If you have ever sat with a bass guitar, a row of effects pedals and an amp and tried to replicate the sound of a classic bassline, you’ll know it’s harder than you think.
There are so many variables, from your strings, the guitar EQ, the effects sequence and the tone controls of the amplifier, it’s easy to get lost among all the signal shaping options. .
But don’t despair: In the bass world, until you’re after the craziest sound in history, getting useful sound is a big part of balancing the bass, mids, treble, and overdrive.
Ahead is a range of 10 definitive bass sounds and how to recreate them. Ready to sound like a bass hero? Let’s go!
1. Penny Lane – Paul McCartney, The Beatles (1967)
Let’s start with the man who first brought sweet bass to the masses! When Paul McCartney plugged in his Hofner 500/1 violin bass for the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club album sessions in 1967, he was already playing a bigger, more robust instrument: the Rickenbacker 4001.
However, the little bass with the F holes did a remarkable job on Penny Lane, a song that required heavy sound with almost no mids and highs.
You can get almost the same sound with more or less any bass, as long as the highs are scarce: keep the staccato and muffled notes for the classic Macca effect.
Equipment used : Hofner 500/1 Violin Bass, Fender Bassman
Tone tips: If there isn’t a violin bass around, try any hollow body bass with flat strings, use a pick … and go down the high end!
2. Roundabout – Chris Squire, Yes (1971)
The late Chris Squire inspired a generation of bassists with this first single from Yes.
The lower part, a sixteenth-heavy showcase for Squire’s blinking fingers, was unusual for the time, as it featured a sharp edge and crisp distortion without losing clarity.
How the big man got that tone was a mystery until the mid-1970s, when he revealed he had customized his Rickenbacker 4001 to send two signals, one per mic. The bridge pickup went on to a guitar amp – hence the clear high end. There is a lesson here for anyone who thinks that the old stereo output trick was a recent innovation from Royal Blood …
Equipment used : Rickenbacker 4001, rewired for stereo output (don’t try this at home!)
Tone tips: Aim for a toned and gritty sound with a touch of distortion. Keep the high mids
3. Portrait of Tracy – Jaco Pastorius (1976)
Who besides Jaco Pastorius would write a love song using only bass overtones?
You can profitably study any song from Jaco’s eponymous 1976 album and pull out a much improved bassist on the other side, but if you’re keen to nail a Jaco tone that everyone will recognize, try this one- this.
Your understanding of natural and false overtones will need to be sharp, of course, especially if you’re really authentic and playing this song on a fretless – but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be the talking point of the club. jazz.
And we were there, thinking that the harmonics were only good to match, eh?
Equipment used : Fender Jazz converted to fretless, Acoustic 360 amp
Tone tips: Aim for lots of mids and highs on your fretless, and make sure your fretting hand is perfectly in place whether you’re playing natural or wrong overtones.
4. Fisheries – Jean-Jacques Burnel, Les Étrangleurs (1977)
Jean-Jacques Burnel is not a man to be taken lightly, either in person (he is a karate master) or musically (as this single demonstrates).
The instantly recognizable bass chug that introduces this utterly arrogant (and also slightly perverted) song from the top of the punk-rock movement is an all-time classic.
JJ achieved this because he fired with massive force, and also because his Hiwatt cabin speaker cones were blown out, giving the sound an incredibly nasty distorted edge.
You would be advised to look for a modern distortion rather than taking a Stanley for these precious pilots, unless you are in a destructive mood.
Equipment used : Fender Precision, Hiwatt amp, Marshall 4×12 cab with torn cones (!)
Tone tips: Round wound strings, a deep-seated pick near the bridge, and a spiky overdrive pedal such as an Aguilar Agro will give you that JJ sound.
5. Ace of Spades – Lemmy Kilmister, Motörhead (1980)
The late and supremely awesome Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister has often been asked how he got his extremely overdriven bass sound.
Did he use a distortion pedal like the rest of us? Not likely, as he told Bass Guitar magazine a few years ago. “I’ll tell you the controls, left to right. Presence is at three o’clock. The bass is off. The middle is full. The treble is turned off. Volume at three o’clock, he barked, between sips of his Jack Daniel’s.
Note that massive volume on stage wasn’t necessarily his thing: instead, all those midrange mids break the sound for him. He also played a lot of fifth root power chords, so keep an opening pick handy.
Equipment used : Rickenbacker 4001, Marshall amps
Tone tips: Overwork your taxi to the breaking point if you dare; if not, use an overdrive pedal, maybe even a guitar distortion like a Boss DS-1
How the hell Cliff Burton persuaded his Metallica pals to let him record a bass solo on their very first album, we’ll never know, but thank goodness he did because it was one thing completely aggressive in beauty.
His Rickenbacker 4001, modified with a Fender Stratocaster pickup under the bridge (bet you didn’t know that, eh?), Pumped up and down by the gallon, which he then overworked with a Morley wah and modulated with a bass. Ball filter.
The tapped and chorded sections added variation to his frantic finger style, with the solo itself based on classical studies, which he had studied as a boy and refined in his pre-Metallica group, Trauma.
Nowadays you can get that sound, or a decent approximation of it, via a Morley signature pedal, which was released a few years ago.
Equipment used : Rickenbacker 4001, Morley Power Fuzz wah, Electro-Harmonix Bass Balls
Tone tips: Direct access to Cliff’s signature Morley Wah / Fuzz pedal
7. Give It Away – Flea, Red Hot Chili Peppers (1991)
Michael ‘Flea’ Balzary is known for his slap bass playing, but when his band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, decided to mellow out a bit for their planetary hit album Blood Sugar Sex Magik in 1992, he transformed his usual slap storm in a more subtle fingering.
That said, on the album’s first single, Give It Away, Flea attacked those strings with abandon: we dread thinking what the skin of his fingers looked like after the furious, octave-wide slips on the strings of mi et de la, assuming there was any skin remaining, of course.
Its slightly crisp tone allowed the line to stand out through the guitar layers on the track.
Equipment used : Ernie Ball Music Man Stingray
Tone tips: While there isn’t a real snap and pop on this line, use a lot of the top for clarity on these slides.
8. Jeremy – Jeff Ament, Pearl Jam (1992)
Jeff Ament is one of bass guitar’s unsung heroes, but that needs to change immediately, as his work on Pearl Jam’s first hit singles helped make them catchy and memorable.
Admit it, when you hummed along with the song Jeremy, you were just as likely to follow Ament’s smooth chord chords in the verses as you had to mimic Eddie Vedder’s voice.
Note that the bass doesn’t need an obnoxious high end to make itself felt: it’s one of the lower end tones on this list, alongside Paul McCartney.
The fact that Ament used a 12-string bass helps explain the instrument’s presence on the track, although you won’t hear the extra strings sounding individually – they just add to the overall tone.
Equipment used : Hamer 12 string bass
Tone tips: Take a 12 string of your choice and get started! Aim for clarity and precision on the riffs
9. True Faith ’94 – Peter Hook, New Order (1994)
When a bassist is faced with a heavy synth bass in a song, what should he do? Well play high on the neck, solo until the cows come home and make sure the audience can hear you!
That’s what New Order bassist Peter Hook did when his band remixed the single True Faith for a reissue in 1994, dialing in a really heavy sound and delivering one of his patented pick-driven solos for intro and between verses.
Of course, these parts are mixed relatively loosely, but you know they’re there because Hooky cleverly chose a frequency range where they would stand out. There are some pretty useful tips for any bassist, we think.
Equipment used : Yamaha BB1200
Tone tips: Take more or less any four fretted strings, pick up the tone, and play above the 15th fret for that hooky buzz
10. Hysteria – Chris Wolstenholme, Muse (2003)
When Muse released Hysteria in 2003 and the bass community heard Chris Wolstenholme’s introduction for the first time, the number of “What pedals does he use?” The questions that appeared on the bass forums almost broke the internet.
Oddly, however, you can recreate this sound with 90 percent accuracy using a single distortion pedal of your choice, as long as your selection is super tight and you stay away from bright mids and highs.
Make this overdrive too aggressive and you’ll create volume spikes all over the place – so consider compressing smart to avoid muffling the rest of the band.
Equipment used : Pedulla Rapture, Fender Jazz, Akai Deep Impact synth, Human Gear Animato, Zvex Woolly Mammoth, HBE Hemoma, the kitchen sink …
Tone tips: If you don’t have the time or budget to copy Chris’ pedalboard, find yourself some cool bass overdrive, crank up the high end and go for it!