Getting A Great Dirty Bass Sound …By Going Clean

sandberg bass
By Jon Moody
Everyone likes a good, dirty bass sound. You know the one; it demands attention in the mix, and every note that’s played punches you in the chest with awesomeness. We love that sound! However, on our quest to replicate that exact sound, we often overlook the one thing that’s really controlling it for us; our clean bass sound.

I know what you’re thinking. This sounds contradictory to what we’re trying to achieve, but hear me out. Any pedal we use to help sculpt this sound that we want, is only as good as the tone that’s going into the unit. If we have a clean tone that’s thick, undefined and doesn’t sit well in the mix with the band, how is that going to sound when we step on that stompbox to shape it?
So let’s start at the beginning. Play in your group with a completely clean sound. Find that sonic space where you can have that thunderous low end foundation, while still retaining the definition and clarity. Chances are, any adjustment you’re going to be making will be to the mids, especially if your bass has an onboard midrange control (eg: the Steve Bailey Active Preamp). And for those with two pickups, this is the time where you start playing with that blend knob, and seeing/hearing what having the bridge pickup favored does to your sound.
Next, look at your amp. Chances are, if you have one with a signature sound (Ampeg and Gallien-Krueger immediately come to mind), there’s already some sort of tone stamp (that you obviously like, if you’re using that amp) that you’re going to have to work with. Again, keep it clean and listen to where everyone else is sonically sitting before using any of those signature controls.
Now that you have that clean tone dialed in and it’s supporting the band like a boss, it’s time to start “thickening the stew,” so to speak. If you happen to have a clean/wet blend knob on your pedal, I’d recommend going to 100% wet at this point so you can focus on the dirty sound. This is where it’s vital to really listen to what that pedal (whether you’re an overdrive, distortion, or fuzz kind of guy) is doing to your clean tone, but more importantly, what it’s doing to your presence in the mix. If it’s something that’s adding that needed girth and depth that you wanted, great! If it’s starting to muddy up your signal and have you start looking at the volume knob, dial it back.
A little pre-planning with the clean sound of your bass and rig is all it takes to lay the foundation for a killer dirty sound that will make everyone in the audience take notice, and bow to your tonal throne.
See the entire Seymour Duncan bass range here.

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