How I EQ my Basses

Tone is a highly subjective matter of taste with no universal rights and wrongs. How you should approach the tone of your bass depends on many factors such as your gear, technique, band, style of music, acoustics and size of the stage & venue, etc. I can’t guide you through a walkthrough of absolute tonal success, but I will talk about my approach which might inspire you to develop your own.

Please remember that a good tone starts with a good setup; check How I Setup My Basses if you need to.

Sound Principles

Amp EQ vs Bass EQ

Ideally, I do my main tonal setup by leaving my bass flat and tweaking the EQ of the amp. I use the EQ of my bass for minor tweaks during the gig, which involves tiny boost & cuts here and there (we will talk about this later). The idea is, it is hard (sometimes impossible) to turn back to your amp, tweak the sound, and get back to playing. But it is very easy to make a small adjustments via the onboard EQ with a small hand gesture.

Another reason is; once you cut a frequency, you can’t put it back any more. Think of old dirty strings that don’t ring that well any more – no matter how much you boost your treble, you can’t make them sound sparky when slapping. The same applies to your bass EQ. If you cut some frequencies onboard, you can’t put them back on the amp. Therefore, having a flat EQ on the bass initially is important in terms of frequency abundance as well.

Having said that; I must admit that I occasionally have to leave the amp flat and use my onboard EQ to shape my tone. Typical cases are:

  • I might be using multiple basses. In that case; I wouldn’t want to tweak the amp every time I change my bass. Therefore, I leave the amp alone and shape the sound of each bass on it’s EQ board.
  • Other players will immediately use the same amp. In that case; the sound guy typically makes a default setting on the amp and prevents you from touching it. In such a case, I’d rely on my bass EQ to shape my sound.
  • The soundcheck needs to finish quickly. Sometimes, I’m not given the time to walk back and forth to the amp to shape my sound; first without the drums, then with drums, etc. In such cases, I rely on my bass EQ so I can quickly shape my sound as I’m playing on my feet.
  • The amp is peculiar. Some amps simply won’t seem to work well due to their complexity, placement, frequencies, etc. In such cases, I leave the amp be and turn to my good ole bass EQ.
  • Lack of an amp. In case I run through a DI, I shape my basic sound on my bass EQ if the sound guy is OK with that. If I change something after losing my sound check spotlight, I let the sound guy know because he might have to adjust something on the board.

Distance

The distance between the amp & your standing point is very important. Assuming that you have a mid sized amp, you should be staying around 2m away from your amp in order you can hear yourself. If you are too close, you will be standing behind the point where the sound is actually formed, and you won’t hear yourself well while your band members complain that the bass is too loud. If the stage is small and you can’t get the ideal distance, you might be better off using the amp as a DI only and mainly hearing yourself from the monitor speakers. Or, in-ear monitors. So, keep your distance (if possible) while shaping your EQ and playing on stage.

Venue

Your rig isn’t the only factor shaping your sound. The venue size & shape, ceiling height, stage material, amp placement and many other factors play a role on how you sound. You should imagine your bass + head + cabinets + the entire environment as a big giant rig producing your sound. Whatever you setup on the amp is only a starting point for your sound. Since you can’t shape your material environment, you’ll shape your amp EQ so that the amp -> material environment will produce the sound you want. Whatever EQ sounds good at home might sound bad on stage, or some EQ sounding good on a certain venue can sound bad on another venue. This means that you can’t have a fixed global EQ setting which works everywhere. You can have a certain sound you like, but how you’ll achieve this sound EQ-wise will differ from venue to venue. So you need to learn and love the EQ.

Mix

How you sound alone will differ from how you sound in the mix. After doing your initial EQ, be prepared to tweak it further after you play all together. Another point is; how you sound outside will differ from how you hear yourself on the stage. After setting your amp EQ to your taste, you are going to need to trust the sound guy for how you sound outside. Talk to him/her about your sound preference, but let him/her be the final judge. I also recommend sending him/her your flat signal so they can add / subtract frequencies more accurately (another reason to leave your bass EQ flat initially). Many amps have a pre/post switch or a dry out output (pin or XLR) to enable that.

Amp EQ

Having covered the principles, we can move forward and tweak the EQ on the amp.

Start of by setting your bass flat. If you have a passive bass, you’ll want to leave the EQ wide open. If you have an active bass, you’ll want all EQ knobs centered. If you have a StingRay Classic and don’t have a center detent, good luck finding the flat spot.

Set your amp EQ flat as well. If you like the sound coming out with the flat setup, then fine! Don’t play with anything. You may get off with a good sound using a flat EQ at times. However, you’ll need to tweak the EQ in many other cases.

You need to be aware of the gain knob that most amps have. This knob will set the strength of the initial signal coming from your bass. A very low gain setting will leave you sounding weak. A very high gain setting will overpower the amp so you can’t distinguish the nuances of your technique. You need to find a sweet spot inbetween; where you sound strong enough to be satisfied while you can still hear your nuances. In many cases, gain & volume on the amp need to be balanced simultaneously. This means, the amount of gain you’ll need will be different on low & high volume situations. On my Aguilar ToneHammer 500, I tend to set the gain at 10 o’clock while the master volume is around 12.

In terms of EQ setup, you need to know what each frequency does. In case your amp has 4 EQ knobs;

  • Bass will define how boomy your sound is – think of the subwoofers
  • Low mid will define how punchy your sound is – think of the Precision Bass sound
  • High mid will define the nasal / bite amount of your sound – think of Jaco
  • Treble will define your presence in terms of string / fret noise – think of the top end of slapping

In case your amp has 3 EQ knobs;

  • Bass will command your bass + a bit of the low mids
  • Mid will command your low + high mids
  • Treble will commad a bit of the high mids + your treble

In case your amp has 2 EQ knobs;

  • Bass will command your bass + low mids
  • Treble will command your high mids + treble

Different amps will have their knobs set at different frequencies; the information above is just a casual general guide.

Some amps have the option to switch to a graphic EQ. Now this is where you have the most control, but it might be overkill for many players which are not sound engineers. Talkbass has a good explanation of frequencies , but I rarely get there on live situations. If I’m in the studio, I leave that level of granularity to the sound engineers anyway.

As a general principle, cutting gives better results than boosting. If your bass sounds too boomy and you can’t hear your highs, cut the bass instead of boosting the treble. If your bass sounds too punchy and you can’t get enough bite, cut the low mids instead of boosting the high mids. You get the idea. Perceived frequency balance is as valid as actual frequency balance – when you cut the treble, people will perceive the sound to be “boomier” despite you didn’t boost the bass frequencies, and you don’t overpower anything, ending up sounding cleaner.

Most of the time, a little cut or boost goes a long way. If you feel like you need extreme EQ changes, chances are you don’t have the correct rig to produce the sound you like.

Bass EQ

Fender American Deluxe Jazz Bass

After making the guitar flat and setting the amp to give a traditional Jazz Bass tone, I did the following tricks to expand the tonal palette.

  • Passive mode, 50% balance, treble on gives a traditional Jazz Bass tone. Ideal for many genres like latin, pop, funk, etc.
  • Passive mode with emphasis on the bridge pickup gives a good Jaco tone.
  • Passive mode with emphasis on the neck and treble cut leans towards a vintage Precision Bass tone. Can be used on blues, classic rock, R&B, reggae, etc.
  • Active mode, 50% balance with flat EQ gives a modern finger style tone which cuts through the mix. Add some mids to taste.
  • Active mode, 50% balance with a slight bass & treble boost gives a good slap tone, leaning towards Marcus Miller.
  • Active mode with emphasis on the bridge pickup and slight bass & treble boost gives a nasal bite leaning towards StingRay.
  • Active mode with emphasis on the neck pickup, bass & mid boost and treble cut gives a modern warm bass tone; suitable for loud rock bands.

Fender Custom Classic V

After making the guitar flat and setting the amp to give a traditional Jazz Bass tone, I did the following tricks to expand the tonal palette.

  • Centered balance gives my default jazz bass finger style / slap tone
  • %25 neck pickup gives a good P-bass sound
  • %25 bridge pickup with slight bass boost gives a good Jaco-ish sound
  • %25 bridge pickup (without bass boost) gives a good solo tone

Fender Marcus Miller Jazz Bass

I used this bass in active mode. By default, I boosted the bass & treble knobs by about 20% and setup the amp accordingly because the knobs are boost only.

  • Cutting the bridge pickup by 10% and boosting the treble by 10% leans towards a warm sound; ideal for rock & blues.
  • Cutting the neck pickup by 10% and boosting the bass by 10% leans towards a biting sound; ideal for nasal soloing or cutting through the mix.
  • Cutting the neck pickup by 10% alone leans towards a Jaco sound.

Fodera Emperor Standard Classic 5

Here is how I setup the initial tone of my Fodera. Leaving the bass and the amp flat, I leave the pickup balance at 50% and switch to single coil mode. In this position, I tweak the EQ of my amp aiming at a good slap sound leaning towards Marcus Miller. Once I’m happy with that, I can tweak my bass from song to song aiming at different sounds.

Examples:

  • Humbucker mode on %100 neck pickup will lean towards a precision bass sound. Treble cut gets me into motown territory.
  • Single coil mode with centered pickup balance will give me a good Jazz Bass tone. Great for finger style & slapping.
  • Single coil mode, %25 bridge pickup, mid boost will give a nice solo tone.
  • Humbucker mode, %25 bridge pickup will give a nice Jaco-ish tone. This provides a good framework for compressed fuzz effects as well.

Lakland 55-02 Deluxe

Here is how I setup the initial tone of my Lakland. I start toning my instrument by leaving the EQ flat, balancing the neck & bridge coils at 50% and tweaking the amp until I get a 70’s Jazz Bass sound. Starting from that point;

  • Neck pickup solo, slight treble cut and slight mid boost gives a good classic P sound. This setting got a lot of praise at my first rehearsal with a rock band.
  • Neck pickup & front bridge coils balanced at 50% with treble cut gives a good sub bass sound. Ideal for reggae, R&B, dance and similar genres.
  • Neck pickup & back bridge coils balanced at 50% with flat EQ gives a good J sound (starting point). Ideal for finger style, funk and slapping.
  • Back bridge coils at 75% balance with slight treble boost gives a good solo tone.
  • Humbucker at 75% with flat EQ produces an agreeable Jaco tone.
  • Humbucker at 75% with slight treble & bass boost produces an agreeable StingRay tone.

I never solo the humbucker pickup; because compared to a StingRay, it’s position is slightly closer to the bridge. I advise mixing the humbucker with the neck pickup to preserve the punchiness you’d expect from a StingRay.

MusicMan StingRay Classic

Here are some tonal approaches I used when I had this instrument.

  • For a balanced mid oriented tone, leave bass & treble flat or reduce equally. Ideal for latin, jazz, pop, etc.
  • For a vintage tone, leave the bass flat and cut the treble. The idea is; vintage amps couldn’t produce the treble tones like the tweeters today; therefore it is vital to cut the trebles. That’s ideal for vintage blues / rock songs. A slight bass boost would lean towards a warmer sound.
  • For a modern rock tone, boost the bass and leave the treble flat. That will fill the lower frequencies like a wall.
  • For a sub bass tone, boost the bass and cut the treble. Ideal for R&B, reggae or electronic situations.
  • For slapping or soloing, leave the bass flat and boost the treble. In a 3 band EQ, I would prefer to boost the bass & treble and leave the mids alone; but on a 2 band instrument, this is the best I onboard approach I could think of.
  • For chords, cut the bass and boost the treble. That gives a baritone guitar oriented sound if you play beyond the 10th fret.

Those are not hard wired rules, of course; just my experiments on my former StingRay.

In case you have a hard time pinpointing the flat spot, you can measure the 50% spot of each pot and put a sticker there which points up. That way, you can tell the flat spot easier when playing live.

Sandberg California VM5

Some songs from the pop rock oriented repertoire of The Flat Band;

  • RHCP: 0% blended humbucker. Thats’s how I lean towards a StingRay.
  • Fly Me To The Moon: -50% blended single coil. That leans towards a traditional Jazz Bass sound.
  • All Shook Up: -100% blend (neck solo), mid boost, treble cut. That leans towards a traditional Precision Bass sound.
  • Ele Güne Karşı: +25% blended single coil, bass boost. That leans towards a nasal Jazz Bass sound.
  • Hung Up: -100% blend (neck solo), bass boost, treble cut. That gives a deep sub bass suitable for pop and electronic.
  • Walk of Life: -100% Blend (neck solo), treble off. That gives a motown oriented Precision Bass sound.

Some songs from the latin oriented Jozi Levi Brazil Project;

  • For a deep surdo tone; I use -50% blend in Humbucker. That gives a low-mid emphasized tone which resembles the Brazilian surdo drums.
  • For dynamic latin songs like Mais Que Nada or Ponteio, I use a 0% blend (balanced) in humbucker mode. That gives a Jaco-ish nasal tone in steroids. Single coil would lean towards Jaco.

I never solo the humbucker pickup; because compared to a StingRay, it’s position is slightly closer to the bridge. I advise mixing the humbucker with the neck pickup to preserve the punchiness you’d expect from a StingRay.

For soloing, +25% blend in single coil gives the best result. For Muse oriented tones, +25% blend in Humbucker mode gives the best result.

Yamaha TRB 1005

Leaving the bass and the amp flat, I leave the pickup balance at 50% and switch to single coil mode. In this position, I tweak the EQ of my amp aiming at a good Jazz Bass tone. Once I’m happy with that, I can tweak my bass from song to song aiming at different sounds.

Examples:

  • %75 neck pickup, treble cut and slight mid boost will lean towards a precision bass sound.
  • Centered pickup balance will give me a good Jazz Bass tone. Great for finger style & slapping.
  •  %75 bridge pickup with slight treble cut will give a nice Jaco-ish tone. If I don’t cut the treble, I get a good framework for compressed fuzz effects as well.

Misc.

Active basses with 2 / 4 band EQ’s or passive basses will require different approaches, obviously. But how I approach my basses can inspire you into the right direction.

Note that your hand placement and technique also plays a great role in terms of shaping your tone. Leaving your pickup balance centered, try playing close to the neck and attack the strings softly with the meaty part of your fingers – this will produce a very warm and deep tone. Now, play close to the bridge and attack the strings with the top of your fingers as if you would scratch / claw the pickup. This will produce a very bright tone and will also allow you to play 16th notes tighter. Now, play between the neck – bridge pickup with the side of your fingers. This will produce a low mid oriented balanced sound.

The combination of amp EQ, bass EQ and your hand technique will define your initial sound output, and the venue will shape the rest. I have provided my own initial preferences, but you’ll need to work out your own over time and with experience.

Pedalboard EQ

After you are happy with your amp EQ and how you can shape the sound with your bass, you can set the EQ of individual effect pedals. Don’t attempt setting the EQ’s of your pedals earlier.

Muse Bass

In case you would be interested in getting an agreeable Muse tone, check my post Muse Bass Sound where I share my hits and misses.

Solo Bass

I published a video, where I take two short bass solos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1B1Cb6JK_c . I received a few questions about my bass solo tone, so here is the answer.

I was using a Fender American Jazz Bass V with alder body & rosewood fingerboard, all stock. The neck pickup was about 25% off, bridge pickup was on full, and the tone was about 50% off.

The signal ran into the EHX Freeze pedal, which I used to freeze the bass note before starting the solo. That ensures that the bottom end doesn’t get lost during the bass solo. Note that the pedal can be used in chord change situations as well. In my case, I was soloing over a single chord.

After that, the signal ran into the most vital element of the chain: Mr. Black Supermoon. It is a hauntingly beautiful reverb / sway pedal, and this pedal is probably what you were wondering about. That’s how I create the atmospheric sound of the solo. Reverb was pointing at 1 o’clock, and sway & decay were pointing at 3 o’clock.

Finally, the signal ran into my Mark Bass amp. The EQ was flat, VLE pointing at 8 o’clock and VLC pointing at 10 o’clock.

The combination of Freeze & Supermoon can really open up new horizons. I highly recommend tinkering with them.

For the record, here is a picture of my entire pedalboard from that gig: https://www.instagram.com/p/BGYVVZZrgnB/?taken-by=keremkoseoglu . Before you ask, yes, the cat is also part of the board and is named as “ToneCat”.

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7 thoughts on “How I EQ my Basses

  1. How I Setup My Basses – Dr. Kerem Koseoglu

  2. Lakland 55-02 Deluxe Review – Dr. Kerem Koseoglu

  3. Kendim Tasarladığım İlk Bas Gitarım – Dr. Kerem Koseoglu

  4. İnceleme: MusicMan StingRay Classic 4 Bas Gitar – Dr. Kerem Koseoglu

  5. İnceleme: Fender Marcus Miller Jazz Bass – Dr. Kerem Koseoglu

  6. İnceleme: Fender American Deluxe Jazz Bass – Dr. Kerem Koseoglu

  7. Fodera vs Fender Custom Shop – Dr. Kerem Koseoglu

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