Maintaining Your Tone Between Fingerstyle and Slap
Q: Most of the time, I play fingerstyle, but sometimes in the middle of some songs, I change to slap-style. In those situations, I find I just don’t have enough punch to come through. I don’t think that’s a matter of technique or strength. What do you suggest? Do I need a gearbox to augment the volume when I switch from fingers to slap?
A: Great question! I wish I was more of a slap guy, because I’ll be winging it and making some educated guesses here.
I’ll start with my “smaller likely doesn’t make a difference in your life, but I’ll say it anyway” thought: not all basses are great sounding slap basses and not all basses are great sounding fingerstyle basses. Fewer still really do both well. Generally speaking, I find it easier to get a good fingerstyle tone out of a great slap bass than the inverse (although, my slap technique probably plays a part).
I just wanted to make note of that. Pedals, EQ settings, etc. aside, your bass could play a role in the equation.
Outside of your instrument, you might try a few things:
1. Depending on your fingerstyle sound and tone, a small boost or cut in your on-board pre-amp could go a long way towards getting the tone that you want.
Most of the great things in tone happen in the mid-range, in my opinion. I generally leave my bass pretty flat (or with a bass or treble cut, depending on the room) and go for more thump with my low-mids or more clarity with my high-mids.
The essence of slap-tone is a mid-scoop, where the bass is emphasized for thump and the highs emphasized for the pop.
If you have a burpy-low-mid tone, you could certainly help by cutting your mid frequencies (and/or bumping up your bass and treble). If you have an on-board pre-amp, you might be able to get to a workable sound with a quick knob twist or two.
2. You could also explore an EQ setting on your amp or on-board pre that meets the two tones somewhere in the middle.
You might have to compromise one or both tones to get one that sounds ok for both but much depends on your ears and what you want to hear.
3. Pedals! (everybody loves pedals, right?)
Some common fixes for this dilemma (and some common uses even for those without any dilemma) are one or more of the following effects:
- Compression: A good compression setting can really help your sound to cut through the mix in a way that’s almost magical. It might not even sound louder or like your tone changed that much, but the way your sound interacts with those around it seems to change. That’s not really how it works, but that’s how it sounds to me (can you tell that I’m no a super gear-head?). An LED peak-reduction status and good control over your compression parameters helps a lot. I use the MXR Bass Compressor, and it’s pretty great. I’m pretty unacquainted with compression settings, and a quick read of the quick start manual got me going with great results.
- EQ Pedal: There couldn’t possibly be a quicker way to change EQ settings on the fly than an EQ stomp box.
- Boost/EQ style Direct Box: It’s always great to have a quality DI with you on the gig anyway, so maybe you should just get a good DI that also has a boost/EQ stomp box built in. You can tweak the tone to your liking, give it a little boost or overdrive, if you like, and click it in and out. Pretty great tool. I use the Basswitch IQ-DI and love it. It’s prefect for my needs on the road (it has two effects loops, one having a blend knob, boost and is switchable. Tons of other functions, too). The SansAmp Tech 21 is also a great sounding pedal with a great sounding DI. I know a lot of guys that use this as well. This might be the one of you want a little more grit to your boosted sound.
- Sonic Maximizers or Enhancers: I’ve never used one, but I do know that some bassists use these live or in the studio to bring a little bit of sparkle to their tone. It’s not for me, but it definitely does work for some people. It all depends on what sound you are going for.
Readers, you can help big time here on this question. How do you deal with switching between slap and fingerstyle playing on the fly? Please share in the comments.