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The tone vs the playing

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by KingRazor, Nov 4, 2013.

  1. I've noticed something interesting, and it probably has something to do with the type of music I listen to, but:

    When I hear someone playing a bass alone, I think about the sound of the bass itself. I judge what I think of the highs, the lows, the mids, how much growl it has or whatever.

    When I listen to recordings of bands, I don't think about the tone at all and really only even notice the bass if they play something cool (not necessarily flashy or complex, just interesting)

    Live it can go either way but again, I still focus a lot less on the tone of the bass and a lot more on the ability and creativity of the player.

    Anyone else feel the same way?
  2. russpurdy


    Apr 16, 2013
    I find if a band has a solid bass player and the bass line is interesting ill take notice. Seems like the tone usually comes with that. If its a mediocre line that's just there for rumble factor or to follow the guitar I usually don't notice. A few examples:

    A Wilhelm Scream - Great bass player with great tone. His lines really push through the mix.

    Iron Maiden - How do you not notice Steve Harris's lines?

    Alabama Shakes - Sits right in the pocket and stands out to me.

    Most pop and indie rock keeps things simple and unmemorable...

    Florida Georgia Line - I was suppose to learn that song "Cruise" for a band I'm auditioning for. Just sounds like root notes to put some low frequency in the mix. Not even worth calling it a bass line.

    Matt Mays - indie-ish rock. Bass is mixed way in the back and doesn't get much attention.
  3. wild4oldcars


    Jan 22, 2012
    Garner, NC
    you cant always afford a great bass and a great rig, but you can always afford to practice. this is why I always, always judge a player by their chops, not their tone. If a guy is just screwing around on stage and playing too much, im not impressed. Im alot more impressed by a guy rocking out to root notes and keeping good time with the drummer. If he has good tone, great, if not, i feel sympathy. i dont have a bass that costs more than $300, but i play for hours a day, trying to become a better player. I can wish i had fancier stuff all day long, but when it comes down to it, its just some wood and strings, what you do with it is what really matters.
  4. Plucky The Bassist

    Plucky The Bassist ZOMG! I'm back from the dead! Supporting Member

    Jul 30, 2010
    Houston, TX

    "Underplaying" may be unimpressive to some players, but "overplaying" is a burden and annoyance to every listener, musician or not. I do roots with some accents here and there and a unique rhythm that is separate from the guitar. Flea really hit the right mix when BSSM came out, he had great tone and dialed down his playing some...admitting himself that he needed to play half as many notes as he was previously. Sure it's tempting to show off, but to risk the overall product of a song just to look good comes off as immature IMO.
  5. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    Tone and playing somewhat go hand in hand. Have you ever saw a bass player that was just terrible and thought, man that guy sucks, but his tone is great? I know I haven't. On the other hand, I have heard great players with terrible tone (IMHO). Victor Wooton and Stanly Clarke come to mind.
  6. Dave W

    Dave W

    Mar 1, 2007
    White Plains
    I always notice great playing. I notice their tone as well but it doesn't bother me if I don't particularly care for it.

    If I find that I really like the playing and the tone...winning!
  7. Mojo-Man


    Feb 11, 2003

    Tone gets me all the time.
    If someone has chops, but bad tone I lose interest.
  8. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    Playing always comes first.

    Just one example: I don't care for the bridge-pickup-focused JacoTone[SUP]TM[/SUP] ... too burpy for me. But Jaco's playing was beyond phenomenal, and the bridge pickup needed to be emphasized because harmonics are such a huge part of his repertoire. Much as I love P-basses, they cannot capture higher overtones as well as a J.
  9. 4andnomore


    Nov 14, 2008
    To me they are inseparable - I guess i don't understand the OP's premise. It's the whole package and in the end a very subjective thing i.e beyond a rudimentary level, what exactly IS good tone or good playing?
  10. tubatodd

    tubatodd Supporting Member

    Oct 31, 2004
    Birmingham, AL
    I think I know what you mean...sorta.

    When a bass player plays a solo where the bass is standing out I tend to focus on the timbre of the bass sound.

    When a bassist is playing with a group, I tend to notice how the overal blend is. Sometime that PERFECT ensemble sound, outside the context of the other instruments, sounds bad to me.

    The reverse is also true. Sometimes a solo tone sounds out-of-place within the cacophony of other instruments.

    I guess this is why we have knobs and switches and stuff. :bassist:

    I recently joined a dance band and after a couple of tunes with the group I received a bunch of compliments on my sound. I'm sure my predecessors played the part well, but what the group noticed was not only the playing and the tone, but balance. I helped lock in with the drummer and contribute to the band and not drown out the band with a fog horn.

    Back to your point, good sound is no substitute for sub-par technique and great technique can be overshadowed by poor tone.

    Love and marriage...love and marriage...
  11. In recordings, engineers put a LOT of effort to get the bass and kick to work together. More modern music is engineered to focus more on the kick than the bass. Sometimes you're the meat, most of the time you're just gravy.

    In live music, overplaying is endemic. It takes great musicianship to keep it simple. You can hear MORE when everyone plays less in a live context.
    Also, If I think my tone is good, I play better.

    My goals - Less notes, more meaningful note choices. Less fiddling, more feel. I get most of my compliments on my feel/ groove/ pocket playing. The band is described as 'tight' or 'solid'. I like to think I play an important part in that.
  12. I listen to all types of bands where the bass is used in different "portions". Obviously as a bass player i like creative bass lines, but sometimes i d rather listen to metal bands where the bass is more effect than anything else. What i like has helped me develop a little bit of my own thing. Within one song i often go from a verse with something flashy, to a chorus where the bass is all "meat and potatoes." Tone and the mix does have a huge influence on what i listen to. A band could have a really good bass player with some great lines but if i can't hear the bass as much as i like i won't buy it. And that happens with all styles. I see jokes on bass in metal not being heard. But i listen to tons of heavy bands where the bass is at a good level.
  13. purpleunicorn42


    Nov 5, 2013
    Working Artist
    Im looking to change my pickups in my ibanez soundgear what do you guys think? BTW im trying to mimic the sound of a Warwick, Musicman, and possibly a Fender. Also i play in a Reggae/rock/funk jam band, and need a punchy yet clear noticeable sound. Ps. not much of a gear head YET so please help.
  14. radioface


    May 2, 2013
    I don't care what the bass sounds like, tone wise and, only care how it's played. If a bass is played well, I will automatically enjoy the tone, which is that of a well played instrument, by a talented musician.
  15. Cycho


    Nov 30, 2010
    Playing trumps tone every time.
  16. What I'm saying is, I could appreciate the tone of a bass being played by a robot playing scales.

    But, when a bass is being played in a band context, the tone is the last thing I think of. If I notice the bass at all it'll be because the bassist is actually playing something interesting. And even then, I don't care about or even think about their tone at all.

    When they're playing alone, unless what they're playing is really cool it's mostly the tone of the bass I'm listening for.

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