Playing a bass without an amp is not a very pleasant experience.
Headphones or mediocre hi-fi speakers can’t be a long term solution as they won’t cover all the frequency range of your bass guitar.
That’s why it’s worth learning how to set up the bass amp correctly for your music genre and your instrument.
What is a Bass Amp?
The Bass Amp or bass amplifier is the audio unit that is specially tuned up for electric bass guitar performance. It is made of a preamplifier (also known as a preamp), tone control, power amplifier, and one or multiple speakers.
Preamplifier transfers the sound from the bass into the bass amp while the power amplifier works to send it further to the speaker and creates the bass sound eventually.
And just like a power amp works with the speakers, the tone control panel helps the preamplifier to shape up the sound before coming into the power amplifier. This panel is probably the most important part of every bass amp.
Types of Bass Amps
Based on the physical format, bass amplifiers can be either:
Stack Bass Amp
A stacked bass amp is made out of a head or preamp with a matched cabinet or even two cabinets. This way of making a sound is probably the most popular among professional players as they can combine preamps with the different cabinet setup and adjust the sound based on the venue they’re playing at.
Combo Bass Amp
As you may suspect from its name, it comes as a single unit that combines both preamp and cabinet speakers. It is very useful for semi-pro players as it comes in a more compact and portable format that’s perfectly matched.
Types of Bass Preamps
When you say bass amp, you usually refer to bass preamps or bass heads and this gear belongs to the next types:
Valve (Tube) Preamps
You can find those preamps often in studios. They have a special sound as they behave uniquely once the gain is dialed close to the clipping point. Thanks to the tubes installed in preamp and power amp parts, instead of a harsh and unpleasant tone, you will get rich non-linear overdrive tones that will give your bass a lot of character.
Solid State Preamps
Modern bass amps are usually solid state. They are more lightweight and come in much smaller formats. They are also very reliable as they are less prone to temperature changes. Maybe those preamps won’t have that special tone you can get with the tube preamps, but they will also be significantly cheaper and more thankful for live performances.
Hybrid Bass Preamps
It’s like getting traits from both of the worlds. It’s usually a valve preamp combined with the solid state power amp. This way, you’re getting that tube overdrive combined but at the much more lightweight factor when compared to the regular tube preamp. There are opposite combinations with solid state preamp and tube power amp, too.
How to Determine Bass Amp Settings
When we talk about bass amp settings, we’re mostly referring to the tone control part of the bass amp. It’s a panel placed in the front (sometimes on the top) of your amp.
Every bass amp has a different tone control setup, but in general, they provide you with these options - gain, drive, EQ, master volume, and several additional controls.
The best way to determine your bass settings will be based on the music genre you’re about to perform in. But, on the other hand, having strings changed recently or using another bass guitar with a different pickup setup can force you to approach the bass amp settings quite differently.
Basic Bass Amp Settings
Let’s take a quick run through the bass amp settings and define what every knob does:
When you play the signal from your bass it requires power. This initial power is acquired from the gain setting. The more you turn the dial, the more signal you’re sending to the bass amp.
This part of the tone controls the shape-up of the sound the most and its design varies a lot. Some may provide a 3-band or 4-band EQ parametric control, while others will offer you semi-parametric EQs along with a Graphical EQ panel. It usually comes with either a 7-stage or 10-stage panel with sliders dedicated to the certain frequency
This knob will simply determine how loud your signal will be in the end, after you have set all the parameters.
Not all bass amps have these types of controls and it can vary a lot. So, for example:
- Drive knob will layer distortion or overdrive effect over the input signal
- Compressor knob will dial a basic compression effect to your bass
- Additional EQ buttons can shape up the sound further, so for example, Punch will affect low-end sound and Bright will shape up the trebles. Contour button will additionally cut your middle EQ as you won’t be able to get the result that you want with just one Mid EQ knob. A very useful feature for so many genres and sometimes it will come in a knob design
General Tips for Bass Amp Settings
Here’s a quick list regarding how to setup proper bass sound:
When in Doubt, Always Cut First, Then Boost
Always remember that boosting increases the overall sound and brings you closer to clipping. That’s why it might be counter-intuitive but cutting other frequencies off and optionally raising the overall master volume level may give you the same sound.
Watch Out for Input Clipping
Unintentional clipping is usually a bad thing. It will damage your overall bass sound as it will sound distorted in a bad way. Luckily all bass amps will come with the LED lamp that will send a signal if you’re making a clip. We strongly recommend you to avoid getting into this stage and only do it on purpose if you know what you’re doing.
In specific situations, the sound you’re looking for isn’t found in bass amp setup, but using a proper pickup and tone control position. Switching from bridge to neck position may do wonders for your tone in general.
If you’re looking for more low-end sound, sometimes your practicing bass amp won’t be enough, especially for the sub-bass spectrum. That’s why a 15-inch bass amp may be a better solution than having a 2 x 12-inch combo.
Strings May Solve the Problem
Sometimes no bass amp setup can help. If your strings are very old, they will result in a dull sound that may only fit some blues songs. Changing the strings will bring an additional layer of brightness and definition to your sound.
Bass Amp Settings for Slap Sound
Slap technique can be used in all music genres, but if it's a regular part of your playing, perhaps you should set the initial sound by having this setup as a starting point.
Slap Sound should be warm but it should also bite a bit. The best way to make such a sound is to create a “smiley” EQ. This means to cut the mids out of the sound while boosting highs and lows. This way your slap sound will be bright while having enough thump to make everyone move. Once your sound begins to sound weak, revert a portion of the mids.
Bass Amp Settings for Funk
The Bass guitar seems to be a fundamental instrument in funk music, so you might think they are doing a lot of setting up to gettheme sound right. But it’s quite the opposite and leaving everything “flat” (neutral) will work the best if you have a good instrument. All the sound is coming right out of your playing skills, especially dynamics wise. The only thing that you should watch out for is to keep the signal clean.
But in the end, it depends on what situations are we talking about - for studio recording, we recommend you to leave everything flat and for live, adding a bit of mids and compression won’t hurt anyone while it will help you to be heard.
Also, having a tube amp will be a nice way to get that retro warmth to your bass guitar sound but it may be hit or a miss based on the funk vibe you want to achieve.
Bass Amp Settings for Blues
Blues music is about being mild and pleasant. It doesn’t leave any space for modern or defined bass sound and instead, it will work the best if you do the opposite.
Besides the initial attack that should be achieved by heavy plucking closer to the neck, the rest of the bass tone should be with mids rolled off and emphasized low-end. Trebles aren’t your friend for this genre, too and you should pay more attention to the low-mids as it should provide you with warmth.
Generally, bass guitar should generate more sound texture than become a percussive element in the song. Rolling off some portion from the tone pot on your bass guitar will also help.
But, as the low-end sound is fundamental to this sound, it will ask you to put the master volume up - these frequencies aren’t so audible in the low output settings so it might be tricky to create a perfect blues sound in the rehearsal room or at home.
Bass Amp Settings for Classic Rock
Classic Rock bass sound is often referred to as powerful but vintage. And by vintage, people usually refer to warm and pleasant. These words should give a bit of a hint on how the sound should be set initially.
The “powerful“ part can be set by dialing the gain knob just right before clipping occurs. The “warmth” is done by finding a sweet spot for your mid-EQ. The rest of the sound is pretty much up to you because when you compare the sound of several classic rock bands you will hear a very different bass tone so it’s hard to think of one setting for all types of classic rock bands.
But, in general, we would advise you to consider at least a 15-inch speaker if you’re looking for a real rock sound.
Also, bear in mind that bass lines in rock music may have a different role and can be performed both by finger playing or with the pick. In both cases, pay attention to how your drummer is playing - if he’s doing basic patterns there might be a chance for you to do an extra, otherwise, we recommend you to follow his groove and think about how to accompany that kick sound the best.
Bass Amp Settings for Punk
Punk music is all about a “fight” attitude, so your key will be to follow that vibe.
The best way to do it is to turn the mids and trebles up so that your strings can be heard in the mix a lot. Dialing the gain into occasional clipping may even come in handy for this genre.
As the whole music is fast-paced, you should treat low mids and bass EQ with extra care. Any low frequencies that cause unwanted “oomph” from your bass guitar should be cut in general coming out as it will only create problems in either live performing or song mixing.
And as we’re talking about “fight”, it simply means playing aggressively, so overdrive or distortion effects are pretty much welcomed. Due to high gain settings, even gate effects may come in handy.
But, the main part of the punk bass sound doesn’t come from the bass amp setting so much. It’s your hand that defines this sound. Punk music is one of those genres where an aggressive playing style can mean a lot. Using a pick can also help a lot to create the initial attack transients even sharper while the compressor can make the overall sound more fat, warm, and round.
Metal Bass Amp Settings
Metal music is even more intense than punk or rock. Combined with the heavy drumming which includes a lot of double kick drums and loud and overwhelming guitar work, a bass guitar usually has a very narrow space to be heard.
The key to having a great bass sound is not to try to win over the sound. So, don’t push the bass EQ hard - emphasize the mids instead. The bass frequencies should remain kick drum territory. As you’re probably going to follow the rhythm of the kick drum pattern, think of your performance as an additional rhythm element instead. Also, consider taming the dynamic range with some heavy compressor processing.
If you’re playing with only one guitar in the band, having a drive effect won’t be such a bad idea, especially as you’re going to take over rhythm parts once the guitar solo part comes in.
But anyway, finding your place in the mix won’t be easy, especially if your guitar player is inexperienced. Our general advice is to not be afraid to sound more percussive and increase that upper spectrum of your instrument. Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris sound is a wonderful example of how you can incorporate bass guitar as more than just a support instrument.
All bass amp settings are just an initial hint. What will work for you is strictly based on your playing style and preferences and your bass amp and bass guitar after all. That’s exactly why we were trying not to mention any specific numbers because it will always sound different based on the player who is performing.
People Also Ask
Bass Amplifiers can cause a lot of confusion even to semi-pro players, so let’s cover some of the terms you will encounter quite often such as wattage, power amp, and sub-bass. We will resolve the mysteries about using other equipment to play the bass guitar, too.
What Does Wattage on an Amplifier Mean?
Just like horsepower can tell you more about how powerful your car is, the wattage will tell you how loud your amp is. But, bear in mind that smaller speakers may sound louder than large speaker amps if they come with the same wattage because of frequency response.
What is a Power Amp?
Power Amp comes right after the preamp and it’s the part of the amp that allows your bass guitar to be heard in the cabinet speakers. In other words, it brings your signal to the line level. They are usually built in every bass amp, but it could also be purchased separately.
What Size Bass Amp Do I Need?
It all depends on your purpose. A 10-inch bass amp can work fine for smaller rehearsals and home practicing, but we would recommend at least a 12-inch bass amp if you plan to perform live. For large venues, a 15-inch or bass amp with multiple speakers is highly recommended.
Can I Use a Normal Amp for Bass?
If you by normal mean guitar amp, we wouldn’t recommend it. Guitar amps don’t cover the low frequency so well which is mandatory for good bass sound. Can it work for a quick jam until your real amp arrives? Yes. But that’s as far as you should go.
What Does Bass EQ Mean on an Amp?
Bass EQ is additional tone control on your amp that allows you to add or remove some portion of the low frequencies coming out from your amp. It covers various frequencies based on the manufacturer’s design but in general, it should handle frequencies up to 120Hz.
Do You Need an Amp to Play Bass?
Not necessarily. For live performances, if the mixer has any sort of preamp input, you can use it to power-up your bass guitar tone. If your bass guitar is active - even better. In the studio, every audio interface will have some sort of preamp which may not be ideal, but it should allow you to play without using a Bass Amp.
What Does a Sub Bass Do?
Sub Bass is a frequency spectrum beneath the bass frequencies and it usually refers to areas between 20Hz and 60Hz. Those frequencies are more felt than heard and are very frequently used in electronic music production. Without additional equipment, it’s not possible to cover this range with the bass guitar.