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  • Go Low: 10 Expert Tips for Rocking the Bass Guitar

    How low can you go?

    By Team HC |


    by Anne Erickson


    Having an appreciation for the bass guitar, I understand that a having bass player that knows how to move and groove is critical to the sound of any band. Having also served as a bass player, I know that the lower end sometimes gets the shaft when it comes to media coverage. Well, not here!

    Below, check out 10 Tips for Those Rocking the Bass Guitar from a collection of noteworthy players. Who’s your favorite bass slinger? Add to the conversation below!


    Duff McKagan from Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver and Jane’s Addiction on recording, as told to Bass Player:

    “I try not to get caught up in Pro Tools; I’d rather play a song all the way through than sit there and edit parts together. We tracked Velvet Revolver’s Libertad as a live band, and on most of the tunes, we didn’t use a click track. Sure, some of the tracks speed up at the end, but they do so for a reason: because the music and the feeling are getting more intense. I think the listener wants to hear that, too. Most important for me is being in that deep pocket with the drums. To do that, you have to empty your mind. Especially when we’re recording, I empty my mind completely and picture myself literally inside the bass drum. Whenever that thumper hits, I’m just a little behind to create the groove.”




    Jaco Pastorius on getting his stage sound via BassGuitarBlog.com:

    “I turn the bass on the amp all the way up because I only use the back pick-up on the bass. I never use the bass pick-up on the front so I have to compensate quite a bit with the amp. I have a sound that’s like an R&B-type sound which is real punchy and hits.”



    Victor Wooten on getting his bass to sound like a guitar on his album Words and Tones, as told to Premier Guitar:

    “I’m always looking for new tricks and techniques. I always use a ponytail holder hair band on the neck of my bass, and I found that if I moved it to the 17th or 18th fret, I could make sounds like a guitar player using pinched harmonics. So I put distortion on the instrument and, just like a guitarist, I took a solo on ‘Sword and Stone’ that sounded just like a guitarist would. It was definitely something new for me.”




    Ozzy Osbourne bass player Blasko on using the overdrive pedal, as told to Bass Player:

    “I’m not a fan of distortion, because I think it causes you to lose a lot of the roundness of the tone. But I love overdrive. In the way I play, it helps the notes connect to one another. It’s hard for me to get excited when the bass tone is completely dry. I also like to have a lot of bottom end; our stage volume is sometimes so high that I can’t hear myself, so I like to know that I can still feel myself by moving lot of air.”




    Primus’ Les Claypool on tips for young bass players, as told to Alter the Press:

    “Play as much as you can and play with as many people as you can. People who just sit in a room and play, are only going to get so good. Playing music is like having a conversation, if you have conversations with the same people over and over again, you're not going to be as loquacious as someone who speaks to different people, from different backgrounds, all the time. Play with as many people as you possibly can, even if they aren't any good.”




    Red Hot Chili Peppers bass player Flea on how studying music theory can help your playing, as told to Bass Player Magazine:

    “I took theory, composition and jazz trumpet at the University of Southern California. The main thing I got out of that experience was my theory class, and the big thing was Bach, who blew my mind in a way that Hendrix did to me when I was a kid, or Charlie Parker. I always appreciated classical music, but not to the point where I really delved into it. I took classes with a theory professor, Professor Neal Desby, and I also studied with him privately. I was really getting into Bach…. It’s something to aspire to. It’s just amazing.”




    Rush’s Geddy Lee on getting the “perfect bass sound” as told to Bass Player:

    “I’ve always liked my tone to have an edge, but over the years, I’ve been moving the edge higher and I’ve brought in more warmth. When I got my first Wal, it blew me away—the lower mids are so constant and the tone fits so easily into the context of our band on record. I don’t need to use a lot of fancy EQ; the bass just naturally bounces and hangs there. That’s what I’m really after; the bounce of the sound. If I’m playing a lot of notes, I don’t like the tone to get twangy; I like there to be a bit of depth to it…”




    Nikki Sixx on using the Gibson Thunderbird to get his trademark sound, as told to Guitar Center:

    “I’ve played Gibson Thunderbirds for my whole career. The Thunderbird is me. It’s become such a part of me that I don’t even look right holding another bass anymore. The Blackbird is my version of the Thunderbird. It’s like a race car. Both of the pickups are wired together, and there are no tone or volume controls. The only control is a toggle switch that turns the pickups on or off. The word ‘finesse’ should never come into play when you’re talking about rock bass. It’s like sex. You’ve just got to do the job. Playing bass isn’t about making love. It’s brutal, nasty, dirty, and raw. That’s what the Blackbird is. There are other basses for other styles of music with volume and tone controls, but I just want to go. It’s not like I’m going to turn the tone control back 25 percent and the volume back 10 percent to play the bridge of ‘Home Sweet Home’ on stage.”




    Jason Newsted on creating rhythms, as told to Bass Player:

    “A lot of people who aren’t necessarily musicians visit the studio, and I keep various noise-making devices around—drums, knockers, nose flutes—so they can play along. I love watching instructional videos, so I bought the Santana rhythm-section tape, From Afro-Cuban to Rock [Latin Percussion]. It shows five general rhythms and how you apply them—but once the musicians start doing their thing, I just sit and watch in amazement. I haven’t spent enough hours learning how to play them.”




    Green Day bass player Mike Dirnt on what advice he would give to an up-and-comer, as told to Guitar Center:

    “I would say, first of all, play music with friends. Don’t just play with somebody because they happen to have a lot of skills. Play with people you get along with because happiness is a road traveled, not a destination. If you can find it within yourself to be happy with working 40 hours a week and having a gig on the weekend or just having something to look forward to as far as having different shows and playing with friends. If you can be happy with that, if you can be happy with the least, then you’ve already succeeded. Chances are, all it’s going to be is you gigging from weekend to weekend for the rest of your life or until you get going.”








    Anne Erickson holds years of bylines in Gannett Media publications, as well as music magazines Premier Guitar, Guitar Edge and more. She also hosts radio shows with iHeartRadio and has been syndicated in Seattle, Dayton, Central Coast California and beyond. Anne is a loyal Spartan and holds a Master’s degree from MSU. She resides in Lansing, Michigan.A

    Sub Title: How low can you go?

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    I started off as a guitarist 38 years ago and added bass to my repertoire about 33 years ago as a means to score more gigs. One important concept that I'd like to share is that if a guitarist decides to pick up the bass, they must realize realize a bass is not a 4-fat stringed (or 5, 6) guitar. It's a bass guitar and the technique, sensibilities and approach are different. 

    It's primarily a rhythm instrument with the ability to add melodic and harmonic elements within the rhythmic context. Once this domain has been apprehended and mastered to a reasonable degree, then sure, one can experiment with other stylistic and flashy elements.  

    While this “philosophy†is a good and practical way of learning to play the bass for any novice, it's paramount for the guitarist learning to be bassist to understand this and practice it. Otherwise the result is a crappy bassist. These former guitarist bass players are easy to spot as they are all over the neck and have no concept of the groove. 

    I realize that this should be common knowledge as much as it's been repeated, but in the years that I've taught bass, I can count on one hand the bass students that already play guitar who understand that there is a significant difference in how one plays guitar and bass. Most of the students I've had who have no guitar experience are able to progress in the basics more rapidly than the guitar playing ones. Why? Because I don't have to spend the time breaking bad habits that guitar playing, bass student novices seem to universally suffer from. 

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