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Question for the pros , tone?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by SunneyBoy, May 15, 2006.

  1. here is a simple question for those of you who are out there working as professional musicians in studios live performances etc.

    i have been playing for seven years my bass teacher never ever concentrated on technique with me as to how to produce a great tone .

    Can you guys give me 5 pointers or aspects that are now perhaps second nature to you while playing that you use to produce the best tone you possibly can from your instrument eg. your touch placement of fingers of fretting hand ect. i am really trying to improve my game i just need some good coaching tips !
  2. Hope you don't mind a non-pro offering input. I have been playing for over 23 years as an amateur but have recently started studying with a serious pro and I can pass along to you what he is telling me in regards to my tone. My goal, like yours, is to be able to play with the pros and not embarass myself with amateurish technique.

    Right Hand (picking hand)
    1. Don't 'clank' - or bring your fingers down on the string like a piano hammer would on a piano sting. (Sort of the Steve Harris thing...). Rather, keep your fingers close to the string and pluck the notes very definitively, alternating index, middle, index middle (for those of use using 2 finger technique). This produces a more consistent and useful sound wave then the 'clanking' technique.
    2. Be sure to have an even and similar tone from each finger (index and middle) so you don't end up with a "BA ba BA ba" sound.
    3. He, and now I, have the right hand (picking hand) over the bridge pickup (on my Jazz bass) or close to, but not right on top of the bridge.
    4. I use the floating anchor technique to help mute unwanted string noise with my picking hand.

    Left Hand (Fretting Hand)
    1. One finger per fret. Practice working your scales 2 octaves, all the way up and down the neck focusing on not clanking and getting very good, solid, even tone from every note.
    2. In concert with the floating anchor on the right hand, I use the fingers that are not in play on the left hand to help keep the strings quiet. I found that as my scales ascend, my right thumb does a good job keeping the strings I am leaving from making noise - and on the way down, my left hand takes care of them.
    3. Finger cleanly (right at the fret, not on top, not too far behind) to avoid buzzing. Also don't flop your fingers down on the neck - keep them close to the neck and press down lightly.
    4. Get your action adjusted so that your strings are as buzz-free as possible and so that you can use as light a touch as possible.

    Again, my apologies if I am out of line by not being a pro or by offering 5 tips. But I have been practicing these techniques for a while now and I have seen considerable improvement in my tone. I am confident if I were to be in a studio situation the engineer would not be complaining about too much noise and extra crap that would ruin a good bass take.
  3. LoveThatBass


    Jun 28, 2004
    tZer, very helpful info. Thanks for sharing. I have found my self doing many of the things you talk about. Nice to know some at least are correct.
  4. You are welcome! - As I am sure some others will point out, however, you do what works for you. You may find that you can achieve a really solid tone and break every single one of those 'rules'. The overall goal is clean, uncluttered, consistent and reliable tone. The techniques I outlined are what my teacher uses and are what works for him. Since I am choosing to study with him, I am using his techniques. They seem logical to me, so that is how I am proceeding.
  5. I'm not pro either, but there's always a cent or two to toss in the pile...

    I've noticed that I get the best tone when I use my index and ring fingers to "wipe" the strings instead of plucking or hammering them. Sort of brushing across the strings with the right hand, rather than pulling them.

    Also, when fretting, I make a conscious effort to fret as closely to the fret itself. I think my tone is pretty good, as long as it's not on a practice amp. As the previous poster noted, playing position has a lot to do with tone as well.

    For a full-bodied, extremely round tone, play at the end of the neck where the string motion is at its highest range. Odds are you will make your bass sound like an upright. Being involved in some pretty high-tempo metal, I tend to stay as close to the bridge as possible, as the tension is high, and allows me to play quickly and consistently.

    Feel free to PM with any questions, and best of luck.
  8. Dbassmon


    Oct 2, 2004
    Rutherford, NJ
    Some good stuff in these posts. Some additional suggestions....
    1) Practice as you play, play as you practice. Your practice sessions should be a study in tone and musicallity. Listen to what you are playing and make it sound like music. When go to play with the band, do not let adrenaline take over and cause you to play in a manner different than what you practiced. By the way, this is not as easy as it sounds but like every thing else the more practice the easier it becomes.
    2) Recording yourself will reveal lots of stuff you don't hear when practicing. Make it part of your study.
    3) Practice with a metronome and or drum machine. Good time feel is a huge part of a good sound.
    4) Practice hard licks at a slow tempo and do not advance the tempo until you can play it perfectly.
    5) Soft touch produces that "studio sound" Great players use enough energy to set the string in motion with the right sound for a particular style of playing. Don't squeeze the neck to death and don't pluck the string like you are firing an arrow. Economy of motion translates to smooth and even tone.
    6) Bonus suggestion- Find a teacher that addresses this stuff as part of the lesson.
  9. flatwoundfender


    Feb 24, 2005
    Tone is in your mind, I personally hate Jaco's tone, but a lot of people seem to love it so you'll have to experiment to find out what you lik best. I find the best tone is close to the neck and as previously stated you'll get a better upright tone this way. Higher action will also give you a bigger sound but to do this you'll have to press with more force on your left hand. I also don't care for the modern approach of letting the amp do the work for you. I don't think you should play overtly hard, but when it counts put some muscle into. A player that plays hard can also play soft, but people who just play soft will generally have trouble playing hard when it is needed.
  10. Steve


    Aug 10, 2001
    There's a lot of good info posted already. keeping the noise down and recording especially.

    The fact that you are even paying attention to it puts you light years ahead of most players. Most are so wrapped up in what they play that they don't even think about how they play.

    As far as how you get there, I think that's a pretty individual road. It depends on what you like tonewise, The shape of your fingers, how hard you like to play, the action you like on an instrument, a hundred variables and where you choose to make your choices. You're not going to be able to dig in hard with light action and a bright tone and not get a bunch of noise.

    The real key is paying attention to how your finger attack effects your tone and how well it projects. The Tone may or may not be in your hands but your ability to project through a mix sure is.

  11. I agree with almost everything you said except this. ;) If have your touch under control, you can really dig in if you want to without blowing your sound out - even with ultra-low action. My teacher was demonstrating that for me just last week and his Warrior has the lowest action I have ever seen on a bass - yet he can dig in like mad and still retain control of the tone. And believe me, the fact that the action is so low makes the amount of work the left hand needs to do virtually non-existant.

    But again, to each his own. I definitely do not mean to be argumentative.

    I have also seen really great players who:
    1. Anchor their thumb
    2. Play with one finger
    3. Use a pick
    4. Double-thumb
    5. Triple-finger
    6. Grab the neck like a base ball bat
    7. Have action high as telephone wires
    8. Play on dead strings
    9. Use cheapo instruments
    10. Don't eat their veggies

    and they still make amazing music! :)

    Again, like we are all saying here... it is up to the individual and how they develop and refine their technique. And the fact that you are asking these questions definitely says you are on the right track.
  12. MakiSupaStar

    MakiSupaStar The Lowdown Diggler

    Apr 12, 2006
    Huntington Beach, CA
    Many good points, but a little +1 to this is key. So much sound can be achieved through control of your fingers.
  13. wwittman


    Apr 21, 2004
    Westchester, NY
    I think the main thing is to get to the point in your technique where you can start to THINK about tone.

    That is, when you are still struggling to make the notes, or think of a part, or keep in the groove with the drummer and so on... you can't think so much about tone.

    when those other things are mostly second nature, then you can start to make choices...
    does the note sound better on this string or that string?
    picked like this or like that?
    I'll often change the way I play something because it SOUNDs different the other way, not because it's eaiser to play.

    Sometimes, try to actually close your eyes and just play to the sound... what does the sound make you want to play?
    Don't play anything that DOESN'T go with the sound.

    does one note or part not sound the same?
    How else could you try it?

    it's also a good idea to try to hear yourself clearly and try to keep the fingering hand soft and smooth. The harder you press and try with the fingering hand, the more choked the notes.

    Sometimes you NEED to pick hard, for the genre... but the left hand should always be kept nice and easy.
    (if you're right handed)
  14. flatwoundfender


    Feb 24, 2005
    That all depends on how your bass is setup. Keep your hand nice and easy and you can't push down my strings. The string should be pressed the right amount, press to little and you can't give more then a light attack.
  15. Uh huh! I especially like the part about
    - I couldn't agree more! When it comes to 'crafting' a bassline for a song, this is a very important mindset to adopt. Exploring and experimenting with the way different fingerings, open stings, picks, bows, etc. can effect the overall sound of a song is essential. Especially if you are in on the 'crafting' part of the song writing process.

    Another thing (and I always have another thing to say...) is that developing a feel for how to shape your sound is very important in being a versitile and functional component in a recording project. Sometimes you are not there to create a line that you think sounds good, rather you are there to create a line that the writer thinks sounds good. And when they say to you, "I want it to have that Jamerson sound" or "can you do 'Jaco' on that part?" having an understanding of how their tones are shaped can make all the difference between being hired back or only chosen for 'certain' gigs.

    I guess what I am saying just like pottery, painting, or carpentry, there are basic, essential skills that can be evaluated based on their execution. A brush stroke is the same as a finger picking technique - a slap technique is the same as doing an interesting carving treatment on a headboard... A painter does not have to be Picasso to be appreciated for his excellent skill. Even if the house is not a Wright, the carpenter's work can still be admired for how skillfully it is executed. Being a bass player can be very much like being a carpenter or painter - when a famous architect needs to put together the right team to build his latest structure he is going to want versitile craftsmen who have a demonstrated ability to execute their craft at a high level.
  16. I like some of the comments in this thread a lot. One thing to try out: play a simple part on the highest strings plucking close to the bridge. Then, play the same part on a lower string (same pitches as before) plucking all the way up over the neck. Regardless of how the electronics are set, you will hear a tremendous difference in the tone. You have the choice to select tone anywhere in this range without even touching pans/EQs. Make the choices deliberate for all songs, and even mix or match to fit the phrasing and styling of different parts of the song.

    One cool tone trick I like is to rest your right thumb on the side of the neck, usually around the 14th fret or so, fret as needed with the left hand and literally just brush the pad of your right thumb past the lowest string. This results in deep uniform sustain with almost no attack - the sound just seems to swell from nowhere. It really fits certain styles where you want almost a bass pedal type of sound.
  17. Eric Grossman

    Eric Grossman

    Nov 3, 2004
    St. Louis
    Endorsing Artist: Hipshot Products and SIT Strings
    You've already gotten some great advice here. Most of the posts have been fairly technical, so I will offer something broader.

    Technique is a personal thing. Everyone is a little different from everyone else. You need to find your comfort zone. It needs to be the way that you can play most comfortably, and most effectively.

    You should be searching for evenness, cleanness, and ease of execution. I play with one finger on the right hand, except where it is difficult to achieve clean tone and ease of execution. It is very difficult to get a perfectly even tone when alternating fingers.

    You should practice muting with both hands. I use a fairly complex right hand muting system, that developed over time, in conjunction with a simple left hand system.

    Remember, your technique is your tone. I can get almost any bass to sound like me, because I am supremely comfortable with my technique. It comes with putting in the time, though. No shortcuts.

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