The Science of Bass Overdrive

Use the Science of Bass Overdrive to discover your dream bass overdrive tone! Analysing the aspects of your sound will make your bass tone take centre-stage

Originally published by Christian Moraga on the Roland Australia Blog

A remark guaranteed to annoy any bass player is that the bass guitar is just a guitar with two less strings and twice as easy to play. This statement couldn’t be further from the truth!

Bass guitar (played well!) is one of the most expressive instruments on stage. Fingerstyle or pick, slap, pop or just straight groove playing, the bass guitar is the rhythmic extension of the player. It takes years, decades, if not a lifetime, to truly master the art of bass playing.

Along with the drums, the bass serves as a song’s “engine” that drives the whole band along. However, at times, rhythm becomes such a focus that your bass tone becomes a secondary thought.

The tone of your bass guitar is just as important – the strings, the tonewood of your bass and amplifier can really make a good bass player take centre-stage.

A challenge that bass players face is how to take THAT bass tone that you own and love, and amplify it on stage for that little extra mojo. How do you take your bass tone to “11” without destroying dynamics and all of the rich overtones that your guitar and amplifier give you?

This is what we call the “Science of Bass Overdrive” as there are several factors to consider when building upon your rocking bass tone foundation. These four main factors, described below, is what BOSS addressed when designing the BOSS BB-1X Bass Driver pedal.

Whether you’re pulling up a tone to record in the studio or taking the bass rig on stage – it’s time to assess your bass sound. By looking at your bass guitar tone with a “scientific” or analytical eye, it can help you identify what you need in a bass overdrive pedal.

You too can get a reputation for killer tone AND killer chops by assessing these four factors:

OVERTONES AND DYNAMIC RESPONSE

Have you ever wondered why a bass guitar and a cello sound different, even though they may be playing the same “E” note? Although the “E” note (or fundamental) is the same, the amount of overtone frequencies gives the bass guitar its distinctive sound.

The instrument body type, strings, pickups, playing style (and so many factors) contribute to the overtones and the dynamics of your bass sound. Digging in hard with your right hand with a pick compared to finger picking near the bridge give two distinct bass guitar tones that become a part of your sound. It’s the difference between night and day – or Lemmy and Jaco.

When amplifying a bass tone, selecting a preamp that allows for the natural overtones of your sound to carry through is necessary. Not only does it make your axe shine through the mix but also shows off every nuance of your playing.

This point is even more important as soon as you start adding some gain, distortion or DRIVE. In order to get a punchy sound with conventional guitar pedals, the narrowed frequency range of the guitar pedal results in a somewhat unnatural sound. In addition, the low end can sound muffled while trying to achieve a transparent, high-definition bass overdrive tone. As the bass overdrive level is increased, the dynamic response is decreased, which limits your musical expression.

Using a guitar pedal to drive your bass guitar isn’t the best idea if you want a drive tone that is an extension of your guitar/amp tone. You wouldn’t use guitar strings on your bass, would you? Choosing a bass overdrive pedal shouldn’t be any different.

EQUALISATION

Boss Bass Guitar Pedals

science bass overdrive boss bass pedalsOnce you have your foundation tone amplified, you can shape the sound using Equalisation or EQ. A good preamp will have an EQ designed specifically for the instrument. This is another reason why bass guitar tone doesn’t quite sound right when boosted with guitar pedals.

A guitar pedal is designed for a frequency range best suited for guitar. This makes selecting a specialised bass overdrive pedal important, as a guitar pedal will negatively affect the bass frequencies when using the pedal’s EQ.

A good EQ allows you to emphasise (boost) or de-emphasise (cut) certain frequencies. For example, if you want more of the string attack sound of your pick in the mix you can boost the HIGH or treble frequencies.

On the other hand, if you would like to tame some of the big, boomy sub-bass frequencies you can cut the LOW or bass frequencies.

Taking the time to shape your sound is important in a mix, for a recording or playing in a big room. However, you must have the right tool to do that and is where a good bass overdrive pedal will help.

CLARITY

boss bb-1x bass driver blendA common mistake made by bass guitarists when busting out their brand new fuzz pedal is to crank the volume if you want clarity in the mix. Making things louder begins a volume war – your drummer starts to hit harder, so the guitarist turns up their amp a little, your vocalist starts screaming to compensate… it can all get out of control quickly.

Turning up the volume can start to muffle the low end in the mix as your speakers are pumping out more bass with respect to the other members in your band. To achieve a clearer sonic punch to your sound, try adding some additional clean signal. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it makes sense. Here’s why…

A good bass drive pedal will give you the option to mix some “dry” clean signal with your “wet” drive signal. This parallel mix brings in the clarity you are missing; the tight, round low-end, the bright attack on the strings and that extra clarity emphasises the overtones of your original bass tone. It’s surprising how a little dry signal can go a long way in getting your bass overdrive tone to cut through a mix.

So leave that volume knob alone and reach for the BLEND knob.

DIRECT INJECTION

BOSS DI-1 Direct Box

BOSS DI-1 Direct Box

A DI (direct injection) or LINE OUT signal is a great option for bass players, both on stage and in the studio. A LINE OUT/DI signal is split from your signal chain and can be used in two main ways:

To amplify your bass sound through your venue’s PA (and via a front-of-house sound engineer if you’re lucky enough to have one).
A recorded DI signal is very useful in the studio to allow for “re-amping” through different amplifiers/cabinets/mics to find THE bass tone.
However many DI signals don’t consider your original bass tone – it can often be a compromise for a stage mix, or used as a base for further modification in the studio.

A good DI should provide a full spectrum of balanced sound, while never losing the body, punch, and presence of your individual tone. As a musician, you want to have confidence that the tone you are hearing on stage is the tone the listener is hearing and a good DI or LINE OUT signal will get you there.

Here is a video of the BOSS BB-1X Bass Driver – a premium bass preamp that captures the essence and subtle nuances of your bass, amp, and playing and emphasizes all their best characteristics. Watch/listen to how BOSS have considered these four pillars of the “Science of Bass Overdrive” to give you what every bass guitarist deserves… great tone.