Any piece of music without a juicy and rich low-end simply doesn’t work. Even if the average listener couldn’t identify the exact bass part, they surely can feel it. So it’s needless to say that in order for your composition to reach the listener, it has to have a perfect bass sound. So, in this article, we will tell you all about achieving a perfect low end and the best amp settings for bass.
About your bass
It wouldn’t be a very big revelation if we say that the great bass sound doesn’t start with the amp. The guitar that you’d choose to play actually matters a lot, but the good news is that there’s very little correlation between the price of the instrument and its sound quality. This means that you don’t have to break a bank to achieve the great bass sound and the bass that you own probably suits your goal perfectly. All you have to do is to make sure that you’ve maintained it properly and nothing stands between you and your perfect low end.
The first thing you have to remember before you even start to consider setting up your amp is that strings have to be always fresh. Old strings tend to make your bass guitar sound very dull and lifeless no matter what amp settings you would use. Of course, changing strings before every gig and rehearsal is almost impossible, since bass guitar strings are particularly expensive. So if you’re on a tight budget, you may consider boiling your strings. Yes, boil your strings, for a couple of minutes if you feel like they’re getting duller. This is a very old-school trick, but it can slightly prolong the lifespan of your strings.
After you make sure that your strings are suitable for the job, you have to adjust your guitar properly. Firstly, make sure that your scale is set the way it should be and the strings’ action is set according to the shape of the neck. Then check if your neck is straight, any buzzing, fret noise or muted strings on certain frets should indicate that it’s not. If you’re using a vintage bass, chances are that the pick-ups might need rewiring or even new magnets. If you’re using a bass with active pick-ups, check if the battery is fresh or, at least, if you have a spare one.
About bass amps
If you’re happy with the state and the sound of your bass guitar, it’s finally time to plug it in the amplifier. But do you actually need one? The short answer would be, no, you don’t need a dedicated bass amplifier in order to achieve a great sound. It sure wouldn’t hurt to have one, but in this modern-day and age, there’re lots of other ways of amplifying your bass guitar at the studio or even on the stage. In fact, most venues and recording studios tend to ditch bulky bass amps in favor of more logistically convenient and, at that, less expensive ways of achieving convincing bass guitar sound.
DI and preamp
The most widespread way of amplifying the bass is to simply use a DI box connected straight to the mixer and DAW in case of a recording session. The only downside to this method is that you’ll be lacking the option of having a very heavy and overdriven sound if you need one. To compensate for this disadvantage, you may use a dedicated stompbox bass preamp. In this case, you’ll have the same flavors that the bass amp could give you but without the inconvenience of carrying one around. And, of course, the preamp could be treated exactly as the bass amp would be when it comes to setting it up.
Electric guitar amplifier
The next method, although very rarely used, is still very effective when it comes to amplifying a bass guitar. Despite that electric guitar amplifiers weren’t specifically designed to carry bass guitar signal, they still are pretty effective at amplifying it, albeit with a significant loss of low-end. We can’t say that we recommend this option, but if you don’t have any other way, this one should do the trick, which seems pretty convenient on the recording sessions since chances are there’re at least a couple of guitar amplifiers always laying around. That being said, in a live gig situation, this could be a bit tricky since you’d have to somehow split the signal and send a DI straight to the mixer in order to preserve the low-end.
Although you don’t need a dedicated bass amplifier, it sure is the most reliable way of making your guitar sound awesome. Depending on your personal preferences and the sound you are looking for you may choose between solid-state amps and tube ones. As a general rule, solid-state amps have a much clearer sound and could be chosen for more modern styles of music such as, for example, metal. Tube amps, on the other hand, would give you a much warmer and dirtier sound and could be used in situations where vibes and feel are way superior to the precision of the sound.
Best amp settings for bass
Regardless of what amp you would choose, they all have similar settings with very slight variations and unless you have an active bass with a built-in equalizer, those settings would be your primary way of setting the tone of your guitar. And, of course, we must warn you that there’re no universally established bass amp settings that would work on any occasion. The settings you would use very much depend on the number of very important factors starting from the environment and the music genre to your own personal taste. So all we could do is to provide you with some insights on what each setting does so you could use it as a starting point.
The bass knob controls the amount of low-end coming from your amplifier and you can easily consider this to be the most important setting when it comes to bass guitar. It’s very hard to imagine a situation where you wouldn’t want your bass to sound thick and powerful. So turning this knob counterclockwise wouldn’t be a very wise decision. As for turning it all the way up, it also isn’t a particularly good idea since you risk overwhelming your bandmates with the sound of your bass. The sweet spot should be somewhere around 7 or 8 or 2 o’clock if the faceplate doesn’t have numerical markings.
As you can probably tell, the mids knob controls lower and upper mid frequencies. Some amplifiers have this knob divided in two, which could give you a lot more flexibility, but one will also work just fine. The important thing to remember is that mid frequencies are usually occupied by electric guitars, so turning this knob too high will make your bass compete with them for space. Turning the knob down too much also could be too drastic since it might make your bass sound too thin and weak. The best thing you could do is to leave it at 12 o’clock and decrease it slightly if needed.
Treble controls the high-frequency content coming from your amplifier. High frequencies are usually reserved for the vocal and cymbals, so it wouldn’t be a very good idea to compete with them by turning the knob all the way to the right. So it is needless to say that you need to be very gentle with this setting and you have to know what type of sound you’re looking for. More treble will give you sharper and slightly aggressive sound and less treble would make it more rounded and warmer. Try to place it somewhere around 1 o’clock and figure it out from there.
Gain basically controls the amount of distortion you would have, it’s a tricky one to adjust since you’d simultaneously have to set the volume in order not to blow your eardrums out. Turning the gain knob clockwise will give you more distortion. And if you turn it counterclockwise, you will get a much cleaner sound. Try to set your volume at a very moderate and manageable level and set the gain according to your preference and remember to take your bandmates opinion into consideration. After you’re satisfied with the gain, turn the volume knob to the level at which you will perform and you’re good to go.
Before you start figuring out the best amp settings for bass, it’s good to make sure that you have fresh strings and a properly adjusted instrument. You don’t have to use a bass amp specifically, but regardless of what type of amplifications you would choose, the settings would be somewhat universal. Adjust your bass knob so that you’d have a massive low end without overwhelming the rest of the instruments. Leave mid knob as is or turn it a bit down if necessary. Slightly turn up the treble if you need a sharper sound, or turn it down if you needed it to be warmer and set the gain to your taste while controlling the volume.