Tone School Episode 1: Matt Freeman’s Bass Tone.

Posted on September 6, 2010


The growly lead melodies of Rancid‘s 4-string hero have inspired many a listener, myself included, to pick up the electric bass. But what’s going on in that bass tone of his that’s kept it so compelling across 20 years and 7 albums? (8 if you count Operation Ivy.) We put Matt’s tone under an audio microscope and figured out what techniques and tactics you can employ to emulate his signature sound.

1. The Right Hand: Play with a pick. Picking brings a sharper, quicker attack to each note, and also produces a more midrange-heavy sound. Learn to pick with uniform upstrokes and downstrokes, and start slow. Increase your speed over time to achieve consistency at high-tempo.

2. The Left Hand: Learn your scales, the major and minor pentatonic in particular. Practice running up and down them for 20 years and you should be good and ready to go.

3. The Bass: Matt’s been associated with the Fender® Precision bass through most of his career, but has lately been spotted playing a custom-made number, shrouded in mystery. Per interviews, he has largely used the same P-bass from his teenage years on the vast majority of his recordings. Perhaps the lesson here is to choose a bass that loves you and it will remain loyal.

4. The Amp: The tone is pretty gain-heavy for rock bass. If your bass amp has a tube preamp section, like on the BVP5500, crank it. You can get a similar tone out of the BDI21 bass modeler by turning up the “Drive” control.

5. The Mix:
More so than traditional bassists, Matt’s playing is prominently pushed to the front of the mix on Rancid’s albums. When mixing your band’s recordings, push the bass up as close as you can in the mix to the vocals. When your guitarists start to complain, stop.

As a “lead bass” player, there are rock’n’roll purists out there who would criticize Matt with cliches like “A bassist doesn’t need to rely on a pick,” or “He doesn’t understand his role in

the band.” Matt doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would listen to that sort of thing, and neither should you. Play what you want, put it out there, and listeners will find you.

By the way, check out Matt’s other band, “Devil’s Brigade,” whose self-titled record came out Aug. 31! Devil’s Brigade is a project of Matt’s that’s been brewing since 2002, and I’m glad a full-length album has finally seen the light of day. It features Matt on upright bass and lead vocals, as well as Tim Armstrong of Rancid on guitar, and DJ Bonebrake from X on drums!

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