerson Sound" or "stanley sound" emulations did not sound like their namesakes, they still sounded like me. But there was a tonal reference......they didn't sound like me trying to cop a Jaco tone or Stanley tone, but more like their influence filtered thru my style and allowed to flower (or mutate) into varying degrees of original sound.
    This little experiment has led me to find a whole new pallete of sounds and colours on the bass, all thru the manipulation of the strings with my hands; using right and left hand dynamics, and changing the "speaking length" of the string (oddly, my "discovery" comes on a bass designed and signed by Jack Casady, one of the world's premier exponents of these techniques). And, while the original designations of these sounds and colours were made in reference to several "revered" players, none of my "new" tones really sound like them. My "manring-double-stop-tapping" sound does not really sound like Michael, but his influence is certainly felt; like a guiding hand bringing my own instrumental voice to the fore.
    Every link in your signal chain (which begins at your heart, channels thru your mind, runs thru your hands to your fingers, finally hitting your strings, the fingerboard, neck and body of your bass, the pickups, the cable, the amp and whatever sundry processing you have thrown in), is both responding to and responsive for your "inner" voice. Every player has a unique and wonderful sound all of their own. Whether you have a mucho expensive, custom built instrument, or a budget of the rack axe; piles of gear or just a 25 watt practice amp, you will always sound like you. And no one else ever can sound like you, just as you can never sound like someone else (try as you might). Your personal instrumental voice has many shadings and those. Unleash them, find them. You may discover that your voice has many influences....each one a thing of beauty in its own right.
  15. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I must admit that I like all of Jaco's stuff but there are different "sounds" and the sound on Joni Mitchells' stuff is different. The sound that most impressed me was on "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter" - there are tracks where the bass sounds like a whole orchestra. Like the track "Jericho" -minimal guitar and drums, but when the bass comes in it makes a huge impact, but is perfect for the song - also "Off Night Backstreet" - I've never heard sounds like this before or since in the context of a song.

    I know you've met Franc O' Shea and I really like his sound - which to me is a "development" of what Jaco was doing; so it is an original sound in its own right but also building on the sort of sounds that Jaco introduced into the vocabulary.

    As you say though, it is about "context" and what might sound great on its own may not fit into the overall sound of a group. So I can get the sound I really like when I'm playing at home though monitor speakers, but will often find that this doesn't work in the band context, so I don't end up using my "favourite" tone or sound very often. I suppose this is an argument for playing solo!!?? ;)

    I think that if you get a really great sound, that good musicians will fit everything else around it - and I get the feeling this is what Joni Mitchell did with Jaco. I was also reminded of this, because Mick Karn came up as "featured artist" and I can remember him saying in interviews in the 80s that Japan often re-recorded all the other instruments to fit better with his basslines as they liked the "sound" so much, even though they didn't really fit with what had been put down.
  16. I'm not too sure about the situational nature of a good sound. I mean, vocalists are born with an instrument that essentially has one sound (well, of course, they have falsetto, but then we have harmonics), one timbre, although they can inflect it in many ways as we do with our fingers. Just a thought.

    There is something we can do about our sound. We can try to get the instrument (the whole rig) as responsive to changes in our touch as possible. That will open up our range of possibilities. Sometimes that means cutting down the amount of brash highs and swamp lows so we can hear those subtleties. Most of the time, it means choosing components that get in the way of the basic sound of the plank and strings.

    Most bassists have basses that sound better than they will ever know because this thing or that masks its sound.
  17. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    I listen to a lot of bassists who I feel have a unique 'sound' to them. It's hard for me to define. In relationship to a bassist and his instrument, the sound is right when I can tell the person thinks of that bass as a 'second limb' and not just an instrument.

    I can give you an example: Patrick Dahlheimer of Live (yes, you probably knew I was gonna say him. LOL :D), I can say has a 'unique' sound. (Course it could just be me), but his basslines always sound unique. Just like tone of voice. I'm quite sure my voice isn't the same as, say yours, Steve. (Heehee). He could be playing one of his Lakland Basses then switch over to a vintage Fender, he doesn't sound any different to me. He has said the Laklands have better tone than the Fenders, but his 'sound' is still there. Changing equipment cannot take away that sound. It'll never disappear as long as one stays true to himself. I tell ya, I can get lost in his well as a few other bassists..and I can say "yep that's so and so playing no doubt about it." But I tell ya, there's something about his playing that's very special to me and just strikes chord (pun intended?) in me.

    Before I stray off I'd like to compare a bassists' (or any musician for that matter) sound to a writer's 'voice'. Having taken writing courses in the past I was always told to 'find your own voice' and studied how some of my favorite authors have 'unique' voices. I think that of a musician.



    PS: This is what you meant by 'sound', right Steve? :)

    PPS: Please excuse my seemingly lack of ability to articulate what I mean on some things. I can't seem to find the right words. LOL. :)
  18. I would rather listen to an average player with great tone, than a great one with lousy tone. Unfortunately, most of the great ones that come on tour seem to suffer from bad sound mixing, a seemingly universal trait. Engineers spend ages getting a great drum sound, then give the vocal mics and the bass about 20 seconds each. I like to catch all the visiting bassists of any note, but mostly it's a waste of time, due to bad mixing.
  19. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Muchos wisdom all round - thanks very much.

    Steph - the comparison with a writer's voice is great - very useful way of thinking about it. With art, i often find that metaphors are more useful than attempts to scientifically analyise what's going on...

    Max - great experiment in exploring the control of your hands. Very good exercise to get the focus away from toys.

    Kurt - control is a huge aspect of 'sound' - so your point about responsive gear is great, unless the limitations in the sound are part of what inspires you in the first place... for me, I go for the kind of sound you describe, with a big dynamic range and find that they helps me to build a sonic environment that is inspiring to me and hopefully connects with the audience...

    Bruce - I too like Franc's tone, though in terms of 'sound', his stuff doesn't quite strike me in the way that say 'Portrait of Tracey' or 'the Enormous Room' does - my enjoyment of his music is probably more compositional than 'sonic', if that makes sense...

    keep them thoughts coming in - it's all making me think...

  20. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    ahhh..."Portrait of Tracy", now that's a song. :)

    Jaco definately had a unique sound. Like, and I think I've mentioned this, when my teacher started playing a song I knew right off the bat it was Jaco before he even told me and it wasn't any of the songs I've heard before either. So I guess that says something. :)

    I guess it must've been his use of harmonics and his rapid 16th notes. I only have one Jaco CD but I listen to it all the time and that's what I get out of it...but there's something else to it, a 'voice' like I've said, I don't think there's words to explain it.