You’ve been listening to a bit of Bootsy Collins or Mark King and have decided that you need to get into slap bass. Any bass can of course be slapped, but if you are keen to get the best setup you can for that slap bass sound we have a few guiding points.
A little disclaimer before we proceed, whilst having the best bass setup will help with your playing and sound you will also need to concentrate on your technique, learning articulation and adding expression into your playing.
Number of Frets
If you are looking for a bass guitar that is to be used for slap bass the general rule is to look for a guitar that primarily has a low action and wide string spacing. You might find that 21 as opposed to 24 frets will give you a bit more space between the neck pick-up and the end of the finger board. You will also need to remove the pick-up guard if there is one or choose a bass without one as they can hinder access to the strings.
The next question is are you into the 80s bright sound such as Mark King of Level 42 or are you into the more 70s sound – such as that from Bootsy Collins, Larry Graham or Flea from the Chilli Peppers. Yes granted the Chilli Peppers hailed from the 80s but Flea’s sound is very much influenced by these 70s players.
80s and 70s Action Setup
If you are looking for a typical 80s sound you will probably want an action that is as low as possible on the bass. Meaning, the strings need to be as low as possible to the finger board without rattling. With regards to strings, new or newish strings will give a brighter sound. Whilst slap bass can be played on flat strings, the more aggressive sound can be obtained from round wound strings. Something again more akin to that 80s slap bass sound. Some basses can have their action lowered but doing so may affect the intonation of the note, so this is a specialist job if you do not know what you are doing. A good music shop can help you with this. You do not need to lower the action for a more 70s ‘bass heavy’ sound.
The preferred (but not essential) option is to use bass with an active pickup mode. Some basses come with either active or passive pickups so the player can toggle between the two.
An active pick up is where the guitar pre-amp is powered by a 9 or 18 v on-board battery power pack. The effect of the active system is to give a cleaner sound and output.
There are three places where you can equalize the sound to get the desired result, the bass guitar, a bass pedal and on the bass amp. The pedal is most useful if you have a bass break where you want to change the sound for a solo. For the rest of the song you can keep to your preferred output. Be sure not to cancel out your settings by setting the amp, guitar or foot pedal equalizer settings to opposing levels. For example cutting the mids on the guitar but boosting them via the amp. Sometimes it is preferable to keep your options simple and not to over complicate the settings.
There are several ways of dialing in a good sound on the equalizer, you can experiment to see what you like.
- A popular option is to dip the mid frequencies, whilst keeping the bass and highs level.
- The other option is to have everything on flat and to boost the bass and highs. You will have achieved the same thing as the first option, but through boosting rather than by cutting. The result will sound a little more powerful.
- The third option is to cut the mid and boost the bass and top which will give you the most extreme boosts.
- Fourth option is to have bass and top flat but to boost the mids. This give a bit more of a clearer punchy sound as you have some more mids in the mix. This is not very often used, it is the opposite to the first option.
The option you choose is really going to depend on the bass guitar, the desired sound and how the instrument sounds in a band setting.
Common bass choices out there for slap bass are a Fender Jazz or a Music Man. There are of course various copies of the Fender Jazz bass on the market, these could also give you the sound you are looking for.
New Models for Consideration
- Sire, Marcus Miller V7 Swamp Ash – which is based on a Fender Jazz bass. The original Fenders were made from Swamp Ash. The wood is quite dense and gives a sound which has been considered ideal for vintage sound. To note these heavier woods do make the guitars heavy on stage, something to consider. It has a switchable circuit which means you can go between active and passive pickups.
- Sterling by Music Man Sub Ray 4
- Ibenez Classic SR500 a very popular entry active bass option.
- Chowny Retrovibe Volante Bass, it has a lot of option for the sound, it is essentially a Jazz bass but it has precussion pick ups used for the neck pickups. The Chowny Volante comes with a volume and tone for each pickup, which can be used separately, but if you want to use both picksups there is a master control. For a passive bass this gives a good sound, the pickups sound better when they are working independently as opposed to together.
- Not a budget option, but one that might be of interest is the signature Flea Bass, available in matt pink or silver. Flea’s original Jazz bass was in shell pink, which is a very rare colour, so Fender did a signature bass for him in the original colour.
A lot of bass players will have a preference for the wood used on the fingerboard. If you are looking for a more aggressive or shall I say typical slap bass sound you are likely to veer towards a maple wood. However if you are looking for a more softer slap bass sound then try out a rose wood fingerboard option.
As always the best process to determine your bass is to get into the music store and have a play on a variety of models.