Why going Barefaced may require a tonal rethink

Aarghh, my tone's all wrong with my Compact, where's the punch on the high strings?

You're not the first and you certainly won't be the last to have this 'problem' when switching to a Compact. What's often happening is that the Compact is cleaner throughout its range, smoother in the mids and a bit deeper in the lows than your old cab. The cleanness of the sound is the biggest difference, because the higher harmonic distortion of the older cab adds a load of extra midrange which adds punch and growl to your sound. So what's the solution?

Getting that punch and growl happening with your bass

Many bassists think that the neck pickup gives the most bassy sound, the bridge pickup the most midrangey/trebley sound and thus if you have both pickups on you get lows, mids and highs in equal quantities, because it's an average of the two sounds. However, that's not actually what happens. Because the pickups are in different locations there is a phase difference between the two signals, and so instead of getting simple addition of the sounds you get a mix of addition and subtraction. The subtraction happens in the critical midrange area and the further apart the pickups are, the bigger the midrange cut tends to be.

So if you want a nice fat grunty sound with plenty of mids, especially lower mids, use the front pickup soloed. If you want a growly aggressive biting and more compressed sound use the back pickup soloed. If you want a mellower sweet round sound that sits back in the mix then use both pickups up full. And then as you roll back the volume on either pickup the midrange scoop will decrease until the sound eventually gets back to the sound of the soloed pickup.

Using EQ on active basses and amps

So that's the first step in getting the right sound out of your bass. You can then mess with that with EQ but bear in mind that EQ will shape the sound but it won't fundamentally change the character of the sound unless you do something drastic. One of the perils of active basses is that many bassists add far too much bass boost when they'd be better served by leaving the lows flat and simply turning their amp up. That gives you more fatness and bottom whilst also maintaining your midrange punch. Same with amp EQ - go easy, and turn that contour control right off. The perfect sound at home is never the perfect sound in the band - the perfect sound in the band needs way more midrange and top because they get masked by the sound of the other musicians whilst the lows have their own space so sound louder as there are no sustained sounds competing with them.

Instrument set-up is often overlooked

If this doesn't give you back that D and G string punch then you need to adjust your pickup heights. The best way to do this is to set your EQ flat on bass and amp, turn the neck pickup off and then raise the bridge pickup and balance the heights until notes both across and up and down the neck are equally loud. If the notes warble as you go higher on the low strings then lower the pickup until that stops happening. Then solo the neck pickup and raise it until the notes are as loud as with the bridge pickup soloed. If you find the strings start hitting the neck pickup then lower it and bring the bridge pickup down to match. It does take a fair while to do this right. Also bear in mind that as you turn up your amp your low strings will sound louder due to the human ear's deficiencies so when tweaking your pickups err towards having high notes and strings louder. Take a suitable screwdriver to rehearsals for final tweaking in the context of the band.

The big benefit in the real world - being able to DI and still get a consistent onstage and FOH sound

You'll probably find yourself using much more soloed pickup sounds and you'll notice that by getting the tone from your bass and amp rather than relying on cab colouration that when you're DI'd at gigs, all the soundman has to do to get a fantastic bass tone out front is to roll off some treble to match the natural roll-off of the Compact.

What about the other Barefaced models?

The Big Series cabs are even cleaner than the Compact but they go quite a lot higher so although you're less likely to have an audibility problem on higher notes because of that extra treble, they may sound thinner than ideal. In fact because the Big Series cabs are so different to every other cab on the market we strongly suggest you start with a completely clean sheet of paper, rather than letting old limitations compromise your tone. The Super Twelve and Super Fifteeen are so damned loud that they rarely have a problem being heard and because they're taller you hear more of their midrange - but like the Compact they will benefit from a rethink of your tonal approach. The Midget is comparatively stronger in the upper midrange so although it's not adding much harmonic distortion its less smooth and flat frequency response means it adds some punch to your tone.

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