Are you a bass player in a band that features guitarists who play 7-string or 8-string guitars? This is becoming more and more of an issue lately. And I should know: I’ve been playing 7-string guitars for about ten years now, and about a month ago I finally made the leap to 8-strings via an Ibanez RGIR28FE Iron Label Series beastie (upgraded with Seymour Duncan Pegasus and Sentient humbuckers). It’s tuned, low to high, F#, B, E, A, D, G, B, E. or sometimes E, B, E, A, D, G, B, E, if I’m feeling particularly saucy. And it only took a few days worth of jammage for me to come to the realisation that if I was going to find a place for the bass to sit comfortably with that kind of tuning, I’d have to be a little bit creative about it. When you’re playing a bass line to fit with a 7-string guitar, it’s pretty obvious that you can hang on the low B string of a 5-string bass when you need to support those extra, extra low notes. But what if the guitar player hits an F#? Or, heaven forfend, a low, low E?
One option is, of course, to tune down by the equivalent amount, adding a low F# (or E) string an octave below the lowest string of the guitar and tuning the rest of the strings accordingly, for instance F# B E A (or even E A D G an octave below a regular bass). And this is certainly a viable option. You’ll need to modify your bass to do this though, and it’s probably best if you use a longer-scale rather than shorter-scale instrument to do it. And you’ll need to make some other accommodations too. A switch to heavier strings will be crucial in maintaining some punch and attack to your notes, otherwise your bass will simply sound like a loose subsonic rumble. And you might need to do some tweaking at your amp to make your notes cut through. A compressor with a medium attack time will give your notes a little punch in those crucial first few milliseconds before reigning in the rest of the note so there’s something to back it up. And a dedicated biamp setup with separate streams for the low end and the mids/highs will certainly help you to fulfil the rhythmic and melodic aspects of a bass player’s job. But no matter how you slice it, when you tune a bass down that low, you’re going to be felt more than heard, so you have to be okay with that from an emotional standpoint, which let’s face is is not always easy. Do you really want to be forced out of the sonic spectrum just because the guitarist wants to be able to chug out some Meshuggah? I guess it all depends on how strongly you feel about the music. Perhaps a better option is…
Taking More Of A Lead Role
Perhaps you can see this encroachment of guitar dominance over your personal space as an opportunity to wrest a bit more sonic real estate for yourself. If the guitar is going to get down into the bass regions, perhaps it’s time to play baselines higher on the neck. This isn’t as reactionary as it sounds: with the guitar holding down the low end, it just might free up some space in the upper regions for you to throw in some interesting melodies, clever harmonics and other spicy tricks. And it also gives you the option of doubling the guitar in unison, in the same octave that it’s dipping down into, and as I’ve discovered, this tends to push the bass towards the front of the mix a little more, almost like the guitar is a fizzy, fuzzy coating sitting on top of the bass. Or, if you’d like the best of both worlds, you should consider…
Using An Octave Pedal
Ah yes, the perfect way of covering all bases, pardon the pun. With an octave pedal, you can generate an additional tone one or two octaves below the one you’re actually playing, and this can fill out the low end quite nicely indeed without sacrificing your note attack, necessitating a drastic change to your tone or forcing you to play outside of your comfort zone. It’ll let you play a bassline in your regular, natural register while also thickening the low end, and it’ll also hold down the low end when you move up the neck to play something a little higher and more melodic. In fact, it doesn’t really matter who you’re playing with – 7-stringer, 8-stringer, down-tuner or even a guitarist who keeps it in standard: an octave pedal can drastically expand your musical options.