Photo by Mike Hoff
Q: In 25+ years playing, one problem has plagued and perplexed me the entire time… from one band practice to the next I swear the tone of my bass changes. One day my bass tone sounds like it’s dialed in right where it needs to be the next my strings sound dull or my amp tone isn’t punching they way it was before. I’ve marked my gear settings, tried changing strings… I’m worried I am experiencing hearing loss, but the doc says that it’s not evident. Is this common or are gremlins messing with my gear after practice?
A: For starters, I wonder if you’re talking about a regular practice space and the tone changing from day to day or within different scenarios and locations.
- If you are in a regular space, and you feel that your tone is changing from day to day, I’m not really sure what that might be causing that. I would imagine that there is some variable that must be changing but you said that you’ve noticed this for your entire playing career (25 years) which confounds me a bit. The variable could even be as small as you moving the cabinet a foot to one side or the other.
- If, however, you are speaking of different rehearsals (gigs, sessions, and so on) in different settings then, yes, your tone can change quite a bit depending on a pretty large list of variables. Here are some things to ask yourself and consider.
- Is the cabinet sitting directly on the floor? Even turning a cab on its side – so more or less of the surface is in direct contact to the floor – can drastically change the way your amp sounds.
- If the floor is hollow, the vibrations will resonate throughout as well as travel from the floor, through a mic stand and into any live mics.
- If your curious, play for a bit with your cabinet making full contact with a wooden floor and then elevate it onto some foam or egg-crate cartons or something. It’s a completely different sound! Typically, you lose a ton of bass once you “de-couple” the cabinet from the reverberating floor. It can be a great way to fix a boomy room (at least for the bass player). It really tightens up the bass frequencies.
- Is the back of the cab in or near the corner of the room? This can cause a bit of a “bass trap”, where a portion of the room will sound extra woofy and undefined.
- The reflective surfaces in the room change the sound from room to room. Concrete walls one night and wooden walls the next? Curtains against the back wall versus glass in another room? HUGE difference in overall sound and the way the bands volume will impact you.
- Even rearranging the gear or furniture in the room will change the way it sounds to varying degrees – wall hangings alter the sound as well. Everything in the room reflects the sound and alters the way it will sound in every other part of the room (to greater or lesser degrees, of course. I’m not saying that dropping your back-pack on the floor will completely change the sound of a room, of course).
- It could even be where you are standing in the room. Some rooms sound drastically different depending on where your ears are in relation to the sound source and reflections. I frequently turn on my rig only to discover that the setting that was giving me the sweetest bass sound ever just the night before suddenly sounds harsh and clicky in this new setting. Every room is different and will warrant changes to your EQ and/or pickup blend.
Additionally, sometimes the sound that works best in the context of the full band doesn’t actually sound all that good by itself. I usually like way more bass and low mids in my sound when practicing or just playing by myself but will dial it way back when my sound is interacting with kick-drums, keys, etc. Once the band is playing, I usually have to use a much more defined sound. Therefore, if you have a band rehearsal and it sounds great but then come in the next evening to shed by yourself, you may be scratching your head at how crappy the previous evenings tone sounds to your ears out of context.
Readers, have you ever had this feeling that you just can not get a consistent tone out of your rig? Even in the same musical setting (like a practice room)? Please share your recommendations in the comments.