Latest Project Release – Dean Cramer’s SoLow

Date: 04 June, 2011  |  Posted By: Mark  |  Category: Bass Playing  |  Comments: 0
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Well it took about two years of Dean and I goofing off and recording things in what little spare time we had and then another year of sparse mixing – this was definitely a “spare time” project which is something that both Dean and I have very little of!  Some nights we spent bullshitting and fooling around with amps than actual recording which is probably a major contributing factor to the extensive project timeline. But it’s finally done. I produced, engineered, mixed and played bass on every track. The record came out pretty good and I hope you will get a copy. Dean and I are both very proud of our efforts.

We recorded everyting at my studio using mostly my amps and a few of Dean’s. We recorded V-drums here with Alex Hicks using my Roland kit with live hi-hats. The best thing about the V-Drum kit is the realism, it required very little MIDI editing and even then it was mostly velocity or double triggering issues. I used a variety of kits pieces, from BFD 1.5, 2.0, Steven Slate Platinum and even some choice drum samples thrown in here and there meticulously crafted by Scott Spelbring and Beau Hill.

From a bass player perspective, I’m quite pleased with all the bass tones. There are some really great bass sounds on this record and I had a lot of fun experimenting with different bass signal chains. You won’t hear the dismal results of the hairbrained experiments which were at times quite comedic, you get only the good stuff!

There is almost no editing on this entire CD. I hate using the cliche “old school” but that’s how we did everything, take after take until it was right. I did the bass tracks on my own (without Dean around to tell me to play more like Geddy Lee and less like John Entwistle lol) and there are a few speedy bass parts I must have done 20 or 30 takes to get it right rather than fall back on sliding things around in Pro Tools to make timing better. We did the same with the guitar solos, some nights spending four hours on one solo instead of comping parts together later.  There is not a single tuned vocal note either which is a strong testament to Dean’s ability to sing in key, even if we redid some phrases here and there at different times.

Let me also add that I’m working hard on mixes for the new Funny Money CD. We are getting closer and closer and things are sounding pretty good!

So listen to a few of my favorite cuts and buy it! Dean will be happy you did and so will you.

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Dean Cramer’s So Low – Put It On Your Lips – BUY IT NOW!



The Ugly Rosewood Girl

Date: 09 August, 2009  |  Posted By: Mark  |  Category: Bass Playing  |  Comments: 0
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A couple of years ago, I bought this Fender Power Jazz Special bass on eBay. I had been looking sporadically for an original 80’s model for a number of years and had never seen even one, let alone in the color I’d want. I’ve always liked Duff McKagan’s bass sound on the first G&R record, it’s got all the things I love to hear in a bass tone. It cuts in the mix, it’s got great top end (no doubt due to his choice of using a pick when he plays) and has round, tight, very defined low end. For whatever reason, in my opinion, he was never able to duplicate that sound since. He used a made in Japan Fender Power Jazz Special, and still does as far as I can tell from pictures. I’ve always kept that little factoid in the back of my mind for the occasional bored-at-trying-to-find-whatever-else-I-was-looking-for eBay hunt. What makes this bass slightly rare is a combination of several things; Fender manufactured them for only a few years in the 80’s, it is a Precision body with a Jazz neck, a P-J Bass active pickup configuration – active being a highly noteworthy item for a Fender back then – hence the designation of special.

Fender Power Jazz Bass Special 2The problem with this bass is, I totally hate the color. It’s Miami Vice teal. I love Miami Vice, but this color makes me want to go push over old ladies at the mall. I almost didn’t buy it just because of the color, but like I said, I had never seen one for sale and I might not ever see one in a color I was crazy about. It was cheap enough so I figured what the hell.
This ugly little girl with the silky rosewood neck has been sitting around here in my house for about three years, once in a while getting my attention enough to pick it up and play it. It’s kind of like that one girl who like maybe has a really nice physical attribute, but you look further along and she’s got other problems that are not so evident. Or like she’s rather bland in every other way other than she’s really super smart and you have a cool conversation with her once in a while. Like she has one memorable thing that makes you say, “yeah I know you got a little something going on there…” but there are other aspects that kind of cancel the one thing out that you can’t forget about or rationalize away. I’ve used it on a couple of my own demos and on one track I recorded for my bud Scott, and no matter what I’ve tried while tracking, it’s always sounded rather poor – on a good day – but it plays freakin’ great!  The neck is very much like the Warwick LX I use all the time so I have consistently felt right at home whenever I pick her up and play. But man – it sounded just awful! How can that be? I could be sitting there tracking, fiddling with eq and compression to try to bring this thing out of the gutter, get frustrated, unplug this bass, plug in a Warwick with the exact same signal chain setup and it would sound stellar. It had to be the bass. Pickups? Strings? Bridge? I dunno. All of the above? One odd thing about this bass, it sounds so good just “in the room” – like it has a great ring to it when I just sit there and wank around on it without plugging it in. I generally won’t buy a guitar or bass if it doesn’t have that “ring” to it when I pick it up and play it without plugging it in. Of course, buying shit on eBay, I’m rolling the dice a little but if it’s something I want, who cares right? Ebay has a good “return” policy that I use in my own mind to justify a purchase like this, if you buy something you hate you can turn around and sell it to some other mook the next week. You may lose a few bucks but I consider any losses incurred a rental fee to try something out that I couldn’t otherwise find at the local Overpriced Musical Instruments and Accessories Conglomerate store.

I tried putting passive Duncan pickups in it one time and it still sounded pretty lame, I reverted back to the original pickups just to keep it stock for the time being. Finally, since I desperately wanted to give this girl a chance I decided to go all in and change everything I knew sucked about her to fix her, or just put it away in the case so she will stop tempting me. I bought a Bartolini 4.7 AP kit and paired that up with the passive Duncan Basslines SJB-2 Hot Jazz and SPB-3 Quarter Pounder I had bought a while back. I figured a Leo Quan black (if it ain’t black, send it back)  Badass Bridge couldn’t hurt. The bridge that was on her was definitely a problem, it was made out of some cheap non-sustaining pot metal, the same thing the Toyota Celica logo on your high school girlfriend’s car was made of. I wouldn’t even use it for a fishing weight. Garbage as far as creating good tone goes.

Bartolini Preamp and Basslines PickupsThe installation was fairly easy, I’ve always repaired and modified my own instruments, drawing the line at refretting, but the bridge install ended up being a bases loaded with a tired pitcher situation. The screw holes from the old bridge were not even close to the holes on the Badass bridge. So with a straightedge, some serious eyeballing and highly questionable deductive measurement procedures, I nailed the bridge in a spot where I figured I could intonate it even if it was at the limits of sharp or flat and faithfully sank the slick black screws into their new home. Side to side was another story, all I can say is that it looks symmetrical so it must be OK! Fender Power Jazz Bass Special 

I put a new set of DR High-beams on her and messed around with the EQ switch and boost/cut knobs for a while until I understood what each one did tonally and how the interaction made the bass respond differently to my touch.
Here is a song I wrote to try out the new tone and see how it sits in a mix. The bass is the resurrected ugly Fender, DI’d through a Radial JDV Mk3, then through an SSL E Signature Channel and then through an 1176LN compressor. I then made a copy of the track in Pro Tools, shelved off the low end at about 200hz, put a Massey Tape Head plugin on it with the bright switch on, then brought this track up underneath the DI track in the mix to give it some bark. Check it out…

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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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