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The bass, perhaps more than any other instrument, runs the risk of getting lost among all the other instruments and vocals within a song. This is especially true in music with lots going on, such as rock, metal, and even jazz-type ensembles.
Bass players often spend time searching for that perfect blend of tone to make themselves heard but also to maintain their important responsibility of keeping the low-end frequencies within the mix.
As a bass player, how do you ensure that what you are playing fits well within the context of the song and is prominent enough that what you are playing can be distinguished from everything else that is going on?
The best way to accomplish this is to develop a tone that allows the bass to cut through the mix so that it can be heard clearly, but without deviating too much from what is expected of the bass.
One way to do this is to tweak the tone in order to make the bass guitar growl.
How do you accomplish this and make the bass guitar growl?
Plucking, pressing down the strings harder, and using palm muting can make the bass growl, as well as playing closer to the bridge and using a slap bass technique. Also consider using roundwound strings, adjusting the EQ settings on the bass and amp to add more mids and treble, or using distortion and overdrive pedals.
Below we will look at what a “growling” tone means, how that differs from an aggressive bass tone, and ways to accomplish this growl.
What Does It Mean To Make A Bass Guitar Growl?
Whether you are new to the bass guitar or are just looking for ways to upgrade your tone, you may have stumbled across this term and wound up here. So, what does it mean to make a bass guitar growl?
Making your bass guitar growl is really just about adjusting the tone that is produced. If you google what a bass guitar growl is, you will likely get a few different answers, but if we boil down all the different terminology, everyone is essentially saying the same thing.
Regarding the bass, a growl is a deep, low-pitched tone (although not necessarily as low-pitched as a traditional bass tone) often described as somewhat gritty or raspy-sounding. A growl is also often going to sound slightly distorted. This term is also frequently used to describe singing (especially regarding metal and rock music, where the singers often produce a raspy, intense, guttural-type sound), but for this article, I will be sticking to its application in the context of the bass.
This type of tone is often heard in genres like rock and metal, but it can be applied in other genres depending on the intention of the bassist and what they are trying to convey through their music.
Creating a growl helps your bass cut through the mix and adds some powerful dimensions to your music, especially when you are trying to beef up some heavy riffs, such as in rock and metal music.
Unfortunately, achieving this desired tone is not always easy. Ask most guitar and bass players, and they will tell you they are on a never-ending quest for the “perfect” tones. However, just because finding the optimal growl tone is not easy doesn’t mean it isn’t impossible.
With a bit of patience and a willingness to experiment and be okay with not instantly having that “perfect” tone, with time, you should be able to dial in the exact sound you are looking for.
How Is A Growl Different Than An Aggressive Bass Tone?
Before we dive into how to make a bass guitar growl, I wanted to take a moment and explain the difference between a growl and an aggressive bass tone, as they are frequently used to describe similar bass sounds and are often used to explain playing style and tone preferences in genres like rock and metal.
While a growl and an aggressive bass tone are often associated with the same genre and tone goals, they have some distinct characteristics that separate the two concepts.
An aggressive bass tone refers specifically to the tonal quality when it is intended for the sound to be very forceful and intense with the intention of making an impactful statement with the bass. The tone creates a much tighter-sounding bass with more mids and trebles that help create a sound that punches its way through the mix. If you want to learn more about aggressive bass tones and how to achieve them, check out my article here.
So while a growl and an aggressive tone are similar, a growl might not have as much mid-range and treble as an aggressive tone, although sometimes these concepts do crossover.
How To Make A Bass Guitar Growl
When attempting to make your bass sound more aggressive, there are several different methods to make your bass growl, and the only way to truly determine if it sounds good or not is to experiment.
You should also always remember that just because something sounds good by itself doesn’t mean that it will sound good within the context of a song, so make sure to try out these different methods within the context of the rest of the instruments you are playing with.
Let’s look at these eight methods that can help make your bass growl.
Method #1: Ramp Up Your Playing Technique
The first method that can give you that growling tone is to play the strings harder. In other words, press the strings harder on the fretboard and (more importantly) strike the strings harder with your fingers or pick.
Having a harder attack on the strings can help to give you that growling tone you are looking for instead of the more subdued lighter plucking method that gives the bass a warmer, more mellow tone.
The big downside with this technique is that it might cause your fingers to hurt much faster than a mellower playing style. This is especially true for beginning players who have yet to build up finger strength to withstand this type of playing.
So while this method is easy to implement, it can be difficult to maintain if your fingers start to become sore.
Method #2: Palm Muting
The second method is another playing technique adjustment and one that is often associated with metal guitar players. Palm muting can help give your bass a focused and tight sound, often with a growling quality if done correctly.
Palm muting on the bass is similar to palm muting on the guitar. You achieve the muting effect by placing your plucking-hand palm across the strings near the bridge. Palm muting on the bass can be a bit more challenging than on the guitar, especially if you are playing with your fingers, but with practice, it will become much easier to handle.
The video below provides an excellent tutorial on how to start palm muting on the bass.
Method #3: Change Your Playing Position
Just like if you are trying to develop a more aggressive bass tone, changing where you are playing the strings will also help you develop that growling bass tone. Playing your bass closer to the bridge can help to bring out higher harmonics and create that growling sound you are looking for.
It should be noted that different styles of basses with varying configurations of pickup are going to sound vastly different from one another, so you should experiment with a variety of playing positions until you find the one that gives you that desired growl you are looking for.
Method #4: Slap Bass
Slap bass technique can be challenging, and it is something that I have never gotten very good at, but it can be a very beneficial technique that you can use across various genres. Slap bass can also help to give you that desired growl you are looking for.
Slap bass is a much more percussive style of playing than traditional finger plucking, which means it can bring out that growling sound just like playing harder with your fingers or pick. Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers often uses this technique throughout their discography.
The video below provides a great starting point for learning how to slap bass.
Method #5: Use Roundwound Strings
First off, how long has it been since you have changed the strings on your bass? Be honest. I have gone a year without changing strings before, and I wouldn’t recommend it. Just putting on a new set of strings will do all sorts of wonders for your tone, but ensuring you have roundwound strings can make a huge difference in giving your bass that growl.
Roundwound strings will typically have a much brighter sound with more emphasis on the mids and treble, which can help to bring out a growling tone in your bass. Roundwound strings are often the go-to choice for rock and metal players for these reasons.
If you don’t know where to begin when looking for strings, check out this article on eight of the best bass strings for rock and metal.
Method #6: Adjust The EQ Settings On Your Bass
If playing style and string changes still haven’t brought you the level of growl that you are looking for; you can also start to adjust the settings on your bass and amp. Some basses, like my 5-string Jackson Spectra (pictured below), will have all sorts of EQ settings to dial in bass, mids, and treble (along with splitting coils, etc.), which is great for dialing in the exact tone I am looking for.
However, you don’t need all these EQ knobs to get a great growling tone on your bass. If your bass only has one knob, it will likely be to control the treble, so play around with this. Usually, turning up the treble will give your bass more bite and growl, allowing it to cut through the mix better.
Method #7: Adjust The EQ Settings On Your Amp
Another option is to adjust the EQ settings on your amp. You will typically have a lot of headroom on your bass amps, so you can crank up the settings without worrying about the signal breaking up like it might if you ramp everything up on a guitar amp.
If you have no idea where to begin for amp settings, check out this article I have written on some of my favorite amp settings. These suggestions might not give you the exact tone you are looking for, but it will be a great place to start.
Method #8: Use Distortion And Overdrive Pedals
In my opinion, I would use this method as a last resort. In fact, sometimes a compression pedal will do a much better job of tightening up your tone and helping give you that growl than distortion and overdrive pedals.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t use these pedals with a bass, and there are many situations where they end up sounding awesome and giving your bass that growl you are looking for. While there are dedicated bass guitar pedals, most electric guitar pedals will work okay with your bass.
However, like with everything else on this list, you will need to spend quite a bit of time experimenting with different pedals and settings. When in doubt about distortion and overdrive settings, start with very little and adjust your way up as you go.
There you have it! Eight ways to get your bass guitar to growl. The bass guitar is an important instrument in many genres, and by adjusting your tone, you can get your bass to cut through the mix.
I hope you have found this article beneficial, and I wish you the best of luck as you work to dial in that perfect bass guitar tone.
Until next time, stay creative and keep on playing!
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.