Bass Clarity part 2

Continuing on with our column on Bass clarity.

My “Get Low, Get Loud” technique discussed previously is a simple way to gain clarity in the band room. If you’re unsure about gear, tone and the sympathy of your bandmates/sound engineer, it’s a great place to begin developing clarity.

There are more sophisticated methods available – here’s three.

1. Experiment with a pick.

Playing with a pick causes the string to vibrate differently when struck. It can give your bass consistency and clarity in attack and tone that your fingers may lack (I personally prefer fingers though).

2. Modify band arrangements.

Les Claypool from Primus and Flea from the Chili Peppers are two bass players that you never have trouble hearing. Why? One clue is their guitarists. John Frusciante from the Chili Peppers might put down a lot of guitar tracks, but they are often texturally thin and rhythmically functional. Very few big strummy chords or monster multi-tracked riffs from John Frusciante, and the parts are considerate of vocals, drums and bass.

Primus is the opposite of a guitar heavy band. Imagine if guitarist Larry Lalonde or drummers Brain or Tim Alexander tried to compete with Les Claypool? It would just be a big unlistenable mess, where you couldn’t distinguish any instrument, let alone bass. Instead, the drummer keeps out of the way, Larry Lalonde might make a thin skronk noise every other bar,
and Les Claypool takes up all the room in the arrangement.

Consider your band’s arrangements.
Does each instrument have room (even if some instruments take up more room than others)? Does your keyboard player need their left hand strapped down? Or are you looking at making the next …And Justice For All… (is there a bass player on that album)?

3. Work with your sound engineer.

Beyond controlling foldback, your engineer impacts hugely on your clarity.

I saw Midnight Oil play The Woodford Folk Festival years ago, it was a great gig and eye opening from a live sound perspective.

I generally discourage bass players from using distortion. Poorly applied distortion steals your (sub) bottom end and presets and pedals are generally designed to sound impressive in the store, but the scooped mid-frequencies result in a bass sound that disappears once the guitars start.

Midnight Oil’s gig was impressive because all guitars on stage were distorted, bass included. What should have been a mess was entirely under control from the mixing desk. If one guitar had a bassier distortion, than the other guitars distortions might have more presence in different areas of the mids – each guitar had a distinct sonic footprint where it was distorted and loud, but didn’t sonically interfere with the other guitar’s sound.

You should get a regular engineer for your band (it really helps). Talk to them about where your bass fits in the mix. Work with them to develop a quality bass sound that fits sonically with the rest of the band.

For a good example of what we’ve talked about above check out At The Drive-In’s Relationship Of Command album and always make sure that you trust your own ears first!

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.

Bass Clarity part 1

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.