This post will discuss how to get the best bass amp EQ set up whether you're playing in your garage or live on stage.
How To Get The Best Sound Out of your Bass Amp
Bassists once had to wrestle with their sound, physically as well as sonically! Back in the 70's bass gear was heavier than heck and getting a sound other than a dull thud was almost impossible. Luckily bass amps have evolved and getting more presence and attack along with the low end is now easier to achieve. A little knowledge can determine whether your sound is abysmal or awesome.
Mastering your gear along with getting quality bass guitar lessons from a qualified teacher are some of the best ways to make the biggest impact on your sound.
Get the full FREE Guide:
Bass Amp EQ for Beginners
Discover how to get the ideal bass sound from room to room and gig to gig! Bend your Bass Amp EQ to your will and turn any tone from abysmal to awesome, fast!
EQ is short for equalization. This is the section on an amp (we'll ignore the on-board preamp EQ you may have on your bass for now) that shapes the tone or sound of the instrument. Depending on the bass amp you use, the EQ section may have three knobs labelled LOW, MID and HIGH or a 12 band graphic equalizer or some combination of the two.
In my personal experience, the best place to start to shape your sound is ground zero - that means remove all the EQ from your signal chain.
What's a signal chain you ask? A signal chain includes all the devices used to make your bass heard and/or colour its tone. If you plug your bass directly into an amp then you have a small signal chain. If you plug your bass through 30 different effects boxes and two different amps then you have a big and complicated signal chain.
This bass gear diagram (above) shows a simple signal path from the instrument through to the bass amp.
I'm not going to tell you that one is better than the other, but if you're just starting out I would heavily suggest keeping it simple. Once you are comfortable with getting a good sound out of your electric bass and amp, you can build from there.
How To Equalize A Bass Amp
Start simple; disable any bass amp eq settings that are currently active on the amplifier. To do that, de-select things like 'bass boost' or 'presence enhance' that alters the sound of your bass. Set your EQ dials to "0" or at 12 o'clock, or your graphic EQ sliders to their middle position - in most cases this will give you only the sound from your bass and cable being amplified by the bass rig.
How does it sound?
If you like what you hear - feel free to leave it as is. Eqing bass guitar is best when you add or remove only what needs to be addressed, rather than twiddling knobs at random and hoping for the best.
If you're just getting acquainted with your amp, this is a good way to learn the function of each knob one at a time (returning each back to the off or neutral setting before testing the next) and see what happens to your bass sound. If you compare your 'before' and 'after' sound you'll have a better idea how each feature works and what works best for you.
Feel free to take notes if you like. You may find a sound that works great for a bass solo section, or the perfect sound for supporting the rest of the band. Being a great bassist means you know how to get those tasty sounds and can unleash them at just the right time.
Bass Amp Setup
For those that think all you do is plug the amp into the wall and your bass into the amp and play, here's a newsflash - where you put your amp has a huge impact on what you hear. Also, where you stand in relation to the amp, what your amp is on or leaning against along with the size, shape and surface materials that make up the room also affect the sound you hear coming from your amp.
Whoa - that's quite the list to wrap your head around isn't it?
To be able to get a consistently good sound out of your electric bass amp, you need to have a decent grasp on how each of the above elements affect what you hear. Ever wonder why you can get the perfect sound in your bedroom, basement or garage and then play a gig and find that your bass tone sucks? Read on and you'll understand why.
Bass Amp Positioning
Where you place your amp is very important, the reason for this is that bass frequencies are omni-directional. This means they react much like water does when you drop a pebble in a pond - the sound waves form an outwardly expanding circle from the source (your bass rig) and crashes into the nearest surface where it is either absorbed or reflected back at you.
The sound waves that are reflected cause a problem known as frequency cancellation. When frequencies (such as mids and highs) can become eliminated when reflected sound waves crash into the next wave of sound emanating from the bass speakers; as a result your prized bass tone may be changed into a big heaping pile of sonic mud.
You may not be able to totally eliminate frequency cancellation, but it can be managed if you know what to do.
- Never put your amp in the center of a room.
Picture a square room as seen from above with your amp in the center, when you start playing, sound waves bounce off all four walls and head right back at you. Since sound travels pretty fast, all those sound waves come back at you almost instantly and at approximately the same time. Messing with your bass amp EQ by twiddling buttons will do little to help - the alternative is:
- Always put your amp close to wall.
Move it close, but don't let it touch the wall - otherwise the wall will vibrate and enhance the bass frequencies like a pseudo amplifier. Placing the bass amp about a foot away helps to minimize the reflection from the walls behind you - and extends the distance to the wall directly in front of you, which is a good thing. You can further reduce sound reflections by collecting carpet, blankets or even the mythological eggshell cartons and hang them on the wall. You may notice that professional studios and live concert halls have dampened reflective surfaces like metal, glass or stone to improve the overall acoustics of the room.
Now that you've dealt with the frequency cancellation, it's a good time to figure out where you're going to stand. If this is just a practice room it's no big deal, but if you're performing live or in a rehearsal studio you should be a certain distance away from you bass amp to hear it effectively.
- A good rule of thumb is that the size of the speakers in your bass cabinet dictate how far away you should be.
If you have a single 15" speaker then 15 feet in front of that speaker should be the 'sweet spot' where you can hear it best. This works for any size speaker - a 10" speaker will throw sound about ten feet ahead, and having multiples doesn't change this (i.e. a 2 x 10" cabinet will still sound better about 10 feet away, not five or 20 feet away).
If you're performing live, you won't always have the luxury of standing in the perfect spot in front your bass rig. The stage may be too small, or you may have to set up your gear in front of two other bands equipment. If you sing or use bass effect pedals you're going to need to be plugged into your amp and reach the mic or have another outlet close by to plug your effects into. Having a reliable bass wireless unit doesn't hurt in this instance!
Directing Your Bass Amp Speakers
If you're standing in the 'sweet spot' in front of your bass rig and are still having troubles hearing yourself, before you reach for the volume knob (prompting the next installment of volume wars in your band) check and see where your speakers are aimed at. If your bass amp is sitting on the floor, your sound is probably slapping you somewhere in the neighbourhood of the back of your calves up to maybe your lower back - not your ears. Wedging a piece of wood under your amp so that it points up at about a 45 degree angle should be adequate if you're 10 or 15 feet away from the amp. If you're much closer you may need to tilt the amplifier back at a more extreme angle or put it on a chair or both.
Bass Frequencies versus Room Acoustics
Okay, now that the amp is in the best spot possible in the room, and you're far enough in front of it and/or have it angled in such a way that the sound is actually reaching your ears - you can now listen to your bass amp and determine what needs to happen to the sound.
Do you need more low end or less? Are you lost when the distorted guitars or drums kick in (or if you're starting out, when the music on your MP3 player or radio comes on)?
Now is when you get to play with your bass amp equalizer.
- Try boosting the LOW frequencies if your sound is too thin or trebly.
- Boosting MID frequencies help to bring out finger-style playing nuances.
- LOW MIDS help bring out the 'snarl' of your bass.
- Boosting the HIGH frequencies will increase your presence, or the sound of a pick on the strings.
Problem Bass Frequencies
Sometimes despite all the thought you've put into your sound and your bass amp and cabinet placement, you'll still end up with some frequencies that are too weak or too overbearing. Bass amp tone setting is part art and science; here are some tips.
- Too Much Low End (Bass frequencies)
As a bassist you can never really have too much bass frequencies right? WRONG! Sure, dealing out the cellar-dwelling low end is part of the job description, but not when you have so much thud that you can't even distinguish the notes you're playing. Rather than boost HIGHS or MIDS to compensate you can also try reducing the amount of bass - even if it feels like the wrong thing to do as a bassist.Another good tip is to get your amp off the floor, use either a chair or a milk crate or something else that breaks the contact with the floor and isn't hollow itself. When your bass cabinet rests on the floor (especially on a hollow stage), the floor resonates with the cabinet causing a massive bass boost that can't be Eqed out of your sound. If nothing else works for you and you don't mind investing some money to improve your sound you can check out Auralex Acoustics.
They make Amp Isolation Risers isolation risers in two different sizes that should accommodate just about any bass rig.
- Too Much High End (Treble frequencies)
Too many HIGHS will give you a harsh and noisy sound, turn them down and see if your sound is improved. If you need some clarity you can position your picking/plucking hand closer to the bridge or try boosting some of the high mids frequencies. Playing at loud volumes especially if you have sketchy wiring in your electric bass guitar may not be addressed with bass amp equalization tweaks alone;. you may require a noise gate or filter that will suppress those high frequencies from exiting your speakers. Does your bass speaker cabinet have a built in tweeter? Tweeters deal out the highest parts of the bass signal coming out of the speakers and often have a dial on the back or side of the cabinet that allows you to reduce the volume or disable it completely.If you still have too much treble in your sound, consider placing the bass cabinet directly on the floor.
- Too Many Mid Frequencies (Mid-range frequencies)
To most bass players the mid frequencies are our friends. They help add clarity, depth and snarl to the notes and allow us to maintain some sonic real estate that even loud and distorted guitars rarely occupy. But as you can probably guess, too much of even a good thing can be bad. Excessively boosted mid frequencies can give a 'honk' to your sound that is possibly more annoying than the other two problems combined. I don't think I've ever encountered this problem as a direct result of room acoustics - more often it is from bass amplifier equalizer tweaking gone wrong without correctly placing and positioning your amp. To fix the MID problem, you'll need to revisit your amplifier EQ settings after you position the bass amp in the best possible place (see positioning your bass amp above).
Your Bass Amp EQ will Change in Every Room
Here's the good news, even after you've found the perfect sound and set-up for your bass amp, it'll all fly out the window as soon as you walk out of that room and play a gig at a bar, in a backyard or in a gymnasium. Every single room (or lack thereof) has its own acoustic properties that will help or hinder your bass guitar sound.
As much as we'd all like a perfect bass amp tone system that we could just 'set and forget', there is no such thing currently available.
The best solution that you have is to keep the above recommendations in mind each time you set your bass amp up anywhere. These tips will help you rise out of the sonic mud and impress others with your consistently great bass sounds (yeah...maybe someone will notice, it could happen!).
Thank you for reading my Bass Amp EQ for Beginners post.
As you can see bass amp equalizer settings can be pretty complex, so don't feel bad if it takes you a while to achieve a great sound when playing solo and with a band. Learning how to eq a bass amp takes time and these bass amp eq tips will help you get much closer to finding your ultimate sound. Aside from getting more bass lessons, mastering your eq will be an ongoing experience changing from room to room you perform in, the bands you perform with and the style of music you choose to play. Good luck!
Get the full FREE Guide:
Bass Amp EQ for Beginners
Discover how to get the ideal bass sound from room to room and gig to gig! Bend your Bass Amp EQ to your will and turn any tone from abysmal to awesome, fast!
Awesome article (wish I had read this when I first started playing)! I have been playing bass for about 12 years now, and just went through the whole EQ/trial and error thing again when I sold my old Trace Elliot rig for an Ampeg SVT 4-Pro head and Mesa Powerhouse 1000 cabinet. Wow – what a drastic improvement, but even now I still find myself tweakin’ the knobs looking for that ‘sound in my head.’ Oh well – I guess that would be the one downside to being a gear whore!
Good stuff, and can’t wait to read the rest of them on your site.
Thanks for stopping by Bass Guitar Rocks and I’m glad that you found the article helpful. I’m still using my Trace rig and have no complaints so far. The best thing about the Bass Amp Eq article is that it should work for whatever gear you’re using and is a great way to go back to basics when you’re working with either unfamiliar gear, or in a new room you haven’t played in before. Best of luck with the new gear and keep in touch!
Hey man, thanks. I just bought my bass a month ago. And bought a used Kustom 200 watt 2×10″. It has the 6 EQ dials on it. I tested it with another used 200 watt 1×15″ and liked the 2×10″s a lot more. Felt like a better overall bass sound, and not just that deep thumping sound that works great for hip-hop, but not rock. But had no idea how to use the EQs in my best interest. Then my boss, who I jam with in his garage. Told me he read an article about getting the right sound out of the amp without playing the ‘volume war’ with each other to be heard over the drummer. The article he read was geared towards guitarists. So I searched google to find a relative article for bass amps. This was a great read, and will use it’s knowledge whenever I jam out. Thanks again. I’ll make sure to bookmark this site now, and look forward to reading future articles.
Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad that Bass Amp EQ for Beginners helped you out. Don’t be a stranger – keep reading and let me know what you think of the other posts here, is there anything I should cover that isn’t presently on the site? My goal is to help out other bassists out there, so let me know what you want to see more of.
Well one thing I have been always curious about, was the fact that I see some amps with high watts, selling for less than other amps with was less watts. Is it just a name brand over a generic brand? Or are those less wattage amps selling for more, more of a true wattage? Also, I do see your point buying new with amps. You did say that if you are buying from a trusted place that sells used gear, that you should be in the clear so to speak. I am lucky enough to have such place with a local music store in my area. So I felt comfortable buying a used amp. Personally though, I am now boycotting the music in the box store, that I’m sure we all know. Keep up the site though man.
Don’t play to love, love to play.
The cost of the amp can be based on many things, brand and total wattage can be two of them. There’s also the type of amp – generally tube amps are most expensive and have less wattage compared to class A/B or D amps. A post about the types of bass amps could be a good idea since I don’t have the space here to go into all the details. Thanks J.D.!
Hey man , loved the article, ive been playing bass for a few years now and just purchesed myself a genz benz setup (gbe1200watt head- 4×10 uber cabb 1000watt) and found that with the twin pre amp (tube and solid state) it was all a bit intimidating but sumtimes going back to the basics with new gear is the key so cheers for the advice that was posted. Keep up the good work man
back to the basics with eq adjusting i meant lol
This is a fantastic article. I’ve been a bass player now over 20 years, and EQing has always stumped me to a point. Tying to find that sweet spot can be trying and frustrating all at once. I currently run a Peavey 700 Tour Series head with an Ampeg 610 HLF, and playing a Yamaha TRB1005 bass with active pickups and EQ. Every gig I have ever played in my career, I’ve always had to adjust the EQ. It gets more complicated when you run active pickups and EQs on your bass (or guitar), because the sound is much hotter. When you only get a few minutes for sound check, this can give you very little room for adjustments. So what I do is go to my rig if there is a break in a song and tweak a frequency. One good tip is ALWAYS write down your settings, and at what place they were used at. This way when you go back to that club or bar, you just pull out your notebook and you are there.
Also you mentioned about the cost difference between tube and solid state amps. There is another factor to include. Tube bass amp are absolutely louder than solid state. For example, take what I run that Peavey 700. The tube head I’m looking at for an upgrade, is the Peavey VB-3 Pro, which is only 300 watts but it is all tube driven. That thing would smoke my 700 watt head in a heartbeat.
Sound is very subjective, everyone needs to remember that. What you hear on stage, is not what the audience hears. Tweaking the EQ is a necessary evil in the world of music.
Thanks again for this brilliant article.
Thanks for the great comments, it’s people like you that make writing this bass blog so rewarding. I’m glad that you found the post useful and hope that you’ll still check out some other posts here or tell a friend! What you hear on stage definitely isn’t what the audience hears…great advice!
Okay, this is embarrassing since I have been playing Bass for 30 years but here goes. What is the difference in “Class A, B, C, D” amps? I have NO idea what it means?
Thanks for the great question and you have no need to be embarrassed – I couldn’t answer your question either. However, I conducted a brief search and came up with the following link that should answer all of your questions for you – check it out here:
I hope that helps!
Hi there. I wished to let you know that some components of your website are onerous to read for me, as I am color blind. I am afflicted by tritanopia, however there are more forms of color blindness which will also experience difficulties. I can read the majority of the website Okay, and the elements I have problems with I can understand by using a custom browser. Neverthless, it would be cool if you can bear in mind we color-blind types while carrying out the next website re-working. Many Thanks.
everything you have said here in your article is true, I have been playing pro for 30 years now and have changed my eq at allmost every gig. most of the eq problems I have ran into are the stage. big room never hurt anything or outdoor gigs . but bars and small inside jobs do. some stages are hollow. when you have a hollow stage put you cab up on a tilt back stand. I use a 4-10 cab with a svt 2 pro. takes that 20-40 htz out of your amp and allows you to taylor your tone again.I set my eq flat at every gig and work the mid frequency knob. for a great sound allways play with the mids in most jobs. it is allways cut 2-3db.I never boost low end or highs.also I use the 9 band eq from my svt if I am in trouble which is rolled off at 90 htz and flat from 100-16k ,. getting the best tone and sound is 80% from the bass you have . if you play rock like me it if high end fenders. heavy metal the same. keep rockin mike paulhamus
Great article Michael! I’ve been playing for years and have come to live by the motto “less is more”, in both my amp settings and my playing. Glad I found your site, I will be looking at it often.
Just a little quibble is all; most of the major points of the article are spot on.
When you write “Set your EQ dials to “0? or at 12 o’clock, or your graphic EQ sliders to their middle position – this should leave you with only the sound from your bass and cable being amplified by the bass rig” on most amps this is not strictly true. Most amplifiers use passive tone controls which means that anything other than ’10’ or full on the dial is actually cutting that frequency. Now, some bass rigs do use active tone controls (where 12 o’clock would be neutral, below 12 a cut, and above 12 a boost) but this is somewhat rare even on bass stuff, and extraordinarily rare on guitar or PA or mixing equipment.
That said, many people still like to start from this position and many people still get good results doing it. If that works out for you, great. I personally think that starting with everything full up (on the dials that is, presence switches and the like should probably start in the off position like you indicate) gives you a slightly better indication of an amp’s true character. But everyone wants their own sound, and neither method is more valid.
Great advice above; there are a couple things beyond the bassist’s control of which he or she needs to be aware. Keyboard players can really foul the lower frequency spectrum when they play intervals and chords and such right in the range where the bass line is operating. Another situation with high potential for a messy low end is the guitarist who insists on tuning his or her axe down a half step (or a whole step!). I know these kinds of problems are outside the scope of your very fine article, but anyone who plays in a lot of different situations needs to be aware they exist. All one can do is his or her best in these cases, and look upon them as opportunities to refine one’s rehearsal/personnel skills! Thanks for putting this stuff in order. It’s good to keep in mind. Thanks.
great article! I have a quick question. Why don’t bass players do what guitar players do and face the amp setup away from the audience? as in facing from the side of the stage to the other side, or even facing you from the front? I know about omnidirectional bass travel and such, but it seems like it would be a good solution, since it seems like soundguys are always telling me to turn my bass down! probably because I have never actually had enough space to stand in the sweet spot, and had to compensate by volume.
Good question – why don’t bass players turn their amps to shoot from the side? At one show we used to play both me and the guitar player did this with great results. The stage was quite a bit wider than it was long, so if it’s an option I say go for it. Head for the sweet spot regardless of where your amp is positioned on (or off) stage.
thanks, this really helped! i always wondered why my eq setting sounded perfect when i play at the music venues downtown but sound like crap in my house, now i know
Good article Michael.
One thing that might help James understand his problem. Although bass is omnidirectional as lower freq. as you increase the freq. by playing high notes, those notes becoming increasingly directional. In fact you can often hear noticeable differences in the mid-bass rang starting around the 300hz mark, which means most of your bass signal is directional. So as Michael suggested if your amp/cab are not in good position for you to hear, you could be missing parts of your bass tone. There are no hard rules for placement, experiment with positioning!
Excellent article, as a long-time bassist, it amazes me how many of these solutions I stumbled upon myself, and the ones I didn’t. I especially liked the comment about the hollow stage. This can have a huge impact. Also, I always try out an amp first with all the EQ knobs all the way up, this is the true sound of the guitar. No effects, tailored EQ, blend in with the band, a decent sounding bass (Schecter here) and you’ll have a lifetime of compliments about your bass sound!
Thanks for the kind words and for sharing the great tips! I have tried turning all the tone EQ knobs up – reminds me of the other advice I’ve heard about also turning the volume all the way up on the amp and controlling it with the volume on your bass guitar instead – depending on the amp, that’s a lot of power in your hands!
Hey Michael, very useful article this is. I’ve been playing Bass over 5 years, but I don’t understand anything about the amp setting. I currently own a Fender Rumble 15 amp and an Ibanez SR500. My amp only has 4 knobs: Volume, Bass, Mid, Treble. What do yo mean by the High frequency and Low frequency sounding of an amp? And how should I balance my eq settings? I usually play thrash/groove metal and hard rock. I like thicker tones.
Oh and I wanted to know further about the purpose of Gain, Presence and Boost even though I don’t have those features in my Fender Rumble 15 Amp
Hey Luke, low frequency means the ‘lows’ or ‘bass’ that comes from the amp. I avoided calling it the ‘bass frequencies’ because there are also plenty of low frequencies in the lower range of the middle or ‘mid’ frequencies. Confused yet? Your EQ settings will vary according to what type of music your play, whether you’re playing solo or in a band and of course – your personal preference. If you’re using a 15 watt amp it’ll be difficult to get the ‘thicker tones’ that you crave. As I state in the article, the middle frequencies are your friend – the can add definition without noise – they can add snarl or growl without adding mud. However, if you play solo, you may want to crank the bass and the treble for a more ‘scooped’ sound. The problem is – if you do this in the context of loud ‘thrash guitars’ – you’ll be lost and never hear yourself. Bassists like Jason Newsted with Metallica back in the day learned that he had to occupy more of the sonic frequencies in the middle range to be able to stake out some sonic real estate in the mix.
Luke – gain usually determines how ‘hot’ the signal is coming out of the amp – cranking the gain will give you more distorted sounds while having little gain will leave you with a cleaner sound. Presence usually helps to ‘define’ the sound of your bass, bringing out more of the attack and the high end and string noise. A little presence can go a long way and too much can just add a lot of noise to your sound. Boost gives a bump to whatever frequency it’s used for – many amps may have a ‘bass boost’ which is great if you’re playing something like reggae and need a slab of low end without much definition. There may also be treble boost, mid boost (in which case the respective frequencies as boosted) which are often found with onboard active electronics basses. Let me know if any of this is not making sense for you.
hey 🙂 thank you very much for the insight ..really helpful.. will use them tomorrow on my gig 😀 keep on posting
Hey mike just wondering is it safe to put an eletric guitar into a yamaha yb15 amp because I don’t want to break my amp
The Dude – if I understand you correctly, the YB15 is a bass amp and you’re concerned that plugging a guitar into it might damage the bass amp. From my experience – you have nothing to worry about; bass guitar amps are built to handle and project the lower frequencies as effectively as possible. A typical guitar won’t put out anywhere near as much low end…just more high end – especially if you use distortion. I have yet to hear of high end ‘ruining’ a bass amp. Having said that – the YB15 is only 15 watts – so I would proceed cautiously – if you’re always playing with the amp cranked ‘to eleven’ you’ll run the risk of it overheating and becoming damaged. Hope this helps!
Mike – Great article. Last night I played a gig and found my sound either too booming or too low. I now know that I’m not using the mid frequencies as I should (and that probably because I tinker with my sound either in rehearsal settings or alone on stage. Playing with the group on stage changes your sound drastically in relation to others. One aspect you didn’t cover was bass horns. On my Line 6 amp I can turn them on or off. Any advice . BTW – our group plays cover Motown, Oldies and Classic Rock. Thanks…P
Horns can be part of the problem as well – cranking the high end can add a lot of ‘noise’ to your signal. The type of music that you list doesn’t sound like you’d need a lot of horn, you’d want more of a solid foundation. I generally start with the horn in the flat position and see how it sounds – if for some reason you need to hear more highs to distinguish certain notes, then add some horn – otherwise if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it. I wouldn’t be that surprised if you end up disabling the horn entirely playing Motown stuff. It’s hard to say without knowing the cabinet you’re playing through: a 1×15 or a 1×18 might need a little horn, a 4×10 or 2×10 might give you plenty of highs without enabling the horn at all. I hope this helps and thanks for visiting Bass Guitar Rocks!
Michael ……….. thanks for your all your info, fantastic, my problem is, I’ve played bass for 50 years or so, (started at 15yrs) although I did stop for about 10years.
Had numerous set ups & basses as you can imagine.
Did many pro gigs as well as semi pro stuff ….. always did covers & the best sound I ever achieved was with a Hiwatt 200 head & 1 4×12 cab + 2 cabs with 1×18 in each.
Sounds over the top I know but the sound was deep & warm & loud. Great for all the Mecca ballrooms etc………..
Started to play again (at a very old age) bought a Fender rumble 75 combo & very disapointed with what sound I can get. I know I can’t match the Hiwatt or the later Trace set ups I had ……………. but I just can’t seem to get that deep warm sound I want. Too many options with mids & lows for an old, out of touch bloke !!!!
Love to hear your advices ……………. cheers, Brian.
(now living in Spain.)
Hi Brian, Thanks for leaving a comment. I wish I could help you out with finding the ideal setup for your bass – but this is a life long quest and very subjective for everyone involved. The monster rig you described sounds awesome and there’s no way you’ll be able to go from that to a 75 combo and be happy with what you hear. Hey, I’m as much of a control freak as the next bassist, but in the end all that you can control with your amp is the sound you hear immediately on the stage. If you’re dealing with a P.A. and a sound technician, they’ll have ample opportunity to ‘mess’ with your sound. I agree that it is very confusing with all the options out there. Actually, I was wondering if you’re still using the same bass guitar or if you’ve also changed basses along the way – that could be another reason that you’re not hearing what you once did. Let us know!
Mike, thanks so much for bothering to reply …….. I know where you are coming from ….. & I realize I’ll never ever get those sounds again. That ‘monster’ rig was during the Glam rock era, when a big fat chest thumping sound was needed.
I always kept my Fender Jazz (very early 70’s model ) with different other basses along the way. I had loads of combos after that, to be able to deal with the function scene side of gigs.
It was just dealing with the low mids & high mids on the Fender Rumble. Having said all that, I found the Trace amps fine to deal with ……. with the much more varied e.q. controls available.
Slightly frustrating but I know I’ll just have to keep on experimenting ………..
Keep up your excellent site ……………… Brian.
Hey Brian – no problems, I love to ‘talk shop’ with fellow bass players. It’s cool to know that you still have that 70’s Fender – I’m sure it sounds great! I didn’t want to dismiss your question, but it’s a really hard target to hit. Sometimes we tend to ‘hear with our eyes’ and think bigger is better. Personally, I’d try to reflect on what it was about that rig you mention that you liked so much and go from there. Did it sound as good in each and every venue? Were some venues better than others? Another thought that occurs to me, is what if your hearing has deteriorated from those days? I mean zero offense at all, but if you’ve been exposed to loud sound pressure levels over the years, the way you actual hear will be different today than it was back then – even if you had the exact same bass and rig standing right in front of you!
The cheapest way to overhaul your tone is by experimenting with strings…while not cheap it’s still a whole lot cheaper than messing around with different amp and cabinet configurations! Do you play with ear plugs live? Have you tried the custom moulded kinds for your ears? Another thing to try is to crank your amp and control all the volume via your bass guitar volume (not recommended if you have scratchy pots!). This can really ‘open’ up your sound and gets your amp to to the ‘heavy lifting’ so-to-speak, which will likely lighten up your approach and again, change the sound of what you hear. I’m just throwing out some less expensive ideas for you to experiment with Brian. Lastly, have you tried any boutique amps or cabinets? A combo isn’t going to hold a candle to a massive rig, but manufacturers today are getting much bigger sound out of smaller equipment these days…so there’s always hope you can find what you’re looking for!
Don’t be a stranger and good luck with your quest!
I’ve found Fender amps, particularly the rumble series to be of very tinny character myself. In high school, I was playing a jazz bass through such a cabinet, and it was very frustrating to not be able to rock the bottom in such an ensemble, I felt very bright for jazz ballads (In Fender’s defense, the amp was probably underpowered for the situation) at any rate, the best solution I found with that or my P-bass has actually been to roll off the tone at the guitar for whatever reason. Give that a try! hope it helps
Hi Mike, thanks for such a great article!!!
I’m back to bass playing after a 20+ year hiatus, and found things have really evolved…
I picked a Cort Action V DLX with active pickups after trying a bunch of basses at my local guitar shop, I liked the feeling of the neck and the weight, very important for me due to a back injury that doesn’t allow me to carry too much weight.
Along with the bass I got a small Marshall MB15 amp with a 8″ speaker. Everything sounded great, and I was happy at that point as I live in a small apartment.
But then I started to gig with some work friends, and confronted a massive wattage war ( just kidding ), but I needed at least 100 watts to play with them. I came back to the store and after trying a couple of Laney’s and Marshall’s ( not many brands available in my country) tried a Hartke A100 and fell in love with the warm punchy tone of the 15″ aluminium speaker and 100 watts of power.
Went Back to my apartment with my new monster, feeling like a kid on christmas, and I set all my gear and began to play, just to found a horrible muffled and distorted sound getting out of my amp…
I went back to the store to make a claim, as I thought the amp was defective, but we tested the amp this time with my bass, and it sounded great during the test, with a beautiful warm and punchy tone… Back to my apartment, confused about the situation, tested my gear again and I got the same muffled distorted sound…
I have tried a ton of different positions and eq setups, but nothing seems to work. I’ve been able to get a better sound, but nothing like the tone I got at the guitar store.
Any suggestions to this situation? I’m really frustrated….
Thanks a lot for your advice!
P.S.: the room I practice in my apartment is 24 ft. x 12 ft., with wooden floor and concrete walls, and a couple of sofas and tables on it…
I thought for sure you were going to ask about how to play quietly in an apartment with a 100 watt bass amp!
As for your amp problem – the very first thing I would rule out is your instrument cable; you indicated the amp and your bass sounded fine at the store – but were you using your cable or one from the store? The few times that I’ve had to deal with distorted sounds was either when I was cranking the amp and it was getting too hot (in a live situation) or when an active bass I used had a low battery. That last reason would have to do with the bass, so I don’t think it’s your problem since you say the bass sounded great at the store. When you say “muffled” do you mean that the sound is low and it’s hard to distinguish the notes? Set everything flat on the amp and ideally on your guitar – start for ‘ground zero’ and go from there. Try getting the amp off the wooden floor with a mic crate or something similar and see what it sounds like. This is what comes to mind for starters – let me know if you’ve already tried these things or not. There’s definitely no reason that the amp should sound so dramatically different (warm and punchy vs. distorted and muffled) based solely on the room alone.
Lastly – I’m assuming you used your actual bass and your actual amp in both comparisons (at home and at the store) – because grabbing the same model at the store doesn’t mean that it’ll sound exactly alike.
Hi Mike! I’d Say everyone has said it and I solidarize (if thats a word xD) myself with eveyones word. GREAT ARTICLE for a newbie like me to this World of Bass Frequencies and All. And hey i was going to answer a question a little complicated maybe but i just need to hear some expert advise for my problem…
The thing is that im a Christian. I play the Bass Guitar at my Church and since EVER there’s always been this issue with the Bass Sound! By the way my amp or the Church’s amp may I say js a TNT 115. A really good Bass Amp with 8 (i think) freqency knobs and a High and Low knob too.
And now for the real details
1. My Church is a loong but no so fat if one if you know what mean.
2. The Amp positioning is right in front of an Acryclic for the percussion or battery as we say here.
3.The frequency knobs right now are all random and messed up
4. High and Low Knobs well i play with those sometimes to get a better.
5.Sometimes when im beside the amo I can here myslef perfectly and have a delicious sound but people from the back say its too loud and its REALLY TRUE
6.How can i hear myslef perfectly besides the amp but when i go far i just hear PURE LOW even though playing with the frequencies and High and Low Knobs? i really dont get it
My conclusion: The Amp location is not the best and frequencies are getting lost or are bouncing right back to me. maybe
Anyways I just want to know your advise Mike as you sure know better than me in this frequency and amp positioning stuff
I can even send you a photo of how and where the amp is positioned so you have an EXTRA BETTER idea of what im talking about..
I will surely be most appreciated and believe this will be for Gods deed so im sire you too will be blessed. Dont know what you believe in but im sure about my God! THANK YOU SO MUCH AND GREAT GREAT ARTICLE!
Will be waiting for your reply 🙂 Have a Great Day !
It sounds like you have quite the situation. The very first thing that I’d do is take all those frequency knobs and put them into the ‘flat’ or ‘off’ position which appears to be at “12 o’clock” from the picture of the TNT 115 that I’m looking at – and move all the sliders to the center position. Get a nice clean sound from the bass using just a cable (preferably a long one, you’ll see why in a minute) direct into the amp. I repeat, no tuners, pedals or anything that may alter the tone of your bass in any way. If you bass has an onboard eq, neutralize it…in other words, don’t crank the bass or the treble – you want it flat, a ‘plain jane’ sound. You do all this to establish “ground zero”.
Now, play the amp and examine how it sounds. Can you hear all the frequencies relatively well? Does it sound too “muddy”? Are you losing the mids? Don’t make any changes yet – just listen and if you want, jot some notes down on what you’re hearing.
Now take a walk – if you have a 30 foot cable, walk as far out as you can from the amp in a straight line. How does it sound out there? Ideally – play the same thing, using the same attack, the same notes so you can reference how it sounds away from your amp. Listen, note how it sounds again – if you have a wireless unit – even better cause you can really take a stroll and hear what it sounds like in different parts of the venue. Take notes on where the audience is most likely to be hearing your amp.
What will this tell you? Well, if when you played the amp while standing next to it and you thought the sound was a little thin, but when you played out in the audience area and thought it sounded like too much bass – then you’d know to not add more bass or you’ll make it sound even worse out front.
This is a delicate balance between what you can live with hearing on stage and what the audience hears. The audience wins when it comes to this, because if they all think it sounds too loud, you’re going to be hearing about it one way or the other.
Another trick is to turn your bass away from the audience and shoot it sideways across the stage, this works if your bass is already coming through the house P.A. (which you didn’t mention). If it is going through the PA, then by turning your amp sideways and standing where the sound will reach you, you can mix your sound however you like without it messing with what the audience hears.
Hopefully this gave you a few more ideas Tony, I wish you the best of luck and let me know how it works for you!
Thanks for the time you take to answer this questions, and for sharing your knoledge and experience, they’re really helpful.
As you said the first thing I did was replacing the battery on the bass, but sound just continued really distorted. I called and electrician to test the electric outlets at my apartment, but this wasn’t the problem either.
Went back to the store and this time the sound was as horrible as in my apartment, so we tested thebamp with a brand new Dimarzio cable and the result was the same.
Then they calibrated my bass and changed the factory strings to Ernie Ball’s, but nothing changed… So they decided to test a new amp, just to find out the same problem, so it looks like they have a defective lot of Hartke A100’s.
Just to be sure we tested my bass with a Laney RB6, and the result was just amazing, as I got a delicious round and warm tone out of it, with full definition and lots of low end, and the bass and amp eqs were flat!!!
Well, as you may assume as this time I just fall in love with that amp, so I came back home with 165 watts of pure british bass power.
Now I’m really happy with my tone, my band is also happy as now they really hear me in the front with full definition, but I need your advice in how to play “quietly” in my apartment with this new monster as my neighbors aren’t that happy anymore.
Thanks in advance!
I love a happy ending! Glad to hear you got it all sorted out and worked with the store to suss out the root of the problem. Not only did you get a great new amp, but you also saved a lot of headache for the store and all the other customers who could have ended up with one of those dud amps!
As for playing quietly, I have an article on this site called “Bass Amp Alternatives” that covers the little things you can do to play without an amplifier that could help when you want to go without an amp. However, since you have a brand new amp I’m sure you want to play it as much as possible. Does it have a headphone jack? Otherwise, a trick I used to do was to put my amp on top of my bed (back when I practices in my bedroom) and tilt the amp upwards as much as possible. Sorry, there’s no ‘hard’ science behind this, I just hoped that the bed would isolate the amp from the floor plus dampen most of the sound projecting from the back of the amp. By angling it upwards, the amp was easier to hear at lower volumes as well.
Also – the bass frequencies are the ones that travel the furthest, so roll off as much as you can – especially if you’re playing into the evening when complaints are more likely to be had from neighbours!
Unfortunately, we can just whip up a sound isolation bubble around you and your amp where you could play as loud as you like with nobody else hearing it, so give these tips a try and let me know how they work for you. Nobody wants to compromise their tone, but sometimes you need to play ‘diet bass’ when you want to hear yourself through the amp without headphones AND not piss off the neighours…too much!
Good luck Victor!
1st, excellent article. Accurate information.
2nd, Almost didn’t click it because of the title, because I’m not a beginner! Maybe “HOW TO EQ YOUR BASS AMP”?
I’m a professional bass player with a background in acoustics and sound engineering.
I’m going to amen pretty much everything in the article. One additional point: Keep away from corners if possible. Bass frequencies tend to collect there and you will find certain notes boom while others disappear.
The best way I find to eq your bass in a live situation: 1st off, MAKE SURE YOU SEND AN PRE EQ SEND TO THE SOUND ENGINEER. Let them deal with what it sounds like out front.
As for your stage sound: I actually start things off with all EQ knobs at minimum. With my thumb, I play the open low bass strings (E & A) and gradually turn up the bass knob until I hear it “bloom” or “swell”. At this point, going any higher will result in muddiness. You may be surprised how low this is set.
Then, I play around the mid register of the 2 higher strings (D & G, around 7th – 12th fret) and do the same with the mid knob. At a point you may hear it bloom, or you may not, depending on the room. Often I end up with a little cut or a little boost. With some amps, this has ending in it being fully up (passive tone stacks).
Finally, I do some slapping and popping and add treble until it is pleasing. At a point it will sound dead, and then it will sound shrill and harsh. There is a sweet spot.
Now when you play your bass, it may sound a bit strange on it’s own. When the band kicks in, it will “sit” perfectly, you will be able to hear everything clearly.
As Mike stated, this needs to be done in every different room, or even if you move your amp slightly.
A tip for Tony:
Make sure your amp is facing down the long direction of your church. You will have many more problem frequencies across the room rather than down the room.
Thanks for sharing Bobby – excellent advice as well. I think the rest of the readers will enjoy hearing how you do your bass EQ sound check. I definitely agree that you should let the soundtech worry about the sound in the front of the house.
As for the ‘beginners’ title. That’s a bit of a catch 22 – I remember a few years back when I asked for “Bass Guitar for Dummies” as a Christmas gift that my mom looked at me like – YOU want that? I guess using a word like ‘dummies’ or ‘beginners’ is going to turn off some people. At the same time, I’m not a foremost expect on all things to do with audio, sound and acoustics – and the tips in this post are mainly aimed at those starting out who haven’t played a parade of different venues and learned how to eq their amp on their own. Still, this is the most popular post on my site and plenty of readers have said it has helped them and that’s all that matters to me.
Hey man Could u please help me out in Getting a bass tone similar to david ellefson’s or something near to that i need it for my Groove metal project i want my tone to b a bit crunchy and appealing unlike other bass tones ! pleas help me out abt adjusting the mids and highs and bass section ! 🙂
Thank you !
Hi Sharan, thank you for your question. Emulating anyone’s tone is going to take some practice, listening and a lot of tweaking. Remember as great as David Ellefson’s tone is on any one particular song – it’s just one aspect of the mix that has been balanced by top-notch professionals with the other instruments in the band. Often what sounds ‘great in the mix’ when isolated, doesn’t sound all that great. This seems to be especially true for bass in my experience. So – when you’re putting your sound together for this metal project, you’re going to need to take into account the sound of the entire band. If you’re the leader and everyone is working around you…sure you can call the shots. Otherwise, you’ll need to factor in the frequencies that are being taken up by the other guitars. Since most metal guitarists tend to boost their high and low frequencies (think smiley face) and saturate their sound with gobs of distortion and reverb then push the sound with tons of volume bassists increasingly have to move to the ‘middle’ (think of the shape of a speed bump created with graphic eq sliders) frequencies to grab some sonic real estate. Having said that, one of the secret weapons of many metal bassists is to add some distortion to their tone. One of the best ways to do this without losing the lows in the process is to track with a clean DI and then mic your cabinet with some slight distortion effect or by pushing the volume to create ‘natural’ distortion.
Good luck with your groove metal project and let me know how it goes and where I can check it out.
Evan (replied Feb 24th) Thanks Evan, re rolling off tone on bass, in my case J bass ……. it really worked ….. never ever thought of that. Cheers, Brian S.
Great advice and overview. I’m not a beginner but have a problem with disappearing frequencies. This article has inspired me to get back to basics and troubleshoot from there. However if I stand 15′ from my amp I’ll be in the neighbor’s basement!
Yeah – those are just basic guidelines. Often times when performing live on a cramped stage or in a cramped rehearsal space (or basement) you’re not going to be able to get to the ‘sweet spot’. You may have to angle your amp/cabinet by tilting it back or *gasp* ask the guitarist to turn it down a little bit!
Mike – fantastic article, and as a Bassist who spend more than a few years as a “semi-professional” doing sessions and live gigs in the NYC area, I agree this is hardly “for beginners”… even your most seasoned Bassist can learn something about FOH sound if given a terrible venue, or oppositely a great one. I was 10 years into playing when I realized that over the previous few years I had come to dislike my as-of-then “current” bass tone. I pretty much started from scratch, getting some great deals on discontinued & clearanced gear, learning new info from them for a while, and then typically selling them and even making a profit on most!
That lasted between 3-to-5 years: finding my new Amp & Cabinet types & tones @ Year 3, but needing 2 more for what I wanted out of my Basses – moving from Neck-Thru Basses of multi-piece exotic body & neck woods (so-called “Hippy Sandwiches”) to Bolt-On basses with single-coil “Jazz” or “Jazz-type” pickups. And even then it was hardly an “Off The Rack” situation: my main basses are currently 4 Spector Euro Bolt-On Dlx FM/EX 4-string, 5-string fretted, fretless and a “Spector P-Bass” Basses with custom-wound Nordstrand Big Single pickups & Aguilar OBP-3SK/PP preamps, Mike Lull M4 & M5 “Modern” Jazz Basses, and some great “Toolbox Basses” (not my “Everyday Sound”, but ones that every Bassist should be able to get easily) such as Music Man 4 & 5-strings, a 6-string for music that requires Extended Range, and Semi-Hollow (Epiphone Jack Casady Signature) and Acoustic Bass Guitar (a Taylor AB-series)
My point in the above? No Bassist should be worried if them start to dislike either an aspect of, or their whole tone. For the former it could very well be a new Bass or Pedal that’s introduced to the mix, and the latter could simply be growth and change as both a listener as well as player & creator of music.
Wise words Ian. Thanks for checking out the article and leaving a comment. I wrote it for beginners – but as you mention there are many times when even veterans revisit their sound and need to go back to basics and rebuild from there.
I was wondering if you could tell me how to hook up a line 6 xdr95 rackmount wireless system to an ampeg svt3 pro. Where should the cable plug in from the wireless to the head? I can’t seem to get full volume out of the darn thing. I get a full signal and everything, but it zaps almost all my tone and volume out of my fender geddy Lee j bass? I’m beyond frustrated with the thing. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Sorry to hear you’re having difficulties with your rackmount wireless. My guess would be that the wireless output would plug right into the input of the amp – but I’m sure you’ve already tried that. Do you have the manual? I wasn’t able to find the answer to your exact problem, but here’s the Line 6 support forum and I’m sure somebody there should be able to point you in the right direction. Good luck and let me know how it works out for you!
Really good article, i think this is an area lots of bassists feel like they know what they’re talking about, but infact have no idea and turn everything up to eleven. My question is, when using a pre amp (Aguilar Tone hammer) is it best to set everything flat on the EQ on your amp and boost and cut frequencies via the pedal, or to boost and cut frequencies via the EQ on your amp and then again still boost and cut frequencies with the pedal in addition to the changes you’ve already made, thanks once again. James
As you point out – lots of bassists don’t know what they’re talking about even if they think they do. I haven’t used the Aguilar Tone Hammer – so I can’t comment directly on it, but there is no true right answer to your question; it comes down to preference and an understanding of your equipment. For instance, I believe that the most important element in my rig is the bass. The bass is my interface, and I’ve invested heavily in getting the best bass I can personally afford. Unlike effects and amps which (at any point during a live gig) may be out of reach – I can always access the tone controls on my bass. So my preference is to control my sound as much as possible via my bass, hand position, technique and rely on amps, effects and cabinets as a secondary means to alter my sound. Maybe this works for you….or maybe your biggest investment is your amp, and you want to control everything to do with your sound from there? That’s not necessarily a bad move either. Others lean heavily on a customized pedal board with every sound conceivable a footstep away and the amp and bass might be completely interchangable.
The biggest problem I find is confusion, because in the old days you had a bass, you had an amp, you had a preamp and you had a cabinet and each one had a dedicated role to play. Now you have amps with effects and preamps built in. You have DIs that have preamps that can be toggled on or off, you have an active preamp in your bass. If you have them all going at once it can completely wreak havoc with your sound. That’s why I advise neutralizing as much of these as possible so they’re not all fighting against each other – then use whichever one you think is the best to change the sound when you want it the way you want it. Hopefully that makes sense to you as well.
68 yo student bassist at the “7 Nation Army” level here. So much needed info in your post, the kind of thing nobody tells you.
As an arthritic old novice student just hitting the notes and trying to hear through the tinnitus (field artillery) is hard enough. Even simple EQ is not easy and your tips are great.
So thanks, I’ll be checking your whole site.
BTW, you have the patience of a saint in reading and answering your blog comments. Kudos.
Hey Tod – you’re never too old to get going on the bass provided you can still hear and move your fingers 😉 Glad to hear the guide has been helpful and responding to comments like yours are actually a pure joy. All the best in your bass adventures!
Very good info on speaker size and sweet spot( hearing).
Thanks – glad it was helpful.
Hello there, I noticed that you said that you rolled off the tone on your bass and I do the exact same thing.
I do it because it gets rid of a LOT of noise, this noise that I am talking about is when any of my fingers would come into contact with any of the strings like when fretting notes on different strings and makes it sound like I am sort of digging into the strings with more force than I ma using, but I am not doing that at all, so once I rolled off the tone control-all that noise went away.
Is this what you were talking about in your reply to Evan?
I just bought a big bass tube amp and don’t really know what I’m doing. This article was helpful to someone like me.