There are two types of bass preamp. The most common comes built into a combo amplifier with equalisation and tone dials. The other is an outboard preamp connected to a speaker. Both types function in the same way, by adjusting the bass signal before it reaches the amplification stage. Setting the treble, bass and midrange is essential for creating a tone setting that compliments your instrument and your playing style.
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Turn down the volume and plug in the bass guitar. Gradually turn up the volume to a suitable level.
Set the equalisation to half way. Most combo bass preamps use dials, while some outboard preamps have a more complex equalisation section that has a series of sliders to control individual frequency ranges. Turn the dials to 12 o'clock or, if using sliders, set them all half way. This creates a good starting point for you to begin customising the frequency range.
Adjust the bass frequency. Always start with the bass when setting the preamp for bass guitar. This is the most important frequency. With one hand, play an open E string on your bass, and with the other hand, slowly move the dial or slider. Listen to how your adjustments influence the sound. You'll find that there is a sweet spot where the frequency you select really compliments your instrument. The sweet spot differs depending on amp, instrument and signal chain.
Adjust the treble frequency. The treble frequency range is less prominent in bass instruments, but it is important to include when setting up a preamp. Repeat the adjustment process, but play your open G string. By playing your highest string, you'll hear more clearly how the adjustment influences your tone and sound. Too much treble will make your bass sound tinny and unpleasant. Just enough treble will give your higher notes a little extra punch and colour.
Adjust the midrange frequency. This frequency influences instrument dynamics. Too little mid will leave your bass sounding dull; too much will make it sound raspy. Adjust this frequency range slowly.
Fine tune the settings as a whole. You'll find that by adjusting the mid and treble frequencies, the setting for the bass frequency may not work any more. Tweak each frequency a small amount and play a wider range of notes on your bass to audition the settings.
Play your bass guitar at a range of volumes and pitches. To get a complete understanding of how your adjustments influence the sound of your instrument, spend some time listening to the various tonal characteristics. Play hard on the low strings and adjust the bass frequency if its sounds too heavy. Pluck the high strings and take out a little mid if the notes sound too raspy.
Tips and warnings
- Listen to your sound from different angles and distances.
- When using a new bass, adjust the equalisation to suit.
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