What is vintage tone?

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by basskopf, Jul 31, 2009.

  1. I see a lot of comments about vintage tone, but I am wondering if there is agreement on what the definition is....

    - Does one have to use a tube amp or can it be solid state (using for example Markbass' VLE filter)?
    - Does the head have to be a monster like a Sunn Concert or can it be a modern amp?
    - Is the 8 x 10 "refrigerator" style cab the standard or 2 x 15?
    - Is a vintage Fender the only way to go or will a '64 custom shop jazz NOS (new old stock) work?
    - Flatwounds vs. roundwounds?
    - If I use a Sunn Concert, flatwounds and a vintage Fender but play a Bach fugue, is it still vintage tone?

    Would be very interested to hear everyone's comments and experience on what vintage tone really is. Thanks.
  2. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    Vintage tone is basically a rolloff off the highs from anywhere between 2k and 5k, and a slight boost on the midbass between 125 and 200 hz. Everything else is optional, though some do like the sound of flats better for it. I get convincing old school tones with rounds but I do see the charm in flats for it. Also, you can use any bass you want, but Fenders, hollowbodies, and cheap junky basses with passive pickups are considered the best for it. Again, though, I've done pretty well with more modern basses, though I don't they excel at it.
  3. wdinc01


    Nov 19, 2005
    Jacksonville, FL
    To answer your last one, yes, its still vintage tone. Tone is tone no matter what you play. If I started playing Canon in D (just for an example) on a trombone with a very nasally tone, no matter how beautifully and accurate I play the song, it'll still have a nasally tone.

    Everything else, I'll let the experts weigh in. But in short, the answer is no, you don't need all that.
  4. Vintage Tone = My old ass playing a Bass :D
  5. R Baer

    R Baer Commercial User

    Jun 5, 2008
    President, Baer Amplification
    The best example of vintage tone, IMO, is James Jamerson. Full and round, with very little high end content.
  6. emesen


    Jan 3, 2007
    Lake Forest, Ca
    I am gonna have to agree with the Jamerson comment. The stereo typical "vintage" tone in my mind is a "P", strung with flats and some mic'd tube amp... Then again that is if you want vintage 50-70's tone... now, sadly, the 80's are slowly becoming "vintage" as well and those tones are something completely different...
  7. Vintage tone can be emulated easily by equipment that 'isn't' vintage, which i think is a point you're trying to make.

    Like all emulation you will lose something, perhaps character to some extent, but you will also gain merits as well... like flexibility and such.


    1. No - It could be made yesterday and still sound convincingly enough 'vintage' to me
    2. Same question as above ultimately
    3. Neither. It was a case of whatever you liked best (still the case now). Some used 4x12's for example.
    4. No - Well, they were new when 'they' played them back in the day, so a NOS would be perfect if it is was in perfect condition. Really though it doesn't matter about the bass, as said above.
    5. Either or, both can nail different types of 'vintage' tone.
    6. Yes.

    Vintage tone to me is a bit of an umbrella term, there are different aspects/elements of tone within it.... anyway, who cares? :) Trying to define the 'vintage' era is difficult, as the chap above says even the 80's are becoming it!
  8. Bootzilla


    May 4, 2009
    You also need the right technique or touch. If you play with a pick near the bridge you can have all the vintage equipment you want but it probably won't sound vintage.
  9. rbonner


    Sep 25, 2008
    I keep a box full of vintage tone under the basement staircase. I pop it open every once in a while just to hear it and remember the sound. I have to be careful not to let it all out at once.

    I have to go with Thebutler here #5, there are very different types of vintage tone, just as many as what types of tone there are today.

    Most amps were tube, but then there was the Acoustic guys. 10's 12's 15's and 18's all made vintage tone. Gee thats the same stuff we play today.

    HOWEVER... One big difference. The vintage speakers were pushed HARDER to make the volume. If you listen to Grand Funk, you can tell the speakers were right out there ready to come right out of the boxes... SO that natural distortion was the one thing that separates us from yesteryear.

    The difference in what I played back then. Gibson EB-O, which has neck only pickup with the treble rolled off and bass up all the way. Bassman amp with 215's, Bass on 10, Treble on 5 and the Volume on 4. Sounded best to me back then with my limited gear.

  10. RickenBoogie


    Jul 22, 2007
    Dallas, TX
    I have an easy way to tell them apart. Vintage= fat round warm, Modern = sizzly, clean, bright.
  11. P. Aaron

    P. Aaron Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    The bass tone in Long Train Runnin' by The Doobie Brothers is what I would call vintage tone.

    Fat, wooly, but woody sounding too.
  12. stflbn


    May 10, 2007
    I'd been slowly moving toward a more 'vintage' tone for a blues project I've been working with. P-bass... tube preamps, etc. Some hair on my tone... flats... yadda yadda yadda...

    Then I took my heavily modded Schecter Studio5 with custom Kent Armstrong pickups, Aggy OBP-3, and Sunbeam roundwounds on it to a practice and the universal concensus was 'holy smokes, that bass sounds phenomenal'. It's' native tone is modern and low/mid punchy and VERY warwick like. Sounded great on practice recordings also.

    Here's an MP3 recorded with a Zoom H2 in a tiny room, but it gives the vibe. It showed me that I was getting to worried about the 'idea' of a vintage tone regardless of how a punchier tone may sit in the mix and work overall.
    Example Clip

  13. nonogz


    May 9, 2009
    p bass
  14. I always thought "Vintage Tone" was a bit vague, but this:

    ...is pretty much exactly the way that i describe it if someone asks point-blank. I would also say that vintage tone, to me, has a bit of natural overdrive. But as RickenBoogie put it, this too is also warm.

    I also wouldn't consider vintage tone to be strictly tube. I always thought i got a "vintage tone' from my Kustom200 through a 70's Ampeg 2x15 and that's pure solid state :D
  15. SanDiegoHarry

    SanDiegoHarry Inactive Supporting Member

    Aug 11, 2008
    San Diego, CA
    What's the difference between "old" and "Antique"?

    I don't mean to sound like an old dude here, but back in the '70s, most cats I knew had little choice about their sound - you had to go looking for roundwound strings, and replacement electronics were limited at best... Amps were no where near as good as they are today, and the best of the amps at the time (ampeg and... well, ampeg) were heavy as hell and expensive as all get out. Fender was the bass by far, and without decent strings or a good amp, it's going to sound... oh, what's the word... MUDDY. DULL. LIFELESS. And to those cats who couldn't afford Fender or wanted to be different, Gibson was a far muddier alternative. So "Vintage", to me, usually means *muddy*. Yes, there are exceptions - some guys played Ricks which had a rep of being very "Piano" sounding... and some big cats played with hot-rod rigs (Chris Squire & John Entwistle) but copping there sound was like finding the holy grail -- lord, I tried when I was 17 - I TRIED! But I was a kid and didn't have the $$ or know what to do....

    But most of what is called "Vintage" sounded that way just because that's all a player could afford or what a studio would allow. Happily, for some types of music, muddy, thumpy bass works really well. I can't imagine old Motown with Yes bass...

    Whenever I've been called on to provide "Vintage" sound for a gig/recording, I palm-mute my strings while playing or stick a piece of foam under my strings by the bridge. Heck, my 1st Fender I bought new had a big hunk of foam rubber glued to the underside of the ash-tray bridge p'up cover to dull the strings out... And it came with flatwounds! That poor bass had *no* tone until I changed that stuff up! And it was plenty "Vintage"...
  16. BassScum


    May 1, 2008
    So Cal
    This is what I consider vintage.

  17. bassman10096

    bassman10096 Supporting Member

    Jul 30, 2004
  18. chaosMK


    May 26, 2005
    Albuquerque, NM
    Too much hip thrust
    Fat wooly sound, low mids, with some mids and no cheapness on the low end, more like a bloom than a punch.
  19. stflbn


    May 10, 2007
    Right, that's pretty much how I characterize Vintage.
  20. Ryan Mohr

    Ryan Mohr

    Oct 23, 2007
    Typically, I think of vintage tone coming from passive basses, tweeterless cabinets, and tube or hybrid amps.

    Passive Fenders are quite articulate, snappy, and clear. However, they are still very organic and warm sounding which separates them from modern sounding pickups. For example, most single coil J bass pickups have a lot of high end information, but it isn't harsh or sterile in any way. A little bit of grind or bite, as opposed to sizzle, is something I associate with passive Fenders. My point is that just having a passive Fender isn't going to yield a vintage tone. The rig has a large role in that as well.

    A nice, fat, warm tube or hybrid amplifier combined with a tweeterless cab are usually enough to get a vintage tone. Not particularly bass heavy, but a good amount of low mids, a little bit of bite and articulation in the high mids maybe, and a nice organic, mellow high end that tops out around 4 kHz.

    For strings: flatwounds, tapewounds, groundwounds, halfrounds, pure nickel roundwounds, or nickel roundwounds usually work. Usually vintage tone is associated with played-in strings, so sometimes very played-in stainless steel strings can yield a vintage tone.