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Where does tone really come from?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by jvacierto, Jun 25, 2002.

  1. jvacierto


    May 22, 2002
    Fort Wayne, IN
    I just wanted to run this thought past all of you and get your opinion. I've been playing bass for about 4 years or so now and I originally played sax, so learning to play bass was like entering a whole new world, especially when it came to gear. I had a friend with a precision style base and a trace elliot boxer. I've got my own gear now, a squier jazz bass and a carvin amp.

    Anyway, on to what I wanted to say. There are stories of Charlie Parker playing literally any sax he could find after pawning off his own horns for drugs and still playing phenomenally (sorry about my spelling!) with his own personal tone. I've often thought this was because he had gotten to a level where it didn't matter what instrument he played, you could still tell it was him. Now, having gone into the bass/electric instrument world and running into all these gear options, I'm fascinated when someone says one thing is better than another. I'm not talking about quality wise, cause that's a whole other subject. But things that affect your tone: the amp, the pickups, the strings, your fingers. I've heard bass masters say that gear doesn't matter, that the tone is from your hands and whatnot. Here's the thing I'm getting at:

    Have any of you ever thought that maybe some people's personal tone is easier to get with any gear than other people's? In other words, maybe it's easier to duplicate some people's tone with less expensive equipment while other people's tone require higher end equipment? Since my background is sax playing, I tend to simplify dialing in my bass tone as much as I can, I'm not too picky, so I can get a pretty consistent tone I like on just about any amp.

    What are everyone else's thoughts on this?
  2. Brendan


    Jun 18, 2000
    Austin, TX
    I think, personally, that people often confuse tone with style. Everyone says "Jaco tone!"...but really, it was his style that made it really sound like Jaco. Now, sound is pretty straightforward, that's the amp/bass, ergo the "warwick sound"...you can tell it's a Warwick bass...

    Tone...hell, everyone wants so much tone...I think people are just looking for a sound to express their style, and feel that some nuance like neck through vs. bolt on is going to somehow through the magic of sound properties, make them sound more individual. Or something. :confused:

    That's why I'm a horrible bass player. You can rant on about tone...and I can hear it, but I can't play "in" or "with" the tone. I just play the bass. Tone, to me is kind of superficial. I'm just playing a bass, and it's making sounds. Either I like it, or I don't...which is why versatility for me is so silly (for ME, not overall). Give me one pickup, and a 3 band EQ (for slap, mid boosts, and general room compensation) on the amp and bass, and I'm set. For me, it's the sound, not the tone. I'll let my style dictate the rest.

    What tone is to me is the overall product of player and equipment...where many think it's mostly equipment. "The tone is in your hands"...which to me sounds a lot like style; y'know, personal quirks, habits, pinache, characteristic runs and vibes of playing ect,

    Tone? Hell, tone is an excuse to by more gear.

    Of course, I could be completely off and/or hypocritical as of a few hours from now. Take this post with a grain of salt.

    [ed]- I think the only excusable tone discussion is on bass woods/construction, because then the sum of the whole is the sound of the bass, as opposed to the "tone" of the player...
  3. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Retired Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    Sorry, but Nathan East is going to sound better on his Yamaha BBNE2 and Eden WT-800 than he will on, say, a Jay Turser through a Crate. That said, he will sound better on the Turser/Crate rig than I will on my Lakland/Eden rig. Equipment DOES make a difference, but it doesn't play a big role when you're comparing a virtuoso to a hack.
  4. Slater

    Slater Leave that thing alone. Supporting Member

    Apr 17, 2000
    The Great Lakes State
    Tonesia :D

    (Sorry, I couldn't help myself :oops: )
  5. [waterboy voice]
    Mama says tone is little rays of sunshine that comes from heaven when you're feelin' blue.
    [/waterboy voice]
  6. BigBohn


    Sep 29, 2001
    WPB, Florida
    [Yoda voice]
    A blending of specific frequencies that combine at your eardrums to become one aural epiphany, tone is, yes.
    [/Yoda voice]
  7. "Tone" is a combination of several variables, including gear choice - but, it begins in the head and hands.
  8. Groove is in the heart


    Tone is in the hands

    :p :rolleyes:
  9. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I think this links in with what Brendan says about Jaco - so on the instructional video, Jaco tries to explain that his "sound" is as much about note choice as anything else. And this applies to Sax players even more so in my experience - so how they build up solos, what scales they choose to use, how much they play "out", use rhythmic devices or motifs etc etc.

    So, Charlie Parker revolutionised jazz with his note choices more than his "tone", which wasn't reckoned to be up to much anyway. I've got a few Parker recordings and especially the live ones, the "tone" isn't that nice - but the ideas are fantastic! I mean Paul Desmond has a great "tone", but someone like Lee Konitz might be more highly regraded as an alto payer for his ideas and approach.

    I think the other reason why Jaco is mentioned in these debates is that his fretless singing tone really came from his touch and technique - give the same bass to anyone else and it would probably sound very ordinary. I've heard people who have tried to get exactly the same gear as Jaco, but then they just sound horrible - muffled indistinct tone, dodgy intonation and a lot of string "noise" !
  10. The question to ask is where doesn't tone come from. This will tell you which aspects of your setup/approach you can safely ignore in your quest for that sound.

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