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Progressive Rock Update With Brad Houser: Tone Survival, Turning Nightmare Gigs Into Minor Triumphs

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Meet Brad Houser

I am a procrastinator. This issue’s column was to be about “The Flaming Lips.” I kept trying to get started on it, and…. nothing. Repeatedly. In an ironic turn of events the topic of this column came to light onstage in…….. Oklahoma, home of the Lips.

So, this time around, I bring you “Tone Survival: Turning Nightmare Gigs Into Minor Triumphs.”

The Setting: typical modern music venue, capacity 200-ish… Punk Rock in decor and flavor… Four subwoofers on the floor in front of the stage… four mid/hi cabs flown on either side of the stage. Arriving after a 4 1/2 hour drive, we start setting up. Soundman is friendly, seems capable. (Our budget does not allow an engineer to travel with us; We in a van, dawg). Mics go up, our sound-check is the first song. Every time I hit an “F” it rings for about ten seconds, I’m guessing that the bass drum is feeding back. Tapping on that mic seems to produce no ring, so more guesswork. Consulting my “smartphone” I go to a website that lists a table of note values and corresponding frequency values, in Hertz. F at mid-neck is 87 Hz. I ask the engineer to come to the stage, informing him that cutting 87 a few db on the EQ would be nice. He is open to it, says the tabla mic may be the culprit. Indeed, I look over and there is a large diaphragm mic on the low tabla drum. Engineer tries muting that mic when drummer is not playing tabla, we continue playing our set. I’m also noticing that my bass in the house PA is squishy and pig like, as opposed to tight, woody, and fat. Seems like the subs are cranked, and it feels like all the mids are scooped out. My strings are feeling like rubber. Not Good. We slog our way through the first set, then it’s break time.

On set break, a local musician sets up his DJ rig and starts to rock it. At this point I notice that the PA is sounding REALLY scooped out; All bass and all treble, not many mids. I resolve to get crafty on the next set….

In my pedalboard, aside from the usual, distortion, delay, envelope, and synth pedals, I have a Radial Bassbone A/B switcher/EQ, a Tech 21 VT Bass, and an Aguilar 18 volt active preamp. Each one of these has bass/treble controls……. that’s a lot of eq before my signal goes into a direct box, at the end of my signal chain, before hitting the amp. On this tour, I’m using the drummer’s Ampeg RocketBass combo, a small 100-watt amp, due to logistics and van space. At this point in the evening I’m beginning to wish for 600 watts and a phat 4×10 cab, so I could just crank it and forget sounding good thru the PA. Not Gonna Happen!!!! So……. I cut the bass knob on the VT pedal back to 11 o’clock, (it was at 1:00), cut the bass knob on the Bassbone back to 11 o’clock (it was at 2:00). Leave the Aguilar where it is, bass up 20%, treble flat. I then bring the master volume up on the VT pedal (it has tons of boost ) to make up for the bass cut. I also take my vocal mic and put it in front of the Ampeg, turn the amp down to non-farting level, and hope Mr. engineer notices. He does, he later tells me. No vox for me. I’m hoping that the mic will pick up some mids off the amp…..

Lo and behold, my tone starts to sound like I like. Tight. Phat. Non-flappy. I’m not hearing the amp hardly at all, it’s all house at this point. Further bass rolloff/gain boost makes the G and D strings start to catch the subs better. (I’m playing a P-Bass with flatwounds. I like my sound clear AND dark). The rest of the set flows like magic and we and the audience are happy. CDs are sold.

What I Learned:

This keeps repeatedly coming back thru the years. To get more clarity, rolling off bass and boosting gain works. Simply boosting mids and treble would have just made the bass sound honky and shrill. Cutting lows and boosting gain tightened up the sound, while preserving fatness. The engineer later informed me that he turned down the volume to the subs a little, also. This helped tighten the room up. Seems like it was a boomy room to start with.

Many basses these days have active preamps, with bass and treble controls built in, and a lot of guys tend to crank both and let it rip. This works sometimes, especially in loud Metal and Punk Rock, but often won’t work for other stuff. I’ve also noticed that cranking the bass knob on the bass or the amp tends to make the low end get squishy and/or farty. Not what I prefer, but it works great for some folks. In the 90’s I started hearing a lot of guys with Music Man or J-basses in punk bands using Tons of treble, lots of fret buzz, cranked way up. Sounded ferocious, I would never have thought that type of tone would work. In those bands it sounds amazing, like an old American car crash, breaking glass, crunching metal, with Low End. There are a lot of options out there in toneland……

Hopefully this can help get you out of mud-ville, next time you get stuck.

Next issue……… The Flaming Lips.

BH

Bass Videos

New Gear: Spector Woodstock Custom Collection Volume II

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New Gear: Spector Woodstock Custom Collection Volume II

Spector Launches Woodstock Custom Collection Volume II…

Spector Musical Instruments expands their celebrated Woodstock Custom Collection with the Volume II series – a breathtaking series of 12 handcrafted, one-of-a-kind bass guitars, each one masterfully designed by members of the Spector team. Crafted in the Spector USA Custom Shop in Woodstock, New York, these works of art go beyond musical instruments and expand the boundaries of Spector Bass design.

Spector’s iconic design lays the foundation for the Volume II collection. Each bass showcases a unique vision, including the selection of tonewoods, electronics, captivating finishes, and intricate design details. The collection highlights Spector’s commitment to craftsmanship and artistry and the individual people and stories that make up the team.

“The Woodstock Custom Collection was such a huge success, and we had so much fun with it that we couldn’t wait to do it again,” said John Stippell, Director – Korg Bass Division. “With Volume II, we’re expanding on everything we learned from the first collection, as well as pushing our design and Custom Shop team even further. These basses are a testament to the inspiring talent, creativity, and skill of every person on the Spector team. I’m excited for all of these basses and love how they tell the unique stories of all involved.”

Visit online at spectorbass.com/

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Bass Videos

New Gear: The Dingwall John Taylor Signature Model

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New Gear: The Dingwall John Taylor Signature Model

Dingwall John Taylor Signature Model…

After playing a limited edition Dingwall live with Duran Duran, John Taylor has launched his
Dingwall Guitars production model, loaded with a Rupert Neve Designs preamp and
Rio-inspired graphics.

Dingwall’s major launch for 2023 was the limited edition Rio Dream Bass, featuring an
innovative Rupert Neve Designs onboard preamp. A year later, the range has been bolstered
with the Canadian company now offering unlimited access to its continued collaboration with
John Taylor of Duran Duran.

Dingwall CEO Sheldon Dingwall says the basses are a response to Taylor’s upfront bass style.
“John’s bass playing with Duran Duran really imprinted on me how a bass should fit into a band mix. The combination of tastefully busy syncopation, his punchy tone, and tight performance immediately drew my ear. His basslines have always had a special combination of energy and elegance.”

The John Taylor Signature model follows the formula of the limited edition Rio Dream Bass,
combining a lightweight Nyatoh body with three neodymium pickups to produce what Dingwall deems “wonderful playability and tones that display a rare clarity and refinement.” The JT Signature model also updates the Rio Dream Bass with a range of new colors; Metallic Black, Primrose, Cranberry and Seafoam Green, as well as a new 5-string variant.

Other specs include a bolt-on Maple neck, a Pau Ferro multi-scale fingerboard with the ‘Rio Eye’ inlaid at the 12th fret, and Dingwall’s new ‘Minimalist’ bridge. The headstock sports lightweight tuners and a Rio-inspired graphic that complements the body stripes, designed by longtime Duran Duran collaborator, Patty Palazzo.

Finally, an onboard preamp designed and configured in collaboration with Rupert Neve Designs, whose studio consoles have long represented the pinnacle of high-end audio engineering, promises a clear voice that balances punch and sustain. “Duran’s breakthrough single, the title track from 1982’s Rio, was originally recorded on a Neve console, so the history was already there,” says Sheldon. “But the team at Rupert Neve Designs absolutely nailed the tone.”

Like the Rio Dream Bass, the JT Signature has also been configured to Taylor’s own personal
specifications. “It all started when I was in Toronto about six years ago,” says Taylor. “A friend
showed me a Dingwall bass on his phone. I loved how it looked and immediately said to my
tech, ‘You’ve got to reach out to these guys!’”

For further information on the range options, head to dingwallguitars.com

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Bass CDs

New Album: Killing Bees, Racing Towards Ruin

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New Album: Killing Bees, Racing Towards Ruin

Killing Bees Racing Towards Ruin out May 10th via Tonequake Records.

There are some records where the first note grabs you and doesn’t let go. Before the first lyric is sung, Killing Bees pull you into Racing Towards Ruins via the sheer power of TONES, MAN, TONES. Brown-note bass reverberations and gut-punch kickdrum snap the listener out of daily reverie instantaneously. Together, bassist/vocalist Nic Nifoussi and drummer Ray Mehlbaum (both of Automatic 7) and producer Andrew Scheps (Mars Volta, Audioslave, Adele) have crafted a piece of art that fuses low-rock minimalism, post-hardcore aggression, and SoCal throttle rock urgency into, well, a real ass-kicker. 

The bones of Killing Bees began their calcification when Nifoussi started a high school punk band called Automatic 7. They signed to BYO Records upon graduation and soon found themselves in need of a new drummer. Enter Ray Mehlbaum. Tours with Bad Religion, Social Distortion, Face 2 Face, Bouncing Souls, Suicide Machines, Unwritten Law, Youth Brigade, DOA, and others followed, as well as a deal with A&M Records. A&M got bought by Universal, the band moved to Vagrant Records, cut a new record, toured, then broke up. 

“Eventually, Ray and I decided to start a two-piece band” explains Nifoussi. “I was trying out a new sound using 2 amps and an A-B switch. Overdrive through one amp and playing a lot of chords to get a guitar-like sound. After years of playing together, we were already tight and used to writing together. The songs came quickly and easily.”

Via Brett Gurewitz of Bad Religion, the band had come to know Grammy-winning producer and engineer Andrew Scheps. Though originally recommended as a producer for Automatic 7, when the band played him the Killing Bees songs, he loved the concept and the trio got to work on their self-titled debut. Following the record’s release on Guano Loco/Loose Fang Records, “we played a bunch of shows and eventually started writing the new record in our North Hollywood lockout” says Nifoussi.

Recorded once again at Scheps’ studio, drums and bass were recorded live, the only overdubs being vocals and some bass and accordion textures (Nifoussi is an accomplished accordionist). “We tracked the two together over 4 or 5 days and everything you hear was played live by talented humans, not put together after the fact.  I think that live energy is what makes the record so compelling!” says Scheps. “Andrew wanted to challenge us. We came in wired towards traditional songwriting – he wasn’t interested in that” explains Mehlbaum. “He encouraged us to think about instrumental bits that would drive the tune, as opposed to the sing-along chorus of a traditional song. As a drummer, he kicked my ass. I remember him saying “we’re gonna turn the click off. I want you to go completely ‘out of time’ then come back in.” That’s some crazy shit! But I fucking loved it.”

Thematically, the record deals with the dangers of love and politics in equal measure. As Nifoussi puts it, “if there’s a takeaway, it’s to be careful with who you love… and vote into government.” So, Racing Towards Ruin. A concise, compelling listen, arresting at first blush, and deeply moving upon completion. A modern rock record (not a modern-rock record), unrelentingly heavy and sonically immaculate. And loud. Super loud.  

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Gear News

New Gear: Nembrini Launches Bass Hammer Plugin

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New Gear: Nembrini Launches Bass Hammer Plugin

Bass Hammer Plugin…

Nembrini Audio launches the Bass Hammer plugin which is engineered for advanced bass tone sculpting. Modelled on the Aguilar Tone Hammer* which is renowned for its tone shaping flexibility, the Nembrini Bass Hammer features Adaptive Gain Sculpting, comprehensive EQ adjustments and versatile cabinet simulations.

The Nembrini Audio Bass Hammer plugin has been designed to infuse discerning musicians’ digital workspace with the legendary tonal characteristics and dynamic versatility of its hardware counterpart. The new plugin delivers all the distinct organic warmth, detailed midrange control and adaptive tonal shaping the Tone Hammer* is famous for in a flexible digital format.

Bass Hammer features Adaptive Gain Sculpting to transform a signal’s EQ curve and gain structure and alter the behaviour of the MID parameter.  The Graphic EQ has six bands enabling nuanced shaping across the bass frequency range. Plus, the four selected bass guitar cabinets, four carefully selected microphone emulations and a parallel D.I. signal with console compressor offer users plenty of scope to explore ambient reverb blending.

Introductory prices of $29.99 for the Desktop version (regular price $137) and $9.99 for the IOS form (regular price $19.99) are available until 30th April 2024. Bass Hammer is PC and Mac (VST2, VST3, AU, AAX) compatible and requires a FREE iLOK account.

To find out more and download the Bass Hammer plugin please go to nembriniaudio.com/products/bass-hammer-bass-amplifier or
apple.com/us/app/bass-hammer/id6480058361Video

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Bass Videos

Interview With Bassist Edmond Gilmore

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Interview With Bassist Edmond Gilmore

Interview With Bassist Edmond Gilmore…

I am always impressed by the few members of our bass family who are equally proficient on upright as well as electric bass… Edmond Gilmore is one of those special individuals.

While he compartmentalizes his upright playing for mostly classical music and his electric for all the rest, Edmond has a diverse musical background and life experiences that have given him a unique perspective.

Join me as we hear about Edmond’s musical journey, how he gets his sound and his plans for the future.

Photo, Sandrice Lee

Follow Online

facebook.com/EdmondGilmoreBass
instagram.com/edmond_gilmore/
youtube.com/channel/UCCYoVZBLXL5nnaKS7XXivCQ

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