Bass rigs are a strange concept to many non-bass players. While guitarists have thousands of options when it comes to pedals, guitars & amps, the options for bass make up a much shorter list. That’s not to say there aren’t bass players out there who collect just as much gear as guitarists, but by and large you’ll find that bassists tend to stick to smaller setups that provide consistency and versatility above all else.
Here’s why I think that is:
Preamps & Clarity
With guitars, distortion, fuzz & high gain amps all work to push a signal to the point of breakup, but with bass the focus is usually different. Bassists need a lot of power to push their signal out clearly, but when there’s enough of it, they’re rarely fighting anything else in their fundamental frequency range (you just can’t say the same thing for guitars). Because of this many bassists are turning to high-quality preamps at the front of their signal chain for a clean boost and possibly a bit of compression.
Using a good preamp boosts your signal into the amp and essentially pre-processes it to sound good. There are several preamp options available, but some of my favorites are the vintage tube-style pres.
Fewer Basses, More Range
Bassists also tend to pick one or two really good basses and stick with them. There’s a reason Fender J- & P-style basses are some of the most commonly found options – they’ve got the widest range of tones.
Bass playing techniques are vastly different from guitarists, with picking being just one of many ways to play. Bassists will often transition from finger-style to slapping to tapping & more, sometimes even within the context of a single song. Each of these styles demands their own particular sound, which means a bassist’s tone knob(s) and amp settings are just as much a part of their sound as the techniques they choose to use.
For example, a bassist might want something with a bit of Bark to it when playing more traditional finger-style or picking to help the attack of each note cut through the mix. When they transition to a slap part, the dynamics change – the technique itself provides enough attack and presence where the bassist might want to dial it back on the Bark and boost the low-end Thump a bit more.
Having a bass + pedal + amp combo that can encompass many of these tones with ease is essential when you need to move fast between sounds.
Available Amp Settings
The settings on a great bass amp go beyond what you’ll find on many guitar amps. While the EQ section of your guitar amp might only have highs, mids & lows, most higher end bass amps are coming with graphic EQs and other tone-shaping controls. The versatility provided by a 7-band EQ versus a 3-band EQ might seem minimal at first, but anyone who’s tried it can tell you how much more convenient it is. Check out what Bassbeerd Bro had to say about the 7-band EQ in Bassforge Rex Brown below:
Speaking of convenience, there’s one other part of your amp that can really help you get the tones you need – settings banks. This isn’t unique to just bassists, as guitarists will often find banks accessible via footswitch on high-end amps too. But are you using them correctly?
The way I see it, the banks on your amp serve two purposes: to provide presets to the player and to give them an A/B option to compare tones.
The first purpose isn’t so much a big deal for in-the-box bassists with plugin presets at their disposal, but when you’re switching between two tones in real time, they’re a lifesaver. Even in-the-box bassists will sometimes use this functionality to automate the switch between the two rather than setting up two separate tracks for two separate tones.
For the comparison part, there’s no quicker way to compare two tones to each other. If you’re struggling to find the perfect tone for your bass, simply dial in one bank as best you can, try again with the second band, then toggle between the two until there’s a clear winner. You can make tweaks to each as you go and might even end up with two great tones in the process!
Beyond Great Bass Tones
Getting a great bass tone on its own is no small feat, but getting one that’s mix-ready is a whole new set of challenges. If you’re looking to perfect your bass tone both on its own and in your mixes, we’ve got a couple of awesome new perks coming for JST VIP members, including our Hellraiser Insanity Preset Pack for Bassforge Hellraiser and our Basscrusher: An Unholy Guide to Bass Tone eBook.