It should come as no surprise that when it comes to tone – there’s a lot more going on than simply your choice in pickups or guitar. Sure, your pups are responsible for the root signal which everything else is built upon tone wise but once you put effects pedals and amps into the equation, it’s a far bigger balancing act than most newbies are prepared for. The amp alone has so many little intricacies as far as tone is concerned that one can spend a great deal of time on them alone. For one, it’s not all about settings when it comes to their sound – the venue and placement of the amp will teak its tone as well, especially when it comes to bass, which is why today we’re going to spend some time breaking down some of the best ways in getting great tone from your bass amp in order to make sure that when you’re ready to rock, you’ll do so at your best!
Searching for the ‘Best’ Sound
At one point, it was very difficult for bassists to get their desired sound onstage – both physically and aurally. Back in the ‘70s, bass gear weighed a ton and achieving a tone other than a dull, boring thud was practically impossible. Good thing that was years ago and bass amps of today have improved light years beyond their old counterparts, having plenty more presence and attack. Not only that but plenty of low end without the need of monster speakers is now also much easier to attain. But with that said, for those of you without much experience, what is a good bass tone anyway? Well, it depends on a few things – most notably what kind of style you play – but there is definitely a consensus on what a terrible bass tone sounds like. But first, let’s check out some basics on bass EQ.
I’m sure most of you out there know that EQ is short for equalization. On an amp, the EQ section is responsible for shaping the tone of your instrument. Most amplifiers usually come with at least three knobs labeled LOW, MID and HIGH. Amps that have these three knobs are said to have a “three band graphic EQ.” More intricate amps can have as many as 12 – which would be known as having a 12 band graphic EQ – which are pretty much LOW, MID and HIGH but with more specific frequency ranges in between. Before we can begin shaping out the best tone for your bass and amp, it is always best to remove anything between the two, such as effects pedals and preamps that might color the signal along the way. A straight connection between the bass and amp is always a good starting point if you’re new. Once you have a good grasp on the sound of your amp, it will be much easier to build your signal chain from there.
How To EQ a Bass Amp
Like anything else, its best to start simple; disable any extra EQ features or buttons on your amplifier such as ‘presence enhancer,’ ‘bass boost,’ ‘deep’ or anything else that alters the sound of your bass. As far as the knobs are concerned, set them all to their 12 o’clock position or in the case of a sliding graphic EQ, at their very middle. This is essentially their off position. You should now only be hearing the sound of your bass and cable being amplified by the rig. How does it sound? If you happen to like it, there’s nothing wrong with leaving it as is. The EQ settings are meant to be used to address certain frequencies that you want to add or remove. Simply randomly fiddling with their settings and hoping for the best might accidentally lead to a desired tone after multiple tries – but it won’t help you grasp what each knob does, let alone how to use them to craft a specific tone which will become invaluable later down the road.
The thing is, each amplifier has its own sound and what might sound great for your bass as far as settings are concerned on one amp might sound terrible on another. And once you get into playing different types of venues and start dealing with each of their acoustic problems, knowing which frequencies to either add or subtract is indispensable – and you will not learn this randomly dialing up settings. With that said, let’s take a look at what each of these three knobs generally does to a bass tone.
So we can all probably guess what each of the three knobs do, right? LOW regulates the bass frequencies, MID does the middle, and HIGH deals with the top end. As far as sound goes, bass as a frequency gives what we like to call ‘depth’ to a sound. When someone describes a tone as fat, thick or warm, this is essentially attributed to the bass frequencies. If you want to play something with a lot of bottom end, head for the bass knob. The mid frequencies are responsible for what’s known as the attack or punch of a tone. It gives clarity to notes. If you have a lot of bass but not enough mids, you’ll definitely hear and feel sound, it’s just going to sound completely muddy. And finally, the high frequency range is responsible for the amount of treble in your tone. As far as bass players are concerned, treble isn’t nearly as important as the bass or mids but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some invaluable uses – especially for certain genres. As far as sound goes, it tends to add a bit of crispness to the overall sound. When coupled with the mids, a little bit of treble can help cut through a mix pretty nicely.
If you are still getting used to your particular bass amp, a good way to learn about the feel and function of each knob is trying them out one by one. Remember to keep the rest on their 12 o’clock, or off, position. Take each to their minimum and max level – compare the before and after to get a better idea of what the knob is doing to your sound. This would be a good time to take notes if it begins to feel a bit overwhelming and is also helpful in order to remember certain settings that you like for certain situations (such as a great tone for a bass solo section). Remember – the best musicians don’t simply build their success on one single tone (unless you’re Angus Young). They know which tones work best at just the right time. And they also know how to dial them up at just the right time.