AT THE HEART OF EVERY MUSICIAN IS THE ember that fires the desire to progress, evolve, and innovate. Our musical voice demands growth and uniqueness. Throughout your career, your sound, melodic approach, style, and other skills develop as you grow. When I started playing bass, I wanted to be a shredding player like my bass heroes while still maintaining my rock sound. As my taste in music changed, so did my tone, style, and concepts. Lately, a lot of my development has come from my obsession with sound, and the culprit has been my collection of over 300 effect pedals. I find myself wanting to transcend my instrument and bring it to new sonic levels. In doing this, I am not trying to use my instrument in a traditional role—I want to revolutionize it. In this column, I will offer up my experiences, concepts, and ideas on how to attain sounds that work on the bass. I want to help other bassists sculpt their tonal vision. My journey had to start somewhere, and I believe it started with my own rejection of pedals and the use of effects. Yet, let me begin with a little background.
The invention of the electric guitar inspired a new era of sounds. Amplifying previously unamplified instruments was the first step in a process that continues to evolve today. Once the guitar and then the bass were amplified, the need for greater control over the sound or tone emerged. Early rock musicians began to shape their sound with gain, bass, and treble knobs, some even going to extremes like cutting the speaker cones to get a wildly distorted sound. Altering tone became a musician’s obsession, which eventually led manufacturers to create effect pedals. This is where pushing the frontiers of sound began, and to this day, musicians have been experimenting with their gear to design their own voice.
The first time I came across a unique bass tone was hearing John Entwistle’s distorted 4-string on “Pinball Wizard” and “My Generation.” I immediately began researching how he achieved that massive sonic assault. I bought a copy of Guitar Player magazine with an Entwistle feature (this was before Bass Player began), and I eventually bought a Sunn bass head like the one I saw him playing through in the magazine. I remember not achieving the same tone John did, and in my frustration came a burning desire to perfect my sound.
I spent years buying basses and bass amplifiers, swapping pickups and trying out distortions and compressors. I wanted to sound like a Pastorius/Entwistle hybrid—no more, no less—but I thought, as long as my bass sounded like an aggressive electric bass, I was fulfilled. All my favorite bassists used mostly two or three pieces of gear to get their sound. I even became sort of a tone snob, and focused on getting a fairly mean rock bass sound that still had clarity.
When I started at Musicians Institute in the 1980s, the school had a clinic with Tim Bogert (Vanilla Fudge, Cactus, and Beck, Bogert & Appice), and his topic was effect pedals. I wanted to attend the class because I dug Tim’s playing, but I was also excited that there was a class on bass sound. So I walked in, and there was Tim with his Boss pedalboard. Back in the 1980s, Boss had its own custom pedalboard that came with a few of their choice stompboxes. Tim had a lot of the effects on at once—at least five—and I remember not understanding why this bass legend had an indistinguishable sound coming out of his amp. I had no comprehension of why he chose this cluster of effects and where he would use such wild tones. I figured either he must have been bored and decided to blast them all at once to see what would happen, or he really loved what repulsed me. I ended up bailing on his clinic.
As I developed as a bass player, I would find myself thinking about Tim Bogert, wondering if he ever ended up applying that kind of effect combination in his career. It wasn’t until I started adding more than just the typical bass pedals to my gear collection that I began to understand why a bassist would want to push sonic boundaries like that. I began to hear different bass sounds in other music, such as hiphop and electronic music, and this affected the way I heard music and wanted to play. In developing my tonal palette, I realized that I had not been ready for what Tim was doing. Tim was experimenting in the most extreme way. and this approach was beyond me. My uneducated and underdeveloped ears couldn’t handle what was coming out of the amp.
As I continue to work on my sound, I have to offer up props to the mighty bassist from Vanilla Fudge. Tim was heading down an innovator’s path, and that clinic was only an extension of who he is as a bassist.
veteran of Racer X and the Mars Volta, Deltron 3030 bassist and Vato Negro founder Juan Alderete de la Peña is an effect-pedal supergeek who proudly displays his addiction at