Quest for the perfect tone: Any way other than full rehearsals/playing out?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by HeadWind, Jun 1, 2016.

  1. I am posting this under "basses", but it may well equally belong under "amps/cabs" or "strings" or whatever.

    We all strive for the perfect tone for our musical styles (in my case a variety of rock styles, but not metal). I have three basses (J, a Jaguar modern player that acts as my P, and a Peavey fretless), three amps (two combos for practice/rehearsals, and one head/cab combo for gigs), and have cycled through lots of string sets (flats, rounds, now trying out a set of GHS pressure wounds).

    My question comes down to what was stated in this recent post about a review of a variety of P basses:

    I can spend hours tweaking amp settings, bass settings, strings, and get a sound I like but it all changes as soon as I get together with one of the bands I play with and the volume knobs get turned up and I mix in.

    No news here, but my question is: does anybody have any tricks to better assess tonal setups other than just tweaking things each rehearsal and gig?

    And related: None of my amps are anything special. I know the most important item in getting good tone is in my finger tips, but if I were looking to get better tone by spending money, it would be best be spent on a better amp. But how can you even evaluate any of these? It seems all you can ever get is a good "bedroom tone" evaluation, which means nothing.

    Probably no easy answer or shortcut (if there was one, I'd probably already figure it out). But I am sure some of you out there will have opinions.
  2. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    There is no perfect tone. You're wasting your time looking.

    There is only the right tone for the song you're playing in the room you're playing it with the other instruments you're playing with on the day you're playing it.

    Different song, different room, different orchestration, different day, different tone.

    All you can do is make sure your bass is set up correctly and know all your equipment inside and out.

    Be prepared to change every setting on every part of your rig to get the right sound for the next 5 minutes.
  3. RHA III


    Jul 22, 2012
    Da U P eh!
    This thread reminds me of the last thread that I started in that it's a good question/idea, but it probably won't get discussed much. Now if it was another Squire thread...

    I'll say use an amp that you can plug your ipod into and play along. Buy a cheap looper pedal. Make a loop of you playing along to music. Play back loop of yourself and listen. Adjust your Amps eq settings as you listen to yourself playing along (in the mix). This way you can adjust the amp with both hands free. Using this method I've found I like a bit more tube distortion in the mix than i would for my "bedroom tone". I'm also cutting the lows and highs and boosting mids. Without a backtrack this tone sounds like garbage to me, but with it, it works. Hope this helps...
    WaldoNova and buldog5151bass like this.
  4. bassclef112

    bassclef112 Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2003
    Astoria, NY
    You can set your tone on stage and get it as fat/crisp/deep/bright/punchy etc as you like.

    Until you go out 30+ feet into the room, you have no actual idea what it sounds like
    to the people you're playing for.

    The tone "in your fingers" will never save you from a room that sucks and/or boosts frequencies.
    If you play certain venues consistently you can get some baseline settings that'll work
    for a start.

    The only way to get anything close to that "bedroom" tone is to go out, evaluate, adjust and repeat
    until an approximation is reached. Of course, all of that has to happen while the rest of the band is playing....
  5. Yeah, that was what I was starting to think.

    As I suspected, no shortcuts other than lots of actual playing with others. The looped pedal idea sounds interesting, though.

    Thanks for the thoughts and suggestions so far.
  6. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Every gig is a new chance to find/@#$ up your tone. This past Saturday I was playing on a patio up against a building, with a roof coming over us so that it was higher behind me than in front. The sound where I was playing was garbage, but sounded great out on the lawn. Unless you have a great FOH, all you can do is set it and work on it.
  7. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Inactive

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    Maybe rename it 'quest for the perfect Squier tone ... that beats basses costing 10 times more!!!!'

    Seriously, I control what I can. I can't control the size of the club, stage, audience; I can't control the acoustics, the sound man or exactly what it sounds like 30 feet from the stage. What I CAN control is what comes out of my amp and then I have to trust the sound man to reproduce that.
    SteveCS and pudgychef like this.
  8. AngelCrusher

    AngelCrusher Supporting Member

    Sep 12, 2004
    Mesa Boogie, Tech 21, Taylor
    Oh cool, I am TB famous! :bassist:

    But seriously what took me to a much higher level in terms of achieving the best tone possible for me was spending tons of time in the studio and also having my own. I don't expect you to do that, but you would be amazed what you can hear with good mix headphones for around $150-200 and a decent interface like a Focusrite Scarlet, Presonus, etc. If you have a decent PC you can download a free DAW like Reaper or Traktion and you are all set.

    Good mix headphones will teach you the true tone of your bass and also you will be able to experiment with tons of mixes so you can dial in a great tone before even hitting the stage.

    In my experience a TON of subtle details are missed when only monitoring through speaker cabs or studio monitors. Those details are the secret to optimizing your tone and many players over boost their EQ or OD because they dial their tone in live at rehearsal through their rig. You should only need to finalize your tone then, and by that I mean, super small tweaks and mainly just adjusting your volume.

    I run my entire rig (bass into a nano train with 5 effects I use sparingly) into a tube DI for all sessions and I use the same setup live. I have been doing facsimile of this for over 20 years now and have always gotten really nice praise for my tone from producers, FOH and engineers.

    I may put up some older stuff for sale if anyone needs to get started. A Tech 21 BDDI is a great way to begin dialing up a killer tone live without spending $$$ on tubes.
    NealBass likes this.
  9. chris_b


    Jun 2, 2007
    I don't look for perfection in many things. Good enough is good enough.

    It seems to me that this another example of the 80 - 20 rule.

    20% of a good performance is the sound and 80% is the playing, i.e. get a good generic tone then slay 'em with your chops.
    Remyd and pudgychef like this.
  10. ZenG

    ZenG Guest


    Can't tell you how many times I've dialed in a personal likeable tone.....and then when playing with drums and/or music it all goes out the window.

    So it's tweak, tweak, tweak the settings until it sounds right for that song.....
    and then when the song is finished and you play the bass by itself unchanged you realize that's the tone you ditched in the first place....
    lz4005 likes this.
  11. Bassmunnky


    Jul 3, 2004
    New York and Philadelphia
    Endorsing Artist: Ernie Ball MusicMan Guitars
    I focus on being able to hear myself - on stage - that's it - my "tone" I've worked on a lot, comes out of my DI settings - the VT Deluxe to the FOH- I used to get my undies in a bunch about amps - but after playing hundreds of gigs and watching hundreds more - well nevermind
    lz4005 likes this.
  12. Your question all depends on your goals. My "perfect tone" comes from playing thru a GK 1001rbii and a GK 410. I have five basses that all sound great thru it and 5 past basses that all sounded good, and have borrowed quite a few basses that all sounded good. They all sound different they all sound good. I'd say that's as close to perfect as it will get. Get complimented on tone live and in studio from sound guys and other musicians. Can't complain.
  13. climber

    climber Supporting Member

    Oct 21, 2006
    practice the bass using the actual gear that you play out with: bass, amp and cabinet. that way you can practice learning how to tweak the settings on both your bass & amp quickly and confidently to get whatever sound is needed in any situation.
    Caca de Kick and lz4005 like this.
  14. radioface

    radioface Guest

    May 2, 2013
    Volume, timing, and hitting correct notes with as few mistakes as possible is all I care about.
    chris_b likes this.
  15. Okay, the way you play and attack a bass changes your tone. The amp you run through changes that tone. The compressor you run through changes that tone. The cab you run through changes that tone. What have I not metioned...oh yeah...the bass...
    In reality the way you play can change the tone of a an extent. Then it's on down the signal chain but it all comes back to the instrument you are playing. Can you control it? Or does it constrict you?
    Cheers, good luck.
  16. seanm

    seanm I'd kill for a Nobel Peace Prize! Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2004
    Ottawa, Canada
    AngelCrusher mentioned headphones and that was important for me. I think getting used to a more mid forward tone will help more than anything else.

    If you like a bass heavy tone, you are going to be fighting the room all the time. Not saying it can't be done, obviously it can, but it will be harder.

    If you like that scooped, SansAmp, style sound... you are also going to have more problems. Again, lots of people get it to work, but it is harder.

    Basically, I think bass players can be their own worst enemies when it comes to tone. We want more bass... when less would actually work better. Just my 3 cents (2 cents US).
    pudgychef and NealBass like this.
  17. Lo-E


    Dec 19, 2009
    Brooklyn, NY
    You can certainly and easily get a good impression of the relative sounds of your various pieces of gear just by doing an A-B comparison in a controlled environment (like your living room) and it'll tell you some of the things you need to know but, IME, you really can't get a true sense of what you're going to be dealing with until you're playing with a band at volume.

    Now, as for recording - well, that's a whole other story.
  18. ddnidd1

    ddnidd1 Supporting Member

    One approach that might be somewhat helpful is to listen to isolated bass tracks from professional recordings and then compare them to how differently the bass sounds in the context of the total mix, due primarily to the frequency masking.

    Isolated tracks generally tend to sound much more trebly and thin as compared to their sound in the total mix.

    Obviously there are many more variables when playing live in various rooms, as have been mentioned above, but listening to isolated bass tracks may provide some perspective.
  19. pudgychef

    pudgychef In Memoriam

    Jan 22, 2005
    Chongqing, China
    Squier threads are even more Yes fades farther into the 'history' of rock, not as many folks are as inspired by Chris Squire's brash, bright tone and paying...

    Record gigs and rehearsals, listen back and she was needs to be adjusted - adjust from there - once you accept that alone tone and stage tone are different becomes a more straightforward process (time, imho)

    +1 to 'no perfect tone' - I think as a gigging player you need to get a good workable tone no matter what you face from room to room or backline to backline...

  20. TideSwing

    TideSwing Supporting Member

    Oct 31, 2014
    Las Vegas
    As mentioned know your gear inside out but for my two different bands I know just as well what my band mates tones are like and how my tone sits with theirs. It's really about paying attention to what the band sounds like rather than just my tone.
    chris_b and JimmyM like this.