Surviving the Tone Zone

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Have you ever found yourself spending too much time fiddling with knobs, twisting them this way and that, trying out this bass – no, wait, that bass – ok back to this bass again, before finally looking at the clock and seeing that while you’ve been playing your bass for almost an hour, you actually haven’t made any music yet? Or am I the only one?

I used to have that problem. The quest for tone is indeed a cruel mistress; unforgiving and yet tempting as the raging sea. You spend so much time geeking and tweaking and comparing and then tweaking and geeking again that quite often you end up right where you started (or not far from it). If this sounds at all familiar to you and you’d like to speed the process up a bit (unless you truly enjoy the endless circle of knob tweaking and geeking) then my advice is to try doing this:

Give yourself less than 3 or 4 minutes to get the tone you need for the song, show, studio – whatever it is. I’ve spent what seems like hours chasing down the coolest tones and vibes, but in the end it usually ends up seeming like a waste of my time. If I’m not making any music as soon as possible then I feel like I’m just spinning my wheels. Perhaps you’ve felt the same way, too?

That doesn’t mean that I don’t spend any time on it, I just make sure I have an idea in my head of what it needs to sound like and I try to achieve it as quickly as possible. Try going with your gut next time – this bass with this pedal through that amp – done. Spend 30 seconds tweaking a few of those knobs, and as soon as possible get off to the races. I’ve found that staying in this “Tone Zone” for longer than 3 or 4 minutes typically ends up with me spending too much time on something that was fine to begin with. Or, continuing on for another 30 minutes seems to lead to the same result as my initial gut reaction (those first 3 or 4 minutes). So why not save yourself 26-27 minutes of time that you could be playing/recording music?

Of course, your situation may be different. But I’ve found this to be a substantial time saver for what I do. What about you?