Bass Tone

It punches you in the chest, and flaps your trouser legs. It’s the thump that moves the rump.

A bass player forms the connective tissue between the drummer and the rest of the instruments, standing with one foot in the rhythmic and the other in the melodic.

The drummer may make you tap your feet, but the bass player makes you leave your seat.

In fact, a killer bass sound is essential to popular music.

The importance of bass

Now, I’m not saying this just because I’m a bass player myself! Take five minutes and think of as many songs as you can that made it into the charts that didn’t have a prominent bass line.


Could you think of one? When Doves Cry by Prince is the only one I got!

So let’s explore the diversity of tones that the bass family of instruments can produce.

From London CallingYouTubeSpotifyLast.FMWe7 to HysteriaYouTubeSpotifyLast.FMWe7 to CarwashYouTubeSpotifyLast.FMWe7 there is a huge number of tracks that rely on a unique bass sound for a killer hook.

This series will be a little different to most of the bass articles you might have read in the past because I’m focusing on tone rather than technique.

Series Overview

I will be talking about the sounds that the bass can make rather than how to play the examples.

I expect the series will be of most benefit to intermediate bass players wanting to open up their sonic palate and explore new sounds, and guitarists considering switching to bass. But I also hope players of other instruments (and especially non-musicians) will get a kick out of these articles too.Bass Rainbow. So Intense.

By talking about the sounds of the bass I want to encourage active listening, which allows you to pull apart music with your ears, “unweave the rainbow” and hear the whole in a new light. I will present the examples without accompaniment so you can focus on the bass sounds, but next time you listen to one of your favourite tracks, turn your ears towards the bass line and discover what new things you hear.

In the articles to come we’ll be looking at all the main types of bass instrument: how they differ in size, shape, playing style and (most importantly) sound. We’ll focus particularly on that most prominent of modern basses, the electric bass (or “bass guitar”). Then we’ll take a look at bass amps and their effect on tone, before finally delving into the wild and wonderful world of bass effects: distortion, modulation, wah-wah and more!

Bass is popularly perceived as being the instrument for the bloke who looks cool, but can’t really play (think Sid Vicious, or Stuart Sutcliffe in the early Beatles), and for a number of popular bands this is probably true. But it need not be this way. I once had an audition for a band where the guitarist sent me an email the day before, saying, “We really need someone who understands that the job of the bass player is to just play root notes on the beat.” Needless to say, I took a rain check…

True, the bassman’s job is not one for the glory hunter, but with good ears and musicality, the bass player can make a good band great.

We’ll be continuing tomorrow with the first article in the series: “The Upright Bass”. If you’ve ever wondered about why a double bass is so large, how a rockabilly bassist uses the upright bass compared with an orchestral player, or how to pick out an upright bass from other bass instruments in the midst of a song, be sure to check back for the next post in the series!

Any questions or suggestions? Leave a comment below or come discuss the series in our forums.