Heavily distorted bass - why?

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RockerRocker Frets: 3130
Yesterday I accompanied a friend who went to buy a guitar.  So I was tied up for the couple of hours we spent in a music shop in Dublin.  At one stage someone took a bass from the rack and plugged it in to an amp.  He then adjusted the amp until the sound of the bass was almost indistinguishable as a bass.  The sound was so distorted that a listener listening blind would be hard pressed to say it was a bass, let alone the type of bass being played.  I intended to ask him what type of music he played or what songs that sound worked for but when I had a free moment, he was gone.

So my question is: what type of music benefits from extremely distorted bass and/or why would a bassist set up that kind of sound in the first place?  This is not a criticism of his playing but asked merely out of interest.  Oh, my friend bought a Taylor acoustic guitar - a lovely instrument that sounds great fingerstyle (his preferred way of playing guitar).
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. [Albert Einstein]

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  • CirrusCirrus Frets: 4356
    edited April 24
    It's amazing how distorted a bass needs to be to sound like a distorted bass in a mix. Generally, as you add on distortion you get more harmonics to play with which help your ear pick up the sound of the bass on smaller speakers that don't reproduce the deep, fundamental frequencies very well.

    You don't even hear it as distortion in the context of a full band arrangement a lot of the time. It's just easier to hear it, and maybe a bit more exciting sounding. Most classic recordings have some amount of gain on the bass, either from an amp, overdriven mic preamp, or tape saturation, but in small doses it adds character rather than sounding dirty.

    So, if you play heavy music (think Muse etc) and you actually want the bass to sound like it's distorted, even against guitars which are themselves distorted, then you really need to pile on the gain. Gnarly, nasty jagged sounds can be fantastic. If you want the bass to catch your ear as a central part of the mix it's just the way it is. It can sound top heavy and harsh in isolation. No good for Brown Eyed Girl, but if you want to sound like this;




    It's just the ticket.
    Captain Horizon (my old band);
    Very (!) Occasional Blog
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 38151
    Punk, or anything with that kind of general sound. I use a heavy fuzz pedal a lot for things like Stooges and Sex Pistols songs, or more modern stuff like Queens Of The Stone Age.

    To be honest, it doesn't actually sound very good on its own, so if you heard it in isolation in a shop I can understand why you might have been a bit shocked by it - but in a band context it sounds fantastic, actually not as 'fuzzy' and nasty, and more fat and almost organ-like sometimes.

    Listen to a song like the Stooges 'Dirt' for a good example.


    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone." - Walt Kowalski

    "Just because I don't care, doesn't mean I don't understand." - Homer Simpson
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  • fretmeisterfretmeister Frets: 10706
    Youtube is full of isolated bass tracks to listen to.

    Many of the sounds are slightly overdriven - even when within the mix they sound clean. 

    Small amounts of drive can massively increase the harmonic complexity of the tone making it sound fuller without actually sounding dirty in the mix.

    It's a 50 year old approach and works very well.

    Then there is modern drive, that sounds amazing:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-w5qFCT6EZY




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  • fretmeisterfretmeister Frets: 10706

    This space is for rent.

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  • EricTheWearyEricTheWeary Frets: 8010
    I haven't watched it for a bit but I remember watching the Classic Albums episode for Motorhead and being surprised by how much of the sound was the bass, the distortion helped it become almost two instruments at once. If you think of the classic rock trio formats ( Cream,  The Who, early Grand Funk,etc) there is often some distortion in the bass as it helps to fill up and drive the sound. I've got albums with Bill Laswell and Jonas Helborg playing on which are jazz ( in a broad sense) , I guess because its a different texture and a way of helping the bass pop out in the mix.
    All sounds are about context and have a use somewhere, contrary to what I spent decades reading in Guitarist there are no such thing as good and bad guitar or bass tones only what works in context ( and sometimes what doesn't work of course). 
    Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
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  • sweepysweepy Frets: 2434
    edited April 24
    The Stranglers bass sounds were in your face and aggressive as hell, a Precision pushing an Ampeg to destruction with a Fuzz face helping it along 
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  • Winny_PoohWinny_Pooh Frets: 3612
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  • Winny_PoohWinny_Pooh Frets: 3612
    And this is audio engineering excellence


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  • Winny_PoohWinny_Pooh Frets: 3612
    Classic Rocker thread BTW :)
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  • steamabacussteamabacus Frets: 946
    I think this was the first heavily distorted bass on record, used in a solo break (I think it was accidental but liked and kept)



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  • DannyPDannyP Frets: 919
    I was really shocked by the isolated bass sound in Wonderwall, from 5m20s

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=silOU_BvPWc

    (PS. Check out Rick Beato's "What Makes This Song Great" series!
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  • EricTheWearyEricTheWeary Frets: 8010
    I think this was the first heavily distorted bass on record, used in a solo break (I think it was accidental but liked and kept)



    Usually credited as the first use of fuzz on record ( as opposed to valve distortion) I believe but on bass and on a country record. 
    Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
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  • FunkfingersFunkfingers Frets: 4496
    edited April 24
    Billy Sheehan's two channel system routes the output of the Mudbucker neck position pickup to its own processing and amplification. This enables him to blend in a distorted sub-bass component to what is, basically, a Precision sound. It is also possible to make this sort of racket using a Rickenbacker with the dual jack socket Rick-o-sound wiring.

    With Cream, Jack Bruce's bass was often overdriven and farty. 

    For me, the modern exemplar is Les Claypool. It works when he does it because his bass guitar is the main component in the Primus sound. The guitarist is usually making abstract/obtuse/angular walls of noise.
    Be seeing you.
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  • CirrusCirrus Frets: 4356
    DannyP said:
    I was really shocked by the isolated bass sound in Wonderwall, from 5m20s

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=silOU_BvPWc

    (PS. Check out Rick Beato's "What Makes This Song Great" series!
    Absolutely love the Wonderwall mix. It's one of those songs that's so iconic and well known that half the time people don't even listen to it any more when it's on.

    But actually listen to it. The acoustic guitar is basically the central feature of the arrangement, right? Listen to what happens when the drums come in. It's almost faded totally out - you just end up with a distant jangle, almost lost behind the panned egg-shaker tracks. And that bass tone was chosen because the bass needs to live alongside a string section, which is smooth and lush sounding. If you got the bass cleaner and louder like you might have expected in the mix, it'd swamp the cello.

    So that's another use of distortion on bass - they were able to make the bass sound smaller, to fit into the small space it'd need to occupy in the arrangement.
    Captain Horizon (my old band);
    Very (!) Occasional Blog
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  • fretmeisterfretmeister Frets: 10706
    Classic Rocker thread BTW :)
    Bless him.
    It's his version of shouting at clouds.

    This space is for rent.

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  • octatonicoctatonic Frets: 21326
    Classic Rocker thread BTW :)
    Bless him.
    It's his version of shouting at clouds.
    He's like a laid back Emp.

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  • fretmeisterfretmeister Frets: 10706
    :D 

    This space is for rent.

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  • MattBansheeMattBanshee Frets: 939
    Because it sounds great.
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  • MattBansheeMattBanshee Frets: 939
    P.s. what amp was it that sounded like that? Even through an Ampeg, I still resort to pedals.
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  • FreebirdFreebird Frets: 1818
    Sweet Jesus!


    “When you strike at a king, you must kill him.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
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  • FreebirdFreebird Frets: 1818
    edited April 24
    Message board malfunction!
    “When you strike at a king, you must kill him.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
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  • pintspillerpintspiller Frets: 697
    I used to enjoy playing a P copy I had with a twin-coil through guitar amps with heavy OD. Driven guitars used to disappear in the mix so I played them really clean.
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  • RockerRocker Frets: 3130
    Thanks guys for the explanation of why distorted bass is used.  Something I would never have thought of.

    Winny_Pooh said:
    Classic Rocker thread BTW :)

    octatonic said:
    Classic Rocker thread BTW :)
    Bless him.
    It's his version of shouting at clouds.
    He's like a laid back Emp.

    I only asked the question as I did not know the reason the bass player added so much distortion to his sound.  I presume it is still OK to ask questions about which one wants to know the reasons......

    I someone suggesting that I am winding people up to get a reaction [trolling]?
    Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. [Albert Einstein]

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  • Winny_PoohWinny_Pooh Frets: 3612
    Rocker said:

    I someone suggesting that I am winding people up to get a reaction [trolling]?
    Not suggesting trolling at all, that's more Emps style. Just a hint of what my Dad does:
    "Why do these youngsters do X" ? which translates to: "I think it's a bit pointless, don't like it and don't reaaally want to understand" 
    :)
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  • MattBansheeMattBanshee Frets: 939
    I add shitloads of distortion to my bass sound (bass soul food always on, plus big muff and/or harmonic perco, into an Ampeg) because I play in a noise/grunge three-piece band, and have a huge space to fill with fuzzy sound whilst the guitarist plays the melodies over the top.
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  • AlexCAlexC Frets: 1780
    edited April 26
    A certain Mr Entwistle used a distorted bass sound. He was pretty good.
    And no - I don’t think it’s unacceptable or strange to ask questions about music on a guitar forum. if everyone knew everything then there wouldn’t be much point in a place like this existing.
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  • MagicPigDetectiveMagicPigDetective Frets: 830
    edited April 26
    It can add intensity and heaviness to the low end. It just adds to the dirt/aggression. 

    https://youtu.be/hG33t1ieuws


    https://youtu.be/AWluJ1h75eE

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  • PolarityManPolarityMan Frets: 4657
    Watch this.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nm7e9zN9eLc

    If you still don't understand there is no hope for you.
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  • RockerRocker Frets: 3130
    Thank you for posting @PolarityMan. ; I did watch it from start to finish, first time on my phone then on my computer system at home.  Very impressive technically but total drivel musically.  How would you describe or categorize that type of music?  That guys 'bass sound' though distorted is nowhere near as distorted as the distorted bass I heard in the music shop in Dublin [which prompted my question in the first place].


    Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. [Albert Einstein]

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  • TTBZTTBZ Frets: 882
    Because it sounds filthy and awesome


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