Incubus Ben Kenney Talking Tone

PART ROCK STAR, PART HIP-HOP aficionado, and all musician, tone hound Ben Kenney knows a thing or two about sounding good. It’s something Kenney’s able to do whether he’s rocking arenas with Incubus or playing multi-instrumentalist madman in his home studio.
By Brian Fox ,

PART ROCK STAR, PART HIP-HOP aficionado, and all musician, tone hound Ben Kenney knows a thing or two about sounding good. It’s something Kenney’s able to do whether he’s rocking arenas with Incubus or playing multi-instrumentalist madman in his home studio.

What’s your go-to bass with Incubus, and what makes it special?

It’s a Jazz-style Lakland 4-string with a 35" scale and Joe Barden pickups, which are passive humbuckers that sound like singlecoils. They have a strong midrange, and the clear top end you normally get from active electronics. They’re very full, with a wide frequency response. With both pickups turned up, I get a nice phase happening. And since they’re humbuckers, they don’t hum when they’re solo’d. I can get a Jaco-type sound from the back pickup, or I can solo the neck pickup for more of a Motown vibe.

What impact does the extra scale length have on tone and string tension?

The extra length strengthens the fundamental. If you look at my signal on a spectrum analyzer, you’d see stronger low-mids, because of the longer scale. I’m all about having a clear, passive sound where you can hear notes and chords. I use standard tuning with medium-gauge strings, so the tension is really high. The GHS flats are more pliable than a lot of other flatwounds, so I can have high tension, but still bend notes. Other flats sound great, but you can hardly get vibrato with them—they’re like high-tension wires

Of all the pedals in your pedalboard, which are you digging the most?

The Emma Electronic TransMORGrifier compressor is like having a [rackmounted] DBX 160 in a pedal—it’s fast and clean. The Ibanez reissue CS9 is the only chorus pedal that I really like. All night long, I’m changing that to get different chorus effects. It has a tremolo-like effect when it’s cranked, and when it’s turned down, it makes my midrange jump out in a cool way.

What do you want in a stage rig, and how did your current setup come to be?

I try to get a clean sound that has a bit of an Ampeg B-15 vibe and can actually stand up to stage volume; I worked with Tien Lawrence at Mesa Boogie to come up with my rig. It’s two Walkabout Scout combos with two extension cabinets. Each cab has a 12" Eminence speaker, so it’s like a more modular 4x12. With the long-scale bass and flatwounds, it has a strong midrange—you can really hear the notes. It’s not so much about shaking the ground as much as it is about having a clear note; it sounds more vocal. We mic the cabinets with a Beyerdynamic M 88—a big-diaphragm dynamic mic—and we take a direct line from one of the combos. We use in-ear monitors and have a low stage volume.

Outside of Incubus, what’s going on with you, musically?

I’ve started working on my fourth solo record, and a DVD where I’m playing a bunch of stuff with my [solo] band. A while back, I posted a video on youtube of my record at home, playing drums, bass, guitar, and singing. It got over 150,00 hits, so I’ve started to make a few more songs and videos like that.

After wrapping this latest Incubus tour, what’s your game plan?

I’m going to go home, work some more on my solo record, do some touring with that band, work on a new Incubus record, tour with Incubus, get married, have some kids, and be old, fat, and happy!

HEAR HIM ON

Incubus, Monuments and Melodies [Epic, 2009]; Ben Kenney, Distance and Comfort, [Ghetto Crush, 2008]

GEAR

Bass Custom 35"-scale Lakland 4-string with Joe Barden humbuckers and medium-gauge GHS flatwounds
Rig Two Mesa Engineering Walkabout Scout 12 combos with two Walkabout 1x12 extension cabinets; Beyerdynamic M 88 mic
Effects Emma Electronic TM-1 TransMORGrifier compressor, Ibanez CS9 Stereo Chorus, Boss OC-2 Octave Fulltone Bass-Drive, Boss TU-2 Chromatic Tuner, Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus