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P bass punk tone?


mro

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What was it exactly that made the p basses sound so good in the old punk bands.The low end and that twang? Or was it their SVT head. I have a pbass(koa body) with seymour duncan SPB2 pickups strung with ernie ball super slinkys.It sounds muddy. I also play through an ampeg b2r head with 2-4x10 classic cabs.How do I get that punk sound? Change pickups to fender pickups? Change to a ash body?Help. Thanks..
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Originally posted by mro:

What was it exactly that made the p basses sound so good in the old punk bands.The low end and that twang? Or was it their SVT head. I have a pbass(koa body) with seymour duncan SPB2 pickups strung with ernie ball super slinkys.It sounds muddy. I also play through an ampeg b2r head with 2-4x10 classic cabs.How do I get that punk sound? Change pickups to fender pickups? Change to a ash body?Help. Thanks..

As a veteran of the NYC punk wars, I think it was the heavy ash bodies as well as the improvement in bass amps. The 70s Ps weren't up to the standards of the 60s models and quality control was pretty much non-existant. I'm so glad Fender came around to their senses by the late 80s) But what made up for it was the efforts by Sunn, Acoustic, Road and a bunch of other companies who introduced more powerful bass amps to compete with the Ampeg SVT (the perennial favorite of arena bassists since the late 60s). At the time I owned a '68 Fender Telecaster bass with the single-coil (looked like a Bronco pickup) pickup. Heavy as hell, but through a big amp it was thunderous. I played it through an Acoustic 370, an Ampeg SVT and a Peavey, and essentially you didn't need anything else but a good cable and a strong back.

 

From your equipment description, I'd be hard-pressed what to recommend, but let's try:

 

-the easiest thing would be to start with an old tube SVT head and cabinet, but it's heavy as hell to transport. (the head weighs around 90 lbs and the cabinet, well, you'll need a pickup bed or a van for that). Peavey would make a decent substitute, maybe certain Carvins. If you want to go traditional, I think Sid Vicious used either a Trace Elliot or a Road amp when he did his solo tour with Joe Strummer back then.

-the strings are all wrong (nobody used ernie balls in the 70s) I'd go with D'Addario, GHS or LaBella nickel-wounds.

-Koa body? No, that's very wrong. Go back to heavy ash or maple, maybe alder.

-Seymour pups sound OK. the -2s and -3s are just simply louder than the basic -1s and vintage/antiquity models.

-as long as you're attemping vintage, I'd go with a big, thick maple neck. It would brighten up the response a bit.

 

Your opinion may vary; I'm just a punk dinosaur who used to hang with the other dinosaurs before the invasion of hair-bands and one-shot ballad-bands in the mid-80s.

 

BTW, glad to have you back on the Forum! Haven't seen you in awhile. All those good gigs must've kept you busy. :wave:

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Thanks for the replies. Fred, I've never left the forum, I just read more than I write.

I have to stick to my equipment, so buying SVT's are out. I have a Stingray that is ash and I like the sound of that.I just want my pbass to stand out more. I had a 74 precision once and I don't remember what wood type it was.Did they made maple bodies back then? I didn't want to go steel strings because they eat my frets.Thanks again.

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Originally posted by mro:

I have a Stingray that is ash and I like the sound of that.I just want my pbass to stand out more.

I'm not sure if this would help: on a number of my Fenders (clones and real ones) I noticed I could push the pickup into the bass with just my fingers. When I opened one up, I discovered the piece of rubber hose (could be surgical tubing for all I know) had rotted away. (the same thing eventually happens to those foam pieces they use to hold up the pickups) Got the idea then to use the springs from ball point pens to keep the pickup from dropping in. Because I didn't want to keep destroying ball point pens I decided to see what my local hardware store had as replacements. They had springs of different lengths and tensions, and I got the idea to cut and fit heavier springs.

 

My opinion is that the more solid contact between the pickups and the body makes for a better sound. You might be able to accomplish more by having wooden "shims" inserted to make that pickup-body contact a bit more solid. I got this idea from watching the Carvin promotional DVD that just came out. They show a cutaway of one of the Alan Holdsworth semihollow custom electrics, and it looks like they created body cavities parallel to the neck, but there are two sections of wood that go straight through from the neck to the bottom that are designed to rest against the back of the pickups. Someday I might try this out.

 

Originally posted by mro:

I had a 74 precision once and I don't remember what wood type it was.Did they made maple bodies back then? I didn't want to go steel strings because they eat my frets.Thanks again.

IIRC, alder was used for the dark-colored instruments and ash for the lighter-colored and natural finish instruments. My 78 P-Bass is black and alder.

:wave:

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Originally posted by Fred the bass player:

When I opened one up, I discovered the piece of rubber hose (could be surgical tubing for all I know) had rotted away. (the same thing eventually happens to those foam pieces they use to hold up the pickups)

I recently went through a similar ordeal with my Epiphone Rockbass. I couldn't adjust the pickups so I pulled them out to see what the problem was and the foam had compressed to a point where it just wouldn't spring back at all. I took some paper and folded it several times until it was about 3/4" wide and 3-4" long and then folded it once long-ways and put one under each end of the pickup with the last fold on the outside next to the screw so as to give it fairly equal support on either side. Then I adjusted it accordingly and I haven't found anything to complain about yet.

 

Wish I could give more insight into the mind of a punk player or tech but I wasn't alive at the time so anything I said would just be made up. :cool:

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The punk sound is really an aggressive one. From my experience, it's been about a thick tone with a good deal of bite that's delivered with an authoritative attack. Let's try to break it down from instrument to amplification to attack.

 

THE BASS - Okay, so you're using a Koa bodied P-Bass. This is a little different than what you're used to hearing. The typical punk bass was a Fender P-Bass or Jazz Bass which had either an ash or alder body. Koa is a very different wood in terms of tone. It's going to sound darker and more "complex".

 

To compensate for that complex tone your instrument has, I think you're going to have to go with a really bright sounding string. Try either DR's High Beams or Dean Markley's Blue Steels in Stainless Steel. These are some of the brightest strings on the market. They're a little costly, but they're bright as hell and they last a while. As for your concerns about stainless steel strings eating your frets...so what? Frets are meant to be replaced after some measure of time. Nickels string are going to eat them up just as much as stainless steel strings, however it's going to be at a slower rate. Personally, I would prefer to have my sound rather than compromise it in an effort to put off a fret job for a year or so.

 

You may want to raise your action, too. Getting aggressive with your attack is going to increase the likelihood that you might get the string hitting the pickup. Raising your action slightly (or lowering the pickup height) can reduce your chances of that happening.

 

Then comes your tone controls on the instrument. If you're dealing with a fairly standard P-Bass control layout, I'd opt for keeping the tone cranked up towards the high end. It's almost like you're going for a slapping tone, but in this case you're not using your thumb.

 

THE AMP - If you've got a preamp gain control on your amp, try to get as much gain as possible out of the preamp stage before you start clipping. Play as hard as you're going to play when you're trying to get your sound in order to get an appropriate level in your preamp stage. Having some bite in your tone from the preamp stage is not a bad thing in this instance.

 

Then let's get to the EQ stage. Give the low end a little bump but not too much. More low end is going to muddy up your sound. The same goes for the low midrange. You may even want to back down the low mids. I would however increase levels on your high mids and your high end. Again, you're really going for a tone that's similar to a slapping tone, but you're not using that particular technique.

 

TECHNIQUE - This is really the most important part. My personal preference when playing punk is to play with a pick. Aliteration anyone? Seriously, I think it gives you much more of a cutting tone for punk. Fingerstyle can work, but I think you need to work a good deal harder to get an aggro kind of tone that punk can call for. Picks still seem to be a little bit of a bugaboo topic for many bass players, but I think you can only benefit from being capable with both pick and fingerstyle techniques.

 

EFFECTS - I wouldn't rule out using effects entirely. A little distortian can be a good thing. I also wouldn't rule out compression and some additional EQ either.

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Do you run your bass with the passive control all the way off? Punk music generall has a lot of treble, so maybe half of the way on should give you enough high end definition.

 

Of course, that's Rancid era punk. The Clash have (if I recall) more of a mid present sound.

In Skynyrd We Trust
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I run the tone all the way up. The EQ section of my ampeg is scooped in the mids.Thanks to Nicklab for a great technical review. I ran DR steels before, the treble was there but not the low end, it was still muddy.My technique- I use both, finger and pick. I play hard.The body is an old Schecter pbass from1979 that is just georgous. The neck was custom made by USA custom guitars which is maple with rosewood fretboard. This is the best neck I have ever owned including my Stingray and ex G&L 2000.That is why I am hesitant to put steels on it.Would a jazz pickup addition help my dilema?
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Originally posted by C.Alexander Claber:

Originally posted by mro:

Would a jazz pickup addition help my dilema?

Only if you can locate it in exactly the right spot!

 

Alex

One of the great mysteries of our time: where is "exactly the right spot" to put a J pickup and how do you find it? I'm listening...
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