Bass never gets enough credit for the range of tones it's able to generate. While it might seem like variety has always favored guitarists a bit more with more effects pedals and amp options, looking at any bassist’s rig that has dedicated some time and effort to their setup will show you that isn’t always the case.
For today, we’re going to focus on one tone in particular – growl. That low, almost guttural tone that scrapes its way through the mix. Growl is a combination of some low-end grit, a bit of overdrive, and even a little top-end sheen to help it cut through. It’s a common tone for rock and metal, but one that’s hard to dial in just right.
If you’ve got what it takes, your bass guitar should be able to growl right alongside even the heaviest guitar riffs to add a menacing characteristic to your mix.
Where Does Growl Live?
As much as I’d love to tell you one specific frequency range to focus your efforts on, growl can vary in pitch based on everything from the amp you’re using to the notes you’re playing. Generally speaking, it’s going to be in the lower end of your mids – between 100 to 200 Hz. Fortunately, this is also just above most kick drums and just below even the lowest tuned guitars, giving you a bit of a sweet spot to experiment with.
I love boosting the lows a bit on amps to get this range pushed forward in the mix. In the event you start picking up too much lower frequency content in the process, it can always be cleaned up with a high-pass filter after the fact.
Think of your bass in two parts when mixing – the growl comes from these low-end frequencies and the bite is the transient and attack.
Getting In Front Of Your Amp
Usually, the amp itself isn’t going to give you the entire growl tone you’re. You need to get in front of it.
Even with a decent amount of gain on the amp, it can be hard to get a bass amp to break up in the same way a guitar amp does. There’s usually a TON of headroom on these amps and plenty of wattage to push your bass out without breakup.
So when you really want to make your bass growl, turn your attention to overdrive and preamp pedals that can go inline in front of your amp. These pedals allow you to push your bass into breakup territory before they ever reach the amp, and with the right one, will even let you blend it in with a clean tone for even more flexibility. When using a bass preamp in this manner, you’ll really want to focus on your Drive knob, as your tone can change from “growl” to “buzz” quickly if you’re not careful. It’s all about finding the perfect balance.
Just check out this example from Chris Kollias using Bassforge Rex Brown:
As you can see in the video, Chris was able to really dial in the preamp pedal, then go back with EQ to get the growl of his bass to sit just right in the mix.
Finding The Best Bass Tones
Finding the “best” bass tone is subjective, not just from person to person, but from song to song. The perfect bass tone in your current session could sound terrible in your next one, even if it’s the same musician playing it. Everything is contextual.
Getting the best bass tone for each song doesn’t mean going back to square one each time though – you just need a process in place to get to the tone you want quickly and easily. That’s why we wrote the Basscrusher eBook. It’s got everything you need to dial in that perfect, beefy bass tone in every session.