Music -> Bass EQ

Ok so Iíve read your note on guitar EQ and sorta get what EQ is all about but what about the bass?

Well the bass is one of the most difficult instruments to get a good sound on, the reasons for this are numerous: most bassists donít play with fancy pedals that offer extensive EQ or fx (that some guitarists try to hide behind), the higher range amplifiers are usually big and bulky (and expensive) and low frequencies are harder to control (remember what I said about low frequencies being omni directional?)

So where do I start?
Just like guitars you need to identify what kind of bass sound you want (and most definitely the right one for the style of music your band plays) This can be a little harder since with the exception of some jazz styles, funk and the odd rock song, bass generally sits under the mix and doesnít get the exposure that guitars, drums and vocals get. But that isnít because bass guitarists donít put enough pressure on producers to be louder in the mix! Itís because it's the perfect place for it!

So test this out: Put the low, mid and high knobs on your guitar to the mid way point and all the EQ knobs on your amplifier to the 12 oíclock position. Stand up close to your amplifier and bang out a bass line. What do you hear? Thatís right, your first reaction is to reach for the volume knob and turn it up. Now stand 6 feet back and bang out the same bass line. Like magic itís at the volume you expected it to be!

Guess what, your amplifier is designed to project sound and due to the omni- directional low frequencies it will sound louder in different areas of the room. Donít believe me? Ok take your gear down to your garage, place your amp in the middle of the room and yourself in the corner, play that bass line again... Ok your not gonna have a brain aneurysm, its just all the low frequencies accumulating in the corner!

Does this mean that I need a new amp?
Not at all, hopefully after having your teeth rattled you will feel the need to pull out a bit of the lowsÖ and for most bassists this would definitely be a good thing! You see when you are playing live your amplifier essentially becomes your own personal monitor. Unless the engineer forgot to pack the bass bins, you really donít want the audience to be listening to your bass amp! So position your amplifier so that it doesn't sit in a corner, isn't too close to the back wall and is far enough away from you for you to hear it at its truest projection.

My bands style is umm, kinda like, sorta the same but not quite like...

Ok if you cant quite put your finger on what style of music your band plays and generally it falls into the rock, metal, alternative category then try to get your bass sounding as clear and rounded as possible! Too many bassists try get as fat and nasty as they can, but take a closer listen to some stand out bassists like the guys from Mudvayne, Korn and the Peppers (to name a few), and you will notice that none of them go for the "shake the foundations, blow your hair back, did someone just fire a bazooka?" sound!! Youíve worked hard on writing and learning your songs too, now let the audience hear them both live and in your recordings and not have that inconspicuous (biggest word Iíve ever used - look it up) wet fart sound that doesnít emphasise the drums or compliment the guitars!

So try these EQ settings:

*Roll off all the frequencies below 40Hz - not much but shitty rumble down there
*Roll off all the frequencies above 7 KHz - horrible hiss above here

*Reduce 50Hz by 6dB; use a medium Q (Bandwidth) to take out some of the boom that will make your bass lines unrecognisable!

*Increase 400Hz by 4dB; use a medium Q, to add more clarity

*Increase 800Hz by 4dB; use a medium Q, to add more punch

*Increase 5 KHz by 4dB; use a medium Q, to add more finger sound
*Decrease 5 KHz by 4dB; use a medium Q, to take out some of your finger sound

But Iím not feeling the earth move any more! What have you done?
Donít worry about trying to get the earth to move! Leave that monumental task to your engineer! He should have good, strong bass bins that will get the audience up off their arses and feeling the force, your aim should be to give him the cleanest, clearest sound possible! If you donít you will probably be creating a large shit-pit of muddy low end that the engineer will be obliged to turn down and your guitarists will get all the girls after the gig!

What else can I do to get a good bass sound?
Well its simple, good guitars, strings and amps are cool but you and your band mates are the biggest factor in the equation! Practice playing with just bass and drums, then try just guitars and bass, make sure that everybody is on the same page - not just in timing and being in key, but in have complimentary EQ too! Donít let guitarists steal your thunder by cranking up the 200hz to 400hz range too much, but also be sympathetic to your drummers kick drum and make sure its punching through your bass lines ( cant wait for the day when kick pedals come with built in EQ knobs...ha ha )

Invest in a good compressor!! Itís a bass player's best friend!! (look out for a note on compression that I will write and post on the net when I get the time)

When shopping for bass amps, keep in mind the venues you will be playing in, donít start drooling when you see the giant double 15 inch ball crusher with double 8 by 10's setup, rather look for something that gives you a more balanced sound. For smaller stages, 4 by 10inch cabinets are perfect or even a single 15 inch is cool too. Anything bigger or more extravagant will just take up more space and piss off your engineer.

If your amp doesn't have a built in Direct Inject box, then you might even consider buying a good one yourself ( even though almost all engineers will have one available for you, generally when the guys are buying rigs D.I. boxes take a back seat to spending their budget on better microphones, speakers, desks etc)

Once again, these tips are just guidelines and if all amps, guitars and pedals sounded the same the manufacturers wouldn't bother giving you EQ to fool around with, so experiment but keep in mind that as a bassist you are the backbone of the band that ties in the drums with the guitars and a good understanding of how to get your gear to sound good is as important as being able to play your instrument!

- Dylan Ford producer at:

Serotonin Sound Studio

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