Jazz bass is, undoubtedly, one of the most popular bass we have today. It is the guitar of choice for many professional bass players as well as those starting out. But is it a good bass guitar for heavy metal? Can you play metal with jazz bass?
Short answer, yes. You can play metal with a jazz bass. There are many bass players who play metal, hard rock, and punk with a jazz bass. The two single-coil pickups and tonal control knobs of a Jazz bass allow you to dial in the right metal bass tone you need. Also, jazz bass has a slimmer neck, which makes it more convenient for metal bass players with small hands to play.
Fender made and released the jazz bass in the early 1960s. And over the years, this type of bass has become the most popular electric bass guitar we have today. The tone of the jazz bass has made it an excellent fit for many genres and styles of music, including heavy metal.
Many new bass players think the name “Jazz Bass” means that this bass was made for only jazz music. However, that’s far from the truth. In the early ’60s, Fender decided to name it jazz bass because they wanted it to appeal to jazz bass players. In essence, the name “Jazz Bass” was a marketing strategy to capture jazz bass players.
The Jazz Bass, however, is much more versatile than you think. The jazz bass tone works for all types of genres. And I’m sure the bass in most of your favorite metal songs were recorded with a jazz bass.
Geddy Lee, who’s a metal musician and bass player for Rush since 1968, uses the Fender Jazz Bass to record and perform metal.
Martin Mendez, who is the bass player of OPETH, one of the best metal bands, in my opinion, also uses a J-bass. I could go on and on and drop names, but I think my point has been made.
Let’s take a look at why jazz bass is suitable for metal and how to get a metal bass tone with a jazz bass. Let’s get into it.
Why is Jazz Bass Good for Metal?
Here are some reasons why it’s a good idea to use a Jazz bass for metal.
1. Tone versatility
As you may already know, jazz bass (or J-bass) has two single-coil pickups. The one placed close to the bass guitar’s neck is called the neck pickup, and the one close to the bass guitar’s bridge is known as the bridge pickup.
Both pickups sound totally different because of their positions. The neck pickup sounds much warmer with more low end. The bridge pickup, on the other hand, sounds much brighter and gives more bite to the tone.
This configuration makes the J-bass an excellent bass for metal. Why?
Because in metal music, we want the bass to have enough low end (or low frequencies) to hold the music and make it heavy. That’s primarily the purpose of bass, not just in metal, but other genres as well.
At the same time, you want to have just the right amount of mid and high frequencies on the bass so that it doesn’t get lost in the midst of heavy guitars and loud drums. Having an excellent bass tone with the right mids and highs will make it cut through the mix.
With a jazz bass, you can dial in just the right metal bass tone you need. Both the neck and bridge pickup have a dedicated volume knob. This means you can increase the volume of the neck pickup if you want more low end or increase the bridge pickup volume if you want more mids and highs.
You can blend the two pickups’ tones however you want to get the perfect metal bass tone you need for a song. And there are dozens of metal bass tones you can make with a jazz bass. This makes the J-bass a versatile bass for metal.
When you are starting out, it’s a good idea to have a versatile bass guitar that can fit different music genres and styles. And the J-bass is certainly the one to go for. As you progress, you can pick up different types of bass guitars to have multiple tonal palettes to choose from.
2. Thinner neck makes it easy to play
Another thing that made the Jazz Bass so popular is that the neck width is thinner than most bass guitars. This makes them lightweight and very easy to play.
Sure, now there are other bass guitar brands such as the Ibanez GSR200TR Bass Guitar (on Amazon), which has a much thinner neck than J-basses. However, for years, J-bass has held its name as one of the best bass guitars with thin necks.
Rush’s bass player, Geddy Lee, had Fender make him a signature J-bass, the Fender Geddy Lee Signature Jazz Bass Guitar (also on Amazon), which metal bass players who like the Geddy Lee sound will love. One thing you’ll notice about the bass is how thin the neck is.
If you are a metal bass player with small hands, it’s a good idea to go for a jazz bass because it will be more convenient to play. Even if you don’t have small hands, it will be easier to move your hands on the fretboard.
How to Get a Metal Bass Tone with a Jazz Bass
There is more to a metal bass tone than just a good sounding bass tone. Sure, a good jazz bass tone will contribute tremendously to the tone, but that alone won’t get the job done. So let’s take a look at how to get that “dirty” and heavy metal bass tone that we all love.
1. Use a bass pick
I know this is a controversial subject in the metal world because there are a ton of bass players who think they can equally get that metal tone with their fingers. Many professional metal bass players play without a pick. And also, some metal songs require you to play with your fingers. That’s totally understandable.
But let me put it this way, playing heavy metal with your fingers is like drilling a hole in a wall with a hammer and a nail. Sure, it might work, but you are using the wrong tool for the job.
It’s way easier to get that growling or “dirty” and trebly metal bass tone with a bass pick with minimal effort on your end. But it’s utterly difficult to get that same metal bass tone with your fingers.
Perhaps you have been playing the bass for a long time with your fingers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s more or less a requirement to use a pick for heavy metal genres. So simply avoid any complications and learn how to use picks for bass.
And you can’t use any pick. You need a pick that’s thick enough to pluck your bass string without them breaking. A pick like the Alice Bass Guitar Picks Plectrum (on Amazon) should get the job done for most situations. It’s purposefully designed for heavy metal and hard rock, and they are incredibly cheap too.
2. Get New Bass Strings
If you have aged bass strings on your bass guitar, it’s about time you changed it. The thing about playing heavy metal with old strings is, they sound dull. As guitar strings age, they lose their ability to produce high and mid frequencies.
New bass strings always sound much brighter than old strings. There have been a ton of string shootout online between old bass strings and new bass strings, and you can clearly tell the difference. I’m sure you have probably seen one already. If you haven’t, you can check this video out.
In essence, new bass strings will make your bass cut through the mix. And that’s exactly what you want for a metal bass.
Also, I highly recommend you go for steel strings and avoid nickel bass strings. That’s because steel strings naturally have that bright metallic sound. A good option to go for is the D’Addario EPS160 ProSteels Bass Guitar Strings (on Amazon).
It’s one of the best-selling guitar D’addario bass guitar strings available today and one of the highest quality steel bass strings you can find. Many professionals use D’Addario products because they simply get the job done.
3. You need effect pedals
Building an effective bass pedalboard that works for most situations is extremely important. I can’t stress this enough. Clean bass tones just won’t cut it for heavy metal.
However, this is a very broad and subjective topic which I can’t cover, in detail, in this article. But let me give you a primer on the most important things you’ll need.
If you only record metal bass in the studio, you can have a clanky metal bass tone using your DAW’s stock plugins or a multi-FX processor plugin such as Amplitube or Neural DSP. You can read more on that in this article. If you play live, then having physical effects pedal is essential. The most important pedal you need for metal bass is distortion.
A distortion pedal will give you that brutal, dirty, and gritty metal bass tone you need to sound present in heavy metal music. It’s becoming more and more important as many bands these days have few guitarists. This means, as a metal bass guitarist, you don’t have to just sound heavy on the low end, but your bass tone needs to add extra heaviness to the top end.
An excellent bass distortion you can invest in that will keep you going for years and years to come is the Darkglass Alpha Omega Ultra (on Amazon). If you are a metal bass enthusiast, I’m sure you have probably heard of this pedal before. This is expensive for most beginners. However, you wouldn’t have to replace it when you become a pro. On top of that, it sounds massive!
It has a built-in preamp, 6-band graphic EQ (very useful), cab simulator, and different distortion modes. It also has a blend knob, which allows you to mix the clean signal with the distorted signal, and then a growl and bite button, which can give you an insane bass guitar tone. Check the video below to hear how it sounds.
In summary, jazz bass can be used for metal music. It’s a versatile bass that can fit all styles of music, including heavy metal, punk, and rock. Its two single-coil pickups setup allows you to have multiple metal bass tones, and the slim neck makes it easy for bassists with small hands to play.
However, having a good sounding jazz bass isn’t enough to have a metal bass tone. It’s recommended to use picks, replace the old bass strings with a new one to have more top end, and use effect pedals, especially a distortion pedal.