Bass Guitar Eq 101

Want to get a handle on your bass sound live and when recording? This post will go over the basics for mastering your bass guitar EQ in just about any situation.

Figuring out how to equalize your electric guitar comes down to many factors that include your bass amp (covered in more detail in my Bass Amp Eq for beginners post) and your instrument itself.

It doesn't matter how many strings are on your bass, it's either a bass with active electronics or passive electronics.

We'll steer clear from tone in this discussion about bass equalization.

Active Bass Guitar Electronics 

(also known as an on-board bass preamp) - requires one or more 9 volt batteries.

  • Allows you to sculpt your tone by boosting or cutting usually two bands of equalization (bass and treble) to three bands of EQ (bass, middle and treble).
  • Maintains the integrity of your tone even when you're pushing your signal through long lengths of instrument cable.

Active on board electronics were created to give added tone shaping abilities to the bassist without making adjustments to the amplifier.

They also help to push the signal down long lengths of instrument cable without the sound degradation.

Passive Bass Guitar Electronics

(simple to understand and use)

  • Easier to maintain
  • Doesn't require batteries
  • Typically consists of  only volume and tone controls

When it comes to getting a great bass sound, it's all about the mid frequencies - you either need to boost them or scoop them to get the right sound for the situation.

Boosting bass tends to muddy up your tone, make your speakers flap (not a good thing) and overwork your amplifier, so being judicious with the bass EQ is often a good thing.

Also, boosting treble in the hopes of adding more presence or sparkle to your sound can also be fraught with adding a lot of noise to your signal.

On the other hand, the middle frequencies can be much friendlier. You can boost the low mids to add some fullness to your sound without the mud, and get definition from the high mids without all the clickity-clack.

However, even the mids can be abused. Boosting them too highly can give you a nasal-like "honk" to your sound that just isn't cool.

A 'liberal smattering' of mid frequencies can be just what the doctor ordered if you're up against some loud distorted guitars in a live or recording session. Rock and metal guitarists are renowned for not only playing loud and saturating their signal with distortion, but for often boosting their bass and treble to form that 'smiley face' EQ curve.

You best weapon in this case is to fill in the mid frequencies by boosting your bass in that area, either with your onboard EQ or with the preamp section of your amplifier. Your bass will at once sound supportive and yet distinctive - not buried under the guitars.

This works great for when you're in a support role, but if it comes time to do a bass solo you may find that your tone when devoid any other instrumentation may be lacking.

That's when it's time to cut the mids and use the smiley-faced EQ yourself. Many amplifiers allow you to set up two different sounds and toggle between with a foot switch of by pressing a single button on the amp itself.

Alternatively, you can also check out stomp box preamps like the Sans Amp Bass Driver DI that allow you to radically change your sound with a tap of your toe - perfect for those small sections where the bass takes the center stage in the music.

Passive Bass Guitar EQ

If you play a passive bass guitar and don't own or aren't interested in playing around with the sound of your bass through preamps or effects there are still a variety of ways to eq your bass to create a distinctive tone.

The tone control is one way to deepen your sound as it rolls off the high frequencies in your  bass guitar's output. This is great for playing bass-heavy music like funk and reggae and also for creating a huge and supportive tone for some of those power-ballad type of sounds.

Alternately, you can also alter your sound considerably by changing techniques (fingerstyle, pickstyle, slap and pop) and even your hand positioning.

If you want a deeper and 'woodier' sound just try plucking the strings closer to (or right above) the fretboard of the bass.

Alternately, moving your plucking hand towards the bridge brings more treble to your sound which can also work great with boosting the mids to help you cut through or bring definition to a de-tuned bass.

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