Playing with distortion as a bass player can be a good thing, or it can be an outright disaster. Too much distortion ends up a ball of fuzz because of the bass’s low end and rumble, but too little distortion sounds brittle and delicate.
So how do you use distortion on the bass guitar?
In this article, we’ll discuss the “proper” usage of bass guitar effects pedels to allow you to get the most out of your bass playing while keeping your tone intact.
First, you need to decide where to use distortion. While distorting your bass is a great tool, it won’t work everywhere.
Take for instance jazz; being a gain fiend and a jazz player don’t go hand in hand very well. This is because jazz bass guitar is all about being smooth. Excess gain is the opposite of smooth on a bass guitar it is grainy and fat. The best thing to do is to lay off the distortion if you are playing styles that don’t primarily make usage of it.
However, like with all rules, there are times to break this one. If you are a soloist, you can add some gain to make your bass sound more like a guitar. While some may think this defeats the purpose of playing a bass guitar (and most traditionalists will swear it does), it can actually add a whole new flavor to your piece.
Gain doesn’t always have to be paired with aggressiveness; if you use the proper pedals and you have a good bass amp, you can achieve a warm, smooth gain tone on your bass guitar without sacrificing the low end or the thickness.
The best way to do this is by experimenting with your tone. If you use a distortion pedal, you might find that your distortion comes off as a bit synthetic; many effects pedals used for adding gain have a certain tone.
Sometimes they are very British, and sometimes they are very grainy and piercing. You take a risk each and every time that you use a pedal for this. It is best that you try out any gain pedal with your own amp before purchase, as you may find yourself in for a nasty surprise.
If you are in a metal band, it may be easier to get away with using distortion during a verse or a chorus. This is because metal bands tend to want a wall of sound, which means your gain will simply add to it all. Try using some gain during a riff, even if you aren’t taking the lead. If you channel in the right way, you can achieve a rhythm guitar tone out of your bass, which can add a further layer to the playing.
In the end, the only way to use bass guitar distortion effectively is to practice. Try different ways of introducing gain into your playing. Be honest with yourself; listen to your playing. If it doesn’t work, don’t force it.
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