One of the most commonly heard complaints from bass players is “I can’t hear myself.”

Unfortunately, due to the type of sound bass produces (low), it can be very difficult for the bass player to have any sort of clarity and definition in the band room/on stage.

Why is it hard to hear the bass?

Often, the main reason that you can’t hear bass is because it’s competing with guitar (or possibly keyboard). Because guitar takes up so much sonic space (it produces a huge range of frequencies from very low to very high) it is a competition that the bass (which produces largely low frequencies) is
probably going to lose.

Also, guitar being the traditional instrumental focus of the rock band, there’s a good chance that your guitarist will have strong opinions on which instrument should be loudest. No matter how you attempt to compete by turning your amp up, guitar has all those mid and high frequencies to work with and you will need a much larger amplifier than your guitarist to have any chance of competing outright with them.

And at the end of your rehearsal you will all be deaf.

There are solutions to this problem.
Keep in mind that recording situations (and situations where you have a sympathetic sound engineer) will be different.

  1. Buy a monstrously large amp.

  2. Consider playing with a pick. (I
    personally don’t but let’s consider it).

  3. Make sure your songs are well
    arranged.

  4. Politely ask the rest of your band
    to get the out of your way. (And get friendly with your sound
    man/woman).

  5. Go low. Lower. Lower…

1. Buy a monstrously large amplifier.

If you can buy a big amp, it’s important to use it effectively.

For some genres (and some bands) you can go to town with your tone. But with a bright clangy upper mid/top end and a tight punchy, growly middle, however sexy it might sound by itself, you are going to be eaten alive by a loud, distorted guitar strumming an open G chord. And your sound person is then going to EQ the hell out of your sound to make it fit in their mix and ruin your lovely tone anyway. (For more info on this look to point 4 and 5).

The most effective way to use a big amp is turn it up really loud. Really loud. Now get plenty of bottom end in your sound. Don’t touch tone sculpting and slap EQ buttons. Also banned are mid and treble knobs. But go for it with your bass knob (and maybe lower-mids). We’re not going to compete with the guitar, we’re going where it can’t… LOW….

Play the strings firmly, but not hard.
The softer you play the strings, the less harmonics the string will produce, and the more bass you will get (relatively). The more bass, the better chance you have of getting under the guitar. Give it a go, you may be pleasantly surprised at the clarity.

Naturally, always trust your ears and not me.

Points 2, 3, 4 and 5 next time…

As always, if you have any questions, email us on help@independentmusic.com.au or head over to our contact page to organise a free, no obligation introductory lesson.

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