One of the most infamous signs of a novice bass player is the infamous “scooped mids”. When I started playing gigs regularly, I learned fairly quickly that that wasn’t a good way to go when playing with a band, but it took me a little bit longer to really understand just how valuable the mid-frequencies really are to a good bass tone, especially onstage. See, playing in even a fairly basic band set-up (2 guitars, vocals, bass, and drums), you have to contend with some limitations as to where your tone has to go. If you put too much bass frequency in your tone, you’ll end up competing with the kick drum in the mix, and the audience won’t be hearing the actual notes you’re playing so much as feeling them in their gut. Conversely, if you lean harder into the treble frequencies, you run the risk of muddying up the vocals or the guitar and leaving your drummer to do all the rhythmic heavy lifting, and your band will have a lot less sonic presence in the room.
This was the dichotomy I found myself struggling with in my first months as a performing bassist. I wanted to dial in a tone that emphasized the rhythmic power of the bass without sacrificing too much melodic clarity, but I was hesitant to experiment too much with my tone, for fear of sonically crowding out my bandmates at a gig. Thus, I ended up settling for a more-or-less flat EQ that got the job done well enough, but didn’t really flatter my playing the way I wanted it to.
The solution, I discovered, was mids-and lots of ‘em. If you want to get technical, the frequency range to look for is from about 300-450hz, but if you’re like me and just want to know where to put the dials on your amp, I started with the mids knob at four o’clock to give a lot of warmth and body to my tone, set the bass knob at two o’clock to add in just enough of that rhythmic punch I was looking for without getting things too rumble-y, and left the treble at twelve o’clock. I’ve tweaked it here and there since then, and of course the settings that work best will always vary between players, instruments, amps, and even venues. But for me, one of the biggest steps in finding a bass tone I felt confident about was learning to love my mids.
Anyone with a little extra pocket change should definitely also check out the KSM foundation bridge, for a mid-boost you don’t even need an amp for. It provides greater string to body contact, which allows a better transfer of vibration and thus naturally boosts your mids and your tone overall.