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The bass is one of my favorite instruments to play. It may not get as much recognition as the guitar, but it is the backbone of most genres. Without the bassline, most songs will feel empty.
Bass is typically responsible for the low end of the music, with the main frequency ranging somewhere between 40 and 400Hz, but sometimes going higher or lower than that.
Below is a snapshot of the bass track EQ in one of my projects. This is before I adjusted which frequencies I would cut out of the final edit, but you can see the bulk of the frequency being picked up is on the lower end of the frequency range.
The bass is fundamental for keeping the groove, and along with the drums, it helps to keep the rest of the music on track so that the song doesn’t get off time.
I play drums in a couple of bands, and it makes my job so much easier when I am playing with a solid bass player.
But bass is about more than just keeping time. It also needs to sound good while doing that. So how do you set up the amp to get the desired sounds?
Most bass amplifiers will have a volume control, as well as bass, middle, and treble EQ knobs, allowing you to dial in the exact sounds you’re looking for, depending on the style of music you are playing. Some higher-end amps will have additional setting options such as gain and others to further dial in tones.
Let’s take a deep dive below into amp settings for bass guitar that will help get you the tones you are looking for.
Amp Settings For Bass Guitar: Introduction
One of the first questions that are often asked is whether you can just use a regular guitar amp as a bass amp. In theory, yes, you can do this, but you could end up damaging the electric guitar amp, especially if you crank the volume up too high.
This is due to the frequency differences, among other issues, so it is best to have a dedicated bass amplifier if you plan to play bass guitar.
Bass amplifiers come in various wattage sizes and styles, in the form of combo amps (head and speaker combined) or separately as a head and speaker cabinet, just like regular electric guitar amps.
This means that depending on the amp you have, the EQ settings will vary slightly, but in general, a bass amp will have bass (low), mid, and treble (high) setting knobs that can be adjusted to develop the exact sound you are looking for.
I have the 1×10” speaker, Hartke HD50-watt bass amp (pictured below).
As you can see, it is a pretty standard and straightforward setup, with just volume, bass, mid, and treble knobs. These settings work perfectly well for my needs, but there are other amps with more EQ settings if you are looking to further dial in your tone.
A good example of this in the same price range as the Hartke HD50 is the Ashdown Studio 10 1×10” 60-watt combo amp. The Ashdown features volume, pre-gain, drive, bass, lo-mid, mid, hi-mid, and treble EQ knobs, giving a ton of EQ control options.
For simplicity’s sake, I will stick to the basic bass, middle, and treble EQ controls in this article.
The bass EQ setting will be the primary EQ setting to be concerned with while playing the bass guitar. That is not to say that mid and treble settings don’t matter, but the bass setting is the driving force.
The bass is responsible for the very low end of the frequency range and provides that deep, booming sound that you can feel vibrate through you if you stand too close to the subwoofer. This is the EQ that is most often associated with the bass guitar and other low-frequency instruments, but it is not the only setting that matters.
If your bass sounds thin or too high-pitched, turn up the bass to provide a lower and fuller sound. On the other hand, if your bass notes are running together or sounding too muddy, you can turn down the bass, which will make the individual notes cut through the mix more and be easier to distinguish.
Boosting the mid-range of the bass can sometimes help it stand out more in the mix. Mid-range frequencies can be tricky to mix as this is an area where many different instruments and vocals could potentially overlap.
Too much mid can make the bass sound muddy or “tinny,” as I have heard several musicians describe it, but cutting too much can make the bass sound too thin. Mid-range frequencies can sometimes make the bass sound tighter, as the guitar players I play with refer to it.
The treble EQ setting deals with the higher end of the frequency range. At first, you might think that treble has no business at all being on a bass amp, and by default, set this knob to zero and leave it there. While I typically keep the treble setting relatively low on my bass amp, there is still a time and place to use some treble with the bass guitar.
If your bass sounds too low or muddy, you can bring up the treble to give it a brighter sound. Increasing the treble can also bring out each note and help it cut through the mix more. However, if the treble is too high and the bass/mids are too low, there is a good chance your bass will sound too thin.
Another consideration you should be mindful of is the settings on your bass guitar, as they will further tweak the sounds produced by your amp.
The picture below is of two of my bass guitars.
The four-string is a Yamaha TRBX174EW with two volume knobs (one for each pickup) and one tone knob. The five-string is a Jackson Spectra JS3QV, which features a master volume control with a push/pull knob for active and passive modes, active 3-band EQ for bass, mid, and treble, and a 2-way toggle switch that can split the coils. The Jackson provides an even deeper level of tone options that further aid what the amp can do.
How Do You Set Up A Bass Guitar Amp?
Setting up your bass amp is pretty straightforward. Plug the amp in, Plug in your bass, turn the amp on and start playing. You won’t be able to adjust the EQ settings without hearing what they sound like.
There are a couple of different strategies you can use to dial in the specific tones you are looking for. The first is to turn all the EQ knobs to zero and slowly start adjusting them. Another option is to place them all right in the middle, at five, and adjust from there.
Below I will provide short audio clips of a few different settings so you can hear the differences, which is more helpful than reading about the differences. It is one thing to read about different EQ settings and an entirely different thing to hear them.
To keep everything consistent besides the amp settings, I will use my four-string Yamaha with the neck pickup volume all the way up, bridge pickup volume all the way down, and the tone knob all the way up. Further, the amp volume will stay the same, set at two, which is the volume I typically use to record in my home studio. I also haven’t done any mixing or mastering, so this is just raw audio.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list of the different amp setting combinations that can be created. Further, these are relatively exaggerated examples with the intention for you to hear the distinct differences between each of the tone knobs. Still, these examples will provide enough variety for you to get a good idea about the different types of settings and tones you can get.
It is best to listen with headphones or through a good-quality stereo speaker for the best audio comparison. Some of the differences are quite subtle and might not be picked up well with phone or computer speakers. Further, for the casual listener, many of these settings will sound similar.
Setting One: Well Balanced Sound
With everything set to 0, there is a well-balanced sound. To me, it sounds a little on the thin side, but overall it isn’t a bad sound.
Setting Two: Heavy Distortion
In setting two, with only the treble up to five, you can hear a much brighter, almost pinging-type sound. However, overall it doesn’t sound too bad until I went down to the low E string towards the end. Here you can hear a slightly distorted, almost static-type sound instead of the deep rich sound you would expect from a bass.
This is definitely not a setting I would use often, especially if the song called for a lot of low E-string work.
Setting Three: Low End Distortion
Setting three sounds a bit more full and well-rounded than the previous setting and the low notes sounded much better, but when I hit the strings a bit harder, you can still hear some distorted low end.
I didn’t mind the sound of this setting. I certainly liked it more than setting two.
Setting Four: Prominent Low End
In setting four, the low end is much more prominent, as could be expected. The stuff on my desk started to rattle around some, even though the volume was exactly the same.
However, you should have noticed that the lower notes sounded a bit muddy and hard to distinguish clearly, even though they were more prominent. I was not overly impressed with this setting.
Setting Five: Full and Clear
Setting five, with all of the EQ halfway, was back to being well balanced like setting one, but with a much better low end. There was much more fullness in this setting.
The clarity was good, although I found it a bit bright to my liking. It is the best setting so far.
Setting Six: Deep Low End
This last setting is one of my go-to settings for rock and metal music. It has a nice deep low end and very little treble, but just enough to help it cut through the mix.
I also played around with two EQ settings at zero and the other at ten, but it was fairly predictable that it ended up being an exaggerated example of settings two through four.
The bass guitar is a fun and versatile instrument to learn and play, and after reading this article, you should now have a better understanding of how to dial in your tone using your amp settings to get the exact sound you are looking for.
While pedals are an added bonus, the basic settings that come with bass amps will provide you with all sorts of variations.
Hi everyone! I have been involved with music most of my life, beginning in grade school with the trumpet. I am a largely self-taught multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass, and starting the piano and violin). I currently play drums in two bands and write and produce many genres of music in my home recording studio. I am also an avid guitar and drum collector.