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Filling out the sound with no rhythm guitar


BillyBass

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Hi all,

 

I'm an inexperienced bassist, less than 4 years playing and am in my first band.  We (so far) have a setlist of twenty 90s rock covers that we do with drums, bass, vocals and one guitar.  When listening back to our rehearsals I sometimes find it sounds a little empty, particularly where the guitarist is soloing and not strumming chords or where the original song was played with two guitars.

 

I've tried a few things to fill out the sound, such as following the guitar chords with the bass, instead of thumping away on the E string as the original song bassist does and also playing more notes.  These work sometimes and sometimes they don't.

 

I sometimes read about other bassists using pedals to fill out the sound.  This is something I don't know much about.  I have a few pedals and use them for specific songs, e.g. fuzz with 'Song 2' but I don't know much about single pedal use or stacked pedals to fill out the sound on stage.

 

Any tips?

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Something like the TC Electronic Spark Booster works nicely on this, it’s not a full on pedal by any means, just adds a slight bit of gain to the sound from completely clean, so you’re not changing the sound of the bass, just bringing in a little extra to it, with some added harmonics. 

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Using an octave pedal and/or a chorus pedal can help. But don’t just take it on yourself to fill out the sound, your guitar player can also use a chorus or, perhaps even better, a loop pedal to double the rhythm parts or keep it going during solos. Conversely, embrace the space and make it part of your band’s sound.

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Work on your tone and the volume balance of the instruments. If the derrière drops out of it when the guitar starts playing lead, then the guitar is providing the derrière. The bass needs to be the derrière. I'm a big fan of the power trio kind of sound, but if you don't get the instrument tones right, you get the derrière drop you describe. It can be done well, though, and it's a great sound when you get it right.


If you're scooping out mids, don't. The guitar is probably providing much of the mid sound of your band and, when they stop playing rhythm, your overall sound is missing those mids. Spend some time between you and the drummer, just playing without the guitar. Listen to how much the bass and drums are filling out the sound when there is no guitar. Chances are you need a tone you're not going to like in isolation. If you use pedals to try to fill the sound during leads, you just get this lumpy old sound which goes up and down in volume. The bass needs to fill out the sound all the time in order for you to have a consistent sound regardless of what the guitar does. The guitarist might have to take some of their low end and low mid out, too, in order for the bass to be the component which provides those frequencies. You and the guitarist need to sort out your frequencies to compliment each other, even though you might not like the sound of them when you play by yourself. The guitar needs to sit on top of the foundation laid by the bass rather than being the meat of the sound.

 

Listen to some power trios to hear what I mean. The bass needs to be big all the time, it's the only way it works. The likes of Free and Bad Company are a great example. Or this

 

 

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Have a listen to how John Entwistle, Chris Squire, Colin Hodgkinson etc, did it. Do Your follow the chords bit but sometimes arpeggiate & Sometimes play counterpoint to the lead. Work with Your drummer to make a full sound without Guitar & Vocals. Then they add the "Fairy Dust" !!

 

Edit: Plus what ezbass & doctorJ said -- Full sound & used the space as dynamic 

Edited by Sonic_Groove
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1 hour ago, Doctor J said:

Work on your tone and the volume balance of the instruments. If the derrière drops out of it when the guitar starts playing lead, then the guitar is providing the derrière. The bass needs to be the derrière. I'm a big fan of the power trio kind of sound, but if you don't get the instrument tones right, you get the derrière drop you describe. It can be done well, though, and it's a great sound when you get it right.


If you're scooping out mids, don't. The guitar is probably providing much of the mid sound of your band and, when they stop playing rhythm, your overall sound is missing those mids. Spend some time between you and the drummer, just playing without the guitar. Listen to how much the bass and drums are filling out the sound when there is no guitar. Chances are you need a tone you're not going to like in isolation. If you use pedals to try to fill the sound during leads, you just get this lumpy old sound which goes up and down in volume. The bass needs to fill out the sound all the time in order for you to have a consistent sound regardless of what the guitar does. The guitarist might have to take some of their low end and low mid out, too, in order for the bass to be the component which provides those frequencies. You and the guitarist need to sort out your frequencies to compliment each other, even though you might not like the sound of them when you play by yourself. The guitar needs to sit on top of the foundation laid by the bass rather than being the meat of the sound.

 

Listen to some power trios to hear what I mean. The bass needs to be big all the time, it's the only way it works. The likes of Free and Bad Company are a great example. Or this

 

 

 

^^This.

 

listen to as many power trios as possible but live versions.  Many, such as Free, ZZ Top etc, overdub for studio work.  For example Dusty Hill's bass tone, live, is immense.  Gritty, grainy, driven and saturated.  Nothing like how he sounds on studio recordings.

 

 

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Embrace to space! Don't always feel the need to fill it. Have a good thick tone as a starting point and go from there. Alot of 'techniques' folk use to fill out sound end up having an opposite effect in live situations - the derrière can fall out the overall sound quite easily if the bass deviates too much! 

 

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Just listen to good examples of bass playing without rhythm guitar (Tommy Shannon with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Pino Paladino with John Mayer, Jack Bruce with Cream…) and listen to what’s going on… In my personal experience you can get away with being a little more busy to fill in the space, maybe experiment with double stops if appropriate. Distortion can help depending on the style. Make sure your playing is tight and in the pocket. Nobody will notice the lack of rhythm guitar if it is 🙂 

Edited by Valere
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Lots of good advice above for the experienced and competent bass player who knows how to fill out their basslines.

 

BUT

 

As a relatively inexperienced bassist, the OP has asked for advice that doesn't need loads of experience! Bin there, dun that.

 

PEDALS: I've been using one of these for ages:

 

https://www.andertons.co.uk/fishman-fission-bass-pedal-pro-fsn-bas?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=surfaces&gclid=Cj0KCQiA-qGNBhD3ARIsAO_o7ylA6dRKGUvykglNr6SbMD4gXqzAEBQMYWadwHfCLG8n1NICrhBBSx8aArhKEALw_wcB

 

It's a great pedal but it's far from cheap and there can be an issue with sound quality for the guitar effect. The on-board Distortion control is frankly a bit meh so I bought https://www.musique-shop.fr/uk/joyo-ironman-orange-juice.html?gclid=Cj0KCQiA-qGNBhD3ARIsAO_o7yk1KtfSEZ3BGG8SromjBtSpzM22ziMkKM68pbGs8S6HK7OAbdr7YywaAgBEEALw_wcB to run it through and that made a huge difference. 

 

But then I got carried away and started bringing my own small valve amp (for guitar) to gigs and although the sound was exquisite, it all started getting a bit much. I also started attracting strange (and not particularly friendly) looks from the 'real' guitarist.

 

BASS GUITAR: There are certain basses that are just naturally good at filling out the sound of a band. In truth I don't actually like the sound of a Rickenbacker that much, well not in my hands anyway - I love it when Macca or Squire play one. 🙄

 

That said, any 3-piece band suddenly sounds much bigger if the bassist plays a Rick, and especially if that Rick is going through a Sansamp. The Sansamp pedals are pretty good and they're also Swiss Army Knife pedals, but to get the full monty you really need to run a https://www.gear4music.com/PA-DJ-and-Lighting/Tech-21-SansAmp-RBI-1U-Rackmount-for-Bass/1K7Y?origin=product-ads&gclid=Cj0KCQiA-qGNBhD3ARIsAO_o7ykf3n1KI0mZ1gE7xf54Iw2q6CY-39es8VEaAUfsDaca7S7pyrDI_gwaAk5kEALw_wcB through a decent power amp.

 

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It will depend on each individual song.

 

The first step is to realise that you won't get those songs to sound like the original. If you're all inexperienced, you'll need to sit down together and work out what guitar parts are 'essential' to the song. 

 

The guitarist may enjoy playing all the intricate 'fill in' lead parts but a lot of the time they're just that and the meat and gravy is with him taking more of a rhythm role. 

 

Pumping out 8th or 16th notes on the bass will fill most songs but needs to be used sparingly. 

 

What songs in particular sound empty?

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As a massive pedal user, don't look at pedals as a way to fill gaps.

A couple of people have already mentioned tone, and this is where you need to start. You want a good sound that is full and clear, and fills out the low end without sounding muddy and undefined.

Next, look at how you approach playing under the solo. I find that it can often sound better to play a solid, simpler part that sounds full, than to try and be busy. Of course, you can go full Jack Bruce if you want but you need to be comfortable with the harmony and with reacting to the soloist, otherwise it becomes busy for the sake of bring busy.

One thing that is often over looked is what register you are playing in. If the guitar goes up the octave for his solo and you stay down in the lower positions, there can be a gap of 2 or 3 octaves between the two of you and it sounds empty in the midrange. In these cases it can sound better if you play more around the middle of neck, especially when you have a good tone.

 

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3 minutes ago, Doddy said:

As a massive pedal user, don't look at pedals as a way to fill gaps.

A couple of people have already mentioned tone, and this is where you need to start. You want a good sound that is full and clear, and fills out the low end without sounding muddy and undefined.

Next, look at how you approach playing under the solo. I find that it can often sound better to play a solid, simpler part that sounds full, than to try and be busy. Of course, you can go full Jack Bruce if you want but you need to be comfortable with the harmony and with reacting to the soloist, otherwise it becomes busy for the sake of bring busy.

One thing that is often over looked is what register you are playing in. If the guitar goes up the octave for his solo and you stay down in the lower positions, there can be a gap of 2 or 3 octaves between the two of you and it sounds empty in the midrange. In these cases it can sound better if you play more around the middle of neck, especially when you have a good tone.

 

 

This sums it up pretty much. 

 

I have played in many 'power trio' types of bands and the secret is getting as full a sound as possible and learning when you play busier parts, when to keep it simple and when to leave gaps. It also needs the guitar player to develop his approach to playing in a three piece. Some guitarists love the freedom it gives them, but some prefer to have another guitar there and the possibilities that gives to work as a team. 

 

Pedals are not the answer (at all) and the type of bass is pretty much irrelevant. It is just something you learn how to do and a slightly different approach to playing in bands with more instruments on the bandstand. 

 

 

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Most songs don't need filling out that much. I play a precision mostly, and never scoop the sound - which does help.

 

On some songs I play the rhythm guitar riff rather than the bass line (e.g. Witch Queen by Redbone), roll off the treble and play up near the neck to let the guitar really take centre stage (Black Magic Woman by Peter Green/Santana), wind up the overdrive to create a wall of sound behind the guitar (All Along The Watchtower by Hendrix), or occasionally play 5th chords where it definitely needs filling out (a couple of accents in Whiskey In The Jar by Thin Lizzy).

 

Mostly, just be in balance with the guitar and don't be a shrinking violet :)

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I’m in a rock band as a power trio musically with female vocals 

 

Adding something like the TC Spark Booster pedal helps as mentioned but … 

My preferred method is make sure you are clearly present playing normally if necessary maybe play a bit louder than normal. 
When the guitarist plays a solo you should play as normal and carry the rhythm with the drums and with decent gear be a full sound.

Standing close to your amp speaker may also give you false levels of sound. Step away and you find you are definitely there.

Recording ( phone etc ) will not pick up the bass that well anyway.

Good luck 

Edited by BassAdder27
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Thanks for all your replies.  

 

1 hour ago, TimR said:

The first step is to realise that you won't get those songs to sound like the original. If you're all inexperienced, you'll need to sit down together and work out what guitar parts are 'essential' to the song. 

 

The guitarist may enjoy playing all the intricate 'fill in' lead parts but a lot of the time they're just that and the meat and gravy is with him taking more of a rhythm role. 

 

Pumping out 8th or 16th notes on the bass will fill most songs but needs to be used sparingly. 

 

What songs in particular sound empty?

Two songs stand out: Alive by Pearl Jam and Enter Sandman.

 

With Enter Sandman our guitarist plays the lead as opposed to the rhythm at the beginning of the song and I have to fill the gap.  It would be better for me to alter the tone, add volume and a bit of hair and perhaps, 'Lemmify' my bit, . That is to be experimented with.

 

With Alive, the original bass part is on a fretless and Jeff Ament doesn't play many notes, he uses lots of sustain.  I have to marry the fretless bass bit with the rhythm guitar, particularly the last section, which is a guitar solo with Jeff Ament playing 4 bars E-G-D-A repeated over and over again.

 

Our guitarist is our most experienced musician; over 20 years experience as a rhythm guitarist and he has a wikipedia page about himself.  Trouble is, he's a bit lazy and often wings it in rehearsals.  He is also new to lead; he mainly tries to copy lead parts but will occasionally go off on one.

Edited by BillyBass
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All of the above advice is great.  Get your tone in order first. Plenty of mids and maybe a little overdrive to accentuate the harmonics - really bring the bass to life.

 

The drummer can help too. It's amazing how a ride cymbal can replace a rhythm guitarists

 

On the odd occasion my band goes out with a single guitarists this covers pretty much everything. But I do have a specially dialled in Helix patch for a couple of songs that really need a little extra help. I based it on this guy's preset. Does a similar thing to the Fishman Fission mentioned above, but sound more convincing.
 

 

 

 

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2 minutes ago, BillyBass said:

Thanks for all your replies.  

 

Two songs stand out: Alive by Pearl Jam and Enter Sandman.

 

With Enter Sandman our guitarist plays the lead as opposed to the rhythm at the beginning of the song and I have to fill the gap.  It would be better for me to alter the tone, add volume and a bit of hair and perhaps, 'Lemmify' my bit, . That is to be experimented with.

 

With Alive, the original bass part is on a fretless and Jeff Ament doesn't play many notes, he uses lots of sustain.  I have to marry the fretless bass bit with the rhythm guitar, particularly the last section, which is a guitar solo with Jeff Ament playing 4 bars E-G-D-A repeated over and over again.

 

Our guitarist is our most experienced musician; over 20 years experience as a rhythm guitarist and he has a wikipedia page about himself.  Trouble is, he's a bit lazy and often wings it in rehearsals.  He is also new to lead; he mainly tries to copy lead parts but will occasionally go off on one.

Having a sympathetic guitarist helps 

Everyone should be contributing to the final band sound. It’s not a platform for a lead guitarist to widdle over because he can !! 
A band is a collective of sounds and learning how you all sound together is often as important to playing the songs right.

Ive gigged Sandman many times with one guitarist playing the lead intro, trust me it can be done but you need a full punchy bass tone and not a scooped lost in the mix kind of tone

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4 minutes ago, BillyBass said:

Thanks for all your replies.  

 

Two songs stand out: Alive by Pearl Jam and Enter Sandman.

 

With Enter Sandman our guitarist plays the lead as opposed to the rhythm at the beginning of the song and I have to fill the gap.  It would be better for me to alter the tone, add volume and a bit of hair and perhaps, 'Lemmify' my bit, . That is to be experimented with.

 

With Alive, the original bass part is on a fretless and Jeff Ament doesn't play many notes, he uses lots of sustain.  I have to marry the fretless bass bit with the rhythm guitar, particularly the last section, which is a guitar solo with Jeff Ament playing 4 bars E-G-D-A repeated over and over again.

 

Our guitarist is our most experienced musician; over 20 years experience as a rhythm guitarist and he has a wikipedia page about himself.  Trouble is, he's a bit lazy and often wings it in rehearsals.  He is also new to lead; he mainly tries to copy lead parts but will occasionally go off on one.

 

We play these two with one or two guitarists without issue. For Enter Sandman I have a little grit in my tone, play hard with a pick and play the bassline as normal (aside from a little wah sweep to simulate the guitar on the intro).  The guitarists plays more of the rhythm part on the intro.

 

On Alive, I use judicious drive and chorus to really fatten the bass up.  I also improve a little on the outro underneath the solos around simple pentatonic shapes. The bassline on this song is busier than you might think. Make use of those glissandos, harmonics and vibrato.

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