CRUSH-ing Guitars with Dean

Date: 08 December, 2005  |  Posted By: Mark  |  Category: Old NFZ Blog, Recording Stick It!  |  Comment: 1

If any of you read Dean’s Gig Blog or “Glog” as we call it (that’s right . . . you heard a new Internet buzzword soon to be overused by blogging musicians everywhere, just remember you heard it here first and remember that I’m laying claim to the coining of that word!) you’d know that Dean was down here last night working on Crush. Usually we try to do complete rhythm tracks for two songs when he comes down, but I knew he had a ton of work to do on “Crush” (y’all know that song from the live shows) so we ended up working on that for about five hours and got all his parts done except for the solos, which we’ll be doing in a “solo sprint” doing all the solos for all the songs at once as we get near the end.

I see Dean mentioned the intro to Crush in his Glog that I made so I guess I’ll elaborate. As you live show attendees know, Dean does a little talkbox guitar intro and we start the song when it’s apparent he’s done talkboxing. Our original idea, can’t remember if it was Rob’s idea or mine, was to have a thirty second intro with a real orchestra sitting around tuning up with some talking and whatnot. Having a Crush on someone is sort of like an orchestra playing a deep classical movement. There are rushes of intensity, dense feelings, expectation, elation and of course dissapointment. Since the analogy of a Crush being like an orchestra with so many facets that can “play” anything, as anything can happen in a Crush with so many facets, that we thought it would be neat to hear the “orchestra of the Crush” warming up to get into Crush – get it?

Rob had worked with a guy previously that actually had a digital two track recording of a real orchestra warming up which he had emailed me like two years ago and neither one of us could find it. I looked on old PC’s, searched entire servers where I may have saved the file for “safe keeping” and I even searched backup tape archives – no luck. So I was faced with either buying an orchestra sample CD, none of which are reasonably priced, at least for what little I wanted to do, or finding royalty free samples and build my orchestra intro. I could see buying a sample library if I used orchestral sounds all the time but I couldn’t justify it just for this. I also have Tascam Giga3 and I used a couple of virtual instruments from there but the learning curve was pretty high and I was impatient, I get that way when I want an idea to flow. I hate it when a technical glitch gets in the way of creativity, it’s such a downer. I’ll read the very thick Giga manual for later because it looks very powerful.

After I started, I actually found myself working backwards from the first note of the song. I knew how I wanted to transition into the song, I could hear that in my head and I heard a few other things I wanted to use but it was easy to work backwards. I found some royalty free samples of oboes, violins, cellos, flutes, french horns and whatnot that sounded really good. The problem was, most of the stuff was single notes or two note trills. I had to tune each sample and create a melody from my tunings and and paste them together for each instrument to create a part that sounds like it was actually played by a musician, and then load the wav file I constructed for each instrument into a track. (which I could have done easily with Giga I’m sure if I had the patience to learn that first – which I didn’t because this idea was burning a hole in my pocket. I did use a couple of simple defaults though) I also got two royalty free samples of a real orchestras warming up like I wanted (thanks SuperGirl!) but they were sparse and had a lot of talking. Not really what I envisioned when I heard the samples by themselves. I took the talking peaks in the wav files and “de-normalized” them so the peaks were below the rest of the sample but I really had to beef them up with individual instrument parts to make them work for what I heard in my head.

I also wanted to take the listener on a musical journey through a few well-known emotions that you feel when you have a serious Crush on someone. I thought a lot about how I feel when I have had Crushes. The ones that are really up and down are the ones that you remember, if you have a Crush on someone, and they dig you, then it’s all happy. The fun starts when they are not sure they like you for whatever reason, maybe you’ve got Stinkfoot darlin’, or you’re moving to Montana soon to be a dental floss tycoon. Or maybe you listen to way too much Frank Zappa. Whatever – you know those kinds of crushes well right? There’s some happy stuff, cuz having a crush is cool at first and really happy when it works out (but that’s a different song – when it works out then it’s some love schmuv song) There’s anxiety if she’s not showing the same level of interest that you have in her, then there might even be some bludgeon you feel when you know she don’t like your python boot wearin’ ass. My idea was to use some subtle chord voicings against other chords to recreate tension and anxious feelings with the music. I tried to wrap all the wierd and wonderful range of emotions all up into about thirty five seconds and then ROCK right into Crush. It turned out really great, when I listen to it, it takes me through a snapshot of one little crush I had a while ago that didn’t work out in my favor. It’s cool to listen and feel like I expressed those feelings well because when I hear it, the familiarity of those feelings is right there, the music pulls those feelings right up. I’m very pleased with it. I let the boys listen to it and everybody was bowled over. Jimmy and Rob had a few suggestions they sent me over email. I printed those out so I won’t lose those too! When I marry that project over to the beginning of the real song, I’ll make those little changes. (Screenshot of the intro in Sonar 5)


For Dean’s parts, we used my Les Paul and the Marshall Plexi for the first track. I want the guitar on his side to be dark, heavy and thick without sounding like some dumb metal song. We started with his Explorer, but it’s a little brighter than the Les Paul and I didn’t want that to be the main sound on his side, so we did about twenty seconds and I decided to use record the Les Paul first and use the Explorer as a doubled track mixed in behind the Les Paul on his side of the mix. Usually we don’t double rhythm tracks, I think it takes away some of the overall timbre of the instrument and masks some of the individuality and articulation of the player. Now I think if you’re not such a good rhythm player, or your tone sucks, doubling can save your ass and make you sound like a rock god. Normally no need for doubling around here but since Rob’s sound on this song is going to be something along the lines of “The Rover” or “Royal Orleans” (Zeppelin) I needed to make sure Dean’s side is extra thick to allow that space for Rob while still keeping the song heavy. So we did one track with the Les Paul with three mics, one track with the Explorer with different mics through the same amp, then we set all the gain aside for the clean parts by using the trusty Hiwatt. There are some jangly guitars throughout the song so we got out the Strat and cranked up the Hiwatt – the Strat sounds absolutely dreamy through that amp. Of course I had to pull the inputs way back to clean it up. It reminded me of “Run to the Hills” Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Pretty cool stuff. There were about three different parts repeating through the song that Dean did with the Strat, I love the sound of that guitar!

We then moved on to the talkbox. Dean has a Rocktron Banshee that, while is not the Heil talkbox made famous by Peter Frampton, Joe Perry and others, it sounds damn good and won’t blow your amp if the driver fails. The corksniffers would look down their nose at anything that is not a Heil but I challenge them to a taste test! No chance anyone can tell, the Banshee sounds that good. It does not even need an amp, it has it’s own mini amp built in. It has a little gain knob and we cut that back quite a bit from his live setting to make sure we get some nice tone showing through and we ran through the song punching him in where his talkbox parts are. I also had him do some chord layering in a couple of spots and double a couple of the single string runs here and there. We put a lot of talkbox in spots where it’s the main part and some layering where it will be mixed in the background for texture – love the way it came out. My plan was to have him double those parts too but the talkbox is such a spur of the moment feel thing, I quickly realized that there was no way to have him double the parts without him wanting to kill me for making him do stuff over and over until it matches good enough, there was just no way, the parts have too much individuality and expression – that’s the whole idea behind the talkbox and luckily my good sense overtook me and we didn’t double the talkbox parts – saved by my inner voice of reason for once. I can’t wait for you to hear it!

Guitar with Rob

Date: 12 November, 2005  |  Posted By: Mark  |  Category: Old NFZ Blog, Recording Stick It!  |  Comment: 1

Ahh a weekend off! Few and far between! While indulging in the Monty Python “Python-o-thon” on BBC America this evening, I’ll shall update you on what Rob and I have been doing in the aforementioned “Ring of Deaf” in my basement. Crunchy Frog anybody?

“Well don’t you even take the bones out?”

“If we took the bones out it wouldn’t be crunchy would it?”

Right. And now for something completely different. I should tell of the infamous Ring of Deaf first. As you know, when Rob and I first started searching for guitar sounds to use, we weren’t sure if we wanted to use attenuators, go full blast or what. We figured running a 100 watt tube amp with everything “dimed” would not work because of the sheer volume. He and Dean would not be able to hear the backing tracks in the headphones over the amps. That turned out to be a farce. The tracks could be easily heard even standing right next to the amps as long as the headphones were tight! We decided to setup all the amps and cabs in the basement in a semi-circle and run the microphone snake upstairs to the second floor control room. The amps would be far enough away from where I sit so I could really hear what’s going on without hearing the ambient sounds from the amp and we could run everything as loud as we want all hours without disturbing the neighbors. You can still hear it loud outside but the neighbors can’t hear it. (or we can’t hear the doorbell over the amps when they come over to complain!!)

We’re running everything dimed, as loud as the amps will go, with the spot for Rob and Dean well behind the blast of the amps. When we are adjusting the amps and listening for a good sound, Rob or I run in front of the amps, adjust a knob, then run far away across the room to give a listen. It’s like lighting off firecrackers when you’re a kid, you light one and run like hell so you don’t injure yourself! And equally as fun I might add. Even then it’s still so fucking loud it hurts. It’s just funny to run over to the amps, adjust, run away, listen at painful volume repeat numerous times and somehow arrive at the conclusion that it sounds good! The only way to tell for sure is when I go upstairs and listen through the speakers. I’ve gotten used to making subtle changes that you don’t hear that well because of the volume, and really make a big difference upstairs on the track at mix volume. I guess it takes a decent imagination to think about how different things translate from the amp room to the track. I’m sure there is a little luck involved too!

“Nudge Nudge, Wink Wink – Say no MORE!”

Below is Rob photographed at the international headquarters of “The Royal Society of Putting Things On Top of Other Things.”

To your left just out of the shot we have a ’67 Fender Bassman that’s been modded for killer guitar tone, and a bass Isocab. I use the Isocab late at night when I want to record bass. Guitars we can do late at night, bass goes right through walls and would cause major problems in the neighborhood for sure at the volumes I need so I just use the Isocab. Slightly behind our guitar hero is one of my Trace Elliot bass cabs with my old Marshall JCM800 on top. Then we have a very exciting and amazing amplifier, a ’76 Hiwatt DR103 Custom 100. Loudest amp ever made. Just deafening but it sounds incredible. Below that we have a vintage Hiwatt SE4123 speaker cab loaded with Fanes. Oh the tone!! I think I’m becoming sexually aroused! Next to that we have a Marshall Superlead 100 Plexi reissue that has been gutted and rebuilt to real ’68 specs. Also a great sounding amp. Below that we have a ’74 Marshall cab loaded with original Celestion greenbacks. It’s a little loose from being 30 years old and well used, so I stuffed acoustic foam in the handles to keep them from vibrating at 150 decibels. It’s sitting on an Auralex GRAMMA. There used to be casters on that cab, but they were sheared off long ago. They are probably still in the back of my ’79 Pinto wagon in the pile of beercans I left in the backseat when I junked it. Next to that we have a Soldano Hot Rod 50 that I stuffed some vintage-like components in to make it drip with tone. Under that we have Rob’s ’74 Marshall Superlead 100 that he customized with a point to point board, some tricky wiring and very liberal component substitution. Not exactly stock you know! Under that we have a Trace Elliot guitar cabinet with Celestion Vintage 30’s in it, basically a Marshall cab, but this one is glued together a little better. On the floor we have the red mic spot finder gadget – a giant MagLite so we can see into the speaker grilles to get the mic placements exactly where I want on the speaker cone. You see a couple of mics in the pic, off to the right just in the pic near the mic finder gadget is a Sennheiser e906, then in the foreground is a Neumann TLM103 we use for a room mic – at ear level of course. On the Marshall cab we have a large diaphragm Shure KSM32 and a good old SM57.

I’ve been making sure whatever mic combination I use for Rob, I change for Dean. Same for the amps, if Rob plays his track with the Telecaster Deluxe through one of the Marshalls mic’d with the SM57, the KSM32 and Neumann room mic, then Dean plays through the Hiwatt with a Les Paul, subsituting the e906 for the SM57 and vice versa. That strategy has helped keep the two tones from blending in the mix even though they are panned. If you use the same mics and guitars all the time, even with different amps, there are going to be some annoying similarities in the tone. For me it keeps the listening experience much more interesting. Rob and I have played around with stuff so much we figured out that certain guitars sound too similar to use on both sides. For example, his Woody guitar has some tonal characteristics that are very much like the Tele Deluxe. So we keep those two guitars out of the same song. We also keep the Gibsons out of both sides. If Rob used the Les Paul on his side, then I usually put Dean on anything but his Explorer or PRS. All the time we spent working this out, I have occaisionally made a mistake and let Dean use the wrong guitar, we just re-do it. Redoing guitar tracks is infinitely easier than redoing drum tracks.

These songs sound really great with a Marshall on one side and a Hiwatt on the other. Two phenomenal but distinctly different tones that have their individuality in the mix. Rob came over today and did a track in exactly 2.5 hours. It took us a while to get a sound that was needed for the song. The riff needed a lot of juice to make it happen with some attack and squeal, so we had to make some adjustments to our normal Plexi settings to get the sound a little hotter. We tried the Soldano which was great but we needed a little more body so we went back to the Plexi. The Soldano is going to kill when we get to recording solos. Dean took the week off, he was playing on a couple of weeknights. Steve came down last night and did lead vocals on five songs – that leaves three more to go for lead vocals. More on that next blog.

For guitars we have Rob almost done. He has to do one more song and he’ll start doing solos. Dean has about six songs left to do rhythms on and he’ll start on solos after that. As soon as we get more music finished and I bounce some tracks down, we’ll get the Angels together for some backing vocals. I’m keeping sort of a running mix. I have eq’s and effects pretty much set as I go along. On the last record I really didn’t keep up all that great and basically started from scratch mixing, I wanted to avoid that this time and mix as we move through the songs. Anyhow, we’re making a lot of progress recording two or three sessions of guitar a week, usually getting two tracks done – some songs have more than two guitar parts so we don’t aways finish a whole song in each session. I was going to do a post on what Dean and I have done, but he blog-blocked me a little and put some stuff in his blog. So I’ll wait until we get some more tracks down for Dean.

Some songs have acoustic on them and I borrowed a guitar from my freind Kent. He has a bunch of really nice acoustics and I wanted to make sure we have a good sounding acoustic to use on this record. If we start with a good sounding acoustic and it sounds bad, then I can only blame myself. I know some of you are thinking about Steve’s acoustic he uses live. While it’s a fine guitar, it does actually have a crack in it on the top of the soundboard which is probably not the best scenario for good acoustic tone. OK for live work, but not a chance in the studio.

Kent let me borrow a 2005 Ovation Collector’s Edition that he got last year. Rob and I used it on four songs. Two songs where it’s one of the main guitar tracks and the other two where the acoustic is a backing track to the electrics. We were getting sounds last week on “1000 Thank Yoos” and the guitar would work for about two minutes and just stop. I was wanting to record it direct and mic’d then mix the two sounds and the direct signal kept going dead. After replacing cables, the battery and trying a different preamp, I called Kent to ask him if there was any sort of secret Ovation ritual I needed to know to get it to work. He said that he has never used the direct output, he always just mic’d it and he wondered aloud why I would ever want to use the direct signal when I have a Neumann TLM103 to mic it with? My answer was “Uh yeah well I was just trying it to see, I wasn’t really going to use the direct . . .” He is going to have it repaired under warranty, probably the electronics module is bad, and I of course just used the mic as I’d planned all along! Right!

I ran the mic for the acoustic through a Universal Audio 2-610 tube mic pre with a dash of compression and that Ovation sounded classic. Warm like a . . . well, you know, warm! I never thought I’d say that about an Ovation. I’d always disliked the way they sounded. I guess when you grow up listening to acoustic guitar sounds on Zeppelin and Who records, anything that’s not in the same neighborhhood is garbage! I think we did well on the acoustic. I was a little nervous about it because I don’t have much experience recording acoustics, never really had to, but so far I think we did alright.

Speaking of Zeppelin we did something interesting on “Crush.” Most of you know that song from our live show. Rob wanted to do something different with his tone on that song to make it a little more unique. I suggested we use the Les Paul with the pickup selector in the middle to get that Jimmy Page tone like on “The Rover” or “Royal Orleans.” (Man, that one’s digging DEEP!) We both thought it would be a good idea and we’d try it to see what happens. Listening to it by itself with the drums and bass and without Dean’s track, it’s really hard to tell if it’s going to work. It sounds neat but I can’t tell if it’s adding or taking away from the song just yet. Not sure if both guitars should be heavy or just Dean’s. We are going to wait and decide if it works after Dean tracks his part. It might add a nice texture and space to the song, or it might be total shit!

We’ll see. Come back soon!

(Walks down the hall. Opens door.)

Mr Barnard: WHAT DO YOU WANT?

Man: Well, I was told outside that…

Mr Barnard: Don’t give me that, you snotty-faced heap of parrot droppings!

Man: What?

Mr Barnard: Shut your festering gob, you tit! Your type really makes me puke, you vacuous, coffee-nosed, maloderous pervert!!!

Man: Look, I CAME HERE FOR AN ARGUMENT, I’m not going to just stand . . .

Mr Barnard: OH, oh I’m sorry, but this is Abuse.

Man: Oh, I see, well, that explains it.

Mr Barnard: Ah yes, you want room 12A, Just along the corridor.

Man: Oh, Thank you very much. Sorry.

Mr Barnard: Not at all.

Man: Thank You. (Under his breath) Stupid git!!

All About Bass Sound

Date: 30 October, 2005  |  Posted By: Mark  |  Category: Bass Playing, Old NFZ Blog  |  Comments: 3

I got a new toy last week for my bass rig and I spent so much time in the Ring of Deaf in my basement working with it, comparing my sound to bass sounds I love, that it really got me thinking hard about my sound and what I’ve learned over the years about bass.

So being the thoughtful dope that I am, I decided to share it with you! I can hear you now . . . oooh how interesting! Thanks so much Mark! You’re oh so generous!

In a previous blog, I mentioned that I took sound clips from a bunch of songs with sounds I really love (guitar, bass and drums, but I’ll only talk about bass here) analyzed them with a harmonic analyzer so I can “see” a graphical representation of a sound I like. It helps me learn what frequencies or lack of certain frequencies AND the magnitude of same, that makes something sound the way it sounds. So focusing on bass guitar, some of my favorite sounds are Geddy Lee, John Entwistle and Duff McKagan’s sound on the first GnR album. In fact, I saw some GnR video from the first album back when that shit was happening on MTV, that had Trace Elliot bass amps in the background. I immediately sold all my Hartke cabinets and bought a new Trace Elliot rig, which I still have. It’s not the same one I use live but I still have the amps and cabs. He’s a GK endorser now but Trace Elliot or GK, Duff’s sound on that first album is absolutely killer and one of my all time favs.

One of the things I confirmed with my software analyzer tool was what frequencies that I have learned by trial and error to pull out of my sound. It’s better to EQ by cutting bad sounding frequencies than boosting good ones. I see a lot of bass players in bands that warm up for FM, most all are decent players but I see some really goofy EQ settings which result in some plain old “just OK” bass sounds. A lot of players think they need all this high treble in their sound as I see in the way they have their EQ set on their amp and what I hear in their sound. A lot of guys think that’s where Geddy Lee gets all his treble from, like in the 4-6k range and sometimes even higher! Well unfortunately, that range is where a critical range of guitar frequencies will cancel out those frequencies on bass in a mix. So you can boost there all you want, nobody will hear that part of your sound unless there is no guitar! Invariably, when talking about bass sounds with other players, I say they don’t need that 5k boosted and they always say something like, “but I like that Geddy sound man, I need that 5k . . .” Not really, and let me show you.

Listen to the following clip of Geddy Lee’s bass sound on the intro to Cygnus X-1 on Rush – Different Stages Live.

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It definitely sounds like he has a ton of treble right? Well he does but just not where most players think it is in the EQ spectrum. Here’s an analyzer display of a clip I made using JUST the first note of the clip you just heard pasted together over and over to create about a 10 second clip. I had to do that because the bell in the background was adding a lot of 300Hz that is not part of his sound so I did the best I could to eliminate that 300Hz drone from the bell by creating a repeating loop of just the first E note. I didn’t want to get too much of a false peak in the bass reading by letting the bell drone on, so I figured making a loop of the E would help a little. There’s still a bit of a rise in the graph around 300Hz, so take that with a grain of salt.

 

I’ll take you through the readout. It’s the classic Rickenbacker through a 70’s Ampeg SVT tube amp sound that we all love. The key is to pay attention to the dominant peaks and the obvious valleys, those are most likely deliberate boosts and cuts in those areas. The other smaller humps and troughs are likely 2nd, 3rd (and so on) harmonics of fundamentals lower in the spectrum. There’s some low rumble around 40Hz as you can see by the small peak there. Then there is a nice peak at 80Hz, that’s where alot of the very low presence is. The only other thing in a mix down in that area is the kick drum. It’s a good thing to have some stuff around 80Hz in your sound and since it’s the octave of 40Hz, that frequency will naturally come up just a bit as shown by the graph. Then we see a bit of a hole until about 130Hz, which seems to be a key frequency in his sound, it’s quite dominant here. We see another boost at about 170-180Hz, (also an approximate 2nd harmonic of the earlier dominant 80Hz) that’s a good one to really give your bass some low presence in a mix. It doesn’t conflict with guitars there and that’s one of my favorite low punch frequencies. Another peak at just over 210Hz, then our bell drone peak at 300Hz, ignore that! Adding that to your sound will make your bass sound muddy in the mix. There is another secondary peak at just over 400Hz, I’d say that’s a close second harmonic of the 210Hz peak. Then there is not a whole lot until about 750-800Hz. I always duck the 250-750Hz range on my amp a few dB with a nice smiley curve. That whole range sounds very boxy on bass. 750-800 or so will make the bass stand right up in the mix, you can see where Geddy’s is just a bit lower than 750. Then we have two key frequencies for his killer treble sound. 1.2K and 2.4k with 2.4 being the octave of 1.2k. I usually dip 1-1.2k a couple of decibels in the guitar tracks to allow this part of the bass sound to stand out. This is a critical area to NOT have any cancellation going on with the guitars. Then we see a small hump at 4k then a drastic drop. The 4k peak is most likely coming from the way he is slapping his E string for this particular song, it’s likely attack. After 4k? Drastic drop off to almost nothing – relative to the other peak frequencies anyhow. Notice the difference in decibels between the dominant frequencies and the drop off at 4k. It’s huge!

Let’s look at another great bass sound that makes me practically unable to speak when I hear it. It’s John Entwistle on Won’t Get Fooled Again around 1978-79 or so. I lifted it from The Who’s The Kids Are Alright Deluxe Edition DVD. On the bonus disk there are two special videos that have only John’s bass and what they call Ox Cam. You can just watch John and listen to only his bass. It’s absolutely amazing. A must see for any bass player. First time I saw it I was speechless for about two hours!

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Here’s the same clip with the rest of the band mixed way back.

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He’s using his Alembic Exploiter, nice fat soaring treble huh? It’s hard to say what his amps were at this time. In the video you can see a Marshall 4×12 guitar cabinet mic’d and angled up toward him – you gotta look hard but it’s there. You can see a ton of Sunn cabinets and I know at times he used Alembic preamps into Crown power amps too. He was the first bass player to split his signal high and low, and only apply distortion to his treble, amplifying the highs and lows very differently whilst leaving the lows tight and deep. Here’s an analyzer capture of the bass only clip.

 

Are you surprised to see some of the same peaks as in Geddy’s sound? Pretty cool huh? Check out 1.2k and 2.4k, almost the same as Geddy’s. Remarkably similar in the 100-250 range too. Apparently those two guys talked! Again, almost nothing above 3k – relative to the other dominant peaks. Entwistle has a little more magnitude in the muddy range between 300 and 750, that seems to be the only notable difference. I’ve read where Geddy was heavily influenced early on by Entwistle and Chris Squire from Yes, so it’s no surprise that two of the greatest bass players that ever lived seem to know what frequencies work and don’t work for a kickass bass sound. Even with both players using completely different equipment, there are some surprising similarities.

Just a note on how I used these analyzer graphs to play with my sound. If you take a graphic EQ and make it look like the picture above, your sound will not be very good. The idea is to look at the peaks and valleys, what frequencies are dominant, what ones are not there hardly at all, and try those same frequencies in your amp or EQ, pulling them up and down to see how it works for YOUR sound. It’s just something to try, it’s not a rule I use. My idea was to find out what’s there and not there by analyzing sounds I’m totally in love with, add and subtract frequencies then listen to it for myself and see how I like it for MY sound. I’m not trying to cop Geddy’s or Entwistle’s sound, I’m just seeing what their sound is made of and seeing if there’s anything there for my own taste. Get my drift??

I mentioned distortion when talking about Entwistle’s sound. Most musicians don’t realize what an important component of a great rock bass sound distortion is. So I want to talk about it and give you some examples of what I think is really good bass distortion. I had not been totally happy with my live bass sound for a little while, actually I take that back, my bass sound is kickass but I was not happy with some elements of it, most noteably the amount and type of distortion I use in my sound. For those who don’t know, and I know there are a lot of people who read this blog that might not know what that means, it would be the same type of distortion you hear in any rock guitar sound, just on bass guitar.

I had been lookin for a new distortion device for a long time, rather than playing through a fragile and very heavy tube bass amp, I would rather use some sort of tube emulator device either rack mount or stomp box to add a small amount of distortion to my sound. Anyway while I was playing with my new toy (A Gallien-Kreuger Diesel Dawg stomp box) trying to get a sound, I kept listening to my iPod one minute to the bass in parts of songs I’m shooting for, and my amp the next, comparing the two to see if I was getting close to what I want.

I’ll start with some early examples and take you right up to the modern day. Here’s a clip from My Generation going way back to The Who’s Live at Leeds Deluxe Edition (1970?), when Entwistle was using Hiwatt amps, great distorted bass sound. Although a little loose in the low end, it’s probably loose because of the limitations of the speakers of the time. He wasn’t splitting his signal and treating highs and lows differently just yet.

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Here’s one of my favorite distorted bass sounds. We’ve all heard this one a zillion times as it was a big hit. Red Barchetta from Rush Moving Pictures c. 1980. This was the only track on the record where he used his Rickenbacker 4001, all other tracks he did with his ’72 Fender Jazz. The passage I picked really shows the nice smooth distortion he uses, especially when he hits the double note pattern in the middle.

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Now a clip from the flip side of that album, track one side two for those of you who have it on vinyl. The Camera Eye he used his Fender Jazz on and it has a slightly different tone than the previous clip, and may even have just a tad more distortion on it. Unlike Entwistle, Geddy at this time distorted his entire range of sound, highs and lows. He still has that beautifully distorted treble and when he goes down low, it’s rock solid. It’s key not to use so much distortion that your low end turns to shit. Another thing you don’t want to hear is the “fizz” of the distortion as a contant along side of the bass sound. It should change dynamically like a tube amp would with the way you play. It’s a fine balance.

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Let’s move to the real recent to a great bass player and a guy who spends a ton of time and energy thinking about his sound, experimenting and refining his tone. He’s a huge Rush fanatic too so he definitly has some elements in his sound that could be comapred to Geddy Lee’s tone. Tim Commerford from Audioslave. This is a passage from Drown Me Slowly off of their latest album Out of Exile. Tim also uses a Fender Jazz and a (very heavy) Ampeg SVT head/cabinets. You might not be able to hear the subtle details of Tim’s finely tuned tone behind Morello’s solo if you don’t crank it up – if not, get the CD, it’s worth the $10 on iTunes!

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Killer sound huh? Again nice smooth distortion, not buzzy at all, great lows, great treble. One of the few modern rock bass players that truly has his own unique sound.

I used the Diesel Dawg last week live and it’s one of those devices that is very touchy and can go from just a nice dancing on the top smooth distortion to total fizz donkey buzz saw. It sounded great last week, but this is one of those subtle effects and changes that I sometimes make to my sound that takes me a while to make a decision on. I have to listen to it for a few weeks and get inside of it to really understand what it does to my sound and THEN I’ll get a feel for if I like it or if it goes on eBay.

I was worried when I first tried it that the amount of distortion was not going to be able to go down far enough for me but it works great. I’m just looking for subtlety in my distortion. My Trace Elliot amps also have a valve drive knob in the preamp circuit to I get a nice distortion on my full-range sound as well. My amps also have a high pass effects send which is where I tap my signal to apply the Deisel Dawg distortion to my high end only – a la Entwistle. I add just a touch of chorus to my highs as well, you can hardly hear it but when the chorus is bypassed, it’s like “what happened?” I’m looking forward to recording some tracks using my new setup and see how it sits in the mix.

In closing this edition, I hope those who stayed with me all the way to the bottom of the page and if any of you are players, maybe you can use a tip or two of mine to discover something about your own bass sound.

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