You Can Hear The Bass Better With Drive/Distortion/Overdrive?

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by Smallmouth_Bass, Dec 23, 2021.

  1. Yes, some overdrive gets me better heard.

    130 vote(s)
  2. No, dirt doesn't help my sound cut any better.

    57 vote(s)
  3. I don't know.

    27 vote(s)
  4. I don't like my carrots dirty.

    15 vote(s)
  1. Smallmouth_Bass


    Dec 29, 2005
    So, I have heard some isolated bass tracks where the bass is really dirty (overdrive/distortion), more so than you would notice when you are listening to the song with all the instruments, and I know some people say having drive in the sound makes it so that the bass is better heard in the mix. I have heard Rick Beato mention this on a few occasions.

    What is your opinion and experience on the subject? Does overdrive and distortion make you cut through better for live and recording? Do you use any dirt and if so, how much? Only for rock music, or does it apply to all genres?

    For the purposes of discussion, I am using dirt, overdrive, distortion and fuzz interchangeably. They're all forms of dirt, just in varying amounts.
    HolmeBass, Nuage420 and DJ Bebop like this.
  2. TheEmptyCell

    TheEmptyCell Bearded Dingwall Enthusiast

    Jul 16, 2005
    Los Angeles, CA
    Jamerson has a super gritty sound when you hear the isolated tracks. A lot of old school Motown and R&B tones are fairly dirty. Considering that players were plugging into mixing consoles that were easily overdriven, or small bass amps that needed to be cranked to be heard, it's not really surprising.

    Dirt also fills in some gaps in the mix that you'll only really notice if the bass sound was really dry and clean.

    I have a Southampton Fifth Gear on my board that is always on. It's just on the cusp of breakup, but also has this little boost in the mids that I really enjoy.
    Meaculpa, Doug4321, dune and 3 others like this.
  3. Sometimes, but not always.
    MegaSwing, HolmeBass, LowWay and 10 others like this.
  4. Mosfed


    Apr 21, 2013
    Washington DC
    Partner - CCP Pedals
    Within reason, absolutely
    smogg, MegaSwing, Iristone and 4 others like this.
  5. thewildest

    thewildest Supporting Member

    May 25, 2011
    Florida, USA
    It depends.
    HolmeBass, LowWay, Inconnu and 4 others like this.
  6. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    Since "dirt" consists of sounds which are "unnaturally" introduced or emphasized, it stands to reason that those sounds will indeed stick out (I hate the term "cut through," but yeah).

    One of your poll choices is "Yes, some overdrive gets me better heard." The simple answer is "probably so," but a good followup question is "Is that always a good thing?"

    If the music calls for bass lines which stick out, then distortion might be appropriate. As one who appreciates the ability of contemporary gear to provide sound that's loud and clean, I'm not a fan, but I play music in genres where blend is called for. I'll also add that using "dirty" effects all the time will make "clean" sound anemic, kind of like habitually salting your food too much will make bland a normal amount of salt.

    I dispute @TheEmptyCell 's assertion that Jamerson's Motown bass tracks were distorted. I have heard some of his soloed tracks, and to me they sound like a Precision bass with the tone rolled off, played by an expert... and they blend wonderfully with the rest of the band.
    Mechanical, Kijuer, Root 5 and 12 others like this.
  7. There is no one answer to this question because there are too many different mixes and styles of music, in some cases the cleaner your bass tone the better it cuts.
  8. Monkey

    Monkey Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Ohio, USA
    I agree, but then again, I mostly play in genres where clean or near-clean work well (mostly jazz and reggae). When I'm playing around at home, it is fun to play and record with some dirt, but it often feels like my attack becomes more diffuse and less punchy. I sometimes use a bit of overdrive at gigs, but usually turn it off to "cut through" with punchier tone. I haven't done any rock gigs in a while, though.

    Also, I only play fretless and I have found it harder to find an overdrive that works well with fretless. I like my TC Spark, but it usually goes unused.
    AGCurry and Smallmouth_Bass like this.
  9. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    I typically use a fairly bright clean tone. The idea is I want to cut through the mayhem on stage. However, my stage sound does not have a lot of clank or fret rattle, unless I want it to. It's just as clear and articulate as I can make it. Also, I typically plug my bass into a DI and run the "Thru" from the DI to my amp. I run the volume on the bass wide open and the tone controls are usually flat. I may make minor adjustments to the bass's tone controls as the situation changes. The idea is the audio tech gets an unprocessed signal rather than the bright stage sound I dial in with my amp.

    I actually find that distortion tends to make it harder for me to hear without turning up. As distortion increases beyond a certain point, you get compression and also the lows then to wash out. Maybe a small amount of distortion will help, but once it starts crossing into OD territory, I think it tends to make it harder to hear clearly.

    I don't think this has a lot to do with whether one would use distortion though. Sometimes a bit of grind is stylistically perfect and sometimes it's the last thing you want.
  10. Mushroo

    Mushroo Guest

    Apr 2, 2007
    I voted Yes because overdrive/distortion compresses the dynamic range of your signal, and I consider compression to be an essential Recording 101 technique, to make the bass strong in the mix.

    Overdrive/distortion can also add overtones that increase the frequency range of your bass, giving you more mids and highs.
  11. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Distortion adds harmonics and can add compression and sustain, all of which in small quantities can help the bass to be more audible, even if the distortion is not perceived as such in the mix. That's a lot different than diming your Big Muff and wondering why you can't even hear the bass any more.

    A good example of this is the Aphex Aural Exciter. It was discovered by accident when a flaw in a circuit design added some harmonic distortion that seemed to sweeten the high frequencies. The basic Aphex circuit splits the signal into two paths and runs one through a distortion stage followed by a high pass filter so that only the upper harmonics pass through. Then the two paths are mixed together.
  12. Smallmouth_Bass


    Dec 29, 2005
    I had one of those pedals way back when. I found it made my passive bass sound active and generally thickened the sound up. I don't remember why I sold it.
  13. FunkHead

    FunkHead Supporting Member

    Mar 10, 2007
    There's a reason they call BassBalls BassBalls. Yes you absolutely can hear your bass better with OD/distortion. Sure there are some that suck some bottom end. Nothing that some EQ can't overcome in most cases.
  14. bass12

    bass12 Have You Met Grace Jones?

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    I found that whenever I would incorporate distortion in live settings my bass would get a bit lost in the mix (at least on stage) and I was never happy with the sound. It could well be that I just hadn’t found the right pedal but I couldn’t be bothered exploring further (I decided to cut my losses and ditch the idea of using distortion altogether). Recording is a totally different thing, with much more controllable variables. But I don't have enough bass mixing experience to offer any useful tips where studio application of distortion is concerned. Best thing to do is just experiment yourself and see what works (assuming you have some kind of home studio set-up).
    BlueTalon, Smallmouth_Bass and Wasnex like this.
  15. Killing Floor

    Killing Floor Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2020
    Austin, TX
    Let me ask Lemmy
    birminghambass likes this.
  16. Smallmouth_Bass


    Dec 29, 2005
    Get out the Ouija board!
  17. DoctorZee

    DoctorZee Supporting Member

    Jan 27, 2018
    New York / New Jersey
    It all depends what mix you’re trying to cut through. Same goes for the old adage that p-basses and mids always cut through. In my band, I tried all that, but couldn’t really be heard until I learned to embrace a mid-scooped sound. There really is no one-size-fits-all.
    HolmeBass, 31HZ, scott sinner and 3 others like this.
  18. No, but then I tend to favor music that emphasizes strong, clean bass notes.

    At most I can live with just a hint of fur on the note as it might enhance the bass for certain styles of rock, but anything more than that and my boat ceases to float and sinks rapidly...
  19. halech54


    Jul 15, 2015
    Richmond VA,
    Mix engineers love saturation plugins for a reason. It makes things have dimension and pop out in a mix especially on bass.
  20. jschulman

    jschulman Supporting Member

    Aug 21, 2018
    Long Island, NY
    I like to think of distortion as an less-than-subtle effect that changes the character of my tone. Saturation, on the other hand, is used to add a little heft, or "hair" other words it brings out harmonic information in my mids and above without significantly altering my basic sound. Either way I like to mix my clean tone in parallel to reinforce my low end.

    Either of these can help me be more heard in a mix, either live or in studio. But a side effect can be that everyone else is less heard, since bass in general has such a wide EQ response, especially when overdriven. A good bandpass filter afterwards can keep your bass sounding strong and present while leaving lots of space for the rest of the band, and I think that's more important for cutting through.
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