Adventures In Audio
How can you improve a weak bass guitar?

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

Thursday November 30, 2006

The bass guitar is certainly a great invention. Leo Fender called his first bass the 'Precision' because standup acoustic bass players suddenly found they had to play the right notes!

But the role of the electric bass in the early years was mainly one of support - a kind of dull low frequency foundation for everything else.

But then the old tape-wound strings were replaced with round-wound. Amplifiers got bigger, speakers got more beefy. And bass players started to find ways of simply doing more with the instrument.

So now, a good bass player will not only support the music, he or she will decorate it and provide an effective counterpoint to the elaboration of the lead guitar.

But what if the bass guitar sound is weak? In contrast with professional recordings where the bass is strong, the whole recording will sound weak too. What can be done?

Well, the first answer could be to think about EQ. Or compression. Or maybe DI instead of mic, or mic instead of DI. Or change the mic perhaps.

But no. Sometimes it's not the recording technique that's at fault. Sometimes it is the loudspeaker cabinet. Or the amplifier. Or the instrument...


Yes, here we have the most common culprit of weak bass guitar sounds. The player. It is often thought that the people who choose to play bass are those who were not clever enough to master the guitar, but we won't comment on that here ;-)

And more likely than not, if the bass is weak, then the player will be using his or her fingers rather than a plectrum or their thumb.

Yes, it does look cool to play the bass with your fingers, but it is very difficult to get a good strong sound this way. It's easy to get a good strong sound with a plectrum. And possible with the thumb.

But a bass players' fingers need years of development in terms of strength and rhythmic accuracy before it really sounds good. Of course, once the art of playing with the fingers is mastered, then the playing can be very much more virtuosic than a plectrum can manage.

So there you are in the studio. The bass is weak. You have identified the problem. So you reach into your pocket, calmly walk up to the bass player, say a few kind words about the excellent quality of their musicianship.

And offer them...

A plectrum...

Then run!

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