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What IS the tone I'm looking for?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Rip Topaz, Jan 3, 2012.

  1. I did a search but it turned up a billion results and none of them really answer my question.

    Recently switched to playing a P copy to ease the weight on my back while playing.

    As soon as I got it, I started modding. The first thing I did was rewire it and add a humbucker (ala Sheehan). It sounds huge, but not quite the tone I'm after.

    I keep reading people talking about the "classic" P sound, but I guess I've been twiddling knobs so much that I've become deaf to the sound I'm after.

    What IS the "classic" P sound?

    Examples will help. Being on a tone search is tough after a bit because your ears "forget" the tone you originally were going for. The Sheehan mod is great, but I'm looking for more of an old school sound, I THINK.

    Someone help!!!! What is it I'm searching for???
  2. One Drop

    One Drop

    Oct 10, 2004
    Swiss Alps
    Try playing a P before modding it. That's the P sound.

    I'm not being facetious, either.
  3. Biggbass


    Dec 14, 2011
    Planet Earth
    Maybe you're imagining the James Jamerson Motown bass sound?
    Vintage pickups will help with that. My 62 RI Jazz bass gets very close to it with the bridge pickup turned down. But you can get even closer to it with a 62 RI Fender P, heavy flatwounds and an Ampeg amp.
  4. I should clarify. I DID play it for a few days before doing the mod. It seems extremely bright to me with just the P pup. I've read in other threads about people keeping the tone control mostly in the lower ranges. I've tried that, but my real question is, by example, what is the "P" sound?

    What makes this bass so classic? What is it about the split P pickup combined with a maple neck and alder body that has made this bass last since the 1950's?

    What defines the P bass sound?
  5. Plucky The Bassist

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

    Jul 30, 2010
    Houston, TX
    Just as you don't cover a steak with A1 before you taste it, you don't swap stuff out on a bass before you try it for a week or two. However, I will entertain the question out of courtesy.

    For MOST players, the "classic p-sound" is a P pickup (generally of decent make) with some flatwound strings. A tube amp and 15" speakers can't hurt anything either, but it's not always essential..I would recommend steering clear of tweeters though. The "thump" is usually an emphasis on low-mids that give it a punchy and rich tone that isn't too woofy. The flats can help out quite a bit with this, but liking this tone is subject to opinion. The flats should be worn in to get the thump you are looking for with this tone. You can get this tone with a variety of amps (I got this with my Peavey MAXBass 1x10 combo and a stock Squier CV 60's P) so don't think you HAVE to own the heritage B-15 reissue that is $4k to get in the ballpark for this tone.

    Hope that helps! :bassist:
  6. matti777


    Dec 13, 2007
    Edmonton, Canada
    IIRC Jamerson/Motown was all recorded with a Fender precision w/old strings and a mic'd Ampeg B15R. I'd start with the Fender Vintage pickups (or some equivalent) and some flats.
  7. domestique


    Sep 5, 2011
    Classic P-sound: "My girl" by the temptations (played by Jamerson)

    Here is a list of some of his grooves:
    James Jamerson's Greatest Bass Hits

    Go on youtube and search "Jamerson isolated bass" and you will hear only him playing some of these iconic P-bass licks.

    It sounds like you do not like "bright" sounding basses, so try switching to flatround strings. A good middle ground from roundwound to flatround are D'addario Chromes
  8. There are indeed many 'P tones.' If you could specify what kind of music you are doing it would help a little bit concerning giving sound bites of famous songs where the Precision sound is audible.
  9. stiles72


    Mar 20, 2009
    Albany IL
    When I think of the "P-bass" sound, I actually think of two main sounds. For the brighter "tone knob up" sound, I think of Geezer Butler on Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" album. For the thumpier "tone knob turned down" sound - I think of Jamerson. Both sounds however carry a certain presence in the mid range from that P-pickup that you just don't find in dual pickup configurations.
  10. Plucky The Bassist

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

    Jul 30, 2010
    Houston, TX
    1) Where is your right hand when you play? Close to bridge? Over the pickup? By the neck?

    2) What strings? Rounds? Flats? Nickel? Stainless?

    3) What amp do you use? What are your settings?

    4) What kind of cab do you use? Any extra variables involved? (i.e. - tweeter levels, ported/non-ported, casters/no casters)

    5) Do you use a pick? Do you have long fingernails? Are you a hard or soft player?

    These are all things that influence whether you are getting the "P sound", but keep in mind that you may not like the classic p sound. Many folks hear how it reacts with the bass drum in a song and assume that's the P. From personal experience in recordings and live, that bass drum does a LOT for you in a band setting or recording. A strong rhythm section was also something that lent to that classic motown sound that we all know and love...which means a locked-in bassist and drummer. Again, the P on it's own might not be for you if you felt it lacked bass..the emphasis is on low-mids
  11. That's more what I'm looking for. I don't have the Ampeg, but I am using an amp with a 15.

    Still debating on flats. The last time I tried flats I found the tension too much, and even though my bass is a decent one, I'm not shelling out $75 for TI's. Any low tension flats for less?

    The P pickup in my bass isn't the best, though not horrible. I'm looking into options.

    The sound I'm after( I think) is closer to the R&B sound, but since I play in a cover band, I don't want to limit my range of tones more than I already did by choosing a P-bass.

    This is a weird experience for me. I've played close to everything over the years and recently have been moving more towards an old school sound.
  12. R&B, yep get flats.
  13. Plucky The Bassist

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

    Jul 30, 2010
    Houston, TX
    Jamerson went DI with his P-bass on the motown stuff. Though he used a B-15 for live stuff, no doubt. In the studio, Carol Kaye did use a mic'd B-15 though.
  14. While TIs are expensive, I think they are exactly what you are looking for. You'll also NEVER need to change them.
  15. plymman


    Jan 3, 2012
    play a Squier Classic Vibe 60's P Bass with some flatwounds, that's as close to the original and classic P bass sound I've heard in a long time.
  16. Plucky The Bassist

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

    Jul 30, 2010
    Houston, TX
    Bro, you need to get some D'Addario Chromes lol. You can get them in lower gauges to reduce the tension, but that's part of the tone IMO. I use a foam mute by my bridge which helps a LOT for the Jamerson and Carol Kaye tone. Some people say it does fine without the foam, but I've found it to give me a much more controlled, thumpy sound without overloading the pickup. The tension may seem a bit much at first, but I'm a relative lightweight (5'7" 140lbs) and the tension will get your hands beefed up pretty quick and also promote the less-is-more pocket playing that will get you more session work than attempting to do Billy Sheehan shredding runs all the time. The style is just as much a part of that tone as the equipment.

    Might I suggest looking for a VT bass pedal as well? I like the character knob turned down low to get a nice, fat sound that does the P bass justice. When you consider $149 for a new one (plenty of people will sell you a used one for great prices since most ppl want the deluxe) and around $35 for some Chromes, you will be very close to getting that sound you say your are looking for.
  17. Everyone keeps saying about Fender Vintage pickups. Maybe that's where I'm going wrong. I've been looking mostly at more modern stuff.

    Is there a certain model of pickup that's better for this than others? My bass when played unplugged has a very solid tone, and vibrates pretty openly, but when I plug in, the stock pups sound weak. They're LOUD, but there's no real definition to anything. Just sounds lifeless.
  18. Seems to be where I'm heading.

    I'll look into flats the next time I wander to GC (or shop for parts online).

    I played for awhile today with some foam under the strings near the bridge. I liked it, but here's my problem: Most of my 30+ years of playing, I've focused on heavier music, and only recently have I really started developing a more mature tone.
  19. One Drop

    One Drop

    Oct 10, 2004
    Swiss Alps
    There are many classic P sounds, some described above.

    Get or borrow a stock P, play it with fingers and a pick through any decent amp set with the knobs at noon, and play it with SS, Nickel, and Flatwound strings, each with the knob going from all the way up no cut) to all the way down.

    Repeat with various amounts of distortion,. You will have heard most of the classic P tones by then and you will know which ones you like and want.

    I forgot to mention playing from just behind the PUP between the PUP and the neck with each variation.

    Most classic passive basses were designed to sound good and be useful throughout the range of their knobs, with any decent amp set fairly flat. Atleast you will get the staring point of what they are capable. You can't cook with tons of ingredients until you know what each one sounds like raw and in various cooked states alone, start there before mixing and experimenting. Not everyone was meant to or can reinvent the wheel the first time they see one.
  20. right. i switched to TI's about five years ago, they're still on there and haven't lost even a bit of their tone yet.

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