This article will explore the variety of causes for distortion on your bass and how to fix it. Also, how can a fuzzy sound end up distorting. But before that, we need to talk about what it is.
What even is distortion? It’s a type of sound usually generated by increasing the gain of the signal. Distortion on your electric bass can be caused by your amplifier, wiring, cable, EQ, pedals, or audio interface. It can be done intentionally with pedals or unintentionally by many things. So this article will talk about how to identify where the distortion comes from and how to fix it.
How Do You Fix Distorted Bass Guitar Sound?
To fix your sound, you always have to check where the signal is going through. For example, it can go from your bass to your pedal to an amplifier. So, fixing it requires understanding the processes where the signal is going through; we need to identify where the distortion is coming from.
Distortion can be cumulative, and there can be plenty of sources for it; this means that you can have two processes or more that deliver tiny amounts of distortion. When this is the case, it can get tough to spot. So if you can use headphones while checking your sound, try to do so.
How to Identify Where the Distortion Comes From?
To identify the source, we need to start isolating each variable. And this means we have to try the same bass with; Different amps, cables, and audio interfaces. When you sound tested each one, you’ll know where the problem is. And if it’s distorted on each step, it’s the bass itself.
Sometimes, when you have multiple tiny sources of fuzz in your sound, it can be difficult to spot them; Try using headphones every time you check. This will help you recognize where the sources are, making you faster at doing so.
Why Does Bass Sound Distorted on My Audio Interface?
This is a gain problem. Launch your DAW and record a simple note. If your recording looks like the top and bottom were cropped out, you must control your gain. Reduce the volume on the interface or your bass. Also, check if you turned on your phantom, as that extra 48 volts will distort your sound.
This is what a saturated recording looks like; as you can see, the top and bottom of the signal are cropped. This is because the recording exceeded the limit of DB’s that any DAW can handle. We’ll refer to this as “clipping”.
That being said, there can be many reasons. I suggest you try checking if your bass is active. If you have a small audio interface and an active bass, chances are it doesn’t have the needed input to support it. As you might have seen in amplifiers, you have a passive and active input. It should be the same for your interface.
You can still use an active bass with your audio interface; you will only have to adjust to it. Try changing the EQ in your DAW or just lowering the volume on your bass.
Still, many (bigger) interfaces have both an input with low impedance (optimal for microphones) and one with high impedance better suited for your active bass.
Is My Amplifier Distorting My Sound?
Your amplifier can distort sound when the EQ is done poorly, leading to frequencies with an excess of gain and causing them to get distorted. It can also be because the amplifier is broken. When the cone of the amp breaks, it will sound distorted, even at low volumes.
If your amplifier is broken, you cannot do much; you should take it with an expert. With a new cone, it will sound just fine. But if you had some problems with the EQ, it’s just an easy fix, lower the frequencies that are getting distorted.
Sometimes having a setup that’s going through your interface to your speakers might make your bass sound distorted; if you don’t hear any distortion while using headphones, it can mean that the speakers are at their limit; lowering their volume should fix it just fine.
Also, check your bass to see if it’s active. Because if that’s the case, you should plug it into the high impedance input.
Is My Eq Setup Distorting My Bass?
When using a DAW, you can check this easily, use a spectrum analyzer to see where your frequencies peak. When you’ve got that figured out, cut them away. Once it sounds clean, you should start adding them slowly until you reach your desired sound. It works the same on your amp, but you need to check manually.
But be careful; if you lower those frequencies a lot, the tone will change. Most likely, you’ll want to keep that tone, so you might have to re-record that bass line. Try cutting away the desired frequency either on the bass’s knobs (if it’s a line recording) or the bass’s preamp if it’s an air recording.
This is a typical EQ that you’d usually use for a groovy p-bass, but it can be harmful if you have a problem with sub-low/low frequencies. When that’s the case, you should take a little bit off, and you’ll be good to go.
Try to watch out for how some processes interact with your EQ. If you work with pre-made mastering chains, you might have encountered a scenario where you turn it on, and it sounds wonderful, but there is a little distortion in the background. It is usually due to saturators and EQs highlighting those frequencies, or in some cases, the limiter might be adding gain. With some little tweaks to these processes, you will be able to get the sound you want.
Is Background Noise Able to Distort My Sound?
No, because all electronics have a certain level of noise within them. However, a very fuzzy recording with a lot of processes (such as a saturator, flanger, limiter, and so) can end up distorting it. So if you’re recording, try to keep that noise low.
Saturators are especially tricky because they don’t distinguish between your bass and hum. They increase the gain of a certain frequency, which is the same principle as distortion; however, if you have a noisy recording, you will find that the background noise starts distorting even before the bass itself.
Other processes can also distort your background noise, but it’s especially those that increase your gain. So be careful and try to avoid noisy recordings. Always check your bass and make sure it’s at full volume; because if you record at low volume, you’ll end up increasing its gain later, ending with a noisy recording. The picture below shows how a limiter can add gain to your signal, and while doing so, distort your background noise.
While this limiter is good, it’s just Ableton live base limiter; if you want to find out more about limiters, click here.
Checking your gear is essential to understanding and fixing sound issues. Imagine a setup that goes from your amp to a microphone at a live session. If you lower your amp’s volume, your soundman will have to boost it and end up distorting it.
Is an Old Cable Capable of Distorting My Sound?
Yes, an old, heavily used cable can distort or fuzz up your sound. However, this is an easy fix; you can buy a new cable or fix it yourself. If you unscrew both of its caps you will see it’s wield. Check for the ends of the cable and re-wield them.
The top cable’s ground is not correctly wielded in the image below. At the same time, the bottom one’s condition is pristine.
Check the whole cable if its ends are properly welded, and it still sounds fuzzy. Sometimes cables get damaged if you step over them or lay something on top of them; this can lead to the copper wiring getting damaged; to fix this, you can cut it where it’s damaged and wield the ends to the jack.
You may also have a wireless system, which is indeed great, and you won’t face any problems with stepping on its cable; but if you go and buy a cheap one, it might bring some extra background noise with it. That’s not a problem by itself. As we discussed, noise is common. You have to be careful when having lots of processes around it. I wouldn’t recommend having a wireless system mixed with lots of pedals or many VSTs in your DAW.
Are My Bass Pedals Distorting Its Sound?
When all your pedals are off, and your sound still isn’t clean, you might have some buffered pedals in your rack; Meaning sound is continuously going through the pedal at all times, even while turned off. If you have multiple of them lined up, it will change your sound and, in some cases, distort it.
The easiest fix is recognizing which pedals aren’t true bypass and disconnecting them when they are off. It can be annoying, but you can change it between recordings if you are recording a song.
Check the cables you are using between pedals. As we know, lines can bring some background noise, and depending on what type of pedals you have; it might be boosting it. Always check that your gear is in top condition.
Why Does My Bass Still Sound Distorted?
First of all, make sure to check every other step we discussed. If it’s still distorted, then the problem will be in its wiring. The tones being worn down, the ground point not being properly set, or the Faraday cage. These three options are easy to fix. With some patience, you can clear it out.
When you’ve checked for everything else, the problem will certainly be in its wiring. The tones being worn down, the ground point not being properly set, or the Faraday cage. These three options are easy to fix. With some patience, you can clear it out.
Keep in mind; it’s always in your best interest to call a luthier. But if you can’t or want to learn to do it yourself, you will need a welder, aluminum tape, and tin.
First of all, check for the Faraday cage. In the picture below, you can see that the circuit is enclosed with aluminum. This serves to block electromagnetic waves resulting in background noise for your bass. If your bass doesn’t have one, get the aluminum tape and stick it until it’s all covered up. It’ll help you get a cleaner sound.
After that, check for the ground point. If you see a cable that’s not touching any tones, you just need to wield it. You can identify cable at the pickups. If you see it starting from the pickup and going to the tone’s top part, that’s the ground. It should be welded to every tone. For a better understanding, look at the picture above. You can see a wire going from the volume to the mix and tone. That’s the ground, it can get loose from dropping your bass, wield it, and you’ll be good to go.
Lastly, check the cables on each tone; it’s an easy fix if the tin is not properly welded. Just get some tin and weld them tightly together.
If none of this fixed it, the problem can still be on the pickups themselves. You might be tempted to look at them, but please don’t. The long copper wire wrapped around the pickup is weak; you might tear it apart. When this is the case, you can’t fix it at home; you need to go with a luthier.
Many things can cause distortion, and it’s even trickier while processing recordings; all the processes that give you some extra gain should be handled carefully, especially when you have background noise. But with time to check every step of the signal, you will be able to clean your sound.
Keep in mind that unwanted distortion can be from audio clipping or audio processes, so you need to identify which type to fix it. Once you know, search for frequencies or volumes that are not on their sweet spot, so try to remember them.
Be cautious when switching basses. You might be playing with your jazz bass and then switching to an active bass; to do so, you will have to change your amp or audio interface settings.
When searching for those tricky noise-generating processes, remember to use headphones; they will help you listen clearly to those frequencies. Get to know your instruments and your gear. Explore your sound and have fun with the combinations.
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Nicolas Rotondaro is proffesional bassist, producer and luthier based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He has a bachelor’s in arts and is currently finishing his studies on popular music in EMPA. With over 15 years since he started playing string instruments, he teaches, produces, and fixes instruments to request.