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Signature Modulus Bass Tone?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by dumbapple, Jan 28, 2014.

  1. dumbapple


    Jan 28, 2014
    What makes a bass sound like Flea's tone? I'm talking about his tone since Stadium Arcadium - I'm With You not only on their albums, but also and most specially during live.. I would describe the tone as punchy, tight, rattly, slightly overdriven, scooped, exploding, aggressive, gritty with alot of bite and attack to it etc. (I can go on) As if they're sounding semi slap tone.

    Now I know most of it comes from the setup and technique such as extremely low but playable action (that gives him the fret buzz which sounds good IMO and also allows him to pluck with less attack but still sound loud), new set of strings of course, active pickups with his Modulus / Lane Poor pups, and he's really digging those strings like crazy.

    I've seen and heard alot of vids of basses which aren't even Modulus nor Stingrays, that sound that way! in fact I've even played once at least which was a Japanese bass and the feel was as if I could really dig in so hard into it because of its noticeably loose tension and it gives me that signature tone plugged into a regular amp.

    My actual question is what gives a bass the above described tonal characteristic? (Aside from the given ones I've mentioned like attack, low action, etc..) Is it the bridge/nut hardware? Active Pickups? Graphite Neck?

    I really think its gotta be the string tension somehow related and the pickups having to emphasize on the punch / attack.. Cause I have a Stingray but it doesn't give me that punchy/slinky feel to the strings since its tension is so tight that gives me the deep tone..

    Here's an example of the particular tone (Apparently the tone is innate to modulus bases somehow) with a Modulus:


    And with a non-Modulus bass (Spector i think)


    Sorry for the poor grammar :D
  2. Jepus


    Apr 1, 2004
    Haven't really been following the chilis for a while but isn't stadium Arcadium a 60s Jazz that he uses?
  3. Altitude

    Altitude An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure. Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2005
    Denver, nee Austin
    That guy is proof positive that most of the tone is in the hands. Everybody figured he was playing Stingrays all through the 90s since he used them in a few of the videos, when in fact a lot of the recordings were Wals. Stadium Arcadium is indeed a J. Aeroplane is a 'Ray. There's a lot of Modulus on the last few albums too.

    But to my ears, his playing sounds more similar than different, regardless. Especially on Blood Sugar, which sounds like no Wal I ever heard.
  4. dumbapple


    Jan 28, 2014
    I think so, but during the tour he used the sunburst Modulus alot :D
  5. LakeEffect


    Feb 21, 2013
    Yes he is, when I think of signature "Modulus Tone" I think of Mike Gordon and Phil Lesh, Flea always sounds like Flea, more or less.
  6. dumbapple


    Jan 28, 2014
    Very informative, but the tone I am looking for is that distinct one that comes from his Modulus bases, I wonder what makes them sound so..? Again, aside from the low action, heavy attack and fret buzz :p The tight yet scooped-sounding buzzy almost overdriven tone.. You know what I mean :smug:

    edit: of course with the proper amps / distortion treatment to emphasize on that tonal characteristic, but somehow its more of something thats already there and part of the nature of the bass even unplugged youll get that pretty much distinct punch to every pluck.. I may be making this topic sound complex though sorry
  7. Altitude

    Altitude An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure. Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2005
    Denver, nee Austin
    Funny, I hear mostly clean out of his tone - other than the stuff that's obviously effected, like the beginning of the first tune on Californication. But maybe I'd have to hear some of it isolated - the older I get, the more I hear a little hair on recordings I always thought were clean.

    Seems like most of the basses he has used have humbuckers in the sweet spot - the MM placement. Even the Wal would have, if he were favoring the back pickup on it. That may be part of the tone equation for him.

    I don't disagree with the low action, heavy attack part; that is usually the recipe for funk-punk guys, and he is their patron saint.
  8. dumbapple


    Jan 28, 2014
    Well I don't hear the tone in the Californication album, but in live performances i do.. esp recently (again, using his modulus bass).

    here's an example of him doing a solo (it was clean at first) and youll really hear and notice the tone that I'm talking about :D


    sounds as if the strings are lose and buzzy as hell yet tight sounding :eek:

    edit: and even during the distorted part, i doubt you can get that close as exploding with any other basses even with the common musicman stingrays..
  9. Altitude

    Altitude An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure. Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2005
    Denver, nee Austin
    There is some drive on that. I still think his tone is mainly in his hands, but here are the objective aspects of what I hear there:

    • Low action, very little neck relief
    • Fresh roundwound strings
    • MM-style pickup
    • Smile EQ

    Frankly I don't hear anything in that tone that screams Modulus to me, but remember that particular Modulus bass was supposed to be a "Stingray on steroids".
  10. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism Supporting Member

    I am pretty sure he runs all those basses through a GK rig, which I would say is a big part of his sound.

    I also stopped following Chilis since Stadium... that record... ewwwwww.....
  11. JoshyWashy


    Sep 20, 2013
    Coming from a person who loves Flea and who has a 1997 modulus i think the biggest factor is firstly and for most, how you play the instrument in general. Personally I play very aggressively and that gets you that punchy sound, and not just on my modulus but every bass I've ever owned or played. Secondly I would definitely say it's the graphite neck, it makes it that much easier to get that punch sound and the graphite on it's own is supposed to make those lows give a nice growl and make the highs very clear and bright, and trust me they do. Plus it also allows flea because of it to make his action that low and what not along with the bridge and what not. But i would without a doubt say if you want that flea sound you will have to play aggressive and dig into those strings and to make it that much better and more of a true sound the graphite neck will give it to you.
  12. elgecko


    Apr 30, 2007
    Anasleim, CA
    That's the classic "grand piano" tone you get from Moduli.

    I was playing a backyard party with my Q5 years ago. A bass player friend of mine was walking up to the house and he said he knew it was me instantly. When I asked him how he knew, he said it sounded "fuzzy...like it was distorted, but not". That's caused by the copious overtones you get with a graphite neck. A p-bass with worn in flats is practically all fundamental. Grand pianos and Moduli are the polar opposite. They're so chock full of shimmering overtones that it gives them an extremely rich tone that almost sounds like distortion.

    That friend of mine eventually scored a used Q5 from the local guitar center. Over 20 years later and that Q5 is still his main bass. Same with me!