Making Your Bassist Happy

This is a list of the dos and don'ts EVERY guitarist should know when playing with a good bassist.

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First off, I must clarify some things: Neither do I hate guitarists or believe they should somehow "serve" the bassist. Music is a mutual conversation that should always be balanced. With that having been said, I find that in more times than not, there is a musician (in my experience usually a guitarist) who completely becomes absorbed in his OWN playing. I will discuss ways of NOT doing this when playing with a good, balanced, bassist. (Yes, we are assuming the bassist is ALREADY good to simplify things) --- 1) Watch And Listen: This means be aware of what the other players are doing. You have to be flexible to common occurrences like calling a key change or someone making a mistake. Or maybe someone (your good bassist or good drummer) decides to "change up" a groove. You should follow this. Remember, it's about the band as a whole, NOT just you. The good bassist and drummer will complement you when you change up a groove as well. 2) Match Volume: Ever notice how, when you're in a car with only the bass bumping, you can still pretty much hear yourselves talk? That's because higher frequencies carry better. Low frequencies may have more energy, but high frequencies are more "hear-able." Ever notice how, in a 100 piece marching band there is a ROW of Tubas and only one or two piccolos? Next time you play, if you can't hear every note the bass player is playing, you are too loud. 3) Turn Down Your Lows: Sorry, but cranking a guitar amp's low EQ does NOTHING but muddy a mix. It should NEVER EVER be done unless you are playing by yourself. Here's the rundown: Your guitar D string is about 146.8 Htz. When you EQ for good mixes, the bass should occupy everything beneath 200 or so (with the exception of the kick). That means that the lower strings on your guitar are USELESS unless you keep the bottom off of them. This is one of the most prevalent mistakes I hear guitarists make. The bass is the bass. Those frequencies under 200 are his not yours. A good bassist respects your soloing. Respect his frequencies. 4) Play Your Own Part: I'm not talking about doubling the bass line for Spanish Castle Magic or Crossfire. Those are static bass lines that don't change much. What I am talking about is when you are playing a line (especially boogies) and you decide to try to lead the bass on a walk. Sorry, bro. Unless the line is done the same EVERY TIME, that is an instant fail. And I hear guitarists play the most awful choices for walking bass lines too - ones that will chromatically interfere with the bass line just because they want to somehow "add" to the good bassist's part. Great rule of thumb: DON'T DO IT unless the part never changes. Just make room for each other. 5) Don't End The Song By Yourself - unless the song is done that way: I hate "K-CHUNK" on the end of tunes because a guitarist believes he needs to be the last one heard. And the bad part is I have heard guitarists who have done that SO MUCH they aren't even aware they do it! End it with the band. 6) Use Signs: This one goes back to the communication issue. But good bands will watch each other and ACKNOWLEDGE when a member calls a change. It's just common respect. It doesn't HAVE to be the singer or guitarist who gives a change either. Using hand signs gets rid of confusion and makes your music better. 7) Lay Out When You Need To: If you think music is "boring" just because your part calls for silence, you shouldn't be playing music. A good bass player will lay out in the verses of "Alright Now" and a good guitarist will lay out until almost the end in the song "Some Kind of Wonderful." Just listen to Warren Haynes for some great "when to and when not to play" guitar work. 8) Cut Out The Attitude: Yeah, we know you can play 1200 notes per second and make Steve Vai look like a 4 year old playing Guitar Hero. But that doesn't mean you are god. The more people you respect, the more you'll be respected. Why do you think some "lesser" guitarists get more gigs? 9) Play With Control: That's right. Don't let the odd string ring out while soloing or playing. WAY too many guitarists do this. It's annoying and non-musical. DON'T DO IT! Learn to play in Eb or Ab or Bb and keep practicing until no strings ring out uncontrolled. Just do it. 10) Know Your Accompaniment: In other words, if you play a song, play it correctly. Or let's say the bassist takes a solo, don't play louder than him or just strum chords behind. LISTEN to some great bass solos and (for the most part) lay out. This all ties in with making room for each other and respect as well as knowing your role musically. *The list is not meant to sound condescending. If anything, I hope you find a little humor in the tone I use.* Thanks for reading.

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    Jonthecomposer
    KlinikaNekros wrote: I am not so sure on what to take from this.I mean in my opinion it's pretty much standard that in a band there has to be communication and carefuly planned work.But I think that your article is kind of one-sided..... Nobody gives a **** about making the bassist,or any member for that matters,happy.You should make the band as a whole and,more importantly,your audience happy.
    Great point. The article's title was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. I am all with you as far as it being a group effort. As far as you not seeing a bassist try to add to a song instead of arguing with a guitarist: I don't know your experience, but I have seen far more of the opposite. I guess it's just what we've each gone through.
    Jonthecomposer
    Bad Kharmel wrote: The frequency thing only applies if you have a bad bassist who likes to play an octave above where he is supposed to, the d,a, and e strings are all valid for a guitarist to use, in fact if your playing any form of rock, metal, folk, or finger-style they are essential. Some bassist just need to remember to stay an octave lower than the guitar in order to properly sound like a cohesive
    Yes, that can happen with bad bassists as well. But it happens a lot with bad guitarists. I never said playing on the lower strings was invalid. It's completely a mixing issue. Do you really seriously believe that a guitarist can play wherever he wants to but a bassist must always stay an octave lower? That's like telling a bassist that, if the guitarist plays in E, the bassist can't even change notes since the low E on a bass is one octave below a guitar's low E.
    Jonthecomposer
    Twitch Galvy wrote: You forgot your point number 11. "I hate, hate, hate, hate you shredheads." lol
    LOL. Hey man, I actually LIKE shredheads!
    Jonthecomposer
    Danjo's Guitar wrote: Haha, this article is really ironic for my band. I'm the lead guitarist, and I used to be pretty bad, but I've matured a lot, and now its our bassist who doesn't watch anyone else, who's always the loudest person in the band (you can't even hear my guitar solo's over him), trying to end the songs by himself, and pretty much doing exactly what you're saying guitarists shouldn't do. Haha, thats really funny. The EQ suggestion is good though, I might try that.
    Dude! I'm glad you are improving your playing. Better whip that bass player into shape! lol
    Jonthecomposer
    Icarus Lives wrote: The only point I disagree with is 9. Personally, I quite like the sloppy guitar style, it works in certain places. Listen to How The West Was Won. Page was sloppy as can be. And also, that point does not relate to the bassist in any way, its just an attack on a certain style of guitar. Otherwise, a well-thought-out article in my opinion.
    I'm not talking about a style here. Sure, there are plenty of styles that use open ringing strings - and that's totally ok. What I am talking about are players who cannot control their strings regardless. Secondly, yes, it does apply to bass. I've heard many bass players who played like this. But since bass is automatically in the "mud zone," it is a much less forgiving environment for unintended open strings.
    Jonthecomposer
    Fingerboy18 wrote: Bass guitar actually occupies a larger frequency range than guitar. Also, the guitar needs some low end to sound full. It can be done. Share the bandwidth. It's not all about you guitarists, it's about the collective presentation.
    Yes, I agree. However, the mids and highs are fine for being shared by all. After about 1k, nothing gets "muddy" anymore when simply added to. I am talking about only the very low mids and bass frequencies. Once you get lower than a D on the guitar, you start entering the "mud zone." And it's much, much easier for a guitarist to EQ his lows down and still sound good than it is for a bassist to dip his frequencies to compensate for a muddy guitar. As far as guitar needing lows (
    Jonthecomposer
    @Fingerboy18 Sorry, it cut my comment off! I was basically saying I disagreed with needing lows for a guitar and that proper mids and a good sound would do the trick. I also said that I didn't mean total elimination for the lows. just a good notching.
    Jonthecomposer
    !-twisty-! wrote: While i agree very strongly with this article, Can i just add the note that bassists shouldnt try acting like lead guitar all the time and try getting too loud in the mix so the come through much stronger than the guitars, our old bassist used to do that and it gets really annoying after 20 bass solos.
    Ha ha! Yes. I don't believe ANYONE should over-solo or be that loud. Perhaps he just needed to direct his amp straight at HIS ears. Sometimes this helps for people who are so loud.
    Jonthecomposer
    major_shiznick wrote: Thank you SO much for including the EQ tip. For anyone who disagrees, try your hand at mixing and eq'ing. Seriously. Mid-scooped guitars are a nightmare to blend with the rest of a band. The low frequencies get washed out by the kick drum and bass's natural frequencies, while the high frequencies get washed out by cymbals. The midrange is where the guitar belongs.
    Thank YOU as well! Most people just don't get this point. It's why very few people are any good at mixing.
    Jonthecomposer
    @Beginner Bass: Thank you. Great critique, by the way! Just for the record (on #9), I'm not knocking sloppy styles. I am knocking guitarists who cannot play cleanly regardless. As for "hand signs," I should have clarified that "gestures" -regardless of with the hands or not- should be used.
    Jonthecomposer
    firebirdg wrote: Dude! you should make one about Making Your Drummer Happy! XD
    I might just do that
    dc13
    Yeah, we know you can play 1200 notes per second and make Steve Vai look like a 4 year old playing Guitar Hero.
    Lol
    edgeyyz
    !-twisty-! wrote: While i agree very strongly with this article, Can i just add the note that bassists shouldnt try acting like lead guitar all the time and try getting too loud in the mix so the come through much stronger than the guitars, our old bassist used to do that and it gets really annoying after 20 bass solos.
    I agree, that's way too much. As a bassist, I find fills much more appealing than full-out solos.
    Jonthecomposer
    BlitzkriegAir wrote: some of these things could go for bassists too! dont act like guitarists are the only dumbasses
    Yes! You are correct! But this is why I put the prequalifier "Yes, we are assuming the bassist is ALREADY good to simplify things" at the beginning and the disclaimer at the bottom that says *The list is not meant to sound condescending. If anything, I hope you find a little humor in the tone I use.*
    Jonthecomposer
    To clarify: The frequency point (#3) is about muddy frequencies NOT about staying off the lower strings. It's about not CRANKING the lows on the guitar. It's about mixing to get the sound good. If you listen well and you respect others, this should not ever be a problem for you. As far as a bass's frequency being "his": That has to do with the fact that you can have 5 guitars playing in the same frequency range up high and never sounding "muddy" because of where it is at in the sonic spectrum. Try doing that low (
    mrddrm
    gratefulduck : i will admit to being asked several times at practice to turn my bass down. maybe i dont have a great ear for it just yet, as im a guitarist > bassist, but i have a hard time hearing myself over everyone else. sometimes that is.
    Have you tried positioning yourself closer to your amp (with ear plugs) or at least in front of the place it is facing? Because you may be not in the correct place, physically, to hear the sound waves?
    gratefulduck
    i will admit to being asked several times at practice to turn my bass down. maybe i dont have a great ear for it just yet, as im a guitarist > bassist, but i have a hard time hearing myself over everyone else. sometimes that is.
    Danjo's Guitar
    Haha, this article is really ironic for my band. I'm the lead guitarist, and I used to be pretty bad, but I've matured a lot, and now its our bassist who doesn't watch anyone else, who's always the loudest person in the band (you can't even hear my guitar solo's over him), trying to end the songs by himself, and pretty much doing exactly what you're saying guitarists shouldn't do. Haha, thats really funny. The EQ suggestion is good though, I might try that.
    KlinikaNekros
    I am not so sure on what to take from this.I mean in my opinion it's pretty much standard that in a band there has to be communication and carefuly planned work.But I think that your article is kind of one-sided.I've played guitar with bassists who were just too loud,I have also played bass with guitarists that tried to override the bass. Since I usually work with other guys and have played with girls only a few times I dub that as another pissing contest between guys-face it,it's what we do. What I haven't seen though is a bassist who tried to add to a song instead of arguing with the guitarists. Take Chris Wolstenholme,the bassist for Muse.His parts are fairly complex and he's pretty much the basis for every Muse song.Bellamy overshadows him with his soloing but you can't ignore the basswork in any Muse songs,it's just a great..blending,I guess.That's good partnership.What I believe is that,in a band,if you have that show off shred-guitarist who gets in everyone's face,kick his ass out.If you have the bassist who wants to do a 20 minute bass solo or raise his amp to max or stuff like that,kick his ass out too. Nobody gives a **** about making the bassist,or any member for that matters,happy.You should make the band as a whole and,more importantly,your audience happy.
    cheesecakes4
    The frequency part is ridiculous... Respect his frequencies...? As long as it sounds good I suppose all frequencies can be used by either member of the band...
    Icarus Lives
    The only point I disagree with is 9. Personally, I quite like the sloppy guitar style, it works in certain places. Listen to How The West Was Won. Page was sloppy as can be. And also, that point does not relate to the bassist in any way, its just an attack on a certain style of guitar. Otherwise, a well-thought-out article in my opinion.
    Havoc69
    !-twisty-! wrote: While i agree very strongly with this article, Can i just add the note that bassists shouldnt try acting like lead guitar all the time and try getting too loud in the mix so the come through much stronger than the guitars, our old bassist used to do that and it gets really annoying after 20 bass solos.
    This My ex-bands bass player had his bass amp higher than everything else,and the worst part is he was terrible,couldnt even play the easiest of songs without messing up.
    Betzefer
    Nebus, assuming bass is playing in low registry (E string or so) guitar will always have a higher frequency, because it is tuned an octave higher. If the guitarist is drop tuned then I assume the bassist will also drop tune, and even if not a guitarist needs to tune an octave down to match the frequencies occupied by bass and that's practically impossible. I play in drop D in my band and sometimes our bass player does these high pitched licks between grooves and you can really hear the change in volume between the lower groove and the high-pitched licks, although the volume knob remains untouched, that's the "More Hearable" part.
    !-twisty-!
    While i agree very strongly with this article, Can i just add the note that bassists shouldnt try acting like lead guitar all the time and try getting too loud in the mix so the come through much stronger than the guitars, our old bassist used to do that and it gets really annoying after 20 bass solos.
    Fingerboy18
    Bass guitar actually occupies a larger frequency range than guitar. Also, the guitar needs some low end to sound full. It can be done. Share the bandwidth. It's not all about you guitarists, it's about the collective presentation.
    Bad Kharmel
    The frequency thing only applies if you have a bad bassist who likes to play an octave above where he is supposed to, the d,a, and e strings are all valid for a guitarist to use, in fact if your playing any form of rock, metal, folk, or finger-style they are essential. Some bassist just need to remember to stay an octave lower than the guitar in order to properly sound like a cohesive
    109 Riff
    Good one.. Like our bassist, he likes to play it way louder than all the others. I mean, i can't barely hear the vocals and my guitar sound clearly.
    fastlanestoner
    This is a great article! Some tips are better than others but this is a very unique topic and very well written!
    guusw
    KlinikaNekros wrote: I am not so sure on what to take from this.I mean in my opinion it's pretty much standard that in a band there has to be communication and carefuly planned work.But I think that your article is kind of one-sided.I've played guitar with bassists who were just too loud,I have also played bass with guitarists that tried to override the bass. Since I usually work with other guys and have played with girls only a few times I dub that as another pissing contest between guys-face it,it's what we do. What I haven't seen though is a bassist who tried to add to a song instead of arguing with the guitarists. Take Chris Wolstenholme,the bassist for Muse.His parts are fairly complex and he's pretty much the basis for every Muse song.Bellamy overshadows him with his soloing but you can't ignore the basswork in any Muse songs,it's just a great..blending,I guess.That's good partnership.What I believe is that,in a band,if you have that show off shred-guitarist who gets in everyone's face,kick his ass out.If you have the bassist who wants to do a 20 minute bass solo or raise his amp to max or stuff like that,kick his ass out too. Nobody gives a **** about making the bassist,or any member for that matters,happy.You should make the band as a whole and,more importantly,your audience happy.
    Couldn't agree more, all members of the band need to be dedicated and have the ability to step back in order to make the band work as a whole.
    BlitzkriegAir
    some of these things could go for bassists too! dont act like guitarists are the only dumbasses
    major_shiznick
    Thank you SO much for including the EQ tip. For anyone who disagrees, try your hand at mixing and eq'ing. Seriously. Mid-scooped guitars are a nightmare to blend with the rest of a band. The low frequencies get washed out by the kick drum and bass's natural frequencies, while the high frequencies get washed out by cymbals. The midrange is where the guitar belongs.
    Beginner Bass
    Thank you. You are no longer on the "Guitard" list, John. The part about interfering with the bass's frequencies also applies to keys. I heard someody shout "Don't **** with my octave!" once to a key player who went too low and went into his range. However, there are players of every instrument who do these things. Bassists do it, guitarists do it, keys do it, even drummers do it. No instrument is exempt from it. The general idea I'm getting from this is, pay attention to the band as a whole, don't just play for yourself, with which I agree, and believe all members should do. But the way you speak these like they are the be-all-end-all rules, I do not agree with. There are exceptions to every rule. My opinions: 1) Good overall rule. 2) My bias towards hearing the bass makes me agree. No bassists likes to be buried in the mix. This, however, can not be spoke of in absolutes. 3) When you interfere with any member's part too much, it ruins the song. And the boosted lows only muddy the mix. 4) If the parts are more improvised (Like a walking line), don't try to predict it. You may clash heavily with the bass. 5) Nobody likes somebody who just insists they have the last word in any conversation. Don't do it. However nobody should do, period, guitarist or not, unless it truly benefits the song. Ever note you play should serve a purpose. 6) Hand signs can be tough, but one should keep their eyes out for gestures that show where the song is going. 7) The idea of "Less is more" applies to all instruments in certain situatuions. 8) Yes, check your ego at the door. That's all there is to it. 9) This does not apply to all music. Sometimes it sounds good, sometimes it sounds sloppy. Just ask yourself if it is a good idea before you do it. Ask if it serves a purpose. 10) Learning to comp is very important.
    Nebus
    Good article. But, one thing. About the frequency thing for turning down the lows. That would change if the guitarist is drop tuned. Correct? ( Seeing as how the bass would likely drop tune. Making the bass occupy lower frequencies. As well as the guitarist.) I'm not very educated on the particular subject of the frequencies in a band situation.