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Dealing with Multiple EQ’s

Q: I’m an amateur bassist, and my current setup consists of an active bass, multi-effects pedal and a combo amp. All of these have equalizers built in, and I’m really unsure how to use them all to the best of their potential.

The multi-effects pedal has the most versatility, having separate modules for high and low equalizers with an option of 3-band, parametric (though I’m not sure how those work) and off for both, giving six bands max. Because of this I tend to use the pedal the most for my EQ settings as I want each one to have a consistent sound and don’t want to mess around with the knobs on the amp or bass in the middle of playing. The amp has a 5-band EQ (which can be used as just 3-band or turned off), and I usually keep this on but flat to keep things consistent. The bass’s EQ is one I tend to use for quick, on-the-fly adjustments without interrupting playing. What I want to know is if this is the optimum usage of all three EQs? Should I turn off the amp EQ to make it easier to keep a consistent sound? In addition, I also tend to use the effects pedal between the bass and amplifier, but the amp has effects loop jacks for after the built in EQ. Would this be better?

A: This may well be one of those posts where the comments below have more insight than I can provide, but I’ll give this my best shot.

In my experience, the EQ’s built into multi-effect pedals are the worst sounding EQ’s of the lot. Bassists usually don’t need to get too crazy with their EQ as (cliche as it is) most of the sound is coming from your hands.

That said, there are times when you really do have to tweak the EQ a bit to adjust for the room. I typically leave everything as flat as possible. During soundcheck, I may tweak the amp a little bit to adjust for the room, and then use my bass EQ (or technique) to compensate for the rest.

The most important thing is to know how the different frequencies impact your sound. I think of it this way:

  • Low Bass range: Fullness of the bass (careful though, it is easy to make it muddy)
  • Low mid range: Punch or “burp”
  • Hi mid range: Clarity and articulation
  • Treble: The snap or sizzle (upper transients as well)

If you have a parametric EQ, it’s good to get familiar with it. Basically, you have a knob which selects the frequency you want to adjust, and a knob that effects the level (cut or boost).

I think the easiest way to get the feel for a parametric EQ is to set everything flat and go through them one by one:

  1. Boost the frequency level all of the way up and slowly turn the frequency selector knob to hear which frequency you will be adjusting.
  2. Find the sound you want to cut or boost and then adjust accordingly with the level knob.
  3. Go through and do that for each frequency range.

Be sure to explore the sounds which are possible through your hands (altering technique, where you pluck, how hard you pluck, and so on). Most pros I know tend to play with both the amps and the bass pretty flat. While some guys use delays, reverbs, and other effects for sound shaping, you shouldn’t really have to go too hog wild with your EQ to get a good sound!

I’m sure the comments will be worth checking out as there are a lot of readers here who have really explored various EQ’s and how they affect your tone.

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