There are few bassists that have made quite an impact on the metal music scene as Rex Brown. As a member of the southern thrash metal group, Pantera, Rex’s bass playing can be heard on dozens of tracks that have become some of the greatest examples of where metal was at throughout the 80s and 90s.
Albums like Cowboys From Hell and Vulgar Display of Power are often found in lists of the greatest metal albums of all time, and from a personal perspective, they’ve inspired countless bands that I’ve worked with and even some of my personal production choices today.
Pantera’s sound is unique and instantly recognizable. You’ve got the wailing, shred-filled playing of Dimebag Darrell, the grizzly, aggressive vocals of Phil Anselmo, and the driving, thunderous drums of Vinnie Paul. Tying all of those elements together are the haunting, brute power of Rex Brown’s bass.
Rex’s Playing Style
One of the things that make Rex’s playing style unique is his walking basslines in a genre that wouldn’t traditionally use them. Not a band to shy away from movement, Pantera’s music is laced with groove elements that kept songs in a constant ebb-and-flow, which meant that even non-metal fans could find something to ground themselves to. That’s not to say there aren’t passages of fast eighth or sixteenth note runs – they’ve just been fused with flowier parts that make you want to move.
Rex can also often be heard riffing along with Dimebag on many of Pantera’s biggest hits. Having a tight, doubled riff with the lead guitar can add a raw and rounded sound to a production. The bass can act as an extension of the guitar in the mix, giving the listener less complex production to focus on and really tune into the riff.
In addition to these characteristics, you’ll see that Rex perfectly moves between styles to get his sound. It’s not like each song gets just a single style – sounds like “Cowboys From Hell” and “Walk” both see him move around from doubling the riff to straightforward basslines and back several times.
The next time you listen to a Pantera track, focus on the bass during the guitar solo. More often than not, you’ll find Rex has a solo style of his own going on that compliments the guitar well. He’ll move around the neck, jump to higher octaves, and more – all while staying in the pocket of the groove.
Rex Brown’s Gear
In order to achieve his sound, Rex has been pretty consistent with much of the gear he’s used throughout the years. He’s been seen with many different basses over the years, but his most common setup was a 4 or 5 string bass with humbuckers for pickups. He’s previously released several signature models with Spector, but most recently he’s begun playing Warwick basses. Like any other player – Rex is constantly working to refine his sound to find the “holy grail” of tone.
Rex runs his bass through a tube preamp and into an older Ampeg SVT bass head & cabinet, which is also somewhat unique for the genre. There are plenty of Ampeg users in the bass community, but they aren’t always metal players. With Rex, the Ampeg provides the flexibility and full-spectrum sound needed for his playing, with the tube preamp acting as his “dirty” sound when driven harder if needed.
Occasionally, Rex has used a bass chorus and reverb to achieve the right tone for a song. Both effects work to create a more warbled, chilling sound – usually during softer parts of a production where they fit best. You can check out examples of both effects over on the Bassforge Rex Brown product page.
More Metal Bass Tones
Getting a sound like Rex’s requires a ton of practice and an understanding of how bass interacts with the rest of the mix. A great bass tone alone isn’t going to cut it, and while we often talk about what a bass should do for your production (add a solid floor, keep rhythm, etc), Rex is the perfect example of where it also sometimes needs to go off in another direction to stand out as a truly unique and complex instrument.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to get the bass tones you’re after in your sessions, check out Basscrusher: An Unholy Guide to Bass Tone. Inside, you’ll find over 80 pages of guidance and resources to help you get the bass tone you’ve always dreamt of.