How To Get A Soul/Motown/RnB Bass Guitar Tone

The soul bass players of the 1960s onwards created some of the greatest bass lines on songs that are still revered to this days.

They did that pretty much exclusively using Fender basses - mostly the Precision bass and sometimes a Jazz.

Watch this video to learn how you can easily emulate soul, Motown, and RnB bass guitar tone.

It's a sound that is still very much in fashion these days. You only have to listen to Pino Palladino to hear that.

The Key Elements Of Soul Bass Tone

Unlike other styles of music it's really simple.

You can sound like a Motown great with the following:

  1. A Fender Precision bass
  2. Flatwound strings
  3. Some kind of mute at the bridge
  4. An Ampeg B15 plugin (if recording) or a valve amp for live work (or pedal in front of your normal solid state amp)

Fender Precision Bass

You don't need a lovely (but extortionately priced) vintage Fender Precision.

You can get a cheap one. Even a Squier bass will sound decent. You can always modify the bass. In particular, a pickup upgrade like the one below will work wonders for you bass tone.

Fender Custom Shop 1962 Bass Pickup Modifiication

Fender Custom '62 Precision bass pickup

Flatwound Strings

A dark bass tone is key to the soul sound and flatwound bass strings are one of the main ways to get there. 

They don't have the ridges you can feel from the windings on roundwound strings. This leads to a more mellow, smoother tone.

These strings from LaBella are great.

LaBella Deep Talkin' flatwound bass strings

LaBella Deep Talkin' flatwound bass strings

Bass Mutes

Tony Levin needed to dampen the strings on a Peter Gabriel session and all he had to hand was his baby daughter's nappies (diapers). So, he stuffed one under the strings down by the bridge and, hey presto, that's part of the bass tone to 'Don't Give Up'.

The old Fenders had a mute system inside the chrome bridge covers but most players nowadays just use some foam or sponge down by the bridge.

There are some great after-market mute products including:

Bass Amps/Plugins

If you don't have a spare few grand for a vintage Ampeg B15, plugins or pedals are your friend.

I use the Universal Audio B15 plugin and Ampeg SVX - both excellent.

I did a video on the Tech 21 VT bass which is a B15 in a box kind of a pedal. Check out the video:

How To Get An Ampeg B15 & SVT Sound From A Pedal

The main point is that you don't need very expensive gear to get the tone but you do need to look into the right areas. I hope this post and video helped you!

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  • I like a nice dark tone for blues work. A G&L L1000, D’Addario Chromes into a Fender Rumble does it for me. Boost the bottom end on the amp’s eq. Bass you can chew on!

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